In May, I wrote about our lip-biting personal disappointment of a trip to Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis. For those who don’t recall that chapter or don’t feel like clicking the link, it was a disappointment because I skipped out on the really, really good food to play “see, yer old man’s not so bad” with my oft-times exasperating teenage daughter and just ordered what she did: tenders. And those were mighty good tenders, but not a patch on the glorious dark meat that Marie shared.
One of our more frequent commenters, Cara, reminded me then about Champy’s in Chattanooga, where she lives and writes an entertaining Mommy Blog, The Boys Made Me Do It. When I was popping up that way more often, it had been on my to-do list, but other places kept getting in the way. Actually, we get lots of recommendations for Chattanooga, probably more than any other city. Keep ’em coming, everybody!
Champy’s is another fairly new place, only opening in 2009, although its owners, Seth and Crissy Champion, have given their place such a timeless vibe that it feels like it’s been there on MLK forever. Their shtick is “Blues, Brews, and Birds,” and while Seth doesn’t quite display the same awesome fanboy devotion to the late Bessie Smith that, say, Tin Drum’s owner does for David Sylvian, you can tell this guy loves the blues and loves to book good acts and show off memorabilia. The Champions come from the Mississippi Delta, where, folklore has it, the blues were born and the country’s best fried chicken was routinely concocted. That’s also where tamales are supposedly found in abundance, but, surprisingly, I did not order any.
When we spent a few days in Starkville last year, I failed to find proper tamales, only a curious version that’s more like those breakfast tacquitos they sell from the lamp warmer at the RaceTrac gas station. We were not, of course, in the Delta, though. On this trip to Chattanooga, we did have a pretty strict budget, owing to some high medical bills at home, and the trip to Urban Stack was a little pricier than planned. I did want to try Champy’s tamales, and will next time, but things were tight enough that I passed on a $10 appetizer order of six along with supper for everybody. Our server mentioned, after the meal, that I should definitely try them next time, because they’re really good, and you can get the menu order of six, or a smaller order of three. Ah, well, I know for next time.
And there will definitely be a next time, because we did not try the fried green tomatoes, either. Nor did we have their famous catfish. We just had a metric ton of chicken, with some pretty good beans and slaw and spicy fries. All of the sides were satisfying, although our baby really didn’t like the fries at all.
No, we were there for the chicken, and it is absolutely something else. It’s cooked to order, and it takes a while, and it comes out roaring hot, but it is very much worth the wait. The meat is so incredibly juicy and the batter is just salty and spiced enough to be perfect. It’s not as good as Gus’s. Let’s just accept that and assign no blame. There’s not a thing wrong with being downright amazing, if not the absolute best.
Put another way: we arrived on a day far hotter than predicted and far too hot to sit on the lovely patio, we didn’t order tamales, or fried green tomatoes, or catfish, exhausting our (ahem) discretionary food budget for extravagant meals on a nearly spur-of-the-moment trip a hundred miles out of town, didn’t hear any of the live music that Champy’s is so well known for, and left with a hungry, cranky and very upset baby who could not understand why those “fry” things we give him at restaurants suddenly tasted wrong and made his mouth sad. And it was so darn good that we are certainly going to come again, when it is cooler and perhaps a little later in the evening. Chicken this good demands more investigation. And then, we shall not sample, we shall feast.
In a long overdue concession to social media, we now have a Facebook page, where you’ll be able to follow along with much more than just links to chapters here, but additional information, local media PR, links when our friends-in-blogging review our favorite places, and other follow-up news about the places we’ve been. Give us a like !
Other blog posts about Champy’s: