Forget about shrimp scampi.
Forget about St. John’s, Alleia, and whatever other fine dining options this city has to offer.
Forget about your perfectly savory 5 course meals crafted in some prestigious kitchen by gastronomically-blessed wizards hellbent on making your mind explode and your heart melt with the first taste of their ambrosia-infused delicacies.
Leave it all at the door and open your mind to the possibility that Chattanooga’s greatest culinary legends simply don’t receive the accolades they deserve because they also happen to sell gas, lotto tickets, and tall boys by the dozen.
But no more. The true tale of their glorious ascendance into culinary nirvana shall be hidden not a day longer.
I am the prophet of Mapco fried chicken and my message is simple: this gas station chain is a national treasure.
Yeah, it’s a gas station that sells food of a quality that’s quite possibly even more abysmal than Taco Bell. And yeah, you buy your take-out box full of gold at the same counter where you pay to fill your tank or get a gallon of milk. And yeah, the bathrooms are perpetually filthy.
But you know what? True love doesn’t care about warts. It embraces exterior defects because beauty is about what’s in the artery-clogged heart. And Mapco is truly a thing of beauty, all day, every day.
It calls like a siren, its neon-green sign beckoning you forward, saying, “Come, my love, and feast.”
Resistance was never really a question on your drive back home somewhere around 11 pm, and as you crawl into a parking spot you realize that you’re on the verge of a spiritual experience that will shake you to your core.
The key is pulled out of the ignition and you close your eyes as you open the door. Your diet is being thrown to the wind, and for this blessing, that’s perfectly okay.
There’s a white SUV with spinning rims that is blasting 94.3 as you walk to the door, and to you, it sounds like a heavenly choir, just providing the soundtrack for your fast-approaching union with an 1800 calorie Aphrodite.
You pull open the door, and there it is, just between the man buying a pack of cigarettes and a stand full pork rinds. There’s a glass case containing a half dozen vats of golden-brown fried chicken, potato wedges, and mac and cheese.
And it’s yours.
It’s soul food and it has redefined seduction. It’s an invitation to become a child again, one being reintroduced to all that is good and lovely in life, an experience that strips away everything save your most fundamental understanding of joy on earth.
As you’re handed an extra barbecue sauce over the counter, you find yourself asking, “What sleeping insanity must I have fallen into to imagine such a paradise among mortal men. What arrogance to even conceive of this modern tower of Babel which reaches into the dining halls of angels, allowing my humble and unworthy palate to partake.”
But it’s real, and you can have it all for five bucks and a couple quarters you had rattling around in your cupholder.
Heed the call and treat yourself to the most misunderstood blessing we have in this city, allowing it to show you how to love again as you shuffle off your mortal coil and break the chains of table service and candlelit dinners.
Get some Mapco chicken and stuff your face.