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Mystery Diner: Pardner’s Bar-B-Que. Back to Stay?

Mystery Diner • Aug 16, 2018 at 5:46 PM

The story of Pardner’s Bar-B-Que can certainly be called “interesting.” In the past, the Piney Flats legend counted both local fans and those from NASCAR as their barbecue-hungry customers, the latter courtesy of nearby Bristol Motor Speedway. It also had more ups and downs in quality of food and of service than a Dollywood roller coaster.

The March 2018 re-opening under Kingsport’s Tyler Burgess’ management was something anticipated with interest by Pardner’s long-suffering fan base, myself among them. After giving Burgess and staff some time to get the business running smoothly, I decided to take my appetite and that of my dine-around bunch friends along to see how well Pardner’s was doing this time around.

Exterior

Pardner’s exterior has been cleaned (“gussied,” as my dining partner would say) with particular attention paid to a now-regular sweeping of the parking lot, and an equally scheduled wipe down of the entry’s window glass. Both actions give the place a “looked-after” look that is reassuring for first-timers and regular clientele. The breezeway had a few chairs along the inside wall, for those who were waiting for either a table or their take-out order. The real draw here is the aroma that Pardner’s on-site smoker. At once seductive and mouth-watering, the smoky perfume seems to say, “Barbecue? Sure. C’mon inside and sit a spell.”

Interior

Pardner’s has one of the largest dining areas of any barbecue joint and was filled almost to capacity when my friends and I arrived for supper. Other than the utilitarian tables and chairs, there is little of what can be termed “décor” to be found here. It is as if Pardner’s is saying “Our business is barbecue. You want décor, go visit a design studio, please.” Restrooms are at the back, just to the left of the kitchen doors.

Barbecue Pork Platter

The Carnivore had a studious look on his face as he perused the Pardner’s menu.

I could hear him muttering under his breath:

“Ribs? No … Steak? Mmm-No … Salad? Definitely No … Pork platter … Yes-s-s…”

My friend plopped his menu on the table and let our server Jessica know that was what he wanted for his supper, together with some grilled vegetables, a baked potato and some of Pardner’s excellent dinner rolls. His platter of pork barbecue was prepared to order straight out of the on-site smoker, and filled a good-sized dinner platter almost end-to-end. After a quick inventory to make sure that everything he ordered was in fact on his plate, my friend took knife and fork in hand and had at it. In a rare gesture of benevolence, the Carnivore allowed each of us a sample of his pork barbecue and one bite of a side order, our choice. Mine was the grilled vegetables, good if not especially remarkable. The pork was very good, smoked just enough to impart a nice, velvet texture to go with the savor of pork smoked in just the right way.

Entrée Salad

My choice from the menu was one of their entrée salads, being a larger version of their house salads with something from their smoker stacked on top of all that produce.

In my case, the stack was smoked beef brisket ($8.95). Their house salad consists of a chopped mixture of iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, ditto for the onions & cucumbers, with a sprinkle of real bacon bits, some shredded mild cheddar cheese and a handful of from-the-bag garlic croutons.

My salad fixings were topped by a neatly stacked pile of smoked beef brisket slices. The brisket was smoked very well, although the texture was a bit on the tough side. That could be the result of the brisket being removed from the smoker too soon, or maybe not having had time to “rest” after being cooked. Whatever the cause, the brisket was indeed tasty, but my dining partner observed that, if served on a stick, each slice of my brisket would be an “all-day chewy.” By the way, the Pardner’s barbecue sauce to be found on the table makes a great dressing for any green salad, house or otherwise.

Black Angus Burger

The Dieter had made it known to us all on the drive in that her pick for supper was going to be a Pardner’s burger, and not just any burger, but their Black Angus Burger ($9.25), a side order of their barbecue beans ($2.75 extra) added almost as an afterthought. A burger from Pardner’s is a real treat, the Angus burger especially so. A one third pound of 100 percent Angus beef is grilled, then nestled onto a good-sized burger bun, together with sliced onion, a slice of ripe tomato and some dill pickle chips. The Dieter does not use mayonnaise or thousand island dressing, preferring to stick with good old yellow mustard like the purist she is. The barbecue beans were very much an in-house production, pinto, kidney, navy and possibly some butter beans swimming in a molasses, vinegar and brown sugar-based sauce with some chopped onion for pain and some smoked chunks of “bark” from the pork barbecue for the smoky note of flavor, and all of it delicious.

Barbecue Pork Sandwich

The Retiree was also in a mood for smoked pork, and chose one of Pardner’s barbecue pork sandwiches ($6.25) and also ordered barbecue beans for her side order for $2.75. more. This is one of Pardner’s big burger buns stuffed full to bursting with barbecue pork and, in the Retiree’s case, two tablespoonsful of the house coleslaw. The Retiree had her sandwich cut into quarters, taking each quarter sandwich, dunking it into her barbecue beans and taking a bite. From the look on her face as our friend chewed each morsel, we all knew the Retiree was really enjoying her supper.

Combination Meal

Upon overhearing the Carnivore’s use of the process of elimination in choosing his vittles, my dining partner decided that a one-third rack of Pardner’s pork ribs was just the thing to go with her order of grilled chicken breast, French fries and fried onion rings ($12.95). Because it was made to order, my partner’s supper took a bit longer to reach the table than those of the rest of us, but it was worth the wait. Getting to watch my dining partner sit there like Fred Flintstone’s sister, a forkful of grilled chicken breast clutched in one fist while holding a meaty pork rib in the other, put a grin on all our faces. Her reaching over to dunk her pork rib in the Retiree’s barbecue beans was a nice Flintstone touch, I thought.

Conclusion

Pardner’s Bar-B-Que is indeed back, and from where the dine-around bunch and I sat, is better than ever. Other than my chewy beef brisket slices, everything we ordered was first rate, as was the service Jessica provided in getting it all to our table.

Regarding the lack of décor, we all agreed that will take care of itself.

As the Retiree said as we were leaving:

“Décor? My tummy’s full of barbecue, not décor.”

Pardner’s Bar-B-Que

5444 U.S. Highway 11E

Piney Flats

391-8099

Mon-Thu 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Fri 10:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Sat 7 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Sun 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Available on Facebook

Credit cards accepted

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