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Barbecue ribs from Old Pilot Hill General Store worth the trip

Mystery Diner • Aug 25, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Taking advantage of a welcome break in this summer’s heat wave, the dine-around bunch and I decided to take an old-fashioned drive in the country. Our trip took us into the wilderness of Tennessee’s southern Washington County, with stops along the way for photo opportunities, visits to various produce stands, and in one case, a Carnivore-requested impromptu trip up a side road to check out some Nolichucky River property that was for sale.

Laden with sweet corn (my dining partner), spent rolls of film (the Retiree) and Realtor brochures (Carnivore), it was time for an early supper at one of our favorite roadside stops, the Old Pilot Hill General Store.

A Limestone landmark since 1902, Old Pilot Hill General Store is your classic jot-em-down type of general store with shelves crammed with just about anything you could imagine. In its time, the store has also served as a post office and a courthouse (upstairs) before changing into its current venue as a sit-down restaurant serving barbecue and such to hungry passersby.

Owners Denise and Donnie Hall migrated all the way from Florida to perform this last piece of magic, adding a barbecue smoker to go with the professional kitchen accoutrements, a wait staff that is knowledgeable and efficient, and a friendly, comfortable way of making their customers feel right at home. There is pickin’ music on the front porch every Thursday night, with the musically inclined invited to sit in with the regulars.

Seating at Pilot Hill is somewhat limited inside the store itself, with more available on the side and back porches. The dine-around bunch found a large capacious booth inside amid the notions and farm implements. While our server Kara found drinks, we had a look at Pilot Hill’s menu to see what we could find to eat.

Since Pilot Hill is known for its smoked baby back ribs, the Carnivore and the Dieter ordered a full rack of ribs apiece ($19.99) along with an order of Pilot Hill’s homemade baked beans ($1.50) and one of homemade cole slaw ($1.50). The Retiree chose a Pilot Hill barbecue pork salad ($7.99). My dining partner was in a burger mood, picking their Sledge Hammer bacon cheeseburger ($8.99) and a small side of sweet potato fries ($2.50) as her meal. I chose a Pilot Hill BBQ Sundae ($5.99) and a small side order of fried onion rings ($2.50). Kara had our orders out to us in about 20 minutes.

If the Carnivore was in his element being up to his elbows in exquisitely smoked baby back pork ribs, his lady the Dieter was not far behind. Pilot Hill smokes their ribs Memphis-style, as in dry-rubbed with spices and such before slow, slow smoking. Pilot Hill’s barbecue sauce is on the table, somewhat sweet and definitely tangy, but best used a squeeze at a time when ribs are your meal. Ever thoughtful, Kara had brought along a packet of wet wipes to go with the napkin roll (or paper towels) at the end of the table. While trying to get a rib sample from the Carnivore was like asking a grizzly bear to share his latest meal, the Dieter was kind enough to let my dining partner and me have one, and one only, between us. With my partner having first dibs on the rib, I was left with half a nibble and the bone to suck on, for which I was truly grateful.

Rib consumed, my dining partner turned to a Sledge Hammer bacon cheeseburger of heroic proportions, being two Black Angus beef patties grilled with American cheese and a good quantity of smoked bacon, then topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and dill pickles on a pretzel bun. Confronted with an entree standing over nine inches tall on her plate, my dining partner asked for a knife and cut the thing in two, sharing some with each of us. Her side order of sweet potato fries was fresh-made and remarkably tasty.

The Retiree was equally pleased with her pork barbecue salad. Pilot Hill takes a good quantity of fresh greens with sliced onions, peppers, julienned carrot and red cabbage, and tops it with both shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses and a healthy portion of their smoked chopped pork barbecue. Pilot Hill uses fruitwood for their smoke source, giving their meats a mildly smoky flavor that enhances rather than covers up the taste of the meat itself.

My BBQ Sundae should be one of Pilot Hill’s signature creations. Fill a square pint-sized Mason jar about a third full of Pilot Hill’s baked beans, and then a third more with cole slaw. Top off the jar with their chopped pork barbecue, garnish with a tomato wedge and serve. Though barbecue sauce is available, the baked beans fulfill that office quite well. While a fork is supplied with your meal, ask for a spoon; you won’t want to leave any of your BBQ Sundae behind. Oh, and fried onion rings made a very good accompaniment to the dish.

Old Pilot Hill General Store is a great place for barbecue, burgers and such. The surroundings are unique, the service friendly and professional and the food is so delectable. Pilot Hill may be off the beaten path, but your drive in the country will be well and amply rewarded.

Old Pilot Hill General Store

826 Snapp Bridge Road

Limestone, Tennessee


Wed-Sat 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

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