You can tell this cafe, notched in a business center in the 3900 block of Ringgold Road in East Ridge, is a local secret as soon as you walk in.
When our party of three arrived last Saturday morning, the room was filled with more than a dozen diners who knew each other by name and traded wisecracks with Jake Suddeth, who was cooking up the eats, and Brenda Cash, who was taking care of customers.
We had menus in minutes and giant cups of coffee while we reviewed the breakfast and lunch lineup. The smell of bacon and fresh biscuits weighed heavily in the air.
The prices were remarkable values for good, hearty meals.
IF YOU GO
Where: Christie's Corner Cafe, 3920 Ringgold Road, East Ridge.
Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
Price range: Breakfast, $2.79 (one egg prepared to order)-$8.49 (country ham or smoked sausage breakfast with two eggs, toast or biscuits and two side items); lunch, $2.89 (grilled cheese sandwich)-$5.49 (club sandwich); dinner, $7.49 (fried shrimp or chicken livers)-$7.99 (chicken strips or hamburger steak).
Note: No credit or debit cards accepted; cash or checks only.
The menu is a traditional breakfast lineup of eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, hamburger steaks, French toast and pancake combos, served all day.
Prices are hard to beat, starting with an egg prepared any way you like it for $2.79, an egg with a side of bacon, ham or sausage or just two eggs alone for $3.29 and a meat side and two eggs for $3.89. A three-egg omelet ($4.49), three-egg omelet with meat ($5.89) and Western omelet ($6.79) round out the egg fare.
A plate of country ham or smoked sausage with two eggs, toast or biscuits and a choice of two side items is $8.49, and there are 10 biscuit and sandwich combos and single breakfast items that range from 65 cents for one egg to a top price of $4.29 for a "loaded" biscuit.
Lunch fare includes burgers, a BLT, grilled ham and cheese, chicken-fried steak sandwich, patty melt with onions, chicken filet sandwich and bologna sandwich, all under $4. Only the club sandwich was priced higher ($5.49).
The dinner menu includes Southern-style plates such as fried shrimp, chicken strips, chicken livers, hamburger steak and catfish nuggets, with nothing over $8. All dinners come with a choice of potato, salad or slaw, and dinner rolls.
The menu also has a collection of salads ranging from garden salad to fried chicken salad, and desserts including pudding and strawberry shortcake.
Since it was early, our order was all breakfast, a selection of the basics.
I got the hamburger steak breakfast, with two eggs over easy, two homemade buttermilk biscuits, grits and gravy ($7.69). The other two members of our party ordered two eggs with bacon, hash browns and two slices of toast ($3.89) and the three-egg omelet with sausage (ham or bacon also offered) and two biscuits ($4.49).
My hamburger patty was a juicy, pressed and grilled patty that I immediately topped with some of the gravy and a dash of black pepper before wolfing down a couple of bites. The biscuits were hot and homemade, made from real dough that morning. My first biscuit got the gravy treatment, pepper liberally added, while I saved the second for a little jam-and-biscuit dessert at the end.
I tasted a bite from one of the other orders and discovered the thick-cut smoky bacon was just as good as the hamburger steak, and the scrambled eggs were fluffy and plentiful. The omelet, three eggs' worth, vanished before I got to try any. I'll take that as positive since the remark mumbled around a mouthful of biscuit was "fumtashtic."
The service was friendly, and interaction with Suddeth and Cash was a pleasure. Our waitress kept the coffee hot and checked on us most every time she passed. The other customers were friendly and funny, too, because they plainly felt at home.
Rumor has it Suddeth prepares several special items that aren't on the menu but go by names like the "deluxe" breakfast sandwich and the "12-egg big Jake," a breakfast monstrosity containing, apparently, everything the cook can reach from the grill.
The place is a clean, no-frills country cafe with six or seven tables and a dozen or so stools at the bar. Windows line two long exterior walls, with tables in a long row beneath. The restaurant has a vintage feel. There's a floor-to-ceiling collection of newspaper clippings about "American Idol" runner-up Lauren Alaina Suddeth. Suddeth? Jake Suddeth. There must be some sort of familial connection. Anyway, parking in the business center lot is roomy, and it's easy to get in and out from Ringgold Road.
Christie's Corner Cafe is going to unseat some of my traditional breakfast haunts, I'm afraid.
I like the Southern-style cooking and homey feel and the crowd of regulars ranging in age from toddlers to octogenarians. And the fact they were all chatting like a big family at breakfast is just satisfying, like breakfast at the old homeplace. Next time, I'll be testing pancakes and some of those sandwiches.
Oh, and I still have the kitten we found in the parking lot. I was trying to find him a home, but I think he already found one.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...