The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
I am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 25, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is “simple, no frills.” These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. This week, we sampled beer and bar food at McHale’s Brewhouse in Hixson.
McHale’s Brewhouse is a quiet little unassuming pub on Ashland Terrace in Hixson. It’s one of those places Lauren and I have always wanted to go. We’ve heard whispers about the place for years. “The best beer in the city,” was a common phrase, as was “smokey as hell.” As for a date night location, McHale’s is very low-key. You’re not going to want to propose, for example, at this place. But if it’s beer, food and camaraderie you’re looking for—with no frills—I think McHale’s is one of Chattanooga’s best options. It’s definitely Hixson’s. The bar greets you as you enter the building. Family crests surround the walls, no doubt a nod of respect from owner Sid Hale to his Scottish heritage. Several people were shooting a game of billiards and drinking some of the famous brews. We sat down in the billiard room just as a dubstep remix of “Harlem Shake” blasted on the sound system. No, I didn’t do the dance. This is serious business.
You don’t order a frozen strawberry daiquiri at McHale’s. I can imagine the scenario if you were to ask for a blended drink: a loud siren would go off and a trap door would open underneath your feet sending you to a death rollercoaster called “Mr. Bonestripper” like the scene from “Nothing But Trouble.” You get my drift. At McHale’s, you order the beer or else. Luckily, the beer is extraordinary. There was not a server when we arrived, just a bartender and a few stragglers throughout the interior. Everyone was unbelievably nice as Lauren and I pretended to be from out of town just looking for a place to have a nice, quiet dinner. There are no strangers at McHale’s. Even if you’re being weird.
Having never tried the famous McHale’s beer, I ordered a flight of everything on tap. Lauren is not a huge beer drinker (she’s not a “huge” anything, by the way) but she helped me sample five beers on tap. This flight included the following selections: Bloody IPA, Mudslinger, Dixie Blonde, McHale’s Scottish Pride and an as yet unnamed “IPA #2.” As we made our way through the flight, we oooh’d and aaah’d over the delicious flavors. The Mudslinger was big and bold with a cookie-flavor (I’m not great at describing beers). We found the flavors pleasantly complex in both the Scottish Pride and Bloody IPA. The real winner for me was the mysterious IPA #2 which had a seasonal clove essence that I felt I could sip on for days. We were told the beer list constantly changes which is all the more reason to go back.
The food at McHale’s could be considered bar food, but it’s not that simple. The menu of appetizers is familiar fare, however, the dinner menu includes a number of interesting burgers and a host of Scottish cuisine like Scotch Eggs and Irish Stew. The menu is small, though the portions are large. Lauren and I couldn’t decide on an appetizer, so we ordered the “McHale’s Sampler” with Cheese Sticks, Loaded Skins, McHale's Chicken Tenders, McHale's Onion Rings, & Wings. You know, all the healthy stuff. The sampler could easily be split between 4 people. The highlights were the beer-battered chicken tenders and onion rings. The wings were standard—though fairly spicy—and nothing special. The loaded skins were interestingly topped with olives, which is a new addition to potatoes that actually tasted pretty good. I wish the skins had been crispier. Instead, they felt a bit soggy. The most underwhelming portion of the sampler, though, were the cheese sticks. They had little flavor and seemed a cheap, frozen accessory to an otherwise outstanding sampler.
McHale’s was out of both fish (for the Fish n’ Chips) and the necessary ingredients for the McHale’s Barley Burger, a vegetarian option in a world of meat and fried food. Lauren and I decided to split a Mushroom Swiss burger. Upon arrival, the burger seemed lacking in presentation. However, the flavor was on par with most mushroom/swiss hamburgers I’ve consumed. Though nothing special, the burger was cooked to order (medium) and contained generous portions of swiss cheese and mushrooms. On further visits, both Lauren and I would probably opt for less fried food and more traditional fare.
Would we go back?
McHale’s Brewhouse is a great place to get a beer and a good place to eat dinner. The beer is outstanding and the food—a gut-bomb across the board—is fried and plentiful. The owners and staff are friendly, as are the patrons. As we paid for our meal ($26 total), I had a conversation with a gentleman about the band Portishead. He was amazed to hear that other people knew of and appreciated this band. In retrospect, I don’t think Lauren and I got the true “McHale’s experience.” That experience involves a Saturday night spent singing bad karaoke and shooting pool with the locals. Even if you don’t eat the food, the beer at McHale’s is special and worth the trip.