Barbecue restaurants can be found in almost every neighborhood around the city, and there's no dearth of smokehouses in the Hamilton Place neighborhood of eateries. So how does a restaurateur get people to queue up for cue?
For one, they up the ante, adding LTOs — that's restaurant lingo for "limited time only" — to their menus. Smokey Bones does just that, adding different cuts of beef to the menu every quarter, says Kristi Pratt, general manager at the Hamilton Place location. And, she adds, the steak on the new fall menu — available through Oct. 25 — is the biggest yet.
Smokey Bones is known for its wings — wings so well-seasoned they need no sauce. And, naturally, Smokey Bones has ribs, pulled pork and barbecued chicken on its menu. It's a smokehouse after all. There's a spattering of burgers, seafood and pasta dishes, as well — not everyone likes ribs so tender they fall of the bone, though it's hard to imagine. The fall LTO menu has added the biggest steak yet, a 16-ounce New York strip.
We went with a mixture of things from both the fall menu and the menu served year-round. For starters, the Fall Sampler, a Bavarian-inspired platter that comes to the table warm and filled with pretzel bread — crispy on the outside, tender inside; smoked sausage with a slightly spicy kick; and spiced pork rinds, an unusual offering that were too hard to eat, but if you landed on one that was fried just right, it might just make a pork-rind lover out of you.
The New York strip is from Allen Brothers and is hand-cut and bone-in. Strip steaks are not the tenderest beef cut, but their flavor is so intense, they're a favorite among beef eaters who appreciate getting big beef taste with each bite. The cut's rich marbling creates robust flavor, and that's what we got with ours. If you like a more-tender steak, go with the filet medallions, sirloin steak (6 or 9 ounces); or the 14-ounce rib-eye, all on the menu year-round. If you want a stronger beefy flavor, get the strip. It comes with your choice of two sides; the smoked mushrooms on the fall menu made the perfect accompaniment.
Can't make up your mind? Do as I did and order a combo platter, such as St. Louis ribs and chicken wings. The platter was generous, with a one-third rack of ribs and four wings. The ribs, seasoned and smoked for hours and mopped with smoky barbecue sauce, were beautifully done. If a barbecue joint can't get ribs right, there's something wrong. Smokey Bones does them right — not so tender they end up mushy, but tender enough that they easily come off the bone.
The wings, also, were well-seasoned, but I couldn't resist dipping them in ranch — the two go hand in hand. Two sides come with the platters, and I went with tradition — baked beans and coleslaw. Can't go wrong with that.
Dinner came to a sweet finish with a brown bag of Southern comfort, a.k.a. warm cinnamon-sugar homemade doughnuts with warm chocolate dipping sauce. Oh my. 'Nuf said.
Servings at Smokey Bones are generous, so loosen your belt and ask for doggy bags.
If you go
— Where: Smokey Bones, 2225 Gunbarrel Road
— Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. seven days.
— Main-dish price range: $10.50-$21.49. Fall menu: $16.99-$42.99
— Alcohol: Full bar
— Phone: 423-893-7850
— Online: smokeybones.com
Our server was quick to bring drinks, fill our water glasses and get dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes. As the restaurant filled up on this Wednesday evening, I noticed how servers were helping each other out. It's hard these days for restaurants to get enough servers. You've probably seen the "servers needed" signs out front of many eateries. This is a time for patience, but the servers at Smokey Bones did an excellent job at our table, and from what I could tell, other tables, too. Taking our half-filled plates back to the kitchen to transfer our food into take-home containers was so much nicer than having to do it at the table as well.
Smokey Bones is a large space with both table and booth seating and plenty of room for social distancing. The booths are fitted with high acrylic shields, in keeping with COVID-19 protocols, and I'm thinking this is something that may be a permanent thing in restaurants. They make sense for any nasty germs that might be floating around, including the common cold. I read an op-ed in The New York Times recently that stated that COVID will permanently change the way we live our lives, and that includes dining. Those see-through shields, I think, should be here to stay.
The restaurant also has a large bar with ample seating and bottles of spirits stacked high.
Barbecue season is a year-round thing in the South, and Smokey Bones delivers with traditional 'cue, then breaks tradition with flavors from around the world, like that Bavarian sausage platter. Wunderbar!
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org or annebraly.com.