Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On the Road: Ridgewood Barbecue, Bluff City, TN

Ridgewood Barbecue- home of the best BBQ Pork sandwich I've ever had
One of the best things about putting together Cobaya events has been meeting the various diners who attend each meal.  At a recent Cobaya dinner, I got into a discussion with a girl named Allison and her husband who I'd met at a previous event.  We were extolling the virtues of the pulled pork sandwich, an item I seem to consume on an almost daily basis when traveling throughout the South.  I've mentioned my love for the South Carolina mustard-based BBQ pulled pork sandwich from Maurice BBQ.  It's been my favorite to date and my love of mustard has a pretty heavy influence on that.  The couple told me that should I ever find myself in the Bristol, TN area, that I must check out a spot called Ridgewood Barbecue due South down in Bluff City that served their favorite BBQ pork sandwich.  It just so happens I have a customer in Bristol, TN.  It also just so happens that I was set to be there within a week of our conversation.

I was coming from Newark, NJ, visiting a few customers in the middle of Pennsylvania, then making the 7 hour trek South to Bristol.  After stopping for dinner in Roanoke, VA, I decided I'd finish off the trip that night.  This would give me ample time to fit in Ridgewood Barbecue for lunch the following day before my meeting.  Ridgewood is literally in the middle of nowhere, off a state road that leads barbecue seekers to a winding mountain road.  You work for this 'cue.

A Tennessee smokeout!
I pulled into the parking lot around noon and was greeted by two large shacks with smoke billowing out of their screened in walls.  Hot damn, did it smell good!  I headed in and took a seat at one of the few booths available, a glass partition the only thing separating me from the open air kitchen that was ripe with the smell of barbecue and french fries.  I was more than OK knowing I'd be leaving wearing that scent.

The kitchen stacked with plates pumping out some fatboy BBQ sandwiches!
I ordered some un-sweet tea and for some reason asked to see a menu even though I already knew what I was going to order.  When the tea came, I placed my order for the BBQ pork sandwich topped with slaw and asked the waitress what else she recommended.  She said the beans and fries were the way to go.  Sold!

Beans, beans, the musical fruit...
Fresh cut fries
The beans were as delicious as advertised, served warm with hunks of pork that made an occasional cameo on my spoon as I took each bite.  The fries, however, were a miss.  I think the oil wasn't hot enough because they were dry and not very crisp at all.  They also weren't seasoned.  It actually turned out to be a good thing that I only ate a few because the beans and fries were just taking up valuable stomach real estate and I came for the pork sandwich.

Sweet fancy Moses!  That's one big ass sandwich!
My sandwich came and it was as colossal as the ones I'd seen the kitchen plating up for other orders.  I sliced my sandwich in half and took a look at 'er.  What stood out immediately was that this was not "pulled" pork like many places serve.  Instead, they slice the pork ever so thin and then finish it on the flat top grill.  Thin slices mean that's all surface area...the flavor has nowhere to hide.  And hide it could not.  I have to admit that looking at a few of those sandwiches being plated I noticed BBQ sauce dripping out of the side and was concerned that my sandwich would be swimming in sauce.  Thankfully, this was not the case at all.  There was just enough to provide a nice spicy tang to the sandwich along with a little moisture. The slaw added a mild sweetness to the sandwich.  The bites where the sauce was absent were most impressive as they allowed the incredible smokiness of the pork to shine.  So here we had an oh-so-tender BBQ pork sandwich with spicy, tangy, sweet, and smokey flavor in nearly every bite.  Before I knew it, half of my sandwich was gone.  After a quick breather the other half disappeared.  I'd been at Ridgewood for lunch for twenty-four minutes and was already asking for my check.

Inside the belly of the beast!
I'm here to tell ya that if you're ever in the Bristol, TN area, a trip to Ridgewood Barbecue is an absolute must.  Big shoutout to Allison for the recommendation!  I later found out that she and her husband love this pork so much they freeze it and bring some back to Miami to enjoy when the mood strikes.  This barbecue sandwich now occupies the top spot for best BBQ pork sandwich I've ever had and that's saying more than something.

1 comment:

Gus Moore said...

Great review! I like the way you write about food. You got my mouth watering. We have some things in common: I also like mustard, I don't like my food drenched in sauce, and I would never drink sweet tea.

Thanks for including a close-up picture of the sandwich bun. Good bread in another important ingredient of a great sandwich for me.

I'm not a huge fan of sweet pulled pork sandwiches, but my wife loves the stuff. I am going to ask my her to make the mustard-based pulled pork, like you described, next time she gets a hankerin'.