Friday May 11, 2012
On a whirlwind trip through Chattanooga, I had the good fortune of dining at some of the best restaurants in the charming, refurbished downtown. (Here's our complete list of Chattanooga restaurants). First stop upon rolling into town: Champy's Famous Fried Chicken, on the outskirts of downtown. This no-frills, Mississippi-inspired roadhouse doesn't mess around, advertising "blues, brews and bird." Fried chicken, hot tamales and cold beers under a shaded patio proved to be the perfect remedy for a hot Saturday afternoon. The bird itself is ultra-moist on the inside, slightly crispy on the outside, and holds just enough grease to remind you that it's fried chicken. And just in case you can't finish a 40 oz beer before your hand starts warming it, Champy's has got you covered with their signature koozies designed for 40's.
After a light lunch of fried chicken, tamales, coleslaw, baked beans, french fries and beer, it was only a matter of hours before my appetite resurfaced. Stepping up to save me from perilous hunger pangs was The Public House. Located on Warehouse road, The Public House strikes a rare (and fantastic) balance between casual atmosphere and serious cuisine. The straightforward menu of Southern favorites lacks flowery language or confusing foodie buzzwords, but superior ingredients and knowledge of Southern cookery shine through. Pork tenderloin with grits and a bourbon-molasses sauce was excellent, as was a perfectly battered fish sandwich (a huge cod filet soaked in hot sauce overnight), but a brilliant, baked macaroni and cheese stole this show. Be warned: The large side is sufficient for a table of 3 or 4. Bonus points for the great patio and creative cocktails named after Pixies songs (Monkey Gone to Heaven, Is She Weird?).
One last venue well-worth a mention and a visit (particularly for craft beer enthusiasts) is The Terminal. Next door to the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Station (hence the clever name), the Terminal occupies the restored early 20th century building that was once an easy access hotel for train passengers. The lovely rooftop garden patio is an ideal spot to enjoy one of the great beers brewed in house - the malty German-style Maibock, the bold, hoppy West Coast IPA (Magnum P.A) and the Belgian White are all solid bets. There's decent pub grub to be had as well -- take a chance on the Philosopher's Burger, a heavily seasoned lamb burger topped with candied red onions and a feta aioli. There's a lot going on there, but it works.
Alas, my time was limited. And though I did get to see seven states and an equally kitschy and creepy UV-lit fairy tale gnome village at Rock City, I didn't get around to eating and seeing everything on my itinerary. Next time, I'll hit up the legendary pancakes at Aretha Frankenstein's and revisit the aquarium so that I can pet the catfish. Yes, you can pet the fish. No, you cannot take the fish home and fry it.
Bird is the word at Champy's. Tamales is a good word, too.