4408 Dayton Blvd.
Chattanooga, Tennessee 37415
11 a.m.-9 p.m.
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you’ll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it’s the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it’s worth it.
The burger and ice cream joint Dub’s Place has been in Red Bank since the ’50s and has cemented itself as a nostalgic stronghold in the city throughout the years. Although many of our residents may have fond memories of crumble burgers, ice cream, poodle skirts, tailfins and Buddy Holly from back in the day, I decided to dubstep (not really) over to Dub’s Place to see what it is like in 2012.
The interior has been recently remodeled in a malt shop-style reminiscent of the ’50s era when it first opened, complete with memorabilia and license plates from many states and bright colors and lights reflecting from the wall of glass blocks separating the ordering/dining area from the other side of the serving window. The dining area on the inside is small, with just a few seats along a bar, but there are a couple of picnic tables in the front and one in the back.
While my party and I were standing outside with menus, planning an attack strategy, a guy with some interesting facial hair came out to greet us-I’m not sure what to dub this heavy Fu Manchu-ish goatee, which may already be dubbed something I’m unaware of in my diminutive knowledge of facial hairstyles.
“How y’all doin’? I’m Jordan, the new owner of this place. Ever been here before?” he asked as he shook our hands.
“First time,” I said.
“You have any questions about the menu, let me know, but y’all should definitely check out the fish special this week. I’m telling you, it is off the chain! If you like fish, you will love it, and if you don’t, I’ll be happy to make you something else.” This new owner as of November 2011, Jordan Miller (a certified chef), then went into an enthusiastic presentation, pointing out a meat smoker and saying he has a big barbecue event coming up with a band and that he’s hoping to keep doing similar events. He did this with everyone, as I saw several other patrons being talked to in much the same manner both inside and outside the restaurant.
I have to say I was very impressed. To really build a clientele-especially trying to revitalize a place that has declined over the years-an owner this excited about what he is doing really adds to the experience for any guest. Having never been to Dub’s Place, I was expecting to just look around and eat a few things and had no idea I’d be having an in-depth chat with the owner, who also runs the kitchen. It’s a culinary swagger projected in a buddy manner that shows he knows what he is doing and that he wants to share in revitalizing this historical establishment to its former glory-boasting that the food is fresh and nothing is from a can or frozen (except the ice cream, obviously). He also said that though the crumble burger has been the trademark of Dub’s Place in the past, his patty burgers were far better.
However, I had a plan going in, and I stuck to it. The crumble burger has been at Dub’s Place since the ’50s, so I had to go for it instead of the patty-I also didn’t try his highly touted fish sandwich on this visit because it was one of his rotating specials and not always available.
While ordering my crumble burger, I had specified lettuce on it to the lady taking the original order-all items are custom-made fresh to order from their list of toppings. After looking at the order to make it, however, Miller informed me he would put the lettuce on the crumble burger if I really wanted it but that it would quickly wilt and turn into a slimy mess with the nature of the burger crumbles. This dude obviously knew his food and didn’t want to present a bad dish.
“OK, man, let’s go without it then,” I said.
I waited outside at one of the picnic tables while the food was being prepared, and after about 10 minutes, Miller brought out the dishes. He then went over to greet some customers who had just arrived in much the same way he initially greeted me. Throughout the meal, he came over to make sure everything was satisfactory a couple of times. The way his face genuinely lit up when we said we enjoyed the dishes really showed the passion and pride he was putting into this place.
The first item I tried was the aforementioned legendary crumble burger. It consisted of small ground beef crumbles, much like a sloppy joe without the sauce, and the bubbling burger juice would have certainly decimated the lettuce had Miller not issued a warning to steer clear. The meat had a good seasoning, and although most people, according to Miller, go with mustard, onion and pickles, my fresh tomato and mayo version was delightful. These crumbled burger bites of Chattanooga history were well worth the affordable $2 price tag.
With what would be a sure-fire favorite for many grandmothers throughout the South, next I tried the “Alabama Oscar pimento cheese” sandwich-which is also a good vegetarian option. Although I am by far no pimento cheese connoisseur, I will say this was probably the best pimento cheese I’ve tasted. It was served on thick Texas toast, and, unlike the crumble burger, the lettuce was certainly able to handle the pimento chile pepper and shredded cheddar concoction on this sandwich. The pimento cheese had a good kick in both the initial wave and the aftertaste, while the creamy mayo and cheddar mixture with the crispy, fresh lettuce quelled it to a mild level. This blend was superb and obviously freshly made.
Next, I grooved on to the “Chattaboogie chicken sandwich,” which can be ordered “grilled, fried or fingered.” I went with the grilled version to target a somewhat more healthful option and to test how well the chicken was cooked without being masked by fried batter. There are only three possible levels of chicken doneness: undercooked, cooked and overcooked. That’s it. And I am pleased to say this juicy chicken breast was cooked to perfection and nicely spiced with lemon pepper. Out of the list of toppings, I chose fresh lettuce and mayo on this sandwich-standard chicken sandwich fare, I know, but good for comparison purposes with other establishments-and I plan to come back and order it again.
The fries were freshly cut from a potato-you know, that oblong thing that keeps for a long time if stored correctly and doesn’t really need to be processed and frozen to make fries, outside of laziness, speed and mass production money-saving purposes-and were soft on the inside with a good crispiness on the outside and flavorfully seasoned, but a bit saltier than I prefer, though it wasn’t as ridiculous as many fries I’ve tried.
After sampling the hot dishes, I went back into the restaurant to have an ice cream sundae freshly made from a large list of toppings. There were many candy, fruit and syrup options to choose from, but I went for Oreos, hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. This soft-serve vanilla ice cream sundae was scrumptious, and although the “Oreos” were from a similar-tasting generic brand, when it comes to ice cream toppings, who really gives a &@%#?
I am giving Dub’s Place 3 stars for the renaissance of a Chattanooga/Red Bank tradition backed by an enthusiastic owner taking the place in a new direction while staying true to its roots. You will spend the same amount of money at McDonald’s or Burger King for food of lesser quality, and supporting a locally owned establishment rather than a giant corporation will make you feel better about yourself while eating burgers, fries and ice cream. Plus, when you meet this guy, and you certainly will if you visit, you’ll see the enthusiasm I’m talking about. The epic ice cream treats and crumble burgers are what has kept Dub’s Place in business throughout the years, but it is obvious the new owner now wants the rest of the menu to speak for itself-also speaking for it himself with a Chuck Norris-esque swagger and a rockin’ beard.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.