My wife and I visited her mother in Lafollette the first week in August and made a special trip to Ridgewood BBQ outside of Bluff City. It was 300 miles for the round trip, and worth every bit of it! (We went the long way there, stopping in Jonesborough, and came back the short way through Virginia and Cumberland Gap.)
First of all, getting there was not quite a snap. Its located at 900 Elizabethtown Highway near Bluff City, TN. This highway is the old US 19 and is just a westerly or northwesterly turn off of the new US 19 (the turn is a mile or two below US 11). Look for the small street sign saying Elizabethtown Hwy and a small one way type sign (black sign with white arrow) that says Ridgewood instead of one way. Youll be in the middle of nowhere with nothing around but trees and think you made the wrong turn, but Ridgewood will be up about half a mile from the turn.
The five of us walked in (me, my wife, my mom-in-law, and a couple of mom-in-laws friends) and were seated in the non-smoking which is a separate room to the right. At first I was little disappointed because all the action is in the main room you enter, and thats where the BBQ is grilled and the sandwiches and platters are assembled. However, this being eastern Tennessee and all, dont sit in the smoking section unless you really like smokethe second-hand tobacky kind, not just the hardwood kind.
We were presented with menus, but we basically really only had two choices: sandwiches or platters, pork or beef. Of course, hands-down, I knew I was going to get the platter, but I was having a hard time deciding between pork or beef. The waitress then said, since I was getting a platter, that I could get half pork and half beef. And I was sure glad I did!
First a note about the sides: the platters come with fries and slaw. The slaw is served first, as a salad course. Its ok, but nothing special, so dont fill up on it. Theres a lot of eating to come. The fries were a paradox. They were very pleasantly browned, not at all crunchy, but they tasted great anyway. Surprising.
The true nirvana in side orders was the beans. They dont come with anything, but for only a buck something you must, must, must get them. You might think that this being the South, and all, that the beans would be your regular, everyday Southern pinto beans, but no. These are pinto beans alright, but they are much more like a good New England pot of baked beans, but not quite as sweet and with great flavors of molasses and smoke. Not overly sweetened, not overly smoky, just superbly flavored. Just like the BBQ sauce and the BBQ itself.
The BBQ sauce is splendid. I took home a bottle. Like the beans it was not overly sweet, not overly spiced, and it had a very pleasant zanginess to it. Now, when I say it was not overly sweet, I am speaking relative to other Southern BBQ. Compared to a typical Texas or even Kansas City BBQ sauce, most would find it very sweet. But compared to the usual Southern sauce you find, it was definitely on the less sweet side.
The BBQ was more subtly smoked than I would have expected. Eating it was not at all like chewing burnt ash-mush, like at some joints. The pork BBQ, unusually, is made from fresh hams which are very lean and cook up with quite a bit more chew than I was expecting. But, sliced very thin, warmed on the grill, and dressed with the sauce, the overall dish is excellent Southern BBQ.
The BBQ beef was a true revelation, pleasantly smoky with a pronounced beefy flavor running under the sauce. It was the pork that drew me to Ridgewood, but itll be the beef that draws me back. An amazing discovery given that beef BBQ in the South is not all that common, or all that good (usually).
And the BBQ meats were dressed with just the right amount of sauce. Enough to flavor the meats without covering up the meat flavors. There are squeeze bottles on the table for those wanting more, but I didnt feel the need to add any extra.
The ladies got sandwiches, the gents got platters. I was glad I got the platter instead of the sandwich, and not just because of the quantity (as if that werent reason enough!). The sandwich buns were ok, your average white bread, but they apparently didnt grill the bread at all, so the sauce soaked in a bit. Fiat: There is nothing better in this whole world than a mess o cue on a properly buttered and grilled bun. But since the meat wasnt overly sauced, it wasnt like the sandwiches turned into a goopy mess or anything. The platters came with a couple of small white bread rolls each. Same bread as the sandwiches. But finger split with a good dollop of BBQ and eaten immediately (no mushy there), they were great. You might have to order extra rolls if youre hungry.
Go to Ridgewood. Its worth it.
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