“We’re an hour from home,” Marie said. “It would be just typical for you to really love that barbecue since we’re so far away.” I paused, fork hovering, wondering whether she’d be correct again.
The 27th annual Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival was held in January, about 35 miles northeast of Chattanooga at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge and the Birchwood Community Center. We don’t know much about sandhill cranes, or migratory birds at all, really, but it sounded interesting. We loaded up and, lacking the binoculars or telephoto lenses that would have made the spectacle much more interesting, still had a pretty good time. We joined a large crowd of birdwatchers who, from a discreet distance, observed enormous flocks of the birds making a lengthy stop on their route.
Many years ago, in Doonesbury, Lacey Davenport’s husband passed away out in the middle of nowhere while photographing a Bachman’s Warbler. His funeral was attended by dozens of enthusiastic birders. Five minutes in the company of this happy mob and I could tell Trudeau had got those strips exactly right.
Anyway, after enjoying the spectacle and the company of so many people and their positive vibes, we’d seen all we had the patience to see and took the bus back to our car. From Birchwood, it’s about a half hour’s drive to an unincorporated community called Ten Mile, where we found Uncle Gus’s, a big country store that is the only restaurant around for a long way. The locals here get to enjoy some much better than average barbecue. I liked this more than almost all of what we have in Chattanooga.
Uncle Gus’s original place was called the Log Barn, located about fifteen miles away in Sweetwater. That restaurant is long gone, and I understand that this place was opened by family members after a break of many years. They put together one of those large “please everybody” menus of steaks and burgers, with Mayfield ice cream sold from a separate window when it’s warmer. My open-mindedness toward every different place’s traditions can’t help but be discouraged by huge menus in a city. But when this is the only restaurant for five or six miles in any direction, it does make sense to offer a broader menu to bring in as many guests as possible.
Happily, this is one of those places where anybody who does come for the barbecue will be left wondering why on earth anybody in the party would want anything else. This is very, very good, and certainly worth the drive from either Chattanooga or Knoxville.
I was interested to learn that they use two different pits here. Ribs and wings are smoked over pecan, with pork and chicken smoked over hickory. These are certainly better ribs than most in the region, with good flavor and texture, and a proper pull. The chopped pork shoulder is really good, too, I loved the smoke flavor of the pork, and was really happy with how everything blended, especially when I got to sample the sauces. They do have the expected sticky-sweet brown sauce that is most popular in eastern Tennessee, along with a splendid hot sauce. But make sure to ask for what they call Roxy sauce: it’s a vinegar-pepper blend like you’ll find in the better joints in eastern North Carolina, and it is awesome. It goes so well with this meat. I was so happy to have this.
Marie was extremely pleased with her sandwich. In her whimsical way, she has been down on smoked chicken for some time, thinking it’s always too dry. So she ordered it here to give the meat another chance, and found it comes with a really good spicy jalapeno ranch sauce. She said that it was delicious. They gave me a small cup of the same ranch for my chips. I was in heaven.
I never take sauces home. As many different barbecue restaurants as we visit, our pantry would look pretty funny, but money’s tight enough without me bringing home a bottle of sauce from everywhere we go. I brought a pint of jalapeno ranch home. I’d have brought a keg if they’d have sold it to me. Marie picked up a couple of bags of Cape Cod brand kettle chips when we got back. She suggested looking around for a good recipe to incorporate the sauce and I declined. The sauce was very good with carrots as well. Probably didn’t need the calories, mind.
Uncle Gus’s Mountain Pit Bar-B-Que
810 Peakland Rd
Decatur (or Ten Mile) TN 37322
Are you planning a barbecue road trip? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog (more than 420 !) on this map, with links back to the original blog posts!