Owners Roger and Jackie Saylors opened Jack A's Chop Shop Saloon a few months ago on Ashland Terrace, with the saloon taking on Roger's nickname for Jackie, "Jack A." Although on the surface this appeared to be a bar geared toward Chattanooga's biker and hot rod culture, I'd heard the food was a high point, so I raced over last Friday to review it before anyone else—obeying the speed limit, of course, officers.
742 Ashland Terrace
Chattanooga, TN 37415
11 a.m.-12 a.m. (or so)
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.
Atmosphere and service
I didn't know what to expect when I arrived. I had just gotten off work, and as I walked up in my polo shirt and khakis, I wasn't sure how much I stuck out to all the leather-clad bikers taking advantage of happy hour on the front patio. That uneasiness was put to rest as soon as I entered the saloon.
Don't get me wrong: Although I'm certainly not part of the biker scene, I get along with most anyone, and everyone here was friendly. Although I know several bikers—and met a few new ones this evening—this place wasn't just about being a biker bar. A highly varied crowd began packing the place for dinner immediately after I arrived.
Both the interior and exterior were covered in sheet metal with several funny signs keeping with the jokingly shady, industrial, chop shop theme. The front bar and dining area were a decent size, with a huge outdoor patio in the back—in addition to the aforementioned front porch area.
My server was charming and fun, cracking jokes with my table the entire night. She was very attentive throughout the evening and eager to make knowledgeable menu recommendations. "Jack A" made her rounds around the tables and was welcoming and friendly, and the cook even popped out from the back to greet tables at one point. As a new establishment trying to get its footing, I was impressed with how personable the entire staff was.
I led off with their appetizer sampler platter ($8.95), which had onion rings, chicken and grouper fingers, and fried mushrooms—and I'm a sucker for good fried mushrooms. The crispy, flaky batter on these fried items wasn't overly greasy, and the batter itself had a savory, buttery flavor housing the moist grouper and chicken, precious onion rings and golden mushrooms.
And then I went naked—not personally—with the chicken wings ($6.95 for 10 pieces) and had each of the housemade sauces on the side instead. My favorite was the "honey hot," fiery-sweet, Buffalo-style sauce, closely followed by the rich teriyaki mix of soy and ginger. The regular Buffalo sauce was boring compared to the honey hot variation but good if you're a straight shooter when it comes to wings.
The bleu cheese dip served with the wings was fantastic, with generous hunks of bleu cheese in its thick, creamy, fresh mayo base. The celery to the side was fresh and crisp, but enough celery talk—let's get to the main courses.
Also technically an appetizer, I sampled the nachos supreme ($8.95) as a main entrée—it's large enough for a full meal. These crispy tortilla chips were loaded with chili, melted cheddar, fresh lettuce, onions and tomatoes (jalapeños are also available). The rich beef and bean chili really revved up the flavors of this dish, with the saintly veggies counterbalancing the criminal amounts of hot melted cheese and chili.
Next, I sampled the chop shop's pork chop ($11.95). Although the heavy black peppercorn and herb seasoning gave the pork a good kick, it couldn't cover up the fact that this chop was way overcooked. There was no oasis of juices to be found in this dry desert of meat, making my mouth feel like a ground pepper dune in the middle of the Sahara. I had to reach for a drink after each bite.
I had originally ordered asparagus with this dish, but they were out of it, and my server wisely recommended the vegetable skewer. These grilled mushrooms, zucchini, onions and tomatoes were also seasoned with the same peppery seasoning as the pork chop and had a nice char, while adding some much-needed juiciness to the entrée. I also tried the baked potato, and it was straightforward and fluffy throughout.
I also tried the "Jack A burger" ($6.95), which was a 7-ounce Angus beef patty with lettuce, onion and pickles. Unlike the pork chop, this burger was perfectly cooked and bursting with juices. This patty was living large with its fresh veggie adornments, right at home in its springy, toasted deli bun. The neighboring steak fries were of the processed variety, but nicely cooked and well-seasoned nonetheless.
They did not have desserts as of this visit, but I was told they were coming soon.
I am giving Jack A's Chop Shop Saloon 2 stars. This is a new establishment still working out some kinks, but overall, it had a friendly, welcoming atmosphere with more of a varied crowd than you would expect from a typical "biker bar." I had a good time and can see this place being successful on a stretch of road with, historically, a lot of turnover.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga's food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.