The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
I am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 25, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is "simple, no frills." These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. This week, we tried the recently renovated Hooters on Brainerd Road for a meal both tacky and unrefined.
"This should be interesting. I haven’t been to a Hooters since college," I lied as we parked in front of what appeared to be a glowing orange nightclub entrance. Lauren and I enjoy these Date Night Dining experiences, but our gastrointestinal comfort zones are usually the only tests taken. This venture to Hooters would also test our moral comfort zone. Fun, right? The newly renovated interior has the feel of a sports bar, plain and simple. They moved some chairs around and put up some lights and modern décor. We were seated at a bar table, and Lauren gave me permission to ogle the televisions. The restaurant was, not surprisingly, filled with middle-aged men and seniors. This is the Hooters demographic, right? Old, lonely men? Lauren observed: "Most of its uniqueness is gained at the expense of women. If you take away the tight, low-cut shirts, the booty shorts and the word and image play in the logo, Hooters is just a sports bar." But it’s also a sports bar with a reputation of having quality food that keeps patrons returning for more. I’m sure it’s the food. It couldn’t be the boobs.
Our server, Lori, was a total sweetheart. I thought she was obviously in some sort of grad school program somewhere and trying to make a little extra cash to pay the bills. She took our drink orders—a mysterious IPA for me and sweet tea for Lauren—and we asked for an order of fried pickles to redeem an otherwise ominous start to the evening. If Lauren could’ve eaten dinner with her arms crossed, I think she would have. What a trooper my girlfriend is! We had no complaints about Lori or any of the other servers. I observed them intensely—their processes, maneuvering and facial expressions—throughout the night. It’s amazing how little clothing they wear on their buttocks.
Let’s get to the food. Our fried pickles were just OK. We ate all of them, but the pickle chips were too thin, and the fried breading was the dominant flavor. I want the pickle to be the star when I order fried pickles, and the star here was a salty breading. My beer was still delicious, and Lauren went through a few glasses of sweet tea. We discussed literature, hockey and how amazing QuizUp is. For years, I’ve had people say to me, "The food at Hooters is actually really good." But I think they were just covering up the reality of why they visit the establishment. I ordered five lemon pepper wings and five chipotle honey wings with bleu cheese dipping sauce. Lauren ordered a cheeseburger with baked beans. We split a large order of curly fries. Lori has a great smile, by the way.
The answer to the question of "Would you go to Hooters for the food?" is, unfortunately, a resounding no. Personally, I just didn’t care for the way the wings were prepared. They were batter-dipped and fried, which made for a none-too-appetizing texture. I thought they were underseasoned, though I did enjoy the flavor of the chipotle honey. Lauren’s burger won’t go down in the halls of the best burgers ever, but she really enjoyed the (small) side of baked beans. I also tried a bite of her burger and immediately thought that most midpriced chains (Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc.) must get their beef from the same farm. The curly fries were disappointing and cold, for some reason. Lauren was also growing colder. Her meal was underwhelming, and her feminist muscle was twitching. What is a man supposed to do? What on earth could save me from the pending disaster of Lauren’s breakdown and possible arrest at a Hooters restaurant? Chocolate. Appease her with chocolate.
"Oh, man. Oh, MAN!" Lauren said as she closed her eyes and bit into the chocolate mousse cake. "This is some seriously good cake." This slice of cake is about as much chocolate as a person can handle. It features whipped milk chocolate between tiered layers of dark chocolate and an iced chocolate topping. I also enjoyed the cake, but it’s also a damn shame when the best part of your $40 meal is the $5 dessert. Lauren and I boxed up the leftovers and headed out, satisfied but only barely so.
Would we go back?
Here’s what Lauren said in the car after our meal: "My opinions on the premise aside, the food just doesn’t warrant the trip. It ranks with Chili’s or Applebee’s—both restaurants I no longer frequent because there are simply too many other places in town to get the same type of food done better." My tendency is to be a little more lenient and forgiving of Hooters. Would I go to Hooters alone and drink at the bar while flirting with the servers? Absolutely not. But if one day a buddy calls me up and wants to watch a ballgame, I can see myself sidling up to the bar at Hooters and spending some time. The last thought goes to Lauren: "I will give credit where credit is due—it’s a successful business model, and I think that is what bothers me more than anything."
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 12:21 p.m. on 12/12/13 to correct a factual error: Hooters is on Brainerd Road, not East Brainerd Road, as originally reported.
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