IN THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN SWEETWATER TENNESSEE
Knoxville News Sentinel, Sunday April 10, 2005. By Karan Collins.
As Sweetwater’s downtown business district continues to grow, Hunter’s Bakery & Café has been a primary catalyst in attracting locals and tourists to the quaint eatery and nearby shops and boutiques. People come and spend a day, often perusing the antique, apparel and gift shops and wrapping up with a home-cooked meal at Hunter’s. Customers are those traveling from Michigan, Ohio, and Florida and regular visitors from Sweetwater, Loudon and Lenior City and lakefront developments like Rarity Bay and Tellico Village.
Many people laughed at Jack and Maria Cox when they bought the 1914 Scruggs Building, which essentially encompasses a whole block on Main Street. The couple has since share the last laugh, as they’ve seen their businesses thrive. “People really wondered what we were doing because there wasn’t a lot happening at that time,” explains Jack Cox. “We’ve (Hunter’s Bakery & Café”) continued to experience at least a 15% growth each year that we’ve been open.”
In 2000, the couple first opened Antiques on Main store. They operated a small tearoom serving soups and salads from the back of the store. Maria Cox saw the demand for more seating and high-quality food and prompted the family to consider a restaurant. The couple and their grown children, Arthur and Delores, began the new venture together. Once a gift shop with narrow hallways and dropped ceilings, the family took four months to refurbish the space into a warm, inviting atmosphere with antique furnishings and seating for 75 people. Hunter’s opened in October 2002 to rave reviews from the community. Favorites for lunch include chicken salad, fresh pasta and salads and freshly baked cookies. Dinner fare offers a wide variety of steak and seafood, with crab cakes being the most requested item, Cox says. Hunter’s recently began offering Sunday brunch, serving omelets, eggs benedict and fresh-baked pastries.
Arthur, graduate of Johnson and Wales University, developed the menu and serves as the main chef. Delores manages the dining room. The family is also developing an area for catered events in the adjacent space that once housed their antique business. Maria’s lifelong love of antiques helped develop the foxhunting theme, featuring art and collectibles from the Old-World sport. An elaborate display fills the lobby and baker area. Jack Cox said customers have helped develop the theme. “People bring us stuff now from all over to add to our collection,” he said.
The Cox family is well known for its active role in promoting the downtown and the region. Jack serves as president of the Sweetwater Merchants Association, chairman of the Sweetwater Planning Commission and as a Sweetwater City Commissioner. Active Sweetwater residents view the Cox family as trailblazers who took a passionate interest in downtown long before its growing revitalization. Retired from Watt’s Bar, Jack Cox said he’s working harder than ever as Hunter’s continues to grow. “A lot of it is word-of-mouth advertising and that can sometimes extend pretty far,” said Cox, who mentions instance of people from Michigan and Ontario, Canada, who came in because they heard about Hunter’s from their neighbors. Hunter’s Bakery & Café is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. For more information, call 423-351-1098.
Sweetwater eatery boasts superb sampling of flavor
By The Grub Scout March 23, 2007
When you're trying to get from point A to point B, Sweetwater, Tenn., is one of those small towns that's easy to buzz on through without stopping to look around. But those who make the effort often discover — as The Grub Spouse and I did while doing some off-the-beaten-path exploring — that this Monroe County town really has a lot to offer. We browsed multiple antique shops and galleries, and when it came time to ask for a dining recommendation, most folks pointed us to Hunter's Bakery & Cafe in the heart of downtown. Turns out that the Hunter name refers not to the owners but to the restaurant's fox-hunting theme. Multiple prints depicting sportsmen, horses, dogs and the like occupy one wall, while the foyer is decked out with antique hunting relics, including riding gear and bugles.
The decor blends well with the gentrified structure itself, which dates back nearly 100 years. The ultrahigh ceilings, plaster walls and old wood floors create a framework that is an appropriate backdrop for the fox-and-hound motif. The dinner menu is concise but still lays out a number of tempting choices. We couldn't resist the appetizer sampler, made up of three of the restaurant's lead-ins — bacon-wrapped barbecue shrimp, crab cake-stuffed mushrooms and bacon-wrapped sashimi tuna. This selection, which delivers three servings of each item for $9.99, elicited early raves from The Spouse and me. As we moved through the rest of the menu, we found a handful of pasta dishes, including spinach artichoke pasta, as well as steak and seafood entrees. We took note of the sashimi tuna steak and the Maryland crab cake, but we didn't want our main courses to overlap our appetizer.
I found a winner in the chicken Spencer — a grilled breast topped with lump crab meat and a tomato-basil vinaigrette. The toppings were a superb highlight without overpowering the meat's naturally smoky, grilled flavor. The Spouse fell for the pork loin topped with a maple-pecan sauce and pecan halves. I love most nuts, including pecans, but I typically don't go out of my way to order dishes that are made with nuts. However, I had to give my unbiased endorsement to The Spouse's selection. Both our dinners, $12.99 each, came with a green bean-based vegetable medley that was wonderfully seasoned and a wild rice blend with currants mixed. Hunter's dinner menu also offers daily soup specials and several sandwich choices, such as a burger, a club sandwich and a chicken salad croissant.
Their lunch menu features many of the same entrees found on the dinner menu, although some, like the steaks, are served in smaller cuts. Lunchtime patrons will also find a number of specialty salads as well as more burger and sandwich options, including a Reuben, a tuna melt and a chicken-Philly wrap. Soup-salad-potato-sandwich combinations are available as well. We learned that the restaurant bakes its own desserts and pastries daily, so we felt compelled to work in something sweet at meal's end. Of the choices available that night, the chocolate obsession tweaked our collective taste buds the most, so we placed an order with our genial server. The slice of chocolate cake he delivered was a solid closer, although in hindsight we might have done even better with the cheesecake or turtle pie. The Spouse and I left thoroughly pleased, even with a 45-minute drive home ahead of us. I thought Hunter's Bakery & Cafe was well worth it. Plus, we learned that even towns as small as Sweetwater can offer fine dining. Who'd have thunk it?
Chattanooga Times Free Press - Friday, June 24, 2005 Page 19
Sweetwater Café A Guaranteed Treat, By Anne P. Braly-Food Editor
Downtown Sweetwater is filled with activity, not just from locals but visitors drawn by Monroe County businesses and the beautiful country scenery. Julie McDaniel, tourism director for Monroe County, said Sweetwater has made a a turn-around in recent years. “It has redone itself,” she said. “people go there to spend time shopping in the boutiques and antique stores. They come and have lunch, spend three or four hours, then drive back home. Others are making this a long weekend destination. It’s revitalizing our area, and that’s great for us.” Hunter’s Bakery and Café has added a touch of taste to the growth.
ON THE MENU There’s a surprising assortment of offerings on Hunter’s menu. We stopped in when the Wednesday quiche special was sold out and the kitchen was gearing down from lunch and getting ready for dinner, but there was no problem getting what we wanted. Waitress Jessica Edwards, a student at Tennessee Wesleyan, said the chicken salad and fettuccine with fresh Alfredo sauce are lunchtime favorites. We took her at her word and placed our order, and even though it was hot outside, we had the soup of the day, French onion. The soup was quite good with onions chopped small enough to fit on you spoon. There’s a different soup special every day. McDaniel said people drive from all around for the chicken almond soup on Tuesdays. The fettuccine arrived in a large bowl garnished with four medium shrimp. The pasta was cooked perfectly to the al dente stage. The sauce was creamy, though it needed a flavor boost perhaps from white wine. I would order this again and pay for a few extra shrimp. A salad is $1.99 extra, but I didn’t miss it. The fettuccine serving was so big it would have been hard to fit in a salad. Chicken salad comes on a croissant or a plate with orange slices and tomato wedges. It was a beautiful presentation and tasted almost as good as it looked. I’m not a fan of onions in chicken salad, but the grapes and nuts helped quell the onion flavor. I recommend this to any fan of chicken salad.
Hunter’s is known for its cakes and other confections. I can see why. I sampled the most incredible chocolate-peanut butter bar. The cakes looked fabulous as well. THE SERVICE We were the only diners during the late lunch hour, but our friendly and accommodating waitress told us it’s a hot spot for lunch. We were in and out in 45 minutes.
THE SPACE Hunter’s is located in an old brick building on the town square near the railroad tracks running through the center of town. Owner Jack Cox opened the opened the restaurant in a small space next door. Business was so good, he moved the restaurant into the current space and opened and ice-cream shop in the former restaurant. Plaster walls with high ceilings add charm to the eatery. The room is shot-gun shaped with waiting space and the register in the front followed by tables lining the walls. It’s not huge, but there is ample seating to handle a crowd.
THE VERDICT Sweetwater is about an hour’s drive from Chattanooga and only a few minutes off I-75. For those traveling near the area, it’s a must stop if you want something other than fast food. You’re guaranteed a treat for going a few minutes out of your way.
Chattanooga Times Free Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2005 Page F1
Meals in Monroe, By Anne P. Braly-Food Editor
The Sweetwater town square has been transformed by people like Jack and Maria Cox, owners of Hunter's Bakery and Cafe. The old building has seen many lives, but for the past three years, it's been one of the most-visited eateries in town. "We just stumbled onto it," Mr. Cox said. "At first we renovated it and made it into an antiques shop. Then Maria suggested we serve soup and salad to bring in more people. After six months people were lined up for the food. So we expanded into the other side of the building and added a restaurant to see if we could make a gof of it." Now, business is booming, increasing every year, Mr. Cox said. The menu is a mix of family recipes and new creations. Every day, soups and baked goods are made from scratch. The most popular are the chicken-almond soup and the "Big Kid" cookies - huge, big-as-your-hand cookies that come in four flavors. The dinner menu expands from soups, salads, pasta dishes and sandwiches to include steak and seafood.
The restaurants decor retains much of its Old World charm, with beaded, tongue-and-groove wood ceilings and brick walls. Mrs. Cox currently is in culinary school in Houston, learning more about the business side of running a restaurant, as well as the art of making beautiful pastries.
East Tennessee Mountain Views Newspaper - January 2006
Food for Thought - by Kate Clabough
Enrolling in a school of culinary arts is a dream many people share and for Maria Cox, it has now become a reality. For the last several months, Cox has been attending the Art Institute of Houston School of Culinary Arts in the catering and restaurant management program. Maria and husband, Jack, own the popular Hunter's Cafe and Bakery in historic downtown Sweetwater. She took a break from her schooling to help through the holidays but has plans to finisher her schooling in Atlanta specializing in baking and pastry arts. It is hard to imagine just how Maria can improve on her already magical baking talents. Home of the decadent "Big Kid Cookie", a cookie literally the size of your hand, Hunter's offers the most amazing pastries, which are baked fresh daily. Choose from a wide variety of cookies, brownies, and other goodies that will satisfy the sweet tooth of even the most discriminating cookie connoisseur. Hunter's also serves a diverse lunch menu offering soups, salads, and sandwiches. If you ask for a recommendation, you will be encouraged to try the chicken salad. Their chicken almond soup is also a fave and although you can order the chicken salad every day, the soup is only available on Tuesdays. However, if you can't make it on Tuesday, the potato bacon on Thursday is an excellent stand-in.
On a typical day, Hunter's serves about 100 people for lunch. They are also open Friday and Saturday nights for dinner and generally serve between 150 and 200 people. Aside from Maria's focus on pastries, she also hopes her culinary arts schooling will help the couple expand their dining business even further. "We eventually plan to open banqueting rooms upstairs," said Maria. "That will enable us to host large private parties without interrupting our downstairs customers." Maria has had the opportunity to experience all aspects of the catering business. She has been a "worker bee" in the kitchen helping top prepare food as well as plating up and serving. While in Houston, she was impressed with the creativity of the banquet decorations. "The whole thing was a good learning experience for me and will help me be more knowledgeable in the kitchen," said Maria. As you might imagine, Hunter's Bakery & Cafe draws it's name from Marias interest in old English fox hunt style decorating. "We were originally thinking of calling it Fox Hunt Cafe," said Jack, "but Hunter's just flows better."
All of the decor for the business came from the Cox's home. "We don't have anything left on the walls at our house," joked Maria. Jack nodded his head in agreement. Jack, a native of Oklahoma, and Maria, a native of Houston, opened the doors of Hunter's in October 2002 after renovating the Scruggs Building in the heart of Sweetwater's Antiques District. The building was built in 1914 and played host to many businesses over the years. After about six months of renovations, which included removing partitions and a dropped ceiling, the couple chose a classic forest green and maroon pain scheme to compliment the hunting themed decor.
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