Last month, I mentioned that a regular at the Roadfood message board had come through with a recommendation for lunch in the town of Carnesville. I once again visited that forum for help finding breakfast this past Saturday in Chattanooga. The same guy, who goes by the handle “Littleman,” again came through with a heads-up on a tiny little place called Aretha Frankenstein’s that just drips with kitschy character and charm. That fellow’s batting a thousand, and if I can’t help you with suggestions about where to eat in any given destination, you should probably track him down.
Saturday marked the end of my son’s summer with us. He returned to Louisville for another year with his mother, chiefly on account of some girl he likes. Can you believe that? He’s thirteen and already changing cities and schools on account of some sweetie. College is going to be a real thrill. He’d mentioned wanting to visit a state park in Tennessee before he left to see the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi, so we took a trip up there before meeting his mother for what I like to call a “prisoner exchange.” This put us in Chattanooga around breakfast time and I’d hoped to find something fun and a little decadent before we started hiking. Aretha Frankenstein’s totally met my expectations. This place is terrific.
Getting there proved to be a pleasant surprise. As many times as I’ve visited Chattanooga and seen everything from Lookouts games at AT&T Field to the scariest convenience store in Tennessee, I had not actually driven north of the river to the incredibly cute neighborhood on the other side of the Market Street Bridge. From there, it’s a very short hop up an old residential street called Tremont, where many houses have been built up the sides of incredibly steep, short hills, to Aretha Frankenstein’s. Parking is a challenge, so it’s not a place you want to try at peak times. 7.30 on a Saturday morning is about right. If it’s pleasant enough to sit outside, like it was this weekend, you can, honestly, I’m completely serious about this, share patio space with chain-smoking hipsters in bowling shirts drinking PBR by the can that early in the day.
Aretha’s is very much a breakfast place, and they serve wild concoctions from 7 to midnight. They also have sandwiches on the menu, but their breakfast is the main attraction. Their pancakes – probably a misnomer, as they are cooked in omelet rings which leave them coming out about an inch thick and totally delicious – can be served with Maine blueberries for a wonderful taste. They also cook Belgian waffles. The children each had one of those served “Elephants Gerald” style, with vanilla ice cream, pecans and enough cinnamon for my son to accidentally inhale some. Well, we have been getting at him to sit up straight when he eats and not lean over his plate. Maybe cinnamon up the nose was the trick that we needed.
The decor is wonderful, with the same sort of fabulous bric-a-brac on the walls that I’d consider for the walls of any place that I might open. There’s a DB Records publicity photo of Pylon by the restrooms, and a framed Gold Key Lidsville comic next to a lobby card from the Universal Pufnstuf film on the wall by the bar. Did somebody tell these guys that I was coming, or are they always this cool?
My daughter, incidentally, really liked the way that the “O” in the neon “OPEN” sign is a white cobweb. There’s even a prominent sign asking customers outside to refrain from feeding the neighborhood stray cats who make their way to the patio. We didn’t feed them – we wouldn’t – but we did enjoy watching the two hanging out nearby trying to look cool. They were in the right place; maybe they just needed bowling shirts and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Other blog posts about Aretha Frankenstein’s: