What do you do with a building that once housed a Coca-Cola bottling plant? If you’re Erik and Amanda Niel, you convert it into one of the most highly regarded restaurants in town. The Niels opened Easy in 2012; since then, Erik, who helms the kitchen, has been a James Beard Award semifinalist twice. It’s easy to see why with his careful attention to detail and high-level execution in everything from the artful charcuterie boards to the beef short rib with beets, figs, beech mushrooms and black garlic.
For Erik Niel, chef and owner of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee, there’s no better place to kick back and relax than Alys Beach. Niel’s parents, Bren Niel and Bill Sudderth are currently building a home in Alys Beach, but he’s been able to enjoy vacations there for years.
Equal parts butcher shop and casual eatery, the specialty here – the owners are Erik and Amanda Niel, the duo behind another local hot spot, Easy Bistro – is, as the name implies, all things meaty. The lip-smacking charcuterie makes for a terrific starter, but it’s the simple, yet sublime sandwiches that really are a knockout. The MSM Pastrami Reuben, for example, combines salty meat, sour cabbage and pickles, and subtly sweet Russian dressing for a deeply satisfying and addictive effect.
When you’re a small city two hours from Nashville and Atlanta, it can be hard to get the attention you deserve. Chattanooga flies under the radar but keeps a lot of aces up its sleeve -- it's outdoorsy, affordable, and a damned delicious place to spend a weekend. Start with back-to-back meals at restaurants by James Beard semifinalist Erik Niel. His charcuterie is aged in-house at Main Street Meats, and he sources cheeses and beef from Tennessee farms. Then, it’s on to Easy Bistro & Bar for a Southern style brunch -- order the bacon omelet, tomato pie, and buttermilk biscuits.