Coach Mack McCarthy and His Down Home Eateries

The Bar-B-Que, Banana Puddin', Breakfast Tour

Thursday, February 7, 2013 - by Coach Mack McCarthy

UTC BASKETBALL LEGENDS WEEKEND - Former UTC men’s basketball coach Mack McCarthy will be in Chattanooga this weekend as part of UTC Basketball Legends Weekend as UTC hosts Elon (women at 5 p.m.) and the College of Charleston (men at 7:30 p.m.) in a Saturday doubleheader at McKenzie Arena.

During his extensive basketball travels the past few decades, Coach Mack has had the opportunity to find some of the South’s best eateries.

“Because of my jobs in college athletics, I've had the opportunity to travel extensively in the South.  In doing so, I have had the great pleasure of dining in many great and varied establishments.

"Given my obsession for barbecue (after growing up not knowing what it really was), many of my fondest stops are barbecue joints.  Like the TV show, some are dives and some are dumps striving to become dives. Regardless, I've sampled many versions of southern cooking.

 "I'm sure that I will leave out some great places and maybe I'll have the time and opportunity at some point to list ALL of them.

"Meanwhile, I'm gonna give you a sampling of my favorites. I'm anti-chain for the most part, although I'll list some restaurants that I went to before they became chains.   In every case the original was better than what has happened since--no offense intended.  I'm sure they're still plenty good.  Also, I won't list the best in Chattanooga (which there are many), because if you know me, you already know my favorites there. Forgive the random format, but this is just information.  If any of the places I list have changed or closed through the years, I apologize, but this list is to the best of my knowledge.  So here we go. 

"Of the original restaurants that have gone on to become chains, several come to mind:  Zaxby's in Statesboro, Ga., Guthrie's in Auburn, Ala. (yeah, I know the original was in Haleyville, but the first one exclusively related to chicken fingers was in Auburn, I think), Houston's in Nashville and, McAlister's in Oxford, Miss.  Some others have become limited chains just in the region such as:  The Shed in Mississippi, Dreamland in Alabama, Country's Barbecue in Georgia and Alabama, and T-Bonz, originally in Augusta, Ga.  

"Here is the list of establishments, their locations and just a brief description as to what sticks out in my mind as a reason to eat there:"


Gotta go to Fat Matt's Rib's … Outstanding ribs and brunswick stew … Occasional blues.

5th Street Ribs and Blues ... The midtown version of Fat Matt's right on GT's campus ….

Nuevo Laredo - Great Mexican … they make everything right there including outstanding tortillas.

Silver Spoon - In a city filled with outstanding choices, this is a classic for breakfast.

Barbecue Kitchen - near the airport, you don't really go here for the cue, but the meat and three of country cooking and the wonderful breakfast are among the best around.

Chef’s Special: Dailey's in downtown ... might be the best dessert choices anywhere.  Many memorable meals here.


Sprayberry's … a Lewis Grizzard (for those too young to know this name, look it up and read his stuff.  you'll thanks me) barbecue hangout and that oughta be a good enough recommendation for anybody …

Note: Go the downtown location instead of the one on the interstate if you have time … get the Houston Special--chopped outside meat and brunswick stew right on the sandwich.


The Barbecue House … has been in the Price family for decades at the location right off the Auburn campus ... chopped sandwich and brunswick stew is the combo worth going out of the way for … my wife Jean has the stew frozen and shipped overnight.


Birmingham is an underrated food town …  outstanding barbecue is the obvious choice.

Dreamland -- one of a handful of locations but one of my favorites regardless ...

Full Moon – outstanding smoked meat of all kinds.

Jim and Nick's - starting to branch out to a few locations like the Panhandle and Charleston SC, but really good food ...

Chef’s Special: their cheese biscuits are, as a good friend of mine likes to say, to die for and unlike a lot of cue joints, they have outstanding side dishes.  Save room for the homemade pies, too.


The original Dreamland is a must … they have the BEST rib sauce anywhere in the world … period ...  don't waste time with the other stuff ... get the ribs and sauce and white bread to dip it in.  It's heavenly.


Little Dooey's - really good barbecue ... I understand they've opened a couple more locations ... the barbecue is hard to bypass but the catfish is good as well.


In a city known for barbecue, Interstate under the Neely family is still my favorite.  Great pork sandwiches, but try the barbecue bologna and the barbecue spaghetti, too ... it may sound crazy, but it works and it's awesome.


Another underrated food city and I know I'll leave a bunch of places out like I said before.

Rotiers.- great sandwich shop near Vandy campus ... really good burger on Texas toast ... super lemon ice box pie ... fried chicken is outstanding and everything there is really good ... feels like that little neighborhood eatery where you sit and talk with friends.

The Stock-yard - a classic steak house … feels like the real deal and it is ...

Chef’s Special:  If you like steak and haven't been, go there.


Old College Inn - I know it's moved up the strip and now goes by Goal Post Tavern, but the menu looks the same ... The old location was an all-time favorite with the dark wood and crowded little hole in the wall.  They have super food, especially the blue plate specials like the hot brown turkey sandwich, the open face steak sandwich (both with mounds of homemade mashed potatoes), and the Mett and beans ... If it's half as good as it used to be, it's worth visiting.

*Johnson City

The Peerless Steakhouse - for many generations run by the Kalogeros family ... they've apparently opened one in Knoxville, too ... outstanding steaks and great service.

Greg's Pizza - to go only ... square pies cut literally with big scissors ..  

Chef’s Special: some of the best pizza I've ever eaten ... they've got pasta and sandwiches, but just get the pizza and enjoy.


Simple … go to Letha's (now located in town and not out in the woods) for ribs and Strick's for BBQ chicken ... I once saw a Chattanooga sportswriter (who shall remain nameless) eat five whole chickens there ... That's the truth, or could be!  

*New Orleans

I won't even start with the great listing of eating establishments here, but try a place called Fiorella's- Great Cajun cooking, great fried chicken, great mac and cheese ... notice a trend ...

Chef’s Special:  not a fancy place, but a great out of the way place to eat in the quarter.


We mentioned T-Bonz started here ... very good ... try Tommy's Texas Cheese Fries and the chili or steak soup depending on location.

Sconyer's - catered the White House regularly in the Carter years ... the T-Loin sandwich is unusual and really good.  

Freeman's at Beach Island ...  Chef’s Special: barbecue joint … great meat, but even better hash over rice, the brunswick stew of this region, and it's worth the trip.


Peach Blossom Diner ...  Chef’s Special … great country cooking and breakfast worth getting up for …  I've been in there when NASCAR legends like the late Cotton Owens and David Pearson (both NASCAR Hall of Famers) were there and even broke bread with them on one occasion.


In Conclusion ... "So with a friend or two, take a tour of the South to see some great college basketball games… and use the aforementioned list for some of the best pre-game meals anywhere …

Arrive early, grab a big plate and lots of napkins (maybe a bib or two !!) …and bring a big-time appetite.

Maybe one day we can compare notes and trade stories.

Don’t forget to say grace and dig in …!


Hope to see everyone this Legends Weekend at McKenzie Arena !!"

 --  Coach Mack McCarthy


contact B.B. Branton at


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