by Douglas Beliakoff
Open Everyday 7am to Midnight
Chattanooga, TN 37402
I like to do a little research on places that I am going to write about before I throw in my “two cents” worth. Because I’m in the food and beverage industry, and because I can be too critical at times, I think that it’s good for me and fair to you to hear and see what kind of impression a restaurant is having on other people other. I also love a good back story. I hope you do too.
When I moved to Chattanooga in 1995, Tremont Street was a main artery of North Chattanooga, yet was still dark and mysterious. Tremont Street was home to many musicians and every type of struggling artist, and it did not have the reputation of being a good neighborhood. Back then, if you lived on Tremont, you were considered a “Tremonster”. This meant, if you lived there, that you were probably dark, mysterious, and creative. You probably slept for most of the day and worked for most of the night.
I thought it genius when someone came along with a place like “Aretha Frankenstein’s”. It fit. With his own hands, owner Jeff Brakebill spent 2 years building this unusual neighborhood restaurant and I’ve read that every nail was driven by Jeff. He moved walls, hung sheetrock, and installed hardwood floors that were salvaged from an old gymnasium. Jeff also built the bar, tiled the floors, and scraped and painted the place from top to bottom. He collected artwork for ten years and placed it in an eclectic way that insured that your eyes would continue to roam. Then, in early 2004, with recipes that he had created from scratch, he opened his doors to a much anticipating crowd. With a mixture of vintage horror, rock and roll, and a “quirky menu”, Aretha Frankenstein’s was open for business. In an old North Chattanooga home, and nestled up against a small, but upscale retail complex, it was the perfect place for brunch. All the while, the neighborhood was being transformed into one of the most desirable in North Chattanooga.
In April 2006, another chapter for Jeff Brakebill’s restaurant began. A suspicious fire that began on the front porch of the building closed his business and forced him to begin again. Three months or so later, he put his famous pancake mix on the market and made it available to shoppers both locally and online.
Then Jeff began to rebuild.
Today. Aretha Frankenstein’s is a thriving "place to be" in North Chattanooga. There is a terrific patio for outdoor dining or entertaining and it’s the kind of place where folks will gather for a cup of coffee or a beer. The indoor restaurant is cozy and perfect for small get togethers. With huge, enveloping bar stools and a Ms. PacMan machine used as a table, your eyes will continue to roam over Mr. Brakebill’s spooky EBay collection. On this particular Sunday, we sat at the Ms. PacMan table and, yes, played a game or two. We also noticed the fire-melted computer keyboard mounted proudly over the entrance to the kitchen.
Everyone that I have talked to locally has had a good time at Aretha Frankenstein’s. Some blogs and other posts will say that they had to wait on their biscuit or that the service was too slow. Whether this is true or not, I wouldn’t let it keep you from visiting. If you are looking for a “national chain” type of efficiency, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a unique, local experience, this is the spot. One comment I read said that “this place is so sexy it blows my mind”. Another said, “Try the blueberry pancakes with butter only – they’re that good!”
What is important here is not a food review. The food that we had Sunday was exactly what I expected…quirky with a Tennessee twist. I will say that the biscuits and gravy and the grits are fantastic. The wait is a little long on the weekends as their kitchen is very tiny and the demand is not. On this particular Sunday, the crowd was building and the servers were having a time keeping up with the new arrivals. Keep in mind that this is a small place, but very worth the effort. Your trip to Aretha Frankenstein’s should be unhurried. It’s guaranteed to be a tasty and visual experience.
Look for Rachael Ray. She says it rocks!
Good Food, Good Drinks and Good Friends!