The aroma of hickory greets you like an old friend when you come in the door at Bones' Smokehouse in East Brainerd, and it's not just the usual pork fare permeating your senses.
Beef, chicken, turkey and shrimp are on the menu at the smokehouse just outside the business area of East Brainerd, about four miles east of Interstate 75.
Our party of three was greeted and seated as soon as we entered on a weekday evening. There were three other parties already seated when we arrived, and another handful of tables filled while we were there.
There are plenty of affordable dishes, most under $10. A platter with a full rack of ribs is a reasonable $15.99, and a half rack is $10.99.
The other platters available are combinations of pork, sliced beef, chicken and shrimp ranging from $7.49 for smoked chicken to $10.95 for barbecue shrimp.
Barbecue sandwiches made of smoked pork, beef brisket, turkey and chicken ($3.99 for regular, $4.99 for large, except the brisket, which is $4.29 and $5.29, respectively) are listed with some nonbarbecue options of hamburgers, chicken salad and hot dogs.
I heard other customers exclaim about the chicken potpie and some of the desserts, such as the banana pudding, but I'll have to sample those on my next visit. I didn't get to try any of the stuffed potatoes, though I saw some nearly the size of footballs pass by our table.
Bones' Smokehouse has a variety of appetizers ranging from $2.49 for stew or smokehouse chili by the cup to $6.49 for fully dressed potato skins with pulled pork, chicken or chili added and up to $10.99 for 20 chicken wings to share with everyone at the table.
Where: Bones' Smokehouse, 9012 East Brainerd Road (about four miles from East Brainerd Road exit off I-75).
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Price range: $3.99 (regular pulled pork, chicken or turkey sandwich)-$15.99 (full-slab rib platter).
For appetizers, we had fried pickles ($3.99), a cup of Brunswick stew ($2.49) and a cup of chili ($2.49). The fried pickles -- thick breaded chips, not spears -- were delicious and served with a mild horseradish sauce. The Brunswick stew was deliciously balanced, meaty, full of vegetables and richly seasoned. The smokehouse chili was more soup-like. With chunky vegetables and thick sauce, it was hearty and good-tasting but not quite as hot as I like chili.
Our party's biggest appetite, an 18-year-old college student, went for the Bones' combo platter ($9.99), which gives you a choice of three of five meat dishes -- beef, ribs, pork, chicken, turkey or ham -- and a couple of sides. He opted for chicken, beef and wet ribs, teamed with French fries and macaroni and cheese, a side that surprisingly was not the institutional style but more like you'd get at a covered-dish supper. The chicken was smoky, tender and moist. The fries were standard fare.
My wife ordered the pulled pork platter ($7.99) with sides of vinegar slaw and fries. The pulled pork really was "pulled," though it was not as smoked as it could be. The meat was tender, moist and plentiful, and a little barbecue sauce added some tasty zip to the large shredded chunks of meat. The vinegar slaw was unusual and might require a particular diner's taste.
I ordered what I came for, the St. Louis-style rib platter with a half rack of dry ribs, mashed potatoes and smoked corn on the cob. I went with a half-rack since I'd eaten half the monster order of fried pickles while trying to decide on the wet or dry version of Bones' pig-sicles.
Smoked corn on the cob was not on the menu, but a little sign on the table got my attention, so I asked the waitress about the dish. She said it was good. I found it awesome. I started to add butter, but I saw the cobs had been lightly buttered. They were were well-smoked, tender and sweetly juicy.
The half-rack of dry ribs, nicely presented on a white platter and topped with a generous dose of coarse brown sugar, had a deep smoke ring and were well-seasoned, tender and needed no sauce. I preferred the dry ribs to my sample of wet ones, but that's a personal preference. The real mashed potatoes were good but had a standard brown gravy.
The wait staff was attentive and friendly, and the waitress offered her favorites as recommendations. There was some confusion over diet and regular drinks, but the members of my party were probably responsible for that in talking over one another when we ordered.
Our waitress promptly brought out the hot appetizers, and the main dishes were delivered by a trio of servers who made sure we had all we needed before they left.
The log-cabin-style restaurant is what you'd expect of a local barbecue spot with a down-home sports-bar flavor in the decor, but it was extremely clean and updated. There's plenty of parking and a drive-through for a speedy stop for smoky goodies on the way home. Bones' also caters and sells bulk orders.
Barbecue lovers and fans of Southern cuisine should be able to find something to crow about at Bones' Smokehouse. The homey setting along busy East Brainerd gives you a small-town feeling just a few minutes outside the city. I kind of regretted eating so much before I could order a dessert, but I'll make up for that next time.