An A-Z guide of what to eat in Chattanooga

Illustration by Matt McClane
Illustration by Matt McClane

This is the food writer's version of swimming the English Channel or climbing to the summit of Mount Everest. Actually, in its own way, it might be even more clandestine, more daunting and arduous than both of those feats. As of January 2023, 6,338 different climbers have reached the summit of Mount Everest. There are 2,480 people who have successfully swum the 21 miles from Shakespeare's Cliff, England, to Cap Gris-Nez, France, including Chattanooga native Karah Nazor, who became the first Tennessean to do so back in 2008, and recently, Chattanooga local Jennifer Whitlock as well.

However, I can't name a single food writer who has been hungry enough to compile an alphabetical list of dishes in a particular city (with the first letter of the name as it's written on the restaurant's menu). I'm currently thinking about investing in a Peloton, cutting back on the margaritas and pistachio gelato, getting into competitive hiking (if that's a thing), anything to get rid of this extra 15 pounds I've acquired while working on this list. Fifteen pounds aside, just the fact that this list could be completed is insane. The fact that "A" could have been antelope carpaccio from St. John's Restaurant or "Z" was almost Zaya steak, a Denver cut from the posh Korean steakhouse, is a testament to how fruitful and finger-licking Chattanooga's food scene is.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Avocado toast at Niedlov’s Bakery and Cafe. The house-made avocado spread rests on slices of seeded country loaf bread and is topped with poached eggs seasoned with chili oil, radishes and cilantro.

A — Avocado Toast / Niedlov's Cafe & Bakery

The thick schmear of avocado spread is the only time I ever described something as "mushy" in a positive way. The rustic loaf of sesame-seeded country bread is so gorgeous that you'd have to be almost heartless to cut into it. The poached eggs' yolks are always more jammy than runny, and everything after that — chili oil, cilantro, chives and radishes — is like edible confetti.

B — Benton's Bacon-Wrapped Dates / Alleia

This dish legitimizes the notion that "bacon makes everything better." Especially when it's the "champagne of bacon," cured and smoked the old-fashioned way up the road in Madisonville by the legendary (and possibly, the nicest man in the world) Allan Benton. Indeed, Medjool dates are fine all by themselves, but so is peanut butter before the jelly.

C — Chopped Weiners / Memo's

It'll be easier finding Spam musubi outside of Honolulu, Chicken Bog outside of Myrtle Beach and Yakamein outside of New Orleans than finding chopped weiners outside of Chattanooga's city limits. At its essence, it's a deconstucted hot dog complete with a side of coleslaw, mustard and mysterious chili sauce. Shooey Russell, AKA Mr. Chattanooga, stamped this as the most iconic dish in the city, and we'd be fools to disagree.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / The Rosecomb’s deviled eggs

D — Deviled Eggs / The Rosecomb

If you ever see me at a baby shower, it means that somebody promised me there would be deviled eggs there. It's also the only reason I've ever invested in a jar of smoked Hungarian paprika. These remind me of the ones my aunt used to make for the 4th of July cookout, but even she didn't have hot honey in her repertoire.

E — Elephants Gerald / Aretha Frankenstein

Usually, if I'm eating waffles, the involvement of fried chicken is mandatory. (Thank you, Dickie Wells.) However, on the first Saturday of February, I'll come here and let them plop a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream on my waffles, because that day is when Florence Rappaport created Ice Cream For Breakfast Day.

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