Alleia is a very upscale, tasty, romantic, and (by Chattanooga standards) expensive, chef driven rustic Italian eaterie. It is located in a renovated brick industrial building that sits directly behind the historic terminal station for the now defunct passenger railway line that used to pass through town, and was made famous by the Glen Miller mega hit “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” I was invited to dinner here by my Dalton friends, as we were going to go to a Buddy Guy concert that night at the Tivoli Theater (one of the many former vaudeville & movie palaces nationwide that cities have wisely been saving from the wrecking ball). This is one of the oddities of travel, I’d never heard Buddy Guy live in concert before, even though he’s based in my home town of Chicago — I had to come to a much smaller city at the GA/TN border to do it.
Free parking in that part of town is almost nonexistent, and it was raining, so I was incredibly happy to discover Alleia offers complementary valet parking. Directly behind the stand is the entrance to the restaurant, but good luck on finding the door during daylight. The contrast between the outdoor light and darkened space in which the massive ancient-keep-like wooden door sits, makes it almost impossible to see it till your eyes adjust to the difference — and keep in mind it was raining when I got there. As I had arrived a good half-hour before my hosts the restaurant placed me at a table right near the front windows so that I could spot them arriving, and while there I watched one befuddled elderly gentleman walk right past it — twice, trying to find the entrance. Once you’ve lugged open the door (it required grabbing the ring on the front and leaning back to get the thing to move) you enter into a darkly lit space reminiscent of a church, with massive candles that have been allowed to drip their wax to the floor, and hanging gas lanterns.
My meal was nummy. For my appetizer I had a very finely cut carpaccio with truffle and radish, and then for my main I had quail which lay on a fig, onion, and something else purée that was served with a side of sauteed purple cabbage and new potatoes … all of which was wonderful. The star of the show, however, was my dessert, an olive oil gelato (something that sounded incredibly odd but my friend promised me was something to be tried) with bits of salty pistachio in it. The gelato melted in the mouth in a way I’ve never experienced before, and the counterpoint to the pistachio was just amazing.