Canyon Grill | June 4, 2015
Perhaps what Chattanooga is best known for – even more than its Civil War sites and its venerable choo-choo – are the ageless nostalgic attractions on Lookout Mountain. Generations of tourists have climbed to the top of Lookout Mountain aboard the Incline Railway and journeyed through Rock City Gardens and Ruby Falls.
Called “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” the Incline Railway is the world’s steepest passenger railway and has carried tourists from Chattanooga to Lookout Mountain since 1895. Seats are positioned at an angle, and as the railcar makes its slow and creaky ascent, passengers can gaze at a panoramic view of Chattanooga Valley. At the station’s Lookout Mountain overlook, the Great Smoky Mountains are visible 100 miles away. Point Park is a three-block walk from the Incline Railway’s station atop Lookout Mountain, though no ground transportation is available to Rock City Gardens and Ruby Falls, which are miles away.
Made famous around the world with its “See Rock City” slogan painted on barns and birdhouses, Rock City Gardens started as a 10-acre garden during the Great Depression. It took Garnet and Frieda Carter two years to improve and expand his wife Frieda’s pathway amid huge boulders and natural rock formations in what they called the “city of rocks.” Rock City Gardens finally opened in 1932, and tourists have marveled at the view of seven states from Lover’s Leap, struggled through Fat Man’s Squeeze and dared to cross the rickety swinging bridge since.
Ruby Falls preceded Rock City Gardens by three years. A 145-foot underground waterfall, Ruby Falls is part of Lookout Mountain Caverns, which features glistening stalagmites and rock formations that resemble odd shapes including steak and potatoes and an elephant’s foot.
Point Park on Lookout Mountain pays homage to Battles of Chattanooga veterans with exhibits at the Ochs Museum and Overlook. The park’s centerpiece is the New York Peace Memorial, a 95-foot-tall obelisk that shows a Union and Confederate soldiers shaking hands. Adjacent to the Point Park Visitors Center is the Battles for Chattanooga Museum and Electric Map. The highlight here is a three-dimensional, 480-square-foot model of the terrain that served as battlegrounds in the struggle for control of Chattanooga. A narrated and lighted show includes the sights and sounds of battle and 5,000 miniature soldiers describes the movement of troops and how the Yanks defeated the Confederates.
Not far from Cloudland Canyon State Park, Canyon Grill’s location is remote – so remote that most guests drive at least a half-hour along a scenic road on the back side of Lookout Mountain. First-timers are told to recognize the building from the cars in the gravel parking lot and its proximity to the adjacent New Salem Mountain Market, an old-time corner grocer.
Still, Canyon Grill is packed, mostly with out-of-towners, on a nightly basis with guests savoring choices like Slash n’ Burn Catfish, Ground Mignon, Whole Rainbow Trout, Alaskan Red King Salmon and Rack of Lamb.
Canyon Grill was a 40-seat restaurant when it opened in 1996. Today, it has expanded to 142 seats. Named after Cloudland Canyon State Park, and its cooking technique, Canyon Grill features fresh seafood flown in from a purveyor in Boston. Slash ‘n Burn Catfish is the signature item. The whole bone-in catfish is stuffed with ginger, garlic and jalapenos into thin slashes, cut into thin slashes, dredged in flour, deep fried and then topped with black bean soup.
Other intriguing items are the grilled cabbage and the crispy squash. The half-head of red cabbage is steamed until softened and then cooked on Haygood’s wood-burning grill. It is finished with a touch of garlic and anchovy sauce, and a bit of cream. The crispy squash is lightly salted and sprinkled with corn meal mix and dropped into peanut oil, yet it has just a hint of deep-fried taste.
Just by looking at the menu, Haygood’s passion for grilling is evident. Before he introduced the signature selections at Canyon Grill – and the Boathouse, a restaurant he and Karen operate along the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga – Haygood developed a first-of-its-kind wood-burning grill in the late 1970s when he served seafood at his restaurant, Turtle Cove, in Dallas.