I told myself months ago that I needed to start exploring the barbecue in Tennessee. To be honest, some of what I’ve found I have not enjoyed at all, and do not wish to write stories about those restaurants. But a few pretty good places have turned up.
Back in June, before I ran into the disappointments mentioned above, I needed to drive up to Knoxville and pick up my daughter, and along the way I stopped at two roadside barbecue joints: Mo-Mo’s in Dayton TN and Rocky Springs Smokehouse in unincorporated Rhea County, north of Spring City. These were my first two barbecue places since moving to Tennessee, and I was excited to see what I might learn from them. The experience was kind of what I was expecting. Both restaurants are pretty good, but neither provided any real surprises or excitement.
My son and I left our house in Chattanooga around eleven and took TN-153 north to US-27, one of several corridors that connect Hamilton County with I-40, which I hope to try over the next few months. We made it to Mo-Mo’s around 11.50. Jeremy Smith opened Mo-Mo’s in 2004. According to a news story on one of the walls, he hoped to grow it into several locations like Chattanooga’s small chain of Choo-Choo locations. I’m not sure whether he’s been successful in that yet; this is the only Mo-Mo’s that I can find.
One thing about eastern Tennessee barbecue that we’ve definitely noticed over the years: a lot of these places start as a simple walk-up window and don’t offer interior seating, at least originally. Mo-Mo’s has grown and built a small dining room. They also have one of those very old yellow “real pit” signs, as you see on the photo below. I’ve seen those twice in Georgia and once in Alabama on old roadside trailers. In fact, the one in Greenville AL just kept the name “Real Pit” as their name. I wonder what business originally used these signs.
Anyway, the chopped pork was very dry, and not really all that smoky. The slaw was of the “mayonnaise soup” variety. I thought the sauce, a sweet and thick brown one, was pretty good. Yeah, it was okay. Worth a stop once in a while if you’re on 27, but not destination dining.
My son and I continued north, and noticed another barbecue place called Banjo’s in the town of Spring City. I decided to put that on the rainy day list for the next time I’m on this road and resolved to stop at the next one instead. This turned out to be Rocky Springs Smokehouse. It’s just a couple of years old, replacing a business that was called Lucky Spring and which Google still insists is the name.
I think that I enjoyed the meat a little better at Rocky Springs, but I wish he hadn’t smothered it with sauce. (I did ask for it dry.) This was an awfully commercial-tasting sauce. If it didn’t come from a jug, to put it mildly, the owner has accurately replicated that kind of commercial, sickly sweet flavor. That’s a shame, because the meat underneath the sauce did have a mild smoke flavor and could have been tastier without the sauce overwhelming it.
My son was in no mood for barbecue, and I wasn’t wild about either stop. At the first place, I liked the sauce more than I liked the pork, and at the second, I liked the pork more than I liked the sauce. I’d promised my boy some ice cream in Knoxville, so we wrapped up and got a move on.
Mo Mo’s Bar-B-Q
7481 Rhea County Hwy
Dayton, TN 37321
Rocky Springs Smokehouse
26750 Rhea County Hwy
Spring City, TN 37381
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