■ Where: The Coffee Shop in the Doctors Building, 744 McCallie Ave.
■ Phone: 423-265-3110.
■ Hours: 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m Monday-Friday.
■ Price range: $1.25 for biscuit and jelly to $6.50 for the Dagwood super club sandwich.
■ Payment: Cash or check only.
In recent years, Chattanooga has been fortunate to welcome several new and exciting eateries to the city, giving more options to diners and bringing trendy new spaces to the once-barren downtown food scene.
But before we get too excited about the hip new restaurants downtown, let's take a moment to appreciate the few classic lunch spots that still remain and still impress. So put down your ironic menu and infused chai tea for a moment and pay homage to the classic lunch counter.
For those of a certain age, the lunch counter at downtown stores such as Woolworth's and Loveman's can bring back memories of good food, made to order and reasonably priced. Your food was prepared right in front of you so you knew that you would get a good meal the way you ordered it.
Most of those places are gone, but a few hidden gems remain. One of them is The Coffee Shop on McCallie Avenue near the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga -- a classic lunch counter and perhaps the best bargain lunch available downtown.
The Coffee Shop, located in the Doctors Building, has been serving the building's tenants and the UTC community for decades. Choko Robinson has run the Coffee Shop for years after opening the space with her late husband, Eddie, and she's fed many hungry students and faculty members over the years. Times have changed in the area around UTC, but The Coffee Shop remains a popular choice.
The menu is simple, lunch-counter fare, with eggs and biscuits available at breakfast along with omelettes and croissants.
At lunchtime, The Coffee Shop has been known for years for its hamburgers. Many have said that The Coffee Shop makes the best burger in town. With so many burger joints in town, that's tough to say for sure, but Robinson and her staff have been serving them to happy customers for years, so they must be doing something right.
Other sandwiches, such as the BLT, club sandwich and a hoagie are available, and they serve chicken fingers, barbecue and roast beef as well.
Side items such as pinto beans and cornbread let you know that you're firmly in a Southern eating establishment, and the chicken noodle soup is a highlight as well.
There are also freshly baked cakes and pies for dessert.
While the burger is good, on this visit I opted to go with the daily special: an open-face roast beef sandwich covered in gravy and served with green beans and mashed potatoes and gravy.
Everything seemed fresh and well prepared. It was a simple country meal, but served quickly and hot with fresh rolls and sweet tea at a total cost of $7.21. That's pretty hard to beat for fresh food downtown.
Not much has changed at The Coffee Shop in decades, decor-wise. The layout is simple with a small lunch counter facing the flat-top grill and several tables in a cozy space.
Old magazines are stacked on one wall for reading, and often the radio is tuned to NPR (on WUTC-FM), which is probably appropriate with so many UTC faculty and students stopping by for breakfast or lunch.
The staff of The Coffee Shop is friendly and attentive, checking frequently to see if drinks need to be refilled or if dessert is needed.
Robinson is in the restaurant daily, and she's well known by her loyal clientele. She moves around the room, chatting with regulars and making sure everyone is happy. Clearly, The Coffee Shop is a labor of love for her.
The Coffee Shop isn't the most adventurous place to eat in Chattanooga. Some of the new restaurants in town bring more variety and new flavors to the area, and that's good. It's taken the city a long time to develop a strong culinary foundation, and we still need more options and more tastes to challenge local foodies.
But if you want to recall the days of the simple lunch counter with a quick meal served well and at a very reasonable price, take a trip down McCallie Avenue to the Doctors Building and give The Coffee Shop a try. It will bring back how things used to be ... and the burger is pretty darn good, too.
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him at www.twitter.com/JFTanner.
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...