At the turn of the 20th century the Bluff View area was the place to live for Chattanooga’s wealthy, located safely above the temperamental flooding of the Tennessee River. The “cliff dwellers,” as they were called built elegant homes with a distinct European feel. The great suburb migration of the ‘60s and ‘70s led many of the mansions to neglect until the early ‘90s. That’s when Dr. Charles and Mary Portera moved in, and everything changed.

In just a few short years the couple transformed the area into the Bluff View Art District, which today includes three restaurants, a bakery, bed and breakfast, sculpture garden, chocolate kitchen, banquet area and artisanal coffee roaster – all still privately owned and operated by the dynamic couple. What began with one business (an art gallery) quickly morphed into a destination dedicated to engaging all of your senses through art, architecture, scenic views, landscape and of course, food.

Today the District’s artisanal food products are distributed to more than 40 different restaurants, businesses, hotels, farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Devote an entire evening to exploring this urban oasis, soaking up its unrelenting passion for incorporating art into the every day.

Start your food sojourn with a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s all made. There aren’t set hours for the food artisans, but large picture windows invite you to take a peek at the process.

THE BLUFF VIEW BAKERY
While the bakers work almost around the clock, the bakery is open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. most days. The entrance is a little hard to find, tucked into the bottom floor of the Portera’s personal residence across from the Sculpture Garden. When in doubt, follow your nose. The heavenly scent of freshly baked bread wafts out the front door, which is flung open on pretty days. Buy a loaf for later or just watch Executive Baker Alou Niangadou knead his magic into his sourdough, whole wheat and rye creations. As a world renowned baker, he has an impressive repertoire of 400 bread recipes spanning three decades of work. In addition to supplying all of the Bluff View’s kitchens, the bakery distributes to restaurants, specialty shops and grocery stores.

REMBRANDT’S ROASTING COMPANY
Speaking of noses, should you smell something burning don’t be alarmed. It’s a very natural (and intentional) part of the coffee roasting process, which takes place onsite. Rembrandt’s Roasting Company is located directly below the Bocce Ball Terrace, and if they happen to be making a batch you can walk in to see them in action. If one of the roasters is available they can even walk you through the process. As the District’s last major addition in 2003, Rembrandt’s specializes in flavored coffees, brewing up innovative blends for restaurants, grocery stores and hotels since 2004. You have the best chance of catching the nocturnal artisans at night, no doubt fueled by their own creations.

THE CHOCOLATE KITCHEN
Just behind The River Gallery, a large picture window invites you to peek into one of the Bluff View’s sweetest spots – the Chocolate Kitchen. While Chocolatier Jerome Savin trained in his native France among the world’s top chefs, he infuses his intricate confections with local flavors such as Benton’s Bacon, herbs from the nearby garden or famous Tennessee whiskey. Savin does everything by hand, using precise techniques learned from decades in the chocolate business. It’s hard to predict his schedule because he often works in batches of 1,000 or more, with several days downtime in between. But you can always taste his edible works of art at nearby Rembrandt’s Coffee Shop.

THE PASTRY KITCHEN
From the Chocolate Kitchen, head down the cloistered alleyway to your right. In a tiny courtyard with a charming fountain you’ll find another secret to the Bluff View’s success – its pastry kitchen. The award-winning operation supplies all three restaurants with more than 60 decadent selections, including a new line of gluten-free options. Besides a few conditioners and dough sheeters, every croissant, pastry and cake is made by hand, which is reflected in the taste of each crave-worthy creation.

Now that your appetite is piqued, wipe the drool from your chin and prepare to dig in at all three Bluff View Restaurants.

BACK INN CAFÉ
The wisteria-draped terrace at Back Inn Café is the perfect place to start your meal. Relax with a glass of wine or signature cocktail and watch the boats languidly float down the river. In case of inclement weather, the Back Inn’s glassed-in sun porch provides the same spectacular view. Or, the fireplace and dark wood paneling of the library lends a different sort of romantic charm. For an appetizer, try the Volcano Roll sushi, the beloved lobster bisque or a seasonal offering like sweet potato crusted shrimp.

TONY’S PASTA SHOP AND TRATTORIA
A casual yet classic Italian eatery,Tony’s features hand-cut pastas and fresh sauces with tomatoes and herbs from the District’s very own garden. Add in the freshly baked bread, served with a generous bowl of olive oil and fresh parmesan, and it’s no wonder the restaurant remains among the city’s top rated. Since opening in 1994, the charming Trattoria has undergone five expansions to accommodate its ever-expanding fan base.

REMBRANDT’S COFFEE SHOP
If you order a dessert and coffee at any of the restaurants it will come from Rembrandt’s Kitchen. But if you do that, you’re missing the experience of the quaint, European-style coffee shop (and the opportunity to ogle at its never-ending pastry case). Located in a beautiful French stucco, its picturesque stone patio with wisteria arbor and trickling fountain is hard to beat. During the winter, seating inside is limited but cozy. The hardest task will be deciding the flavor of your specialty roast coffee, dessert or pastry. You can also take home a bag of your favorite brew or some of that famous bread.