Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 19, 2018

River city roundabout: State of Confusion has work to do

Justin and Brittany Faith, along with son Bennett, pitch in to review State of Confusion. - David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Most people bring their appetite and wallet or purse to a restaurant. But Brittany Faith, an attorney with Grant Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C., arrives at State of Confusion, a new restaurant that’s opened on the former Estate of Confusion site on Main Street, weighed down with what appears to be the contents of her front hall closet.

In addition to hauling a knapsack, a tote bag and other assorted paraphernalia, Faith is gripping the handle of a baby carrier seat occupied by a single napping traveler: 16-week-old Bennett Faith. Although tiny, the infant is solely responsible for the massive load his mother is shouldering.

It doesn’t occur to me to help. Instead, I ask Brittany the whereabouts of husband Justin Faith, an attorney with Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon, PLLC. “He’s parking the car,” she replies.

“He got off easy,” I say as Bennett stirs to life.

Justin materializes a few minutes later, his step much sprier than his wife’s, and grabs the tote bag. Seeing this, I realize I dropped the ball and apologize to Brittany. “I was carrying my appetite,” I say, “and it’s pretty big.”

We’re all there because we’re hungry. But we’re also curious. State of Confusion has been the talk of the town since opening in late August, partly because of the decision of its owners, a group of seasoned restaurateurs who also own Chattanooga’s Stir, to base it on the site of a former junkyard.

Their claim that they had traveled to New Orleans and Peru to develop the menu also intrigued us. “Our passion for authentic, made-from-scratch cooking is our reason for being,” the restaurant’s website reads.

State of Confusion maintains the junkyard aesthetic of its former resident. This is visible upon arriving at the restaurant, which consists of a small, street-side bar called the Pump House, multiple casual outdoor seating areas and the main building, which contains a dining area, another bar and the kitchen.

Rusty metallic sculptures that once called Estate of Confusion home still populate the grounds, including a monkey that dangles from the lower branches of an oxidized tree and a frog that keeps patrons at the Pump House company.

Light bulbs hang from welded fixtures secured to the ceilings, and benches and tables made of fused metal and wood complete the picture, giving State of Confusion a unique vibe among Scenic City eateries.

Having formed our party of three (well, four), we take in these surroundings as our host guides us across the restaurant’s large covered patio and into the dining area, where she seats us in a booth. Three menus and a big smile from our server, Emily, follow.

Brittany wastes no time before ordering a Mojito, which at State of Confusion is made of rum, mint, fresh lime, soda water and house-pressed sugarcane. Justin asks for an Old Fashioned, a Bourbon-based cocktail. Like his drink, Justin is from Kentucky, giving his thirst quencher a twist of nostalgia.

Brittany has liberated Bennett from his baby carrier and seated him on her lap, apparently so he can help her look over the menu. The child’s inquisitive brown eyes appear to take in everything as they dart across the page and then across the table to his dad, who’s making cooing noises.

The menu at State of Confusion is a single-sheet wonder filled with selections that seem appetizing. Broken down into starters, entrées, ceviche, salads and sandwiches and burgers, each category contains both familiar choices and an assortment of adventurous alternatives.

For example, when choosing an entrée, one can order wood-fired chicken, pecan-encrusted trout, grilled cauliflower steak or go for the more exotic Arroz Con Mariscos, a dish consisting of scallops, shrimp, mussels, calamari, yellow Peruvian-style risotto and a spicy yellow “chile” sauce.

If State of Confusion specializes in anything, it’s ceviche, a South American dish of marinated raw fish or seafood. The restaurant’s owners traveled to Peru, said to be the birthplace of ceviche, to learn how to make it.

The result is State of Confusion’s Peruvian ceviche, which is made of fresh corovina (a saltwater fish found in the coastal waters of the southeastern Pacific), red onions, sweet potatoes and “tiger’s milk,” citrus-based marinade.

The menu also includes the Peruvian ceviche bowl, which consists of Peruvian ceviche served with rice, cucumber and cancha corn, a large kernelled corn popular in Peru.

The ceviche appealed to Brittany, who describes herself as a raw meat fan. “Steak tartare is one of my favorite foods. It’s as raw as you can get,” she laughs. “I like sushi, but it has to be great. I have yet to find something in Chattanooga that matches my taste buds.”

I suggest she try Whole Foods, which I try to say has a “sushi section,” but it comes out sounding like I’m the one downing Mojitos and bourbon. Brittany and Justin laugh, which in turn makes Bennett smile.

“Aww,” Brittany coos at her baby boy. “Do you like alliteration?”

To make sure we sample as much of the menu as possible, we form a three-pronged attack, which we unleash on Emily when she returns to our table.

Brittany orders the fried ceviche, which consists of lightly battered Peruvian ceviche drizzled with lime aioli. Justin, who prefers his proteins cooked, goes for the Butcher’s Butter Steak, which the State of Confusion menu describes as “the best part of ribeye steak, wood fired.”

I chose the traditional muffuletta from the sandwich menu, eager to taste the combination of Genoa salami, ham, olive salad and provolone, all of which will be bedded between the tasty halves of a sliced Sicilian bun.

For a starter, Brittany suggests the potato chip nachos, which come with house-made chips, pico de gallo, melted pepper jack and cheddar cheese and Mexican crema. The men agree – including Bennett, who appears to nod his approval.

“He’s young enough that he’s still changing daily,” Justin says. “It might be his hair, or his facial expressions, or just the things he can do, but we can see him becoming more human every day.”

With our food on the way, the conversation turns to the life-changing experience of having a child.

Justin, 32, and Brittany, 30, married in 2015 and gave themselves a couple of years to settle into wedlock before starting a family. Although both have very active practices at local law firms, they decided the time was right late last year.

They met the challenges of modern parenthood head on. In addition to the experience of caring for an infant (or, as I often said when my two children were babies, “keeping a tiny human alive”), both Brittany and Justin have made adjustments at work.

Few jobs are as difficult to mesh with caring for a baby as that of attorney. But Justin and Brittany appear to have their heads well above the water.

Dad says the biggest adjustment has involved transporting Bennett to and from day care.

“We have to pick him up at six in Hixson, so we fight the traffic every night,” he explains. “As a lawyer, I still have to work long hours, so I go in earlier and then leave earlier than I used to – and I’m not a morning person.”

It’s been an adjustment, Justin admits, but one that’s been worth it.

The hardest part for mom has been pumping breast milk. “I have to stop whatever I’m doing, shut the door, set up everything and then pump,” she says. “I’m looking forward to being done.”

“Really, there haven’t been any bad parts,” Justin adds. “Just adjustments.”

“I would say pumping is not great,” Brittany counters. Sensing a brewing spat, Bennett blows a bubble and then lets a big grin stretch his baby cheeks.

Both parents laugh and begin cooing at their son. One family squabble avoided, courtesy of Bennett.

Brittany continues with the topic of parenting by saying how Bennett’s arrival has changed her perspective on even small things, like maximizing every moment.

“I was in a meeting, and the other people were kind of messing around, so I said, ‘Hey, guys, I have a baby to get home to; let’s stay on track,’” she says. “I’ll probably be more efficient now.”

“Having a baby is life-changing, but it doesn’t change everything,” Justin notes. “We’re still going to New Orleans this fall.”

Bennett laughs, as if to say, “We’ll see about that.”

With that, Emily arrives with the potato chip nachos and places them in the center of the table. Served on a large round platter for easy sharing, they’re a festive spread of cheese and crunchy homemade chips. Everyone agrees they’re delicious, if a little too salty.

To distract Bennett, who’s looking at the chips with an expression that says, “I’m ready for solid foods,” Justin coos across the table. “You silly boy! You silly boy!” The tactic works.

The voice Justin uses with his son is definitely not his courtroom voice. A business litigation and probate attorney at Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon, Faith says his firm has been very accommodating as he’s adjusted. “They’re a family-friendly firm,” he adds.

Brittany, an immigration attorney at Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, lavishes praise on her firm, which she says has gone the extra mile for her.

Grant Konvalinka not only provided Brittany with 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, it allowed her to break down some of that time to ten weeks of working three days a week.

“It would have been hard to take 12 weeks off because I have a lot of my own cases and clients,” she points out. “Immigrants want a person they trust and are able to reach out to at any time.

“It’s crazy hectic whenever you’re a new mom, and the practice of law is always crazy hectic, but it’s been nice to be able to keep my momentum going and assure my clients I’m the one handling their case.”

Our entrées arrive just as I’m picking up the last cheese-ladened chip. Before digging in, everyone takes a moment to gaze at the ceviche, which looks amazing, but also appears to be portioned more like an appetizer.

Regardless, Brittany, who’s placed Bennett back in his seat, takes fork and knife in hand and begins to eat. “It’s good,” she says. “It’s light, and I like the aioli.”

Justin’s plate of steak, “confusion” potatoes and grilled vegetables looks enticing, but when Brittany asks him how it is, he gives it a lukewarm review. “It’s good,” he shrugs. “Above average, but not great.”

I’m beginning to think I’m having dinner with a pair of picky eaters when I bite into my muffuletta.

Unlike other muffulettas I’ve eaten, State of Confusion’s muffuletta isn’t served hot, which disappoints me. (Although muffulettas are served both ways, pressing the sandwich melts the cheese, brings out the fat in the meat and softens the olive salad.) It doesn’t come with much olive salad, either – or at least mine didn’t.

The spread is thin enough that it doesn’t have any impact on the taste. Still, I do my best to enjoy what essentially is a cold deli sandwich.

Although the food is reaping tepid reviews, Bennett receives five stars for good behavior. Throughout the entire meal, he doesn’t fuss once. Maybe my hearing has dulled since I had kids, but I don’t hear even a single disgruntled grunt.

Justin chalks up Bennett’s chill demeanor to him being accustomed to active public environments. “He’s well-adjusted to people and restaurants. We’ve taken him to Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville. He was Brittany’s date to the TBA (Tennessee Bar Association) dinner. He’s a well-traveled four-month-old.”

As new parents, Justin and Brittany are simply weathering each day as it comes. But after I ask them about their hopes and dreams for Bennett, they think for a moment and come to a unanimous decision: they want him to be happy and healthy and do whatever he wants – as long as he doesn’t become an attorney.

“Being a lawyer is tough,” Justin says.

“Especially while you’re paying your dues,” Brittany agrees. “It’s a lot of long days.”

To keep the conversation light, Bennett, who’s returned to his mother’s lap, smiles across the table at his dad and slaps his hands on the table, as if he’s playing an imaginary pair of conga drums. At this stage in life, happiness is making bubbles, soothing car rides and playful alliteration. All other considerations can wait until tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, our meal at State of Confusion marks the end of normal eating for Justin and Brittany, who are starting a Whole 30 diet in the morning. The strict program will eliminate dairy, alcohol, grains, sugar and soy from their meals and limit them to fresh foods.

Essentially, they’ll be eating clean for a month. “I want to get rid of my mommy tummy,” Brittany says.

“I’d like to lose a few pregnancy pounds, too,” Justin adds as he pats his stomach, earning an epic eye roll from his wife.

As a final fling with sugar, Brittany and Justin order a mini Snickers pie and a mini pineapple upside-down cake from State of Confusion’s selection of desserts. Neither fares better than the entrées. “Pineapple upside-down cake should not be this dry,” Justin says.

Although our reaction to the food was mixed, we all agreed we’d give State of Confusion another shot. Justin wants to try the ceviche and would like to return with friends to have drinks and soak up the relaxed Southside ambiance.

State of Confusion is the latest endeavor from a group of people collectively known as SquareOne Holding Company. Its dining triumphs include not just Stir but also Blue Water Grill, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant and CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries. With this in mind, there’s no reason to believe State of Confusion doesn’t have the potential to match those successes.

State of Confusion also offers other casual dining opportunities, including brunch on weekends and grab-and-go items in the Pump House, so there’s more to sample.

After posing for family photos outside the Pump House, Justin and Brittany gather Bennett and all their baby paraphernalia and walk toward their car. Justin is shouldering more of the load this time.

Whatever tomorrow holds, they have weathered today and ended it together.