Bennett's Pit Bar-B-Que (Gatlinburg, TN)
Mrs. Barbecue Fiend and I were in much need of a short vacation. Gatlinburg is only a 3.5 hour drive from Nashville, and even though I pictured it being a city-wide Country Bear Jamboree, it does have beautiful scenery. There's also moonshine and barbecue, so she didn't have to twist my arm too much. My wife's one request in allowing a barbecue lunch was that I select a place with a few non-barbecue options for her. Bennett's was the best option to suit both of our appetites.
According to Bennett's website, it's "the best bar-b-que in the world." They've also apparently won a TripAdvisor "certificate of excellence" for the past four years, as well as some sort of People's Choice Award for having "the award winning taste of Texas." No doubt these are all embellished claims, but I still hoped for some tasty 'que. After all, they've been in operation for over two decades.
Strangely, Bennett's is housed in the same building as Big Daddy's Pizzeria. In fact, the only thing separating these two eateries is the entrance-way. Both establishments are owned by the same parent company, which also owns nearby Alamo Steakhouse, Mama's Farmhouse, and Mad Dog Creamery. They've got quite the monopoly on Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge restaurants, so I suppose sharing space makes sense.
Bennett's wood-covered walls matched the general Gatlinburg ambiance perfectly, as did the antique nicknacks scattered about. They have a large soup and salad bar if you're so inclined, but I came for meat not vegetables. Our waitress was very friendly and gave great service. She was a sweet lady and struck me as a local gal.
Since we were on vacation, we indulged ourselves with an appetizer. I had my eye on the brisket-stuffed mushrooms, but my wife wasn't in the mood for fungi. The potato skins sounded equally delicious though. They come loaded with cheddar, scallions, and bacon. We also added some pulled pork for good measure.
The potatoes themselves were crispy and warm, and the gooey cheese and salty bacon were a great combination. To my surprise, Bennett's pulled pork was extremely flavorful. It had a great smoke level and was quite tender. The few bits of bark I found were also really tasty. I enjoyed them better without the accompanying sour cream. This was a great start to the meal.
As much as I wanted to try Bennett's Texan Sampler (generous portions of pulled pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, and baby back ribs), that sounded like way more food than I needed, at least for lunch anyway. Plus, I had just eaten a big pancake breakfast a few hours earlier. I ordered the three-meat Bar-B-Que Combo lunch platter instead, picking brisket, ribs, and sausage for my three meats. The platter comes with two sides. Normally I get potato salad, but that seemed redundant considering our potato skins appetizer. I settled for macaroni and cheese and bar-b-que beans.
When my order came out, I immediately noticed pulled pork instead of my requested sausage. Our waitress was very apologetic and quickly struck off to remedy the mistake. Rather than taking away the pulled pork, she brought out a plate of sausage and left me the pork as an amends. What a sweetheart.
The beans had a good sweet flavor, but there was too much goop for my liking. They were also a little al dente. Conversely, the macaroni was a tad overcooked, but not quite mushy. At least there was more flavor here, including a touch of black pepper mixed in. It was also nice and creamy, and was great comfort food in 20 degree weather.
I generally like to ask for a fattier cut of brisket, but this didn't seem like the kind of place to make requests of the pitmaster. What I received was certainly a leaner cut, though still nice and tender. It also had a strip of fat down the edge which had soaked up a decent amount of smoke. It's a shame that the meat itself did not have quite the same smoke level, despite the pronounced smoke ring. The bark was seasoned well, but the seasoning pretty much stopped there.
My accidental pulled pork was even better than it was atop the potato skins. It was juicy, full of flavor, and by far the smokiest of the meats. The big pieces of red and black bark here were exceptionally tasty. Just for kicks, I tried it with their "Mustard's Last Stand" barbecue sauce. It had strong mustard and vinegar flavors, with a slight bite of pepper on the back end. The sauce was ok, but I preferred the pork on its own.
The sausage was disappointingly not homemade. It was very finely-ground, reminiscent of the grocery store. I didn't find much seasoning, but I did find plenty of grease. As my wife said, "It tastes like a hot dog." She nailed it perfectly.
Ribs are generally my last meat to sample, mostly so I can jot down blog notes without messy fingers. I'm more partial to St. Louis spare ribs myself, but baby backs will do in a pinch. This was the only one of my meats that came sauced, and it was a bright red sauce clearly full of ketchup. I also found hints of vinegar and honey. The crust was sweet, but not very crisp. They were pretty thick for baby back ribs. One bone had meat an inch or so thick. The meat was fairly tender, but had almost no smoke. Oddly enough, these ribs reminded me of the soft, tomatoey, Aussie-style barbecue I found in Scotland, not Texas-style ribs.
Our lunch at Bennett's satisfied my hunger, but it didn't impress me all that much. As a Texan, it pains me to say that the best part of my meal was the part I didn't even order: pulled pork.