Culinary Road Trip: Eat Your Way to IKEA and Back
IKEA. Like a siren call, the prospect of purchasing inexpensive Swedish furniture tempts Nashvillians to burn tankloads of gas on I-24 and I-75 on the way to and from Atlanta to shop at this commercial mecca. But remember that the journey is part of the fun, so rather than undertaking a full-speed road trip there and back in a day, why not slow down and enjoy some excellent dining options along the way?
Consider making a weekend of it with stops in Sewanee/Monteagle and Chattanooga that will offer great tourism opportunities and fun for the entire family. An itinerary that includes an overnight stay in either location will still allow for plenty of shopping time in Atlanta, and you’ll return home much better rested.
Monteagle Mountain is only about an hour and a half down the interstate from Nashville, but once you reach the top of the plateau you’ll feel like you’re a world away. With numerous hiking trails around the University of the South campus to stretch your legs, there are ample opportunities to relieve fidgety passengers. And at the edge of campus, on Highway 41 about 10 minutes from exit 134, are two great restaurants offering a choice of casual or fine dining.
The more laid-back option is Shenanigans, a favorite campus watering hole that has undergone a major transformation in the past couple of years. The first improvement was structural as the ramshackle building was literally falling over for years. The cattywampus rhomboid front door had been considered quaint by locals until the building shifted so dramatically that it completely blew out the front windows. Not so charming now, is it?
The business was purchased and rehabilitated by Ward Cammack, who you might recall as a candidate in the last Democratic primary for governor. After the campaign, Cammack moved his family from Nashville to Sewanee and began to reinvent Shenanigans. After shoring up the infrastructure and brightening up the exterior and interior of the restaurant, Cammack tackled the menu. Drawing on his experience as an undergrad in New Orleans at Tulane, he added Louisiana specialties like gumbo and Po’ Boys to the previous offering of healthy sandwiches and wraps. Fortunately, he did not change some of the most addictive French fries in middle Tennessee. Seriously, alumni have been known to drive up the mountain in the middle of the night for some Shenanigans fries.
Burgers, pizzas and burritos are also available on the menu to please any member of your traveling party as well as an extensive selection of craft beers for whoever is traveling in the passenger seat. They have also recently launched a “Slo-Go” portion of their menu featuring items that are at least 95% sourced from sustainable local vendors. Shenanigans is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
Across the highway from Shenanigans is IvyWild, Sewanee’s upscale dining destination. Named after Chef Keri Moser’s daughter, IvyWild also employs locally-sourced ingredients to create inventive dishes born from classic European techniques. The menu changes frequently and can include appetizers like Rabbit Loin Mole or Foie Gras Torchon and entrées along the lines of Pecan-Wood Smoked Salmon with Gorgonzola and Housemade Bacon Slaw or Fried Ashley Farms Chicken Breast with Potato Foam and Caviar. With uptown dishes at down-home prices, IvyWild is a fantastic place to impress whoever it was that you talked into joining you to split the driving. The restaurant is open for dinner only on Thursday through Sunday nights.
Just another hour down the other side of the mountain lies Chattanooga. Whether you’ve visited the river city lately or not, it’s definitely worth the trip. If you’re traveling with children or any history buffs, stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, where you can enjoy an overnight stay in an authentic refurbished Victorian-style sleeping car. The Choo Choo truly has something for everyone, with souvenir shops and a soda fountain to keep the kids occupied, and a steak house with a live dinner show featuring extremely talented singing servers.
For a great burger near the Choo Choo, check out Urban Stack, owned by the same folks who brought Taco Mamacita to Nashville. Urban Stack features a high-end whiskey bar and a vibrant happy hour crowd buzzing away in the warm wood and exposed brick interior of the refurbished old industrial building. Placards on the wall proclaim “Our burgers are kind of a big deal” and promise “Killer Burgers and Manly Drinks.”
It ain’t bragging if you can back it up, and Urban Stack delivers the goods. From openers of Fried Bologna Sliders and Benton’s Bacon Potato Skins to a crumbled chorizo Hamburguesa Mamacita and a decadent Strauss Burger made from ground turkey slathered with creamy avocado, blue cheese spread and topped with a fried egg (why not?), Urban Stack’s menu is not for the meek. If you have no tolerance for lactose, you might just want to skip the joint altogether because the Gouda Creamed Corn is just going to torture you. Urban Stack is open every day from 11:00 a.m. until “late.”
If you’d prefer accommodations that are a little more modern, downtown Chattanooga has plenty of interesting overnight options along the riverfront, but another particularly historic gem is the Bluff View Inn high on a hill above the Tennessee Aquarium. Part of the Bluff View Art District, the Inn is located in three turn-of-the-century homes overlooking the Tennessee River and is one of Chattanooga’s best bed and breakfast choices. In addition to several museums, galleries and a sculpture garden, the Bluff View Art District also is home to casual dining at Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria and fancier fare at the Back Inn Cafe. The complex is also home to a chocolatier, a bakery and a charming little coffee shop named Rembrandt’s. The aroma alone is worth a visit up the hill to Bluff View.
IKEA will still be there on Sunday, so take the afternoon to visit the Tennessee Aquarium and their child-pleasing penguins and otters. The jellyfish exhibit is only slightly more hypnotizing than four hours staring at the taillights of an eighteen-wheeler, so make sure to drink some coffee before you hit the road. Or, visit the newly opened “River Giants” exhibit, where 10-foot alligator gars and catfish the size of Volkswagens will shock you back to alertness.
From downtown Chattanooga, you’re less than two hours away from your ultimate destination, the blue and yellow edifice of commerce known as IKEA. But why rush when there are two other unbelievable dining destinations within just a few blocks of the mega home goods store? Eddie Hernandez, a native of Monterrey, Mexico is the mad scientist behind Taqueria del Sol’s crazily creative menu. So much more than just your typical fast-casual taco stand, Taqueria del Sol has been named by both Bon Appétit magazine and Food Network as one of their “Top American Restaurants.”
Emphasizing a combination of Southern-inspired dishes made with a Southwestern twist, the menu reads as good as it tastes. How does a Memphis taco made with smoked pork, jalapeño coleslaw and tequila BBQ sauce grab you? Or how about The Sloppy Jose, stuffed with sloppy joe meat, fresh jalapeño, cheddar cheese and Fritos, or The Bob, topped with fried shrimp, crayfish mayonnaise and pickled jalapeños? Thanks to their utterly affordable prices, Chef Eddie and Taqueria del Sol will leave you with plenty of cash to spend on those fiberglass book shelves.
Sharing a parking lot with Taqueria del Sol is JCT. Kitchen. Named by Chef Ford Fry after the railroad junction (JCT.) sign that he spotted near the active tracks which pass by the restaurant, JCT. Kitchen serves some of the best Southern comfort food that you’ll find outside of your grandma’s kitchen.
Soaked overnight in buttermilk and cooked to perfection, the Fried Chicken is moist and juicy inside of a crisp brown crust. The Shrimp and Grits are made with Red Mule Grits, flavored with smoky bacon and a trace of truffles and finished with a poached egg to add a silky texture to the dish. Just be careful not to overeat; you’ll need energy to push that cart around IKEA.
If you absolutely must rush — hell-bent for patent leather — straight to IKEA, there is at least one good food option awaiting you there. Derived from their Swedish heritage, the cafeterias at all IKEAs are rightfully proud of their Swedish Meatballs. Shoppers can fuel up in the store’s restaurant daily from 9:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. on 15 meatballs served with mashed potatoes, cream sauce and lingonberries for only $3.99. As much of a bargain as IKEA’s office furniture, the meatballs are just another reason to make the pilgrimage to Atlanta in that rented U-Haul van. The lingonberries are just a bonus. Blech.
12595 Sollace M Freeman Hwy
Sewanee, TN 37375
36 Ball Park Rd
Sewanee, TN 37375
Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel
1400 Market St
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Urban Stack Burger Lounge
12 W 13th St
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Bluff View Art District
411 E 2nd St
Chattanooga, TN 37403
1 Broad St
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Taqueria del Sol
1200 Howell Mill Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
1198 Howell Mill Rd
Atlanta, GA 30318
441 16th St NW
Atlanta, GA 30363
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
To read this and other Her Well-Being stories, click here.