IF YOU GO
Where: Track's End Restaurant, 3425 Amnicola Highway
Hours: Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week
Price range: 50 cents (order of chips)-$12.95 (sirloin steak dinner)
The clock had already ticked well past noon recently when the men's orders went in at the new Track's End Restaurant on Amnicola Highway.
Within a few minutes, the orders were up -- one bowl of oatmeal and one bowl of grits.
The restaurant, which opened in October, serves comfort food 24 hours a day. It is owned by the company that owns the adjoining 102-room Motel Sleepers Inc. (exclusively for Norfolk Southern railroad employees, who are required to rest periodically between trips). Grouped on Amnicola with several fast-food joints and specialty restaurants, it is positioned well with an extensive menu, daily specials and -- as the aforementioned lunchtime diners knew -- breakfast anytime.
You name it, the menu has it. Breakfast diners may choose from toast and jelly (95 cents) to the Trainmaster ($5.50), which includes three scrambled eggs with bacon, onions, green peppers and ham (plus toast and jelly).
There also are several other railroad-themed breakfast combinations, such as Brakeman, Loaded Locomotive, Casey Jones, Yardmaster and Steam Engine ($4.75-$5.50), and a handful of omelet choices ($3.95-$6.95).
But lighter eaters can make their choices a la carte as well.
Otherwise, the menu is full of salads ($2.50 for a dinner salad to $5.75 for a chef salad); Boxcar Burgers (including the $5.95 Iron Horse and the $6.95 Conductor); sandwiches (from bologna to tuna to Philly cheesesteak to Reuben); and Side Tracks (the likes of breaded mushrooms, onion rings, chicken wings and Frito Chili Pie).
Dinner entrees offer beef, chicken and pork selections and the rarely seen Hot Brown, which is toast with turkey, ham, bacon and cheese sauce. The dinners ($6.95-$12.95) come with a choice of two sides and a dinner roll.
There is also an eight-item kids menu ($1.95-$2.95), desserts ($2.95), a soup of the day, a panini sandwich of the day and house specials of the day.
Despite the myriad of yummy-sounding items on the menu, I opted for the daily special, spaghetti with salad ($6.99). My younger brother decided on the taco salad ($5.25), one of my favorite selections at any restaurant.
My salad seemed to be a combination of the typical bagged iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots, plus some mixed spring greens and a few tomatoes. The fat-free ranch dressing was probably not homemade, but the salad as a whole wasn't too bad.
The spaghetti, however, was amazing. Not only was it a huge portion -- I took half of it home -- but it was not just a huge pile of spaghetti with a modicum of sauce on top. There was plenty of sauce, and it had real chunks of ground beef and a number of tomato portions. Not overly spicy -- which would have been OK with me -- neither was it bland.
If I had one serving hint for the meal, I would suggest chefs serve the grated cheese topping on the side. The amount of cheese didn't bother me, but it might have been a bit much for some diners.
My brother's taco salad had a mixture of lettuce, meat, cheese, tomatoes and red onions served in a crunchy shell. He pronounced it "good" but said, given the choice again, he would go for the spaghetti.
The desserts du jour -- a Times Free Press small business brief in November said they were made in-house by a pastry chef -- were apple pie, blueberry cobbler and plain cheesecake. My brother said his wife had made an apple pie for his family the night before, so we split a piece of cheesecake. It was light and creamy but wouldn't rank among the best cheesecakes I've had.
Since we were new to Track's End, we didn't know whether to wait for a seat or to be seated. Given no direction, after a moment, we decided to seat ourselves -- apparently the correct choice. Our server was quick to greet us, pleasant and willing to answer our questions. The food didn't take long and came out correctly. Our server appeared to be one of only two in the diner, so my brother had to wait a bit to have his water glass filled. Still, we were in no hurry and glad to have such friendly service.
The restaurant is slightly larger than most Waffle Houses -- another 24-hour staple -- but seats about the same number. It boasts six booths, one corner booth that seats four to six, four four-person tables and seven counter stools. It is decorated -- not surprisingly -- in railroad and Chattanooga themes with a black-and-white color scheme. A flat-screen TV over the counter was tuned to a news station while we were there.
I wish I knew how often Track's End served spaghetti. I'd return just for that. But I'm eager to try a number of different things on the big menu. If the place has a guaranteed clientele in the railroad employees, it's obviously invested in keeping them happy -- and, along with them, the rest of the public.
Contact Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.