If you go
› Where: Wally’s Restaurant, 1600 McCallie Ave; or 6521 Ringgold Road
› Hours: 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, McCallie Avenue location; 6:45 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, East Ridge
› Price range: Meat-and-three $6.95, four vegetables $6.50, three vegetables $5.25
› Phone: 423-698-4643 McCallie Avenue; 423-899-6151 Ringgold Road
› Website: www.wallysrest.com
EDITOR'S NOTE: This review wraps up Chattanooga Now's series of spots our staff frequents for good service and conversation, favorite dishes or the one-of-a-kind Chattanooga restaurants that make us love our Scenic City. A new year calls for a new series of reviews, which will spotlight newly opened venues.
Admit it — when you read those words you smiled and thought of good, old-fashioned, Southern comfort food. Unless you happen to be a vegetarian, but I'll address that in a bit.
Now that we're fully into the cold winter months with a new year just days away, sometimes a hot meat-and-three of country cooking is just the thing to take off the chill. There are many great meat-and-three restaurants in Chattanooga, and each of us has our favorite. But one place in particular has been around longer than most of us have been alive and it's the perfect place to grab a good meal.
Wally's Restaurant opened for business in May 1937, and for 80 years, the McCallie Avenue location has been a popular lunch spot for hungry Chattanoogans. It's not unusual to see some of the leaders of local business, government and media seated at nearby tables.
Wally's has been in the same building since it was built in 1970 on the location of the original drive-in restaurant. The space is a typical diner. Nothing fancy, but just what you need when you're hungry for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
There's a lunch counter, where you can watch the food come out while you enjoy your meal, and there are plenty of booths and tables of various sizes that will accommodate single diners to large groups.
While the focus today is on the meat-and-three meal at Wally's, it should be noted that the restaurant's original claim to fame was its hamburgers. The original Wally's featured curb service and was popular with young people as the home of the "Best Burger in Chattanooga" in the 1930s and 1940s.
While prices have gone up a touch since the days of the 25-cent Wally's Burger, they're still on the menu (and less than $4), and I bet they still taste pretty darn good. I never get past the meat-and-three, but one of these days I will try that hamburger.
Wally's is also known for a great breakfast menu to get the morning started. The lunch menu features a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads and even a ribeye steak. But the lunchtime draw, for most folks, is the meat-and-three menu. A printed insert in each day's menu lets diners know what meats and fresh vegetables are available, as well as freshly made desserts.
Meat-and-three or meat-and-two may be chosen, or a vegetable plate of up to four vegetables can be ordered if you don't want to eat meat. (Vegetarians, I told you I would have something for you.)
On a chilly day in late December, I (naturally) went with the meat-and-three during my lunch visit to Wally's.
Cube steak with gravy accompanied by lima beans, fried okra and macaroni and cheese paired nicely with sweet tea for a filling country meal. The steak was tender and smothered in gravy, and the sides were served hot and fresh. Pretty much perfect.
One of the secrets to Wally's success and longevity is the friendly staff, who keep drinks topped off and make sure customers get their food served fast and hot.
Many of the servers have worked at Wally's for years, and they know many of their customers by name — and often by their usual lunch order. Even if they don't know you, the staff at Wally's is always ready to offer a smile during your meal and a fond farewell when it's time to get back to work.
Good food will bring guests to any restaurant, but good service is what keeps folks coming back. Wally's has had this formula for success figured out for more than 80 years.
Wally's Restaurant has survived decades in Chattanooga by serving great food with great service, and the crowded restaurant on any day indicates that it will be around for years to come.
The meat-and-three isn't a fancy meal, but it sure can be satisfying.
If you haven't been, you should head to Wally's to see what the fuss is about. You won't regret it.
I swear next time I'll try the Wally Burger. Unless they're serving country-fried chicken that day I can't resist country-fried chicken.
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.