2001 Alcoa Highway
Hotel restaurants are a unique animal in the dining kingdom. They often don't get as much attention as other eateries because they cater to a captive audience. And in the case of Cooper's, which operates out of the Hilton at McGhee Tyson Airport, the clientele in general is probably even more transient than usual.
However, I know several area friends and acquaintances who have dined there, and that prompted me to see if Cooper's was worth steering more local business in its direction.
The Grub Spouse and I found the restaurant on the main lobby level, across from the lounge. We were promptly greeted and ushered to a booth. The dining area left me with a very positive first impression. The retro-modern furnishings and decor are upscale yet welcoming, and the predominantly earth-tone palate adds even more warmth.
The two-sided menu starts off with a number of interesting-sounding appetizers, such as Southwestern crab cakes, Buffalo chicken flatbread and Cooper's take on sliders. We ordered fried green tomatoes ($7.95), because it's always a favorite of ours. Soup and salad fans might also take note of items like the shrimp gumbo, French onion soup, Southern fried chicken salad, Cobb salad and blackened chicken salad.
For our main course, we chose from among the sandwiches, entrees and pasta bowls. We ruled out sandwiches, primarily out of deference to trying a full-fledged entree, although the sandwich lineup does feature a burger, po' boy, club, pulled pork barbecue and rib-eye melt.
The Spouse gravitated toward the entrees. The filet mignon headlines the steak selection, while pork tenderloin calvados, vegetable saute, chicken asparagus marsala, shrimp and grits, and cedar plank salmon all sounded like worthy contenders.
The Spouse finally reeled in the stuffed rainbow trout ($18.95). It came with a seasonal vegetable medley (squash) and The Spouse's choice of starch — a long- and wild-grain rice medley.
I was craving pasta, so I picked the chicken tortellini ($19.95) over Tuscan chicken pasta, shrimp and linguini, chicken and pasta vino blanc, and four-cheese ravioli. Both our meals came with bread and a trip to the salad bar.
The fried tomatoes arrived first, rating as acceptable in my book. They weren't quite as green and tart as others we've tried, and I thought the breading lacked flavor. The bread was fresh, warm and enjoyable, although the lettuce at the salad bar could definitely have been fresher, and the limited selection of toppings was an odd mix of less-than-common salad ingredients.
The crab stuffing on the trout was tasty indeed, and the fish itself was an admirable effort. The squash and rice sides, however, were average, embodying more of an institutional character as opposed to that fresh-from-the-kitchen taste. My pasta bowl was a generous serving of cheese-filled rings, but the accompanying chunks of chicken were minimally seasoned, and the runny pasta sauce seemed as if it could have come from a can.
I realize that inflated prices at hotels (particularly airport hotels) are the norm, but for what we paid, I felt that Cooper's dinner fare didn't quite make it out of the gate.
Address: 2001 Alcoa Highway, Alcoa
Hours: 6 a.m.-11 p.m. seven days a week
Full bar service
Dept. of Health Score: 90
Bottom Line: This hotel restaurant near McGhee Tyson Airport is a convenient mealtime layover for travel-weary diners.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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