published Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Family recipes key to fare at Purple Daisy

Editor's Note: Chef's Spotlight is a new monthly food feature in the Life section. To suggest a dish for a future report, e-mail Clint Cooper at

The joy of cooking together, a love of family favorite recipes and a son's birthday that grew into an annual party combined to land Tony and Lisa Davis in the restaurant business.

Today, their Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe on St. Elmo Avenue at the foot of Lookout Mountain is the lunch home for many Southside office workers, tourists and mountain residents.

"We realized we needed more than just barbecue," Mrs. Davis said of their initial thought of opening a restaurant. "A picnic cafe encompassed it all."

One of the signature items on their menu is The Rainbow Sandwich, a three-layer concoction made with homemade chicken salad, pimento cheese and cucumber spread on crustless white and wheat bread.

The idea, Mrs. Davis said, came from a cookbook her mother had of recipes from The Bon Appetit, a tearoom that was open for many years in Rossville.

Her mother, she said, would serve what the tearoom called The Ribbon Sandwich on birthdays, wedding showers, baby showers and other special occasions.

When Mrs. Davis, 43, and her husband decided to open the restaurant, she sought the recipe, changed its makeup a bit and created a new sandwich out of homemade spreads.

The Rainbow Sandwich, even with its tearoom heritage, is enjoyed by women and men about evenly, she said.

"We've had a guy get off his Harley [wearing] leather chaps come in here and order a Rainbow Sandwich and fruit tea," Mrs. Davis said. "I guess men have been deprived [all their lives] of the tea parties, but they can come in here, sit in a barbecue environment and have one."

The fact that many of the items on the menu are homemade is a tribute to her mother, she said. Even the cakes and rolls her family had when she was growing up had to be homemade.

"I guess she pounded it into me to do the real thing," Mrs. Davis said.

Among the other items on the menu, the hash-brown casserole and the fruit tea were handed down from her mother and the potato salad from Mr. Davis' father.

Mr. Davis, 47, created the hot slaw, the Brunswick stew, the steeping process for his baby back ribs and the rub for his barbecued meats.

Their chili recipe and their quesadillas -- buffalo chicken, barbecue or cheeseburger -- are original, they said. The restaurant's most popular dessert, Alabama Dirt, came from a cousin in Alabama, and their Q-Dog came when they filled a customer request.

Mrs. Davis said she enjoyed cooking when she was growing up and even won the home-economics award in high school. At the University of Georgia, she graduated with a degree in family and consumer science (formerly home economics), though her specialty wasn't cooking.

Mr. Davis professed to have "not a clue" how he wound up in the restaurant business but admitted to liking grilling out and wanting to try his hand at doing it in a broader format.

While he opened and closed The BBQ Barn in Ooltewah in the mid-1990s, the couple didn't get into the food business together until Mr. Davis made barbecue for their son Zane's first birthday party. The popularity of the parties and the food so grew at each successive party that the couple began getting invitations to cater food for other people.

Eventually, they fashioned The Purple Pig concessions trailer to cater various events and ultimately opened The Purple Daisy -- there was already a Purple Pig restaurant in Canada -- in 2005 at another location in St. Elmo.

They moved to their current location in 2007.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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