IF YOU GO
Where: Choo Choo BBQ, 900-B Appling St. (turn between Chevron and BP/Kangaroo Express off Amnicola Highway).
Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday (catering seven days a week).
Price range: $3.99-$8.99.
There are home kitchens, probably even closets, bigger than Choo Choo BBQ, but every Monday through Friday, owner Terry Trussell and crew feed hundreds from the little building, with its smoker out back, just off Amnicola Highway.
It’s strictly takeout, but don’t let the Styrofoam fool you. Choo Choo BBQ turns out some high-cotton home cooking.
What I like most about this place, besides the good cooking, is the number of selections. In addition to the regular menu, there are always daily and weekly specials, and usually multiples of both.
The offerings seem pretty extravagant for such a compressed space. Barbecue is a staple, of course, but the menu packs an assortment of sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, soups and sides. If you’re hankering for a plate lunch, you can choose from pork, beef, chicken or ribs — alone or in combination ($6.50-$8.50), as well as chicken fillets ($6.95) or a chopped wiener plate ($6.50).
You can also get your ’cue on a half or whole “killer potato,” mounded with your choice of meat, butter, sauce, cheese and sour cream, and served with a slice of Texas toast ($3.78-$5.95). Want something a little spicier? Try the Frito Pie Supreme, a chili-topped version of nachos for $4.99.
Barbecue is usually my fallback, but I’m often more tempted by the daily specials. I try to time a visit toward the beginning of the month so I can snag a printout of the daily specials I’ll want to come back for. My favorite is the lasagna and garlic bread ($5.99). You can add a salad and regular drink for an extra $2.75.
The daily specials are where Trussell gets creative. Of the 22 weekdays in June, for instance, he presented 22 separate specials — from fettuccini alfredo to pork chops to fried flounder — with no repeats.
I can vouch for the chicken and dressing, meatloaf and chicken tenders from previous visits. This time I tried the beef stroganoff over egg noodles with green beans and coleslaw. This daily special was priced at $5.95 with one side, $6.95 with two, and came with Texas toast. All of it was tasty and moderately seasoned (not swimming in fat but not straight from a can either). I finished off the veggies and toast but just couldn’t find room for the last couple of bites of stroganoff. Plus, I was pretty sure I needed to save room for at least a bite of the walnut brownie I’d brought back with the rest of a co-worker’s lunch.
This is a no-frills place, with a single window to order and pick up your food. The window is protected from the elements by a small covered porch with plank seating. For many customers, this is a pickup-and-go place, but there are several wooden picnic tables in the shade at the side of the building.
The young woman at the window was friendly and quick, and the food arrived within minutes. The two orders didn’t appear in the window at the same time, and she apologized for the oversight. I wasn’t complaining. The wait time was minimal.
There’s no disputing Trussell’s cooking credentials. At one time, his family owned three Country Place Restaurants and still run the remaining location on Shallowford Road.
Trussell, who’s approaching 30 years in the business, obviously knows his way around a kitchen. I can’t imagine what he’d come up with if he had more room to maneuver.
Lisa Denton is deputy features editor and content editor of Current. She previously was a lifestyle, entertainment and region reporter/pod leader for The Chattanooga Times, which she joined in 1983. Lisa is from Sale Creek and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Chattanooga State Community College. Contact Lisa at 423-757-6281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.