What’s Cookin: Farm to Table with a Twist

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TerraMae Appalachian Bistro builds its seasonal dishes with locally produced ingredients, starting with traditional recipes and infusing them with global character.

story and photos by STEVEN STIEFEL

Terramae Appalachian Bistro is one of the most popular restaurants in Chattanooga, Tenn., because the staff does things a bit differently. The foods seem familiar, but an emphasis on farm-to-table principles and international influences takes this establishment out of the usual territory.

In an era dominated by chain restaurants where you will consistently find the same tastes regardless of locale, TerraMae builds its menu on a foundation of fresh, carefully sourced ingredients.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]Owner Mark Oldham co-founded the bistro on the first level of his StoneFort Inn, a 16-room hotel built in 1909 that sits in the heart of downtown.

The restaurant’s basic concept involves serving food harvested at the peak of flavor as dishes steeped in tradition. The well-executed idea landed the business honors as “one of Chattanooga’s buzziest new restaurants” in Travel + Leisure magazine.

TerraMae defies easy classification as a “steakhouse” or “seafood place” and also changes its menu more frequently than most restaurants, basing the dishes served on which seasonal ingredients are most readily available and can build the kind of comfort foods people living in Appalachia have enjoyed
for hundreds of years.

Some popular items include bacon-wrapped scallops, rosemary and rabbit biscuits and tasty combinations of oysters, shrimp, lobster, crab, bass, trout, beef, pork, eggs, cheeses and various vegetables, herbs and sauces.

“Person after person walked out saying something about how good their food and drinks were, so we were excited to have dinner,” remarks Jane Errico of Ooltewah, Tenn. “And it was worth every minute we waited at the bar for a table since we hadn’t made reservations. Our meals were perfect, and we
savored every bite.”

Drawing on life experience and a passion for food and creativity, TerraMae’s chefs start with local ingredients and reference the Appalachian region’s conventional dishes while adding bits of flavor and component combinations influenced by cultures around the world.

The restaurant is a favorite of Chattanooga foodies who enjoy experimenting with new tastes. Chefs incorporate new dishes gradually, realizing the importance of informed servers who can educate customers and make recommendations. “I don’t expect everyone to completely revamp the menu
overnight,” says executive chef Shelley Cooper. “A lot of times when we get very creative with the ingredients or the cooking, there’s a lot of explanation that goes into it and conversation that needs to happen first.”

Oldham and David Mitchell developed the model for TerraMae, bringing it to reality in December 2012. Oldham’s interest in restaurants began with his first job, working at Miss Daisy’s Tea Room in Franklin, Tenn., when he was 14. “Miss Daisy King” is now a much-celebrated Southern chef who has published numerous cookbooks. Oldham purchased the StoneFort Inn as a sideline business while running a publishing company he eventually sold.

“The genesis for TerraMae was the result of a kindred-spirit connection with David Mitchell, who originally came to Chattanooga to prepare to walk the Appalachian Trail before the realities of life kept creeping in – aka having to make a living,” Oldham says. “David and I concentrated on the words ‘Appalachian’ and ‘Mother Earth’ and, combined with the historical structure of the StoneFort Inn, TerraMae was born, with the help of many people along the way. Today, we are consistently ranked in the Top 10 restaurants in Trip Advisor, and this is a testament to our upscale Appalachian focus with a casual atmosphere and great team service, led by Brent Tate as general manager.

To helm the kitchen, they hired Cooper, who was professionally trained at culinary institutes in Charleston, S.C., and San Francisco before honing her craft at top restaurants in Hilton Head, S.C., New Zealand, Los Angeles, Alaska and Hawaii. Coming to Chattanooga was a return to roots for Cooper. The Memphis native grew up among family members who treasure fresh, seasonal, made-from-scratch foods and hail from the Mississippi Delta and Blue Ridge Mountains. New sous chef Hardin Cowan, a Chattanooga native, most recently worked for Merchants restaurant in Nashville, Tenn., and studied French culinary art in New York.

Much of the restaurant’s produce is supplied by Oldham’s farm near Nashville. “I’ve always had a garden,” says Oldham’s wife, Sharon. “When Mark opened TerraMae, he told me to expand.”

The Oldhams routinely grow several acres worth of heirloom tomatoes, kale, lettuce, spinach, beans, sprouts, squash, watermelon, peppers, cucumbers, herbs and more. The TerraMae Garden Salad includes a plethora of seasonal vegetables often sourced from the farm.

Food is only half the TerraMae story. Master bartender Justin Stamper uses his alchemical wizardry to prepare cocktails and wines that expertly pair with the foods. If you stop by the bar, he’ll make you some familiar favorite the way its creator intended it to be mixed or offer up one of his own drinks infused with bitters, fresh fruits and ginger beers inspired by classic speakeasy drinks or literary references. You can kick back while listening to big-band music over the sound system. The vibe of this place welcomes you and promises something special with an ambiance that delivers relaxed sophistication.

TerraMae is an essential part of a stay at the StoneFort Inn. Many couples who come to Chattanooga for a romantic weekend enjoy Friday night dinner as well as the Sunday brunch, ready in time for checkout.

Both the hotel and restaurant occupy the same restored brick-and-limestone structure that was beautifully decorated by Cris Angsten to provide the perfect backdrop for weddings, business dinners, bridal showers and other social gatherings. Located on 10th Street near Warehouse Row and the Bessie Smith Museum, StoneFort and TerraMae are conveniently near many other attractions in the Scenic City. The free electric shuttle, accessible from a stop a block away, whisks travelers from the cool Southside district to the popular riverfront areas housing the Tennessee Aquarium and trendy Northshore shops and galleries.

It’s difficult to imagine a more romantic getaway than dining on scrumptious food amidst TerraMae’s intimate lighting and elegant decor before retiring upstairs to enjoy a hot soak in a claw-foot tub or a view of the urban skyline from a balcony.

If You Go

GETTING THERE: TerraMae Appalachian Bistro is at 122 East 10th Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402.
DINNER HOURS: Monday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
BRUNCH HOURS: Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
RESERVATIONS: 423-710-2925 or terramaechattanooga.com
CONSIDER A STAY AT STONEFORT INN: TerraMae resides on the first floor of the StoneFort Inn, which was built in 1909 on the grounds of Chattanooga’s old Stone Fort. The 16-bed, urban bed and breakfast offers a blend of rustic comfort and contemporary elegance and is surrounded by tourist attractions and a lively music scene. More information at stonefortinn.com

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