Yo, you ever been to Central Park Chattanooga? The actual name of the restaurant is just Central Park, but I’m calling it Central Park Chattanooga in order to gain extra internet search points. Forgive me for that. This is indeed not the park in New York City, thank you very much.
No, it’s one of those restaurants that’s in a super tiny building and serves exclusively drive-thru or walk-up service. No indoor seating at all!
It’s either drive-thru, or drive-in. You get some real big, real cheap, real decent burgers and fries, and it delivers exactly what you want without any frills. It’s far from my favorite hamburger restaurant in Chattanooga. Heck, it’s not even my favorite locally owned one, because my favorite is definitely Firebox Grill. That place is incredibly nostalgic too, from its time as Glenn Gene’s, but that’s for a very good reason–my grandparents used to take me there every Friday for several years.
Central Park Chattanooga, on the other hand, is in a very weird spot as far as nostalgia goes. I ate there, yeah, but not very often. My family must have had a bad experience at one once, because they just never, ever went to this dang restaurant, even for a quick bite.
Once I became a teen, most of the Central Parks had been closed, but a few still stuck around. They’re still there, as far as I know. Once I got my driver’s license, I went a few times. But only on impulse, never something I sought out. Other drive-ins like Sonic appealed a lot more to me because of the diverse menu options.
And yet, I still feel a great wave of nostalgia whenever I think about Central Park Chattanooga!
The feeling of seeing those tiny hut-sized restaurants dotting out in the road in between shopping centers and boring businesses my parents needed to visit. The good fries I rarely ever got to try. The name that referred to New York City but had nothing to do with it. Eating food in the parking lot with your friends on a still-sunny Saturday evening in summer.
The experience, very little of it actually involving the restraurant itself, takes me back so far. Makes me really want to visit one again whenever I go back to America. Even though, in all honesty, there’s very little chance I’d go out of my way to eat at Central Park Chattanooga if I’m only staying back at home for a 2-3 week vacation. It might not even cross my mind.
Waffle House, on the other hand… It’ll be the first thing I eat when I set foot outside of ATL. That isn’t an important part of this essay, but I have to say it anyway because it’s important.