Food & DrinkGrub Notes

Chicken Salad Overload in Athens, and a Quick Trip to Chattanooga

LADIES WHO LUNCH: Until I moved to Athens in 1996, at the age of 18, I probably hadn’t ever really eaten chicken salad. Although I grew up in Atlanta, neither of my parents is from the South, and mayo-based salads of all kinds were the kind of thing I avoided at potlucks. For one thing, I went years without eating mayonnaise at all, due to a strong dislike of eggs. For another, they seemed like mysterious piles of glop. Who knew what was in there? There could be secret ingredients that I had an aversion to. But then, like many young adults, I made up my mind to expand my palate, and although chicken salad isn’t necessarily in the same category as anchovies and organ meats, it’s at least in the same zip code.

Athens is kind of a hotbed of chicken salad, with a lot of different variations: with curry or tarragon at Marti’s at Midday, made with yogurt at The National, available in grocery stores from the now-departed Five Points Deli, from Phickles made with its hot pickles, etc. So is there a need for Chicken Salad Chick (in the Beechwood shopping center at 196 Alps Road, between Willy’s and Buffalo’s, 706-549-7580), a franchise out of Auburn, AL that serves 15 different variations on chicken salad? Then again, did that ever stop anyone?

Basically, Chicken Salad Chick is catnip for people who can tell you the difference between a Jon Jon and a bubble. In other words, it’s about as preppy as you get, decorated in green and white vertical stripes with hand-drawn red flowers for accents and a lot of script-y font. Said chicken salads are available either prepackaged out of a cooler (as Quick Chicks, $10.99 each for a clamshell that serves about four people) or in various combinations as a sandwich or a scoop. For my money, the best one is the Jalapeño Holly, studded with small bits of pickled jalapeño and not a whole lot else.

On the whole, the signature creation is a little short on salt, which is welcome news if you’re watching your sodium intake and consider chicken salad a health food. The Classic Carol is Chicken Salad Chick’s original, and it’s fairly straightforward, not processed into complete mush but still very scoopable. More outré creations, like the Barbie-Q (barbecue-flavored but not really able to hold its shape) and the Jazzy Julie (cayenne, bacon and cheddar), aren’t as successful as the more traditional iterations, like Olivia’s Old South (hard-boiled egg and sweet pickles) or the Fancy Nancy (apples, grapes and pecans).

If you hate chicken salad, there’s also pimento cheese and a small selection of deli meat sandwiches. If you hate mayo, you have fewer options. There are a few sides, including a broccoli salad with bacon and cheese and a grape salad with a cream-cheese-based sweet dressing, plus brown sugar and pecans, which sounds horrifying but is, in fact, not bad. A different cookie and soup are offered daily. Chicken Salad Chick is open from 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, serves no booze and does catering and a lot of to-go orders.

OUT OF TOWN: If you find yourself in Chattanooga, TN, let this serve as a recommendation that you drive north to the neighborhood of Red Bank, away from the tourist attractions, and visit Dub’s Place (4408 Dayton Blvd., Chattanooga, 423-875-3151). Opened in the 1950s, it has a small menu and an even smaller space festooned with license plates, with about five seats at a counter inside and a few umbrellaed picnic tables out back. The sign outside reads “Shakes Malts Sundies Food to Go,” which is pretty accurate.

In some respects, Dub’s offers a ton of different ice cream flavors, but what that really means is that it doctors the vanilla from its soft-serve machine (which also does chocolate and swirl) with a few pumps from the snow-cone syrups it has in profusion. The staff will tell you it works better for a shake or another kind of frozen drink than it does for a straight-up ice cream, unless you are a child or a hummingbird. If you are an adult, get a dip cone, mostly available just in chocolate unless it’s a special occasion and you might be able to choose cherry.

The other thing Dub’s is known for is the crumble burger, a large, flat, loosely formed patty with lots of tasty browned bits on its big surface area. Better yet are its barbecue sandwiches. Added to the menu when Dub’s came under new ownership a few years ago, they’re made from pork smoked on-premises, chopped but not too fine, with plenty of bark, sauced with a pretty zingy mix of vinegar and not too much tomato and topped with a peppery slaw that’ll clean out your sinuses. They taste like October feels when there’s a little bite in the air. Dub’s is open for lunch and dinner until 8 or 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, serves no booze and does, surprisingly, take credit cards.