Patten Parkway's redo makes for a pleasant lunchtime outing with its wide sidewalks adorned with stone benches offering a welcome escape from the busyness of downtown Chattanooga. It's the perfect spot to chow down on a hoagie from Lil' Mama's Chicago Style Hoagy.
Owner Tiffany Pauldon-Banks knows a thing or two about Chicago-style hoagies. She's from the Windy City, and when she moved to Chattanooga, she brought a piece of her hometown to share.
For the uninitiated, a hoagie is the regional name for a sub, grinder or po' boy. Just depends on what part of the country you're from. The foundation is the same — good French bread. But what it's filled with depends, once again, on where it's being made. A Chicago hoagie is filled with Italian meats and cheeses and served cold.
The menu is simple: hoagies, hot dogs and chips. Nonetheless, there are choices to be made.
I arrived on a Tuesday ready to sink my teeth into a real Chicago Italian beef sandwich only to find out they're only sold on Saturdays. That, I couldn't figure out. There's simply no better sandwich than one layered with thinly sliced roast beef drowning in its own juices and topped with giardiniera (Italian relish) and mozzarella. That's how Lil' Mama's makes them. On Saturdays only. And this was Tuesday. Oh well.
Instead, I went with The Crew, a hoagie with thinly sliced turkey, ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and Swiss and cheddar cheeses, all drizzled with Italian dressing.
I've never had a tutorial on how to eat a sandwich until I went to Lil' Mama's. When the server delivered my sandwich in a brown paper bag with a separate brown paper bag of chips, she asked, "Do you know how to eat one of our sandwiches?"
"I know how to eat a sandwich," I answered. "Is yours any different?"
She explained: "Take off the first layer of plastic wrap, then keep the second layer of plastic wrap on, but open it at the top, then peel it down as you go. That way, the filling doesn't all fall out."
I realized I should have paid better attention in sandwich-eating class. I took off both plastic wraps in order to take a photo, and as soon as I did, the bread broke apart and sandwich fixings filled my plate.
But it was evident this is the kind of juicy sandwich I dream about. If you're eating at Lil' Mama's, you need to embrace what is most likely going to be a messy meal without a moment's hesitation. If you're the type to critique sandwiches on structural integrity, this may not be the sandwich for you. On the other hand, if you like to dive in head first and get your hands dirty, this may be the sandwich you've been waiting for.
No alcohol is served here. A cold beer would have been a nice addition. As it was, I ordered a red punch-sweet tea combo drink that our server said was her favorite. Just two sips put me in a sugar rush that lasted most of the afternoon.
If you go
— Where: Lil' Mama's Chicago Style Hoagy, 808 Georgia Ave. in Patten Parkway
— Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
— Phone: 423-206-4505
— Online: lilmamaschistylehoagy.com
Service at Lil' Mama's is semi-self-serve. Orders are placed at the counter, and food is delivered to your table with a smile. The place gets busy around the noon hour, so be prepared for a short wait. It's worth it.
Lil' Mama's is located in a corner of the former Yesterday's, a popular hangout in the 1970s that lasted another decade or two. When I say a corner, it's just that. The eatery is small, with just three tables, but garage-style doors across the front open to outdoor seating, at least doubling the size of the restaurant on nice days.
The decor is colorful with a nod to the '90s. It's bold, hip and exciting.
Lil' Mama's is a small restaurant that's big on taste and a welcome change from your average sub shop. It's a chance to get a taste of the Windy City without having to leave town.