Opening the year before I was born, Ankar's Hoagies has been an affordable Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/American-style sandwich stronghold in Chattanooga since 1979. Now with three locations, I will venture to say most people who have lived in Chattanooga for a lengthy time are familiar with this establishment. The original location on Brainerd Road is a smack of childhood nostalgia for me, but it had been years since I last visited, so I roamed on over last week to see if I would have some déjà vu of quality food.
5966 Brainerd Road
Chattanooga, TN 37421
10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
12 p.m.-10 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you'll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it's the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it's worth it.
I've never been to either of the other locations, but as a kid, one of my favorite rewards from my parents for good report cards was having dinner at the Brainerd Ankar's Hoagies and going to the nearby, as I called it, "Goony Golf." While put-putting and cage-batting at Sir Goony's and beating up on bad guys on the "Double Dragon" machine they used to have at Ankar's were loads of fun, the food was always an equal treat.
In doing this review, my party had never been before, so I was interested to see what they thought outside of my reminiscing of fond childhood memories. I also didn't go to my go-tos from back then—the ham and cheese sub or "steak in a sack"—and I wanted to see if the quality was still anchored down or had drifted away over the years.
My timing was perfect. When I walked in, there was no line, and as I was placing my order, one started to form—luckily for the people in the line, my attack strategy was planned beforehand from the online menu. After placing my order, my number was called over the speaker system in about 10 minutes. The speakers are needed because there is a large room off to the side of the main room, and I was sitting way in the back (so I could be sneaky, snapping pictures and discussing dishes with my party).
I'll start with the sides. One of the things I was looking forward to all day, as I always did as a kid, was the $3.29 fried mushrooms side dish. I have tried many fried mushrooms around town, and, for me, I have yet to find any I love as much as Ankar's. This could be because of it being one of my favorite childhood treats, or it could be because the flavor of the juicy mushrooms and moistly crispy consistency of the batter are epically awesome. You can be the judge for yourself, but my gavel has been slammed, for now (if you would like to file an appeal of somewhere better, let me know; I'm a mushroom fanatic and will be glad to try it).
Next, the $2.99 onion rings fall much into the same realm as the mushrooms, as the batter, I believe, is the same. These are also fantastic, and if you aren't as much of a mushroom lover as I am—as I know many aren't—you can't go wrong with these. The sweet onions deep fried in this buttery batter had a powerful flavor—so much so these precious onion rings could rule them all (I'm such a nerd).
For the sandwiches, I first went for the $4.69 "falafel" rider ("rider" is a trademarked Ankar's term for "pita"). One of the great things about falafel is that it is typically made from ground chickpeas (an ancient food I've discussed before), so it has a good amount of protein and nutrients. It's an excellent non-soy meat alternative for vegetarians and is wildly popular throughout the Middle Eastern world.
This falafel had a strong presence of cumin, coriander and parsley in its moist, burger-like interior, with a crispy-fried outer crust. Although the falafel pieces were deep fried, they weren't overly greasy. Fresh lettuce, tomatoes and sliced pickles were also packed in the soft pita pocket to complement the falafel's strong flavors. This was a good falafel, and not only could it be a great vegetarian option, it had a flavor even the most carnivorous could enjoy.
Next, I tried the $4.99 gyro salad. From Greek origin, gyro meat is traditionally made from ground lamb and/or other meats blended with spices, formed into a mold, sliced and roasted on a spit. Instead of going with the traditional pita, I opted for a salad to switch things up a bit. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and bell peppers were stacked with a steaming heap of Ankar's lamb and beef gyro meat mixture.
The veggies were fresh and crisp, and the well-seasoned meat ribbons were bursting with juices. I went with the gyro sauce as a dressing, which was a yogurt-based tzatziki. It dressed the salad with a smooth and velvety consistency. This was a large salad loaded with meat and veggies and a good choice for those skipping the traditional pita for lower-carb/gluten purposes.
However, I went back to the pita for the $4.89 chicken "shawarma" rider. The Middle Eastern shawarma is somewhat similar to the Greek gyro and Turkish "doner" kebab, but they are all regional variations prepared with slightly different ingredients—although with much crossover. This shawarma had sliced, marinated chicken breast seasoned with zesty sumac and pepper (a slightly similar flavor mixture to lemon pepper for comparison).
The pita was also loaded with grilled onions, sliced tomatoes and the same gyro sauce I used as dressing for the salad. This was a delicious sandwich, with its silky tzatziki and sweet, softly grilled onions complementing the peppered, marinated chicken breast and its sumac tang.
For you carnivores out there—and falafel and hummus herbivores—one of the great things about Ankar's is that they consistently pack on the proteins on whatever dish they are serving. They have never skimped on the meat—or chickpea proteins—on any item I have ever had there over many years. And, yes, as the name says, they also have hoagies. Although I prefer the pita for many of their dishes, the soft, springy sub roll versions are equally delightful.
Although I didn't order it on this occasion, I will also recommend the steak in a sack, which is probably one of their most famous sandwiches. I've had it several times, and the loads of shaved, seasoned steak, grilled onions and mayo in a pita is tough to beat—however, the gyro, falafel and chicken shawarma riders are right up there with it.
For dessert, I grabbed a $1.19 baklava. This traditional, flaky, stacked filo pastry was smothered in honey and cinnamon. It was extremely sweet and sticky and a perfect way to cap off this meal of flavors from the regions around the eastern Mediterranean.
I'm giving Ankar's Hoagies 3 stars for staying true to the strong flavors, piles of proteins and affordable prices I remember. And my party this evening, who lives close to the restaurant yet had never been, not only said they wanted to go back, but have already returned before this review was even published. Again, not speaking for the other locations, but the Brainerd location is a true gem that tourists—and locals who haven't tried it—should seek out for a quality, quick meal that powers past the chain sandwich shops in the area. It's one of my precious places.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga's food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.comor its employees.