Tennessee Commissioner of Community and Economic Development Bill Hagerty cuts into a barbecue pork sandwich Friday at Bluff City's Ridgewood Barbecue as owner Larry Proffitt watches. (Nathan Baker/Johnson City Press)
Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty rolled up his sleeves Friday and got down to the dirty business of promoting the state’s native businesses.
In from Nashville, he stopped by Bluff City to sample Ridgewood Barbecue and bestow the 66-year-old eatery with the title of Best Barbecue in Tennessee, which it won through an overwhelming response on an online poll posted to the state agency’s Facebook page.
“We wanted to generate interest in entrepreneurial activity, and what better way to do that than visiting this three-generation family business right here?” Hagerty said after wolfing down one of Ridgewood’s famous sliced pork sandwiches.
The contest ran through May, otherwise known as National Barbecue Month, and put the roadside sauce joint up against dozens of others across the state.
Locally, Ridgewood pulled ahead other heavy hitters in the first round, including Piney Flats’ Pardner’s Bar-B-Que, and the Firehouse, Dixie Barbecue and Red Pig Bar-B-Que in Johnson City.
In the final round, which pitted Ridgewood against barbecue Goliaths in Memphis, a town world-famous for its food; Lynchburg, the home of another famous Tennessee brand; Brownsville; and Nolensville, the local flavor brought in 2,207 of the 3,000 votes cast in the online poll.
“It’s overwhelming,” owner Larry Proffitt said of the accolade. “It’s akin to the time I took my mother to be on ‘Good Morning America’ to talk about the restaurant.”
But make no bones about it, Proffitt and his daughter, Lisa Peters, who manages the business, said they’ve known all along that the product they’re putting out was something special.
“This really puts the pressure on us,” Peters said. “But we’ve always expected the best of ourselves, now we just have a proclamation telling us it’s true.”
Ridgewood was established in 1948 by Jim Proffitt and some partners as a burger and beer restaurant, but Proffitt switched it over to barbecue five years later when Sullivan County banned alcohol sales.
Jim Proffitt died in 1980, but from there, his sons, Terry and Larry Proffitt, took over. Now Peters runs the place, maintaining many of the recipes that won the food fame with locals.
The meats served in the dining room are smoked on site and the bleu cheese dressing, a popular dipper for saltine crackers and fries, is made in the back.
Proffitt said one of the secrets to drawing in the big names who visit one in a while and the regulars who visit two or three times a week is keeping the menu consistent.
“No surprises,” he said. “You don’t want people coming in here, expecting one thing and getting another. That’s a bad surprise. They have to know that every time they come in here, they’re going to get good food.”
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