It might not make anybody's list of healthy foods, but fried chicken is at or near the top of most everyone's list of comfort foods.
For Southerners, just saying the words conjures up images of granny frying up a skillet full of legs and pulley bones. It's part of nearly every picnic, church social and Sunday supper.
Chattanooga has several places that specialize in fried chicken. Nearly everyone in our very informal and totally random survey mentioned the same three names -- Bea's (1500 Dodd's Ave.), Champy's Famous Fried Chicken (526 E. M.L. King Blvd.) and Lamar's (1018 E. M.L. King Blvd.).
The chicken is good at all three, said Chattanoogan Mike Pollock.
"Champy's gets points for the waitresses, and Lamar's gets atmosphere and cool points," Pollock said.
Also mentioned was the Mapco at Third Street and Central Avenue.
"I love the chicken at that Mapco, but it's because of the chicken and potato boat combination," said Jeff Brakebill. "Lamar's is the best, though."
Bea's has been serving fried chicken the same way for 61 years, according to owner/manager Doug Bradshaw.
"It's the same recipe," he said. "It has not changed. Never has and never will. It's been real good to us."
Bradshaw said Bea's will serve about 4,600 pounds of white-meat fried chicken in a week and 25 percent of that will be pulley bones, the wishbone area of the breast. Bea's is one of the few places that serves chicken that way, he said, because it's a specialty cut that some places don't want to fool with.
In addition to regular customers who come to Bea's, where friends and strangers sit at the same table and food is brought out en masse and served on Lazy Susans, celebrities such as comedian Ralphie May make it a regular stop when in town.
"The last real celebrity was Martha Stewart," Bradshaw said. "She got it to go and ate it on her jet. She said she'd eat in next time, but we were real busy."
Seth and Crissy Champion opened Champy's in June 2009 and have become a favorite place to get hot tamales, fried catfish and fried chicken, the No. 1 seller, according to Crissy Champion.
"It's followed closely by the hot tamales, but it is the most popular."
She said the reason behind that is simple.
"It's made from scratch and cooked to order. It doesn't sit under a heat lamp drying out or getting soggy like some. Plus, we marinate our chicken for 24 hours."
She said she prefers the dark meat cuts, which have more flavor, but customers overwhelmingly choose the white meat.
Lamar's is just down the street on MLK. It bills itself as Chattanooga's Favorite Place After Dark, and residents have learned that it is the perfect place for a late-night meal.