As I’ve related in these pages before, we hill folk tend to be very particular about the barbecue we favor.
Some are comfortable with the barbecue they grew up on, or the one their family and forebears found to be the best. Others tend to migrate between two or more different styles and methods of cookery for this Southern classic. There are those few benighted individuals who seem to be forever on a quest to find the perfect barbecue and the barbecue joint that serves it. I happily count myself among them, and deem it an honor to be able to write to you about my discoveries.
Take this week, for instance. It was my dining partner’s craving for “something different” in barbecue that chose our “what’s cookin’?” for the evening. Since the dine-around bunch was reduced by two, we picked up the Carnivore, a dinner companion game enough to try anything and any place once.
Twenty minutes up I-26 toward Kingsport, we made the turn at Eastern Star Road and into the (pretty full) parking lot of Phil’s Dream Pit. Started five years ago by Jonesborough residents’ Phil and Dianna Pipkin, Phil’s Dream Pit is a great barbecue joint in the classic sense. No fancy decor on the inside, just tables, benches and chairs set around a room whose walls are festooned with hundreds of pleased patron photos, lots of “Thank You” cards and letters, and some favorable news clippings. No fancy china or cutlery either, just paper plates, plastic cutlery and Styrofoam cups.
Around the outside of the building is an expansive patio, walled-in at present by canvas curtains and populated with picnic tables to handle the overflow.
Ordering our meal couldn’t be simpler; there’s a big menu board above the counter. Those joining the order line at Phil’s for the first time need to study the menu board carefully so they can be sure of what they want. Once at the counter they must be prompt with their choice because the line moves quickly. This we did. My dining partner ordering the three-rib dry rub platter with Phil’s slaw, his baked beans and a medium drink for $9.99. The Carnivore had a taste for some smoked piggy and ordered the pulled pork platter with beans, slaw and a drink ($8.99). My choice was the dry rub chicken breast platter with beans, potato salad and a drink for $8.99.
Despite the crowd, our orders nearly beat us to our table. My chicken breast’s dry rub appeared to be painted on prior to smoking. Said smoking process had rendered the breast meat somewhat dry, but still flavorful. I tried “moppin’ ” it with several of Phil’s sauces to determine change of flavor and texture. Phil’s Sweet Sauce is ketchup and molasses-based, and is very sweet, with a cola-like aftertaste.
Our Carnivore liked the taste of the Sweet with his pulled-pork platter, even more so when he mixed in a little of Phil’s Sweet Fire Sauce. Sweet Fire has less sweetness and more tang, along with a nice black pepper-based residual heat. I tried some and found it complemented my chicken dish very well.
Phil’s Vinegar Sauce has less Worcestershire and more vinegar in it than your typical North Carolina-style sauce. It also has a healthy dose of spice heat along with an odd salty aftertaste, reminiscent of a commercial pepper sauce. Meanwhile, my dining partner declared Phil’s Mustard Sauce to be the best of the lot.
While I am not a big fan of mustard-based barbecue sauces, this one is a winner. Sharp, tangy and peppery with an excellent (brown?) mustard base, this is a sauce that works well with both my chicken breast and just about anything else, and that includes the baked beans, slaw and potato salad side orders.
My dining partner’s baby back ribs platter won the “best dish of the meal” award, moist, juicy baby back ribs covered with a light dry rub; each rib meaty and good by itself, but more so after my partner squirted a good-sized pool of the Mustard Sauce on her plate for dipping.
A word about Phil’s side orders: the slaw is good, especially with the pulled pork. The potato salad is properly prepared; it is mayonnaise-based with no vinegar tang, and just a touch of dried mustard for character. Phil’s baked beans are a treat: molasses, brown sugar, onions, spices and navy beans all slow-simmered and delicious. Our orders were plentiful enough that we had no room for a serving of Phil’s banana pudding ($2). Phil’s does carry-out and catering, and regularly updates his website.
The verdict on this, my latest Barbecue Bucket List entry, is from the Carnivore.
Wiping his mouth with his napkin, he cast an earnest glance at the two of us, saying “We must come back.”
Phil’s Dream Pit
534 Eastern Star Road
I-26 at exit 10
Tue-Sat, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Credit cards accepted