You made me jealous that I never tried places like Roy’s Pepper Porch, Fehn’s, Pario’s, the LaDean Tea Room, Ellis Restaurant, Leonard’s and The Loft. A bunch of them I’d never even heard of before.
Many of you responded on Facebook with vivid descriptions of what the restaurants served and what you remember eating.
Read the comments here and feel free to chime in. It’s the internet; the conversation can continue ad infinitum.
This week, I want to continue the momentum and touch on some of the old places that remain in Chattanooga. With new restaurants opening daily (at least that’s how it feels), it’s easy to forget the establishments that have been bedrocks in our community for decades.
Here are five of my favorite old-school Chattanooga restaurants I frequent, and I’m sure you can chime in with your own thoughts.
What restaurants do we take for granted? What do these places offer that the new places don’t?
Serving Chattanooga since 1937, Wally’s Restaurant (both the East Ridge and McCallie Avenue locations) is a weekly necessity for some residents. I’ve met people who eat breakfast at Wally’s every day. The cafeteria-style diner is cheap, filling and worth every penny as long as you’re not expecting a five-star experience. The list of specials is straight out of a 1950s Southern kitchen: catfish, country-style steak, fried chicken livers, salmon patties, meatloaf, fried pork chops, and chicken and dressing. And although the meat of the meat-and-three plates takes precedence, I’m fond of the various sides, such as mac and cheese and baked beans. Let’s not forget the banana pudding. The menu changes every day, and they post it online. What’s your favorite Wally’s special?
Among the oldest establishments on Martin Luther King Boulevard, Memo Grill has been serving chopped weiner plates, pit barbecue, wings and hot dogs for 50 years. A first-time visitor to Memo should get a chopped weiner plate. Why? Because it’s something you won’t find anywhere else in Chattanooga. The plate consists of “Coney Island hot dogs” chopped and plated with chili sauce, coleslaw and buns. Memo Grill is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so plan accordingly. Oh, and the banana split is a great way to end the meal.
As the Southside continues to transform into the place to be in Chattanooga—for better or worse—Miss Griffin’s Foot Long Hot Dogs and Zarzour’s Café are the lasting elders. Like Wally’s, Zarzour’s is a meat-and-three place with a reputation of being not only one of the oldest restaurants in Chattanooga but also one of the tastiest. Decadent plates include an awesome hamburger and a nostalgic spaghetti that I haven’t found a replicate of anywhere else in town. The brave should drop everything and grab a slice of peanut butter pie. And while you’re there, take a moment to browse the artwork on the walls. The place is like a museum with 100 years of Chattanooga’s history documented.
Life was very different in Chattanooga in 1941 when Nikki’s Drive-In opened. Monica (my fiancée) has fond memories of visiting Nikki’s with her dad. She said the food is “easy and always reliable.” It’s also fried. My first visit to Nikki’s back in 2013 was a tad underwhelming, but I think it was my expectations. I have since learned to love the jumbo fried shrimp, onion rings and lack of seasoning. Why? Because it’s Nikki’s. A place doesn’t last for almost 70 years without something going for it. I’m still trying to pinpoint exactly what that “something” is, and although there are fans, I worry that a new generation of Chattanoogans isn’t falling in love with Nikki’s. Am I wrong?
My first old-school restaurant experience I had in Chattanooga was when a college roommate suggested a few of us go to Bea’s Restaurant. Located all the way out at the 4500 block of Dodds Avenue, the drive from downtown felt like entering another world. I don’t remember much other than the atmosphere: Lazy Susan tables, eating with strangers and a dated interior. The price (then $12.50 for all you could eat) seemed steep, but from those first bites of fried chicken (salty and sweet), the cobbler, spaghetti and collard greens, I was completely hooked on Bea’s. None of the recipes have changed since 1950. It’s still a family operation. I hope Bea’s remains unchanged for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I could live without that chicken.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.