In large families, the size of the table at which you eat your meals is directly proportionate to your level of maturity. When you’re a baby, you’re confined to a high chair because you don’t have the capacity to be tidy. Before long, though, you move on to the small table, an eating surface reserved for kids who are still likely to make a mess, but really are too young to take part in an adult conversation.
In time, however, you graduate to the big table, where you’re asked questions like, “How was school?” and “Can you expand on what you mean by 'Fine'?” As you share meals with your parents and siblings, you experience some of the most intimate times you’ll have with your family, and create memories more focused on the people you were with than what you were doing.
This sense of family and the intimacy that rises out of eating together permeates The Big Table, a small cafe-style restaurant on Cross Street near the base of Signal Mountain. Fittingly set inside a converted house, its décor is designed to set you at ease, and its food is meant to fill you with the comfort that comes with eating a home-cooked meal,
Co-owners David and Karen Loveless set the stage with the décor. I arrived on a chilly winter afternoon, and was immediately drawn to the gas fireplace in the main dining area, a small room about the size of a typical living room (probably because that’s what it once was). Old photos of Karen’s family reside on the mantle, while the fire warms a nearby table that seats four. On the day I was there, each table was adorned with a vase of fresh daisies and a pair of two-sided menus. More photographs occupy the walls in neatly arranged clusters, and wine bottles fill several decorative shelves installed just below the ceiling.
Karen is as welcoming as hosts come. Her smile is the first thing you’ll notice about her, and her warm greeting is the second. After she’d seated my lunch companion and me, a few regulars strolled in. “How’s the fam?” she asked one. He gave her an earful in reply. Regulars are good. Like a full parking lot, they’re one of the signs that a restaurant might be worth trying.
I scanned the lunch menu for something that would heat up my insides. A few things caught my eye: the Creamy Chicken Enchiladas; the Pot Roast; the meaty sandwiches; the Grilled Fajita Chicken Alfredo; and the Big Table Salad, which consists of mixed baby greens, strawberries, pears, roasted walnuts, and feta, and is topped with a house-made sweet raspberry vinaigrette.
The salad sounded scrumptious, but the grilled cheese sandwich and cup of tomato soup sounded warm. Are there two foods more comforting when it’s cold outside? The person with me ordered the vegetarian entrée.
As we waited for our meals, I turned over the menu to see what was for dinner. More comfort foods: Shrimp Scampi, Trout Almandine, Chicken Parmesan, BBQ Meatloaf, Grilled Pork Loin (which comes with a mushroom chardonnay cream sauce), Black Angus Ribeye, and Beef Brisket Stroganoff, among other offerings. Karen said The Big Table is known for its Lump Crab Cake appetizer, and I did enjoy the sample she set on our table along with a tasty remoulade.
Lunch arrived with the same smile that had greeted us as we walked in. The soup was giving off a nice bit of steam, and the vegetarian plate was heaping with food. I enjoyed every bite. The grilled cheese was buttery and crunchy where it needed to be (on the outside) and hot and stringy where it needed to be (on the inside), and the tomato soup was a pleasure to consume. My lunch companion raved after nearly every bite of her vegetarian plate, but was unable to finish what Karen had placed before her.
No trip to The Big Table would be complete without one of their homemade desserts. In fact, leaving without having a slice of Cheesecake, Chocolate Oreo Cheesecake, or a Double-Fudge Cream Cheese Brownie (with ice cream) would be the worst decision you’d make that day. The heavenly slice of Coconut Cream Pie I ordered was the best decision I made that day.
Karen and her husband, Dave, are The Big Table. They cook everything, with each of them drawing on a long culinary history. She was trained in Paris, which gave her a French gourmet background, while he prepared food at the Chattanooga Convention Center for 25 years. At The Big Table, they serve a personally developed brand of cuisine Karen calls Southern gourmet. She can call it whatever she wants; I call it delicious.
The Big Table is located at 118 Cross Street in Chattanooga. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lunch is served all day, and dinner service begins at 4:30. In addition to dining in, they offer catering, hot buffets, boxed lunches, and hors d’oeuvres, as well as an event space next door called The Big Table, Too. For more information, contact Karen at (423) 634-0772 or email@example.com.
To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.
Can we talk for a second before I wrap this up? Chattanooga’s restaurant scene has been going through a major shift, with a number of established restaurants closing their doors and other exciting venues opening theirs. The Big Table has been around for 10 years, and while they might not be as trendy as one of the newer spots, they are part of Chattanooga’s recent culinary history. More importantly, they serve down to Earth good food in a low key, comfortable atmosphere. When you’re choosing where to eat your next meal out, remember that such places are an important part of the culinary landscape of this city, and they deserve our patronage.