The Tremont Burger on the menu at Riverview’s ℹ️ Tremont Tavern, as well as at sister restaurants ℹ️ 1885 Grill and ℹ️FEED Table and Tavern, is a consistent award-winner as Chattanooga’s favorite burger. Now, it’s about to get even better as Tremont, owned by Dustin Choate; 1885 Grill, owned by Miguel Morales; and FEED, owned jointly by both men; prepare to introduce 100-percent, grass-fed Wagyu beef on all three menus by early February.
A smile comes across Morales’ face as he talks about the journey that will culminate in bringing Wagyu beef, prized by chefs around the world, to Chattanooga’s table. He’s driving south on I-59, followed by Choate and Cliff Phillips, head prep chef at FEED. It’s about a 45-minute drive to Mountain Breeze Farm in Dutton, Alabama, where farm owner Eddie Traylor waits their arrival to work on finalizing a partnership between the farm and the restaurants that will bring the beef to the Scenic City, making Tremont, 1885 and FEED the first restaurants in the city to have 100-percent Wagyu as a menu staple.
“Wagyu is an amazing piece of meat,” Morales says. “And Chattanooga is ready for it.”
Other restaurants in town may advertise Wagyu on their menus, but Morales says it’s most likely a blend of Wagyu and Black Angus known as F-1, or American-style Wagyu. It’s good, he adds, but not as good as what the restaurants under Choate and Morales’ brands will be offering: beef from cattle that can trace their ancestry back to Kobe, Japan. Once the calves are weaned, they are 100-percent grass-fed on grasses that Traylor has tested for their protein levels to ensure his herd is getting the protein and other nutrients needed to produce the buttery beef for which Wagyu is known.
Mountain Breeze Farm is located on 500 acres in the heart of North Alabama. Thanks to a state-of-the-art irrigation system from Italy that can be floated on a pontoon boat and maneuvered around a 28-acre reservoir to water where needed, its pastures are lush with a mix of three grasses—a native blend, Bermuda and toxic-free fescue—on which a herd of roughly 100 cattle graze. “He grows and waters his own hay and other grasses,” Phillips says. “It’s a self-sustaining operation.” Traylor hopes to purchase additional acreage across the road from the farm to increase the size of his herd.
He began raising Wagyu cattle in 2014. So far this year, 26 calves have been born. “This is a closed herd,” he says. “No new animals have been brought to the farm—they’ve all been born and raised here.” The farm is now at the stage where animals leaving for processing are replaced by a new generation of calves being born. “I’ll have a rotation,” Traylor notes. “And it’s nice to partner with a group (of restaurateurs) who have a market for it.”
Morales muses, “I wonder if he realizes how important this is to the restaurant industry? When we first came here and realized what Eddie was trying to create, the idea of bringing it back to Chattanooga became very exciting for us. For a long time, (100 percent) Wagyu beef was scarce and extremely expensive to put on a menu in a cost-effective manner.” But Morales says this will change. Before Wagyu embryos were brought and implanted in cows in the United States, Kobe beef was imported and put on menus with steaks costing in the hundreds of dollars.
“We have no interest in charging that much for steak—no matter how delicious. That would go against the standard value of our menu—producing quality food at a reasonable price. We wouldn’t spend the time and effort of getting behind something like that. We want the price to be reasonable enough for people to enjoy without it having to be for a special occasion only.”
The key to keeping prices down is buying in bulk—in this case, the entire cow. “With Wagyu, little nuggets can be turned into magic, so we’ll be using every bit of the cow,” Phillips says. And Morales adds: “If you’re just putting a Wagyu beef filet on the menu, you’re just buying the tenderloin, and just to buy that is crazy expensive. So we buy the whole cow so that we can keep food costs low and still charge a decent price for a Wagyu meatloaf—$14 or $16. And that’s an amazing plate. Or you can spend less and get a Wagyu salad, or an appetizer, like Wagyu meatballs.”
Traylor’s Wagyu cows produce between 750 and 900 pounds of beef, he says. Most of that will be ground into beef used for the restaurants’ burgers, says Morales. “You might love the burger we have now, but wait till you try it with Wagyu,” he says, adding that the restaurants will introduce the meat by offering small bites while people are waiting for a table. “We’re now coming up with recipes to utilize as much of the cow as we can to make it affordable for our patrons with such things like smoked sausages and charcuterie plates.”
A new walk-in refrigerator has been installed at FEED in order to store the extra inventory coming from Mountain Breeze Farm. Tremont Tavern and 1885 will come to FEED to get the beef needed for their burgers, stews, short ribs, osso bucco and other dishes for which patrons clamor during the cold winter months.
“In the winter, people are wanting food that’s soul-warming—you think about the pot roasts we do—we use short ribs for that. And our meatloaf special does extremely well. And Salisbury steak. Recipes like that,” Morales says.
He says he doesn’t expect Chattanoogans to jump on the Wagyu bandwagon immediately. “It’ll take time, but Chattanooga is ready for this. People are wanting to know where their food comes from.
Chattanooga used to be a town of corporate-owned restaurants. People were interested in seeking out brands they knew. Now, there’s been a big change. People are having more wonderful experiences with independently owned restaurants, having fun going into different places and seeing what cuisines are offered. People now know more about their food than they ever have before.”
Morales knows that some people may still want corn-fed beef, so the restaurants’ menus will feature options. “It’s better for us to offer different things, different qualities of beef. That sticks to our menu philosophy of offering different things for everybody.”
Excitement is building throughout the restaurants. “This has been fun for all the chefs around our tables,” Morales says. “I couldn’t have done this without our Executive Chef ℹ️ Charlie Loomis and Cliff. The excitement that’s been generated about bringing meat of this level and quality is truly incredible.”
Photography by Clay Miller