Pugh Review: City Café Diner

It’s not all that. There I said it. Don’t stone me. After three years of going on late night trips for slices of cake big enough to feed a family of four, I can now publicly express the truth. Yes, it is a Chattanooga classic. No, it is not good food. While it has a great atmosphere, and is open 24/7, you are overpaying and the food itself leaves much to be desired.

Of course, there are times where all you want is a massive quantity of fried food and on that score the City Café definitely delivers. They do have serving sizes going for them, so it is an appropriate choice if you’re famished at odd hours of the night or after campus events. However, if you enjoy flavorful food, your money would be best spent elsewhere.

The 13-page menu contains everything from Belgian waffles to stir-fry to broiled salmon to loaded tater tots. This is both a blessing and a curse in that even the pickiest eater is bound to find something to order, but having over 450 menu options means the kitchen inevitably compromise quality. They make everything, but make very few things well. That’s not to say that you can’t find an occasional good dish, but that it could be compared to playing Russian roulette with your taste buds.

It is fine to have those go-to restaurants that are not anything special, but the kicker is that the City Café offers rather expensive ordinary food. If it was diner food with a diner prices, then there would be no problem. But with the average sandwich coming in at $10 and pasta dishes at $15, you might as well go to a restaurant that specializes in those items and where you don’t find gum underneath the table. If they charge $3.05 for an egg, then they better be golden eggs laid by all-organic, free-range, paleo chickens in the back of the restaurant.

If you are going, the cheesecakes aren’t bad, as long as they are paired with some black coffee or loaded French fries to try reduce the inevitable sugar coma. They do a solid chicken sandwich or omelet, but I wouldn’t go near their seafood unless in the most dire of circumstances. Also, keep in mind that parking can be quite cumbersome at times, there can be a long wait to be seated, and if you’re an attractive female, watch out for the drunk men that come in around 2 a.m. and will hit on you.

Going to City Café is a must-have Chattanooga experience, but the cost of food for the lack of flavor makes the hype much more than it is worth. Sorry to you devout City Café goers, but no cheese quesadilla is worth $7 and a catcall. Of course, I will still go on late night cake runs, but it will be for the people, not for the food. And while it is not on my list of top places to eat, the City Café is still the only restaurant in the city where you can order a solitary meatball or a side of bacon bits.