Friday, December 4, 2009

Food Works

Food Works
205 Manufacturers Rd # C
Chattanooga, TN 37405-3253
(423) 752-7487

I know, I’m just as shocked as you are. It’s been a while since I last ripped into Food Works. The seasons have changed and so has the establishment. I’ve watched signs proclaiming, “New Menu!, “New Management!” and “New Ownership!” appear and I decided it was time for my shadow to darken their door once again.

Food Works has a neat look to it and free parking, neither of which can be underestimated in Chattanooga's restaurant scene. The entry is a generous covered deck warmed by several heaters. The heaters and covering are necessary because the waiting area inside the restaurant is small.

The interior is classic and modern, with nods to local artists adorning the wall space and many, many windows. It’s a hip atmosphere surrounded by the shell of the old knitting mill. This is a nice-yet-casual dining atmosphere, with pop music playing in the background and servers dressed in khakis and blue Food Works t-shirts. The mood is light.

The wine list runs the gamut from inexpensive single glasses to $200 bottles. These bottles are displayed in a bar pantry with large windows and, while it is visually appealing, I immediately wondered how much sun exposure the bottles receive during daylight hours.

Starters, which average $8, run from the usual (calamari, bruchetta) to the somewhat eclectic (Smoked Chicken Spring Rolls). There is a small selection of lovely-sounding salads ranging from $5 to $11.

Entrees hover in the $15 - $20 range. Contrary to what the signage led me to believe, the menu is not entirely new. Survivors include the obligatory steak, pork chops, and shrimp n' grits, and there appear to be some familiar permutations borne out of the restaurant's earlier days (the lobster manicotti seems vaguely reminiscent of the bland lobster ravioli I encountered previously).

We started with the house Chips and Dip. The chips were sweet potato, thinly-sliced and crisp, and the dip was a blue cheese fondue that was smooth and creamy with a solid bite. The combination was excellent and the portion generous. We cleared the plate in no time.

For entrees, I opted to try something new: Horseradish Salmon with cabbage and mashed potatoes. It was my attempt to extend an olive branch to the establishment I have so castigated. Salmon, that titan of fish, is a forgiving dinner specimen and has such a robust natural flavor it requires little embellishment.

The salmon was cooked perfectly, but had a slight fishy taste and the horseradish was sometimes overwhelming. The braised red cabbage was briny, the Yukon mashed potatoes extraordinarily bland. It’s an identity crisis that seems to be common in these "between" American restaurants, which have cleverer food than the average chain restaurant, but only just. The chef has vision but lacks the culinary prowess to really pull everything together.

The other big fish dish, the Bacon Wrapped Trout, could aptly be summed up as, “too much.” It was a presentation of bacon wound tightly around a whole trout--skin and all--that oozed grease. It came with a vegetable medley that provided some relief, I think, but to call it fishy would be an understatement.

Overall, the food has improved but there’s still work to be done. The scale seems to have tipped from “bland, flavorless,” to “overzealous,” and strong flavors overwhelm dishes with a result that is less than harmonious.

Ultimately, I think Food Works is an establishment that means well but cannot stand up to better restaurants across the river. While the food has improved since my last visit it's not good enough to warrant repeat visits or a recommendation.

Food Works on Urbanspoon

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