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 tried the much-talked-about Chattanooga Wing Company, which recently opened at the corner of McCallie Avenue and Willow Street.
Many of you will immediately reject the Chattanooga Wing Company because of its less-than-desirable location, but I’m telling you right upfront that this line of thinking is a mistake. The food—especially the smoked chicken—is incredible. Owners Brandon Ellis and Jernard Wells have made a conscious effort to help revitalize the economically struggling area, and they deserve our support. There are no frills inside this restaurant—next to Smoke 1 Tobacco— in fact, you could drive by without even realizing it was there. Please don’t let the location discourage you. Think of it as a culinary adventure, and embrace the location for what it is; their focus is entirely on the food, and so should yours be. Lauren and I stepped inside and found the place clean, but the kind of "clean" you find in an elderly person’s home, if that makes sense. The tables are used, and the place had a general funkiness to it that I found endearing rather than off-putting. It’s obvious that kinks are still being worked out. The menu consists of just a few items—sliders, wings, half-chickens, chicken sandwiches, noodles—but the prices are right for the outstanding quality. Our entire meal was less than $30, and between the two of us, we most likely consumed at least three-quarters of a chicken.
Empanadas. Lauren and I found it hilarious that we were drinking sweet tea out of paper cups and eating some of the best-tasting food we’ve had in a long time. The empanadas are deep-fried and stuffed with marinated and smoked chicken, black beans and a cilantro drizzle. That sauce you see presented on the plate ... that’s just hot sauce, Frank’s hot sauce. Again, I stress, Chattanooga Wing Company offers upscale food in one of the worst parts of town. They have to put up wooden window barricades at night to keep from having break-ins, and I was eating an empanada with a gourmet drizzle? What is going on?! It’s places like this that make life worth living.
Your options for chicken are limited to a few dishes: wings, chicken salad, a two-piece meal and a half of a chicken. All of the chicken is smoked (for a long time) and then flash-fried before the plating with a sauce of your choice. Lauren was feeling the wings and ordered six with lemon pepper seasoning and a side of homemade french fries. I chose the more generous half-chicken smoked and fried with a hot version of the lemon pepper seasoning. For a side, I got the house noodle dish.
Once our chicken arrived, I nearly lost my mind with the first bite. Lauren’s eyes rolled back in her head as she savored the taste of her wings. The flavors are incredible. Though small in size, Lauren’s wings were smoked and seasoned to perfection. Her fries were completely homemade rough-cuts and as delicious as anything else we ate. The star of the show was the half-chicken. I can tell you with absolute conviction that this piece of chicken was the best piece of chicken I’ve ever had. The smokiness was matched perfectly with the heat of the seasoning and the slight tang of the lemon pepper. As for the noodles, they offered a sweet component that, though odd, worked well with the other flavors present in the dish. We were both completely floored by Chattanooga Wing Company and cannot wait to make a return visit.
Either Ellis caught onto us (we don’t hide the fact we’re taking pictures) or he was just being generous, but during our meal, he brought out two more dishes for us to try. The beef slider was every bit as tasty as the chicken. It was served with a peach and mango salsa, smoked Gouda cheese and brown sugar bacon crumbles on a Hawaiian roll. The meat was divine. Though less spectacular, we also enjoyed the diced chicken salad sandwich with marinated and smoked chicken, Fuji apples, celery and red onion. Having enjoyed both extra dishes, Lauren and I were more enthusiastic about the chicken. It’s not called the Chattanooga Wing Company for just any reason.
Would we go back?
Lauren and I had a discussion last night about whether it was OK for us to eat at Chattanooga Wing Company more than once per week. I don’t think we came to a firm agreement. Going back is no longer a question. Any hesitations we may have had about the location were completely overshadowed by the quality of food. This is chicken you would fight wars for, climb the highest mountain with no shoes on for. Try it and tell me I’m wrong.