At first, Tin Drum Asia Café's rapid service and bright decor evoke the aromatic street stands of Hong Kong, where founder Steven Chan ate throughout his childhood. The traditional ambiance is no accident—the franchise's name also harks back to a bygone era, when a tin drummer would awaken citizens and regale them with current events as they ate the day’s first meal. The electronic kiosks dotting the café, however, plunk this traditional scene in the middle of a cyberpunk setting. They allow patrons to customize their orders based on taste preferences and nutritional content, accommodating dietary endeavors such as vegetarianism and weight-loss goals.
This merger of technology and urban convention reflects a penchant for edgy ideas that also affects the menu. Items inspired by the culinary techniques of Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand share space in the savory catalog, taking the form of street tacos, soups, and mango chicken, a take on the general tso's staple that's sweeter than a syrup-soaked army helmet. Music is the final ingredient that charges the atmosphere. Nation's Restaurant News reports that it typically plays at an energizing 120 beats per minute and was a factor in attracting the café's initial college crowds.
Humanitarian and spiritual leader Supreme Master Ching Hai is the mastermind responsible for Loving Hut, a vegan restaurant chain awarded VegNews' Favorite Restaurant Worldwide in 2010. Each Loving Hut location's menu and philosophy is rooted in the idea that a plant-based diet is healthier and more sustainable for the planet. The restaurants span 13 countries including Taiwan and New Zealand, and each offers a 100% plant-based menu of gourmet vegan cuisine. Traditional meat dishes are replicated with tofu, soy proteins, and fresh vegetables. The menus are customized to reflect local cuisine and include chef’s specials that recreate regional dishes, which diners eat as the staff plays the country’s anthem enthusiastically on the tambourine.
At Soul Vegetarian, gravy cascades over the burgers and country-fried steaks and creamy cucumber sauce nestles into a gyro pocket. This picture of decadence aside, even as the chefs eschew animal products, they also avoid heavy fats or preservatives. The result is a surprisingly healthy take on classic Southern cuisine, including macaroni and cheese and cornbread. Savory protein comes in the form of tofu, lentils, and a flexible vegetable-protein roast they've dubbed "kalebone."
Even dessert has a healthy side at Soul Vegetarian. Blenders whir with fruit smoothies and soy shakes, many of which incorporate nutrient-dense foods such as coconut milk and almond butter, and even energy or protein supplements. To make perfectly creamy shakes, the restaurant's food inventors created the soy-based Dream Kream?also available by the scoop.
The staff at Zarzour’s Eats and Jackie’s Treats, made up of members of the owner’s own family, whips up homestyle fare for breakfast and lunch within the kitchen and handcrafts desserts inside an in-house bakery. They fire up the grills at 6:30 a.m. each day, feeding hot skillets eggs, meats, and pancakes before switching culinary gears at 10:30 a.m. to prepare daily lunch specials. Meanwhile, Jackie bakes pies, cakes, and specialty breads that customers can bring home that day or order in advance for special occasions or stoogeless dessert receptions.
TerraMae Appalachian Bistro's chef, Shelley D. Cooper, is able to do something that seems impossible?put an upscale, modern twist on regional Appalachian cooking. Her kitchen churns out everything from rabbit stew in a sage broth to jumbo-lump-crab-stuffed trout served with wilted leeks, apples, and fennel. She's so passionate about highlighting the region's food that her dishes incorporate the bounty from local farms, including the family farm owned by TerraMae's owner, Mark Oldham.
The unique concoctions have garnered a variety of praise, including some from Susan Gregg Gilmore on Fodor's Travel. She particularly loved the Appalachian Lunchable?made with deviled eggs, pickled shrimp and vegetables, country ham, Benne Seed Bacon served in a mason jar, rosemary biscuits, and what she called the "some of the best-ever pimento cheese." In an act more sacrilegious than eating spaghetti with a spoon, Gilmore admitted the cheese was even better than her nana's.
In addition to seducing palates with regional farm-to-table food, TerraMae charms them with an Appalachian staple, homegrown whiskey. Mixologist Justin Stamper pays homage to the area's moonshine traditions by whipping up classic speakeasy drinks using Chattanooga whiskey and other liquors.
True to the name Backyard Grille, a bulk of the work chefs Teddy Miller and Tommy Barnhart do is in the backyard. It's where they smoke all their meat, from bone-in certified Angus rib eyes to the pulled pork that smothers loaded baked potatoes. Inside their microwave-free kitchen, Teddy and Tommy prepare all their sauces and dressings from scratch, as well as the housemade biscuits that dominate their breakfast menu.
Backyard Grille is likewise divided between outdoor and indoor attractions for its diners. Outside, patrons can lounge beneath lighted umbrella tables, recline on a porch swing, or groove on the backyard dance floor. Full of flat-screen TVs broadcasting the latest games, the sports-themed indoor dining room switches gears during intimate candle-lit dinners. On Friday and Saturday, live music later in the evenings swaps dinnertime romance for rocking until 2 a.m.