food and beverage underground

Aretha Frankenstein's

by Douglas Beliakoff
(Chattanooga, TN)

Aretha Frankenstein’s
Open Everyday 7am to Midnight
518 Tremont
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!


Comments for Aretha Frankenstein's

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Oct 19, 2011
A view from this side of Seattle
by: Michael plummer

Let me start by saying I just relocated here to Chattanooga from Seattle. Yes, I know what you are thinking! Why would you do that? I did my research and the smallish city seemed like a good fit for what I was looking for in a home.
Given that I am from Seattle, I am well acquainted with the hipster culture. In fact, I lived in Capital Hill (Seattle) which is the center of the universe for hipsterdom. Though I don't mind the hipster culture, my hatred for how entirely uncomfortable skinny pants truly are has prevented me from going all the way. This is all to say that I am not bothered by hipsters, even when they act to cool for school. What hides beneath is insecurity...but I digress.
The hipster feel at Aretha's reminded me a little of home so I had high hopes for this little quirky cafe.
Sadly the whole experience was beyond bad. Let's start with the cheap disposable jam, butter, and creamer. Chattanooga has poor recycling habits so I was a little surprised this little joint doesn't do more to limit waste, not to mention provide a quality, fresh product. Also, they serve maple flavored corn syrup instead of the actual thing.
And there was the inappropriate music for an early morning breakfast. I felt like I was in a dance party! The music was certainly more for the staff than the patrons. Though cleverly situated in an old picture frame I found the flat screen TV to be rather annoying. I have yet to find a cafe or pub in Chattanooga w/o a TV. Can someone please explain this obsession?
From the time I sat down, till the time I received my food was 1 HOUR! During this time I sat there alone, abandoned by my server. After sitting with my coffee cup empty for 15 minutes, I got up and asked another server for a refill. She promptly brought it back to me with coffee grounds floating along the edges.
When my food finally arrived it came with no apology. In fact, it was as if I were not even sitting there. The food was luke warm when it arrived. The skillet potatoes looked more like blackened mashed potatoes. They tasted about like they looked. The omelet looked beautiful and given the ingredients should have tasted wonderful. They were bland and mediocre at best.
Due to the length of time I was left waiting I enquired about using their internet and again unfortunately the internet was not working.
When my check came, again, nothing was offered or asked of me. It was just slapped on the table w/o even a glance. I am a good tipper generally and usually tip even when the service is sub-par. When i handed the cashier my card to pay he did not enquire about my experience. Perhaps he already knew how bad it was and did not have to ask. I left the slip on the table with NO TIP! First time I can ever recall doing that. Sorry Aretha, I wanted to like you.

Jan 04, 2011
Wonderful Experience
by: Abby's Dad

Took my wife and daughter on New Years Eve and had a wonderful time! Had to wait about 20 min for our food, because there was about 4 orders ahead of me... but it was worth the wait! I got the Mexican omilet, daughter got the Super Dave, and wife got the waffle with pecans and ice cream. We loved it! I had the potatoes and the BISCUT!!!!!! Both were wonderful!

The server was very kind to us and kept our coffee and waters full!

There are only about 5 or 6 tables inside.... and a "bar" that seats about 6 to 8. So there might be a wait if it is too cold to eat outside.

Try it out!

Mar 03, 2010
by: Brian

I grew up in Chattanooga, live in Atlanta, frequently return to Chatt. to visit and was very happy with my initial experience at Aretha's. I gave very positive recommendations about Aretha's to anyone asking about where to eat breakfast in Chatt., etc. Yesterday, we braved the snow to make the 30 minute drive to eat at one of my (formerly) favorite restaurants, Aretha's.

There were two occupied tables in the place when we arrived, two waiters and two cooks. We placed a basic order, then waited for exactly an hour before our food was served. I had to ask our waiter twice to refill our coffee, aware of the burden of his one other table requiring his attention between smoke breaks with the cook staff.
I had a direct line of sight into the kitchen, watched our breakfast s l o w l y being prepared, then after asking where the Hell our food was, saw the cook place our rubbery eggs in the microwave to reheat them before being served. There were two people at our table and the waiter couldn't remember who ordered which items. The service was the worst, food barely marginal and attitude unpardonable.


Feb 03, 2009
Simply Awesome!
by: Murfreesboro Family

We travel to Chattanooga from Murfreesboro a minimum of 6 times per year; 3 years ago I took my wife and 3 girls to Aretha’s and BAM! We were hooked; every time we are in town our itinerary always includes a trip to this energetic eclectic place, Jeff and his staff
Provide upmost courteous service along with wholesome scratched cook food that is “Simply Awesome” and worth the wait, I have been a professional culinarian for 27 years and the folks at Aretha Frankenstein’s do it right and it shows, so kick back on the porch and do as I do enjoy an Irish Eight Ball and take pleasure in this little tucked away treasure in North Chattanooga. Kudos and Thank you!

Jul 20, 2008
by: KJamis

The pancakes ARE that good and the place ooozes "cool". Good review!

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