¦ What: Chattanooga Wing Factory,
¦ Where: 2109 McCallie Ave.
¦ Phone: 423-697-9878.
¦ Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
¦ Price range: $5 Runaway Drumsticks to $14 for 20 vegan wings.
Sounds of classic jazz and the smell of sweet, smoked barbecue made me smile the moment I entered Chattanooga Wing Factory.
Then co-owner Ronnie Cameron greeted me by name. I had been to the McCallie Avenue restaurant when it was called Eat 1.
Since then, Cameron and his cousin and co-owner, Brandon Ellis, have transformed the eatery from a dim club kitchen to a place of comfort with a touch of class.
Instead of hiring someone to run the business, Cameron and Ellis are the greeters, DJs, cashiers and waiters.
They leave the cooking to people from culinary school, who dress in traditional chef jackets instead of blue jeans and T-shirts.
The Chattanooga Wing Factory upgrade came in December 2012 after Cameron and Ellis combined their skills to open the restaurant. Cameron had the space and management experience. Ellis had the recipes.
Before joining with Cameron, Ellis said, he served food from transportable tents. In just over a year, the business has catered several corporate luncheons. So far, business has been good, said Cameron.
The Chattanooga Wing Factory has something for every temperament and taste. Chicken wings are served in flavors ranging from blazing hot (Redrum) to cooler options (Bleu Dreams). Sauces also come in pepper jack, Hawaiian luau and plenty of flavors in between.
But Chattanooga Wing Factory isn't limited to wings. The menu also includes sirloin patties called sliders, drumsticks, vegan chicken and meatless dishes such as the Power House salad, made with mixed greens and topped with cranberries and walnuts.
Prices range from $14 for the 20-count vegan chicken wings with a side to $5 for Runaway Drumsticks. Sides include fries, pineapple rice and Chatta-noodles. Purchased individually they cost $2.50. A side salad is $3.
People like the wings, said Cameron, but the empanadas are one of the most popular items. For my money, this $5 dish, which looks like a bean burrito sprinkled with seasoned salt, is one of the best investments on the menu.
The empanadas not only taste good, they're filling, with pieces of chicken, red onions, bell peppers, roasted corn and cilantro all folded into a light crispy shell. But what sets the taste apart are the relish and sweet red sauce. I'm not sure of all the ingredients, but the relish appeared to have pieces of mango, corn and cilantro.
I also liked that the empanadas are not super greasy, nor dripping with fat, so they seemed like a healthy option. I felt good eating mine.
On a previous visit, I had the Golden Sun chicken, which I picked because I liked the sound of it.
It sure looked pretty: golden, glistening chicken accented with little scatters of green garnish. I felt like I was in some quaint little grill, a much different experience than I had at the former Eat 1.
And then there were the fries. Remember Central Park fries when they first came out in the 1980s? It was the first time I had fries with that much kick. That's how these fries taste. Hot. Glistening. So tasty I was scared ketchup might mask the flavor. So I ate them as served.
My only complaint was that I ordered the wrong chicken for my taste. It looked spectacular, but it had an almost chemical aftertaste, at least to my palate. I wondered if I should have gotten a different flavor. I heard other customers get the pepper-jack sauce, and nobody complained.
On my next visit, I wanted to go in a different direction, instead of trying chicken again. I asked Cameron his most popular dish. He said empanadas, and that was perfect for me.
If you're a former Eat 1 customer, you will be impressed with the transformation into Chattanooga Wing Factory. Gone is the old wooden counter where people waited for food. Now it's a more modern-looking stainless steel. The old laminate floors are now covered in carpet, and the plain off-white walls are jazzed up with red and deep blue paint. Instead of watching the latest soap operas on a television, diners can enjoy the uplifting sounds of cool jazz.
I've got to go back. I'm challenged to find a chicken flavor that I like. The Chattanooga Wing Factory has more than a dozen of them, so I know mine is in there. And I know I love the empanadas. It will be my go-to meal when I'm concerned about calories but still want to be full. And the jazz is so inviting, it makes you want to hang around sipping fruity tea, even after the food is gone.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.