“I don’t want pumpkin spice,” protests actor Mark Wahlberg in a meme that’s making the rounds online. “I want brisket tacos.”
Given the nature of memes, I feel safe suggesting Wahlberg didn’t actually say this but was chosen for the incredulous look he delivered at some point during his career-snuffing performance in “The Happening.”
While I’d prefer consuming a pumpkin spice-flavored latte to watching that unintentional ode to cringe cinema again, Wahlberg’s pained expression (or cry for help) reflects how I feel each autumn as the flavor begins popping up on coffee menus across the city: no thank you.
However, as I discovered last fall as I devoured countless curbside orders of Bonefish Grill’s pumpkin ravioli, autumn can be a time for experiencing dishes that are as unique to the season as the vibrant colors that materialize on branches across the Scenic City.
So, when Real Roots’ fall menu landed in my inbox, all thoughts of brisket tacos dissolved and I began to plan a trip to the North Shore.
Ah, Real Roots. I’d venture that namedropping the casual North Market Street vegan eatery to anyone who’s enjoyed its smoothies, slushies, toasts, coffees, hot foods, paninis or salads would elicit a common response: “I love that place!”
Followed by, “And Matthew and Tiffany are amazing!”
This was my experience after I discovered Real Roots last July and mentioned it to a handful of friends. The wholly plant-based dishes are not just delicious, they’re so delicious, they qualify as comfort food. A plate of their nachos would be at home on any coffee table in the city during the airing of a football game, for example.
Also, if Matthew and Tiffany Lake, who opened Real Roots in Fort Oglethorpe in 2017 and then moved it to the North Shore in 2021, are not the nicest couple in Chattanooga, then they’re certainly contenders. The smile that comes with one of their paninis, for example, feels like a garnish for your meal rather than a social obligation.
Bearing all of this in mind, I felt it was imperative to taste test as much of their fall menu as I could squeeze into a single day. Here, for your mouthwatering reading, are my thoughts:
Butternut Squash Soup
My meal began with a rich and creamy cup of warm butternut squash soup, which comes topped with dill crema. You might be wondering, “What is dill crema?” It’s the sauce that adds a bit of zing to Real Roots’ already tasty soup.
The pumpkin seeds that top the soup add a nice crunch to its velvety texture, while the bits of spring onion balance the sweet flavor of butternut with a touch of acid.
Pairing a cup of butternut squash soup with a side of Zesty Kale Salad would make for a light but satisfying lunch. My only regret was limiting myself to a cup of this remarkable creation to leave room for the quesadilla that followed.
Santa Fe Quesadillas
The fall menu at Real Roots includes two quesadillas, both of which thematically hail from the Southwest.
If you persuade a meat lover to join you, suggest the Christmas-style Santa Fe quesadilla, which comes stuffed with roasted “chik’n,” a vegan food that ably mimics the taste and texture of – you guessed it – chicken. Joining the chik’n between the folds of a toasty tortilla are a housemade mozzarella, Hatch chiles (a pepper grown in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico), a house red chili sauce and a house queso fresco. Several avocado slices come on the side.
Real Roots’ huevos rancheros-style Santa Fe quesadilla includes mozzarella, black beans, salsa, queso fresco, chili sauce and vegan yolk on triple-layered corn tortillas. Avocado slices also make an appearance on this dish.
I tried the Christmas-style quesadilla, which was not only scrumptious but also filling. My only regret was finishing it signaled the end of lunch.
Zesty Kale Salad
If you find yourself doing an impression of a scrunchy Wahlberg in “The Happening” whenever someone mentions kale, I’d still recommend the Zesty Kale Salad. To cram in a baseball metaphor while it’s still timely, Real Roots knocks it out of the ballpark.
It’s not just the dressed kale that makes this salad as good as it is, it’s the teaming of the kale with roasted root vegetables, house tofu feta, Granny Smith apple slices, toasted pecans, shredded carrots and dried cranberries.
I ordered a small Zesty Kale Salad to go for dinner, and was pleased to find it survived the afternoon in my refrigerator with its crunchiness intact. My only regret was having ordered the smaller portion. It was for dinner, after all.
No visit to Real Roots would be complete with sipping from its drink menu. While a pumpkin spice latte made with Mad Priest coffee tops the list, there are options for those of you who would rather watch “The Happening” than imbibe autumn’s most popular brew.
These include four smoothies – banana bread, pumpkin bread, Blue Yogi and Root Chakra – as well as the Fall Harvest Juice.
I was tempted to try the banana bread smoothie, since what I believe was the aroma of freshly baked banana bread had been enticing me throughout my meal, but I opted for the juice since I was already stuffed to the rafters.
This flavorsome blend consists of sweet potato, apple, lemon, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, which is like side B of an LP of fall’s greatest hits. While I expected the ginger to add more bite, I was pleased to discover the juice is more sweet than spicy and goes down smoothly.
So, there you have it. As fall settles in across the Chattanooga area, consider a visit to Real Roots to try its fall menu. I love that place, even though I also like brisket tacos.
Plus, Matthew and Tiffany are amazing!