Monday, February 28, 2022

Roadfood in Chattanooga

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties 
- Stopping in at five Scenic City favorites 

When we drove down to South Florida this last December I decided we'd stop in Chattanooga as opposed to Nashville or Atlanta. Reason being was an easy one and that was bc I'd never been to the Choo Choo City as an adult, we passed through on a roadtrip when I was a kid. It's location along the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is a beauty. Since it's a part of the south I figured there was some good grub to be had and that was verified on our short two night stay. 

Sights from Chattanooga 
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Zarzour's Cafe 

I'd wanted to visit Chattanooga’s oldest restaurant (est. 1918) for a long time leading up to this trip. Zarzour’s Cafe has been on my hit list going back to the heyday of Roadfood. It was founded by a Lebanese immigrant from Syria and its currently under its fourth generation of ownership. With limited hours (11a-2p M-F) it’s a lunch only stop that according to some serves up the best burger in all of Tennessee. Actually it was named best in south by Southern Living. Burgers and hamburger steaks with gravy are always on the menu while the daily specials usually feature two entree offerings. Desserts switch by the day. A delicious rendition of the Tex-Mex favorite King Ranch Chicken casserole was on offer this visit as was some of the best banana pudding I’ve ever tried. As for the burger it was a memorable one that can only be matched with time. While there’s nothing particularly unique about the ingredients used to make these, that flattop has flavor that can only come with a few generations worth of customers. As good as that burger was (one of the best) it’s the hospitality from here I’ll remember most. The type you just don’t find too often outside of the south. I basically chose to stay 2 nights in Chattanooga bc that would allow me to finally stop at Zarzour's and it was worth it. 

Lunch at Zarzour's Cafe 
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Miss Griffin's Foot Long Hot Dogs 

While researching spots in Chattanooga I came to learn of the chopped weenie plate. It's a hyper regional dish that only a few places in town still make. Miss Griffins (est. 1939) is one of those spots. They place sliced southern style Elm Hill brand wieners on top of a bean heavy chili that's painted with mustard and hot sauce. Both Texas toast and cole slaw come served on the side. I enjoyed this dish more than I thought I would. I read it's a fave of Samuel L. Jackson who's from here originally. 

Chopped Weenie Plate at Miss Griffin's 
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Uncle Larry's Restaurant

When searching the city's best restaurants Uncle Larry's is bound to come up. It's a locally owned spot that hasn't been around as long as the first couple of spots but it feels every bit as locally loved. Uncle Larry was the designated fish fryer at family functions, which yes is a thing in the south. He was convinced to open his own fish house and did just that back in 2013. Today they have a few locations with the original on MLK Drive. The motto at Uncle Larry's is "fish so good it will smack you" and that was a pretty hard smack if I may say. Some of the best southern fried fish I've ever come across and the sides were no slouch either. Pictured is the combo plate which featured catfish, whiting, perch. 

Fried Fish at Uncle Larry's 
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Champy's Fried Chicken 

If you like fried chicken and forty's you might want to check out Champy's. It's a locally grown chain with eight locations in Tennessee and Alabama. The original is here in Chattanooga and I decided to go not for the 40 oz. bottles of beer but their other specialty which is Delta style hot tamales. These are hard to find outside of the Mississippi Delta and it would seem as though the founders of Champy's were very aware of that fact as they claim a love for the Delta is one of the restaurants inspirations. I will just about always stop for Delta style tamales when I see them which isn't all that often. Champy's makes a good one but then again I've never had a bad one. For those that have never indulged in a Delta style tamale its different than others as it's made with cornmeal and what's usually spiced ground beef. They're rolled in corn husks and cooked in liquid until just mushy. One of my favorite regional treats. The fried chicken was also good but you can find that all over the south. 

Fried Chicken and Hot Tamales at Champy's Fried Chicken 
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Sugar's Ribs

There weren't a ton of options for dinner on a Monday night so Sugar's Ribs won out over less desirable spots. The reviews were good but what constitutes good barbecue can vary greatly from person to person. I figured we were in the south and it's the ribs people seem to love so why not give them a try since I too love a good rack of ribs. Actually I enjoy both the smoked until there's a nice chewy bark type and also the fall off the bone tender variety. These were the latter with just a light touch of smoke. They had a unique setup as far as the smoker goes but there just wasn't much smoke flavor. Sides were all above average with a cup of crisply fried potato chunks leading the way. 

Rib Platter at Sugar's Ribs 
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See ya next time @chibbqking

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