published Friday, December 9th, 2011

Couch’s: Doing barbecue right since 1946

The location of Couch’s Bar-B-Que restaurant always intrigued me, stuck by itself as it is on Old Lee Highway between the Bonny Oaks Drive/Collegedale exit off Interstate 75 and burgeoning Ooltewah.

After all, how does a restaurant make it these days if it’s not located between a nail salon and a trendy clothes outlet?

Since the restaurant’s been there since 1946, though, the third-generation owners must be doing something right. And after tasting their fare for the first time, I can testify they clearly are.

THE MENU

Though barbecue is Couch’s specialty — it’s cooked on-site in a brick pit, hand-turned and basted with the same recipe as 1946 — there is much more to choose from.

Barbecue is available in pork, beef or chicken and in sandwiches ($3.50), plates ($7.99, including three sides and rolls) and bulk orders. Ribs may be obtained as a sandwich ($4.99), half rack ($11.49 with two sides and rolls) or full rack ($17.49 with two sides and rolls).

But there are also salads ($1.99-$5.99), diner sandwiches from grilled cheese to bacon, egg and cheese ($1.50-$3.50), entrees of country fried steak, hamburger steak and chicken fingers ($6.99 each), hot dogs, loaded potatoes, a variety of sides and desserts (more on those later).

There is also a kids menu ($2.50-$3.50) and bottled beer for those a bit older.

THE ORDER

If I go to a barbecue restaurant, I feel it’s my duty to try the barbecue, so I ordered a pork plate with beans, fries and slaw. I asked if they might substitute the hot slaw (mild, medium or hot) that they put on their sandwiches for cole slaw, and they said they’d be glad to. The beans and fries were ordinary, and the hot slaw was good but mostly liquid. Maybe they weren’t used to anyone ordering it as a side. The pork appeared almost deli-sliced, different from any barbecue pork I’d ever ordered, but tasted fine if not very spicy. The sauce on the table added a bit of a spark.

My wife ordered the Couch Potato ($5.99 — great name!), which is available in pork, beef or chicken. It came with butter, sour cream, cheese and real bacon bits. She pronounced it predictably good with no surprises.

When we’d polished off our food, our server asked about dessert, which we never order out. He mentioned homemade pies ($2.50), though, and I was curious what they offered. When he mentioned chocolate pie, my wife’s favorite, we decided to splurge. She ordered the chocolate, and I went for coconut cream. Both substantial pieces arrived with meringue more than an inch tall. My wife thought hers was fabulous, and I compared mine with the delicious coconut cream pies my mother used to make for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Fair years ago.

THE SERVICE

No one greeted us when we came in, so we seated ourselves, not knowing if that was the right thing to do or not. In a few minutes, a server came over, said hello and took our order. And while we started with one server and finished with another, both were friendly, attentive and willing to accommodate us in any way.

THE SPACE

The outside of the dark red clapboard-sided building looks as it might have looked in the years when it was on Highway 11 (now Old Lee Highway), the main route between Chattanooga and Cleveland before Interstate 75 was built. Inside, it is warm and cheery with a green and white checkerboard floor and a motif of antique Coca-Cola merchandise and pigs. There are 17 tables, including one that will accommodate up to nine people. A flat-screen television above the counter was tuned to a basketball game and could be seen from most tables. Family photos stood on shelves behind the counter, emblematic of the various members of three generations who have worked there.

THE VERDICT

Now that I’ve been in once, I’m sure I’ll be back. From my home in East Brained, it’s just as easy to get to Couch’s as it is to any barbecue restaurant in the Hamilton Place area. And the friendliness of the place, the value customers get for their money and the pies are enough to bring it a notch above most others.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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