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Chattanooga and Atlanta are filled with excellent restaurants. You almost cannot go wrong. It's a matter of good, outstanding or great. However, over years of making this trip, we've developed a list of favorites, and we invite you to try them. On the Chattanooga stop, we like the three restaurants right in The Choo Choo. If you're only there one night, you have to choose, but they're all fine eating experiences. In Atlanta, we think two restaurants are mandatory : Eclipse de Sol and Aunt Pittypat's Porch. That takes care of Friday and Saturday nights. If you're staying over a third night, as we recommend, you have a whole city to pick from.

The Gardens is the Choo Choo's signature restaurant. It opens just off the domed lobby and looks out through plate glass to the landscaping and passenger trains. This is a fine introduction to classic Southern cooking. Among the appetizers, do not miss the Chicken Corn Chowder (white meat chicken, corn and potatoes) and Corn Fritters (lightly battered corn fried to a golden brown served with apple butter). The Sandwich Menu has some interesting items, of which we like the Freight Car Burger (half pound of Angus beef with cheese, lettuce, tomato and fries) and Birmingham Prime Rib (choice roast prime rib served on roll with lettuce, tomato, horseradish and fries). The Glenn Miller Casaer Salad (named for the big band that made the song Chattanooga Choo Choo famous) is a meal in itself, as are the Trolley Car Fried Chicken Salad and the Royal Palm Chef Salad (named for the elite Chicago - Miami passenger train). But save room for the main course. Their Ribs, Fried Chicken, Grouper Piccata and Catfish are alone worth the evening, and there are several more entrees you'll find very tempting. If you somehow have room for dessert, the Key Lime Pie, Bread Pudding in Bourbon, and Banana Pudding top the list.

If you are travelling just with a partner, Dinner in the Diner is a wonderful and romantic experience. It is a classic railroad dining car serving those meals that made passenger travel so pleasant. A dining car did not have an extensive menu, but they did a few items exquisitely well. Here, the Lobster Bisque, Maryland Crab Cake Dijonaise, and either of their two salads are great starters. Of six entrees you cannot go wrong. The Filet Mignon and New York Strip are excellent. Steak Au Poivre is a twin filet mignon peppercorn crusted, then pan seared and Cognac flambe'd. Pork Chops are coated with Georgia pecans, sauteed and served with an ancho chile pepper barbecue sauce. The Chicken is free range chicken char broiled and drenched in wild mushroom sauce. The Caramelized Atlantic Salmon has a turbinado sugar coating. As expected, there is a solid deck of wines and spirits.
The Station House is the Choo Choo's rowdy road house restaurant. It's in the old baggage house, the place where travelers would check their suitcases for the redcaps to wheel out and load on the trains, or pick them up upon getting off the train. The restaurant features singing waiters and waitresses. They sing requests, or go off on a medley of rock, country or show tunes. With candlelight flickering off the brick walls and large scale artwork, a three man band on stage, and guitar pickers roaming the tables, this is quite an atmosphere. But be not distracted. The food here is great, beginning with the Soup of the Day, usually a bisque of some sort, and the Barbequed Baby Back Ribs, hickory smoked. There's a Chef's Special Catch Of The Day. For dessert, the Cheesecake Supreme, Peanut Butter Pie and Amaretto Biscotti Torte should all be illegal. A Children's Menu features the usual burgers, fries, fish and chips, but adds a Junior Prime Rib, a five ounce cut with a baked potato for $7.50. This is a great deal for a kid ready for a legitimate meal but unable to finish off an adult sized portion. This is the restaurant for youth groups. Our teenage crew is especially fond of their Steak Fries, which they rank among the best.
Eclipse Di Sol is mandatory for at least one dinner while you're in Atlanta, quite possibly the first night since you'll have a busy day seeing everything in Chattanooga and driving down to Atlanta and might be ready to just park the vehicle, relax and eat right at the hotel. Sitting out on the shady patio watching the neighborhood parade by is nicely depressurizing. The menu is a creative Mediterranean - Southern Soul mix. You have to start with the Cucumber Yogurt Soup, which includes mint and basil. There's Black Eyed Pea Croquettes (served on spinach), and Shrimp With Fried Green Tomatoes in Tarragon Remoulade. If you've never tried collards, this is the place to start. The Braised Collards are served under a slab of pork. Thyme and Fennel are favorites here, flavoring most entrees. Crab Cakes On Orange & Fennel works really well. Daily specials often get interesting, with Mushroom Turnovers and such. We don't do alcohol, but adults we travel with consider the Grapefruit Rosewater Martini here one of the great beverages in Atlanta. Downtown food critics dismiss this as a "quaint neighborhood restaurant, strangely appealing yet not exceptional." Good. Keep the crowds down. But eat early if possible.
The second mandatory restaurant stop in Atlanta is Aunt Pittypat's Porch. Legend has it that after the house survived Sherman's rampage and reconstruction, when she died, they built the shell over it to keep it safe from developers and weather. It may not be the most elite or best restaurant in Atlanta, but it is the most famous. Critics complain that the food here is not cutting edge. When we eat at a Gone With The Wind restaurant, we don't want cutting edge. We want 1860 cuisine. And that's what Pittypat's provides. You start with a Mint Julep in a special Pittypat's glass. Appetizers include Shrimp Charleston, Blackeye Pea Cakes, Pecan Coated Catfish Fingers and Hot Crab Dip. But one of the soups is mandatory : South Georgia Gumbo or Homemade Peanut Soup. If you stopped here, the visit would be worthwhile. The entrees include Savannah Crabcakes, Rhett's Mixed Grille, and various chicken, fish and steaks. But we urge you to resist those and order the Coastal Venison Pie, one of the great Southern dishes and one rarely available anywhere today. Desserts feature Georgia Peach Cobbler, Classic Pecan Pie and Aunt Pittypat's Pie Of The Day.
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