Slumped in my florescent-lit room and with finals stress nearly visible in the atmosphere, I am trying very hard to be content munching on the stale granola bar that I opened two days ago and then promptly forgot about. What is making this night of granola bars particularly dismal is the fact I have been craving Two Ten Jack’s for the past four days.
Located in the basement of Warehouse Row, Two Ten Jack is an upscale ramen and izakaya house. Please stop, take a moment, and forget all of your preconceived notions about ramen based off of late night college studying sessions and packets of unadulterated sodium. That is nothing like the joy that is authentic ramen. If you are looking for something different and utterly unique, Jack’s should be next on your list of Chattanooga restaurants.
The mere act of walking down the stairs into the dimly-lit ambiance feels more like inner city restaurants in New York or DC, but luckily with Chattanooga prices. This is Japanese ramen and sushi spot meets urban concrete. Traditional food paired with strong base music and a cooler-than-you vibe. Keep in mind this is a popular spot and the wait for a table is normally around an hour on the weekends, so it is best to make a reservation or else kill time perusing over-priced soap at Anthropology. Once you have bought overpriced soap you did not need and your table is ready, the food comes quickly and oh it is such a glorious experience.
Most known for their ramen, the Tonkotsu is classic but the Tori Paitan Shoyu adds a little bit of spice that makes it my go to pick. It includes chicken broth, tsukune (meatballs), greens, shimej (small mushrooms), and a soft egg. If you like a little extra spice, ask your waiter and they will bring you a side of miso paste that has quite a kick. When it is delivered to you by the chef, it is a bowl of goodness that feels like an encapsulating hug.
Unlike your packaged noodles, these hand-made noodles are al dente and still contain their firmness while basked in a chicken broth that creates a flavor explosion in your mouth. The greens wilt down as you eat and the shimej add a texture that gives the whole thing body. The soft boil eggs finishes off the bite with a layer of creamy richness. The star of the show, however, is the tsukune – chicken meatballs. There are no words. They melt like butter in your mouth and are delicately flavorful. I am tearing up just thinking about it.
If you are not in the mood for ramen or it seems just a little too adventurous with all of those names you cannot pronounce, the small plates are an excellent option for unique twists on familiar flavors. The Salmon Nanbanzuke is a soft sweet and sour salmon with kewpie slaw (similar to kimchi) and tartar sauce and that could be a meal in and of itself. The Pork Gyoza small plate is like a party in your mouth. These little pork dumplings are packed with flavor starting with an immediate crunch, surprising hint of citrus, and then it melts and softens into a cohesive bite. If you want to mix and match to get a feel for the cuisine, the yakitori (skewers) are an excellent option. Ranging from $3 to $7 each, you can try out this Japanese take on skewered avocado, wasabi tomato, pork shishito, tsukune, and hatsu (chicken heart). There is so much to savor in every bite and it is an experience that takes your full attention.
Two Ten Jack is especially good on cold, dreary winter days or when the Great Hall serves tater tots for thirteen days in a row. As glorious as the food is, there are a few things to consider about the overall experience. It tends to be on the pricey side of a college budget ($10+) but ends up being about the same as a burger and fries at Urban Stack. If you make sure to park in the Warehouse Row garage, the restaurant will validate your parking which is a huge plus because you can then use that money on an extra yakitori skewer.
An odd quirk about the restaurant is they do not allow you to have to go boxes, so come hungry because you will leave full. I hope you were not planning on Snapchatting your food (not that I ever do that), because that dim mood lighting makes it impossible to see anything. Furthermore, because of that dim lighting, make sure they do not seat you in a dark corner, because sometimes the waiters don’t see you and you sit there waiting for twenty minutes, thinking about the overpriced soap you just bought.
Overall, Two Ten Jack is a unique flavor experience that is an excellent introduction to Japanese cuisine. Make a reservation, window shop, and say your order very quickly to hide the fact you cannot pronounce anything on the menu – it is a quintessential Chattanooga experience.