IF YOU GO
Where: The Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que
Address: 5611 Ringgold Road
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $1.50 (corn dog)-$12 (large pork spareribs plate with two sides and Texas toast)
Well, now I feel silly. I've been driving right past the Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que's little log cabin restaurant in East Ridge for years and never stopped once.
The place sits in the middle of the parking lot at the Ridgewood Village shopping plaza on the north side of Ringgold Road. You'll miss it if you're not paying attention, and that would be a bad thing.
From the outside, the Hickory Pit seems small and oddly high off the ground, with a ramp on one side leading diners to the front door and a ramp on the other side leading drive-through traffic up to the pick-up window level and back down.
Something tells me kids might like this.
Then there's the food.
Barbecue fans will follow their noses inside, where the smell of hickory smoke greets like a warm handshake, which you'll probably also get if owner Mike Ford isn't too busy behind the counter.
My wife and son started smiling as soon as they sat down at one of the five inside tables. The small dining room offers a comfortable atmosphere, with homey drapes and tablecloths and old photos and ceramic signs decorating the log walls.
The menu is bigger than the building with a lineup of appetizers that includes onion rings, cheese sticks, chicken fingers, chicken fries, poppers, "dynobites," fried mushrooms and fried pickles. Prices range from $3.50 to $4.
The soup and salad list features a barbecue salad, with the usual greens and an addition of barbecue pork, beef or chicken and homemade honey-mustard sauce ($6). There's also a house salad ($4.50), "soup-a-da-day" ($4), Brunswick stew ($4) and a barbecue-stuffed potato in the $4 to $5.50 price range.
Sides include small and large fries, tater tots, curly fries, potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, fried okra and green beans. Potato chips (75 cents) and corn on the cob ($1.25) are the cheapest sides. The rest are priced at $1.50 to $2 for small portions, $2.50 to $3.50 for large. A baked potato is $3.
Sandwiches include chopped barbecue, fried bologna, smoked chicken salad, BLT, grilled chicken tenders and grilled cheese. Corn dogs and hot dogs are also available.
Plates ($8 to $12) feature chopped pork, beef or chicken; half a chicken; pork spareribs; or the killer barbecue potato. Or try Lindsey's steak, 10.5 ounces of ground Angus beef with onions and special seasonings.
Catfish is a special Saturday plate with Southern breaded fillets, battered and deep-fried. You can get a small portion for $7.50, large for $1 more.
And there are burgers; a 5.3-ounce Kaden burger, a 10.6-ounce, two-patty Hickory Pit burger, an 8-ounce C.J. burger and a 16-ounce, twin-patty Skyler burger. All are charbroiled black Angus beef.
The Hickory Pit also has bulk orders of chopped pork by the half pound ($5.75) and pound ($10.75), chopped beef ($6.25 per half pound, $11.75 per pound), full racks of baby back ribs ($17) and spareribs ($19), and pulled chicken ($6.25 per half pound, $11.75 per pound).
The dessert menu includes apple pie, cheesecake, banana pudding, funnel cake and "Da-banana," a frozen and dark chocolate-dipped banana with or without nuts.
My better half and offspring ordered up chopped pork plates ($8.50), and I ordered the small pork spareribs plate ($10.50), each of which comes with two sides and a really nice piece of fresh Texas toast.
Our sides consisted of "freedom" fries all around, corn on the cob for the 20-year-old and fried okra for my wife and me. The fries were good spuds, typical straight-cut potatoes cooked golden brown. The cornmeal-breaded okra was good and kind of crunchy. The corn was declared "really good," though I didn't get a bite.
People sitting at three of the remaining four tables, all of whom seemed to be regulars, were eating barbecue, burgers and what appeared to be the remnants of stuffed potatoes, indicating that fare throughout the menu has fans.
The small rib plate came with three, large precut spareribs with a rich, red barbecue sauce that had just a little heat and was sweet and gooey. One rib might have been a little dry, but the other two were juicy, and all were well-smoked and very meaty.
The chopped pork was a surprise.
In many cases, "chopped pork" means the chef simply chopped the smoked pork shoulder meat into small pieces and served it up. But at the Hickory Pit, the pork was pulled first to remove the fat, then chopped and drizzled with a little sauce to keep it moist.
Even the "bark" - the black, smoked outer layer - was soft and moist rather than hard and woody like its namesake.
Having eaten at many of the dozens of smokehouses in the Chattanooga region, I would rate the Hickory Pit's pulled pork better than most. I plan to try it with slaw on a sandwich on my next trip.
The service was prompt, warm and friendly, and our server regularly checked on our drinks even though he had four tables and helped man the drive-through window. We had our orders in about 10 minutes, and everything was fresh-cooked and hot despite the fact we arrived less than an hour before closing. I asked our server for a few more napkins and, seeing my sauce-covered hands, he returned with some dampened napkins that worked better than those prepackaged wet naps you usually get.
The little log cabin is charming and quaint, like dining at a relative's house. The place is clean, and there are lots of small photos, old cooking gear, tins and typical smokehouse decor to make it comfortable. In case the weather's nice, there are a couple of tables on the outside deck.
The Hickory Pit is destined to become a new "favorite" with the Benton family, especially based on the chopped, pulled pork that I foresee adding to my ever-more spherical shape. Keep that sweet tea chilled and the smoker perking, Mike.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at facebook.com/ben.benton1 and follow him at twitter.com/BenBenton on Twitter.