This week, I decided to visit an old standby in downtown Chattanooga: the always reliable Ankar’s at 510 Broad St. Often overlooked, the unassuming restaurant serves lunch until 3:30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday. They’re open until 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Ankar’s maintains several locations throughout Chattanooga, but the Broad Street version is the easiest for me to visit during lunch. I needed to get some new glasses adjusted and decided to stop by for a bite at 1 p.m., my sweet spot time for lunch, thanks to a dwindling rush before the second wave of diners arrives.
The menu at Ankar’s has a variety of quickly prepared hot and cold sandwiches, vegetarian sandwiches, platters and salads. My personal favorite items include the gyro, the ham and cheese, and—if I’m feeling like heartburn—the hot dog is always an option. Ankar’s is known for their exceptional fried onion rings—seriously, they’re some of the best in town, if you can handle them. And, of course, no Mediterranean restaurant would be complete without a traditional baklava dessert.
I had about 30 minutes to eat. Let’s see how much damage I could do.
By the way, how cool is the L.P. Cline Gallery next to Ankar’s? They are “direct importers of Russian art from the Soviet Era.” Check them out here.
Ankar’s hasn’t changed much since I’ve been in Chattanooga. This location opened in 1998, making it one of the oldest remaining restaurants downtown. That list grew even shorter when 212 Market closed earlier this year.
The interior of Ankar’s is nonassuming. Ordering takes place in the back at the counter. There was no line when I arrived, and only a few people still remained from the lunch rush. The crew was all smiles and friendly despite the end of a busy hour. They operate like a well-oiled machine.
I ordered my food and was given a number. No, I didn’t brave the onion rings on this day, despite the voice in my ear. I’m at the age where a plate of onion rings is something I need to plan ahead for—antacids, adjacency to a working toilet, etc. There is nothing worse than an out-of-order toilet when you desperately need it to be operative. Sorry. Let’s eat some grub.
I inadvertently managed to purchase two meals. The gyro is served in a full pita pocket, unlike the folded monstrosity you’ll find at other places. This is a stuffed pita with beef, lamb, tomatoes, onions and cucumber sauce (tzatziki sauce). I thought I could order a small Greek side salad instead of the other options, but they told me I couldn’t order anything but the full size. But, to game the system, they said, I could order a small side salad and doctor the thing up with feta cheese. Why not?
My booth of choice was near the front entrance. I played around on Twitter for a few minutes before my number was called. The Ankar’s crew can turn out some food quickly. I’ve never had to wait longer than five minutes for my food, but I’m not usually ordering a labor-intensive sandwich, either. I took my tray back to the booth and started in on the gyro. My side salad was huge and piled with more feta cheese than I’ve seen in one place. Apparently, 95 cents of cheese is about a cup at Ankar’s. I decided to save the side salad for a late evening snack or easy lunch the next day.
Let’s talk about this gyro. I appreciate the pita-wrapped simplicity. This is definitely not one of those enormous gyros you might find at The Olive Branch or 2 Crazy Greeks, but it is the perfect size for a lunch portion. It should also be noted that the gyros at other restaurants are almost impossible to eat without spillage and overflow. The Ankar’s gyro is perfectly contained within the pita pocket—as good street food should be.
The salad was fine when I ate it the next day. It was a side salad. There’s not much to say. I did remove about half the cheese because nobody needs an entire cup of feta.
Would I go back?
In terms of downtown lunch spots, Ankar’s will always be a staple as long as it’s here. With so many restaurants opening and closing—I’m looking at Henpecked—there is something honest and appealing about Ankar’s simple, delicious food. I encourage you to visit your local Ankar’s and enjoy a gyro soon. Take an antacid and enjoy a pile of onion rings if you’re feeling up for it.
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