The trip driving up I-75 had to be one of the longest of my life. Exit after exit of the same old fast food joints, gas stations, and hotel chains, with no way to differentiate one location to the next. Yuck. So homogeneous, so friggin sterile. So when I saw a billboard advertising “real pit BBQ” at the next exit, my interest was piqued.
Turns out that the exit was for a little tiny town in Tennessee called Sweetwater, with a total population of 5,586 people. I followed the signs and came upon a place called Bradley’s Pit BBQ and Grill.
Bradley’s is a hidden gem – owned by one Tom Bradley, who is on premises and acts in a multitude of roles – sometimes host, sometimes cashier, and always in the kitchen. The restaurant itself is unassuming, attracting both local folks and passing travelers who were as enthralled by the prospect of eating something good as I was. The service was saccharine, with true Southern lady waitresses who dropped the words “honey” and “sugar” like it was going out of style.
The menu offers all of the usual barbecue fare – pork and brisket and ribs and a few other things, along with all of the usual sides. Wanting to experience a little of everything, I went with the the Pork Sampler ($11.95), which consisted of both ribs and pulled pork. For my sides, I chose a baked potato and green beans.
The meat? Just fired on all cylinders. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, full of flavor and finger-licking. The pulled pork was moist and a bit smoky, and with the additions of their sauces, went from good to great. The baked potato was swimming in butter and sour cream, a outright fat bonanza. A little to rich for my tastes, but I ate what I could. The green beans? Right out of the can, without the benefit of seasoning. Some added seasonings, bacon, and onions could take these from blah to edible. The Texas toast? An afterthought, mostly there to sop up sauce.
Now, about those sauces. Bradley’s makes three different kinds, two of which I tried and loved. The sweet sauce is your basic barbecue sauce, with (I’m sure) his own secret ingredients that set it apart from the others. It worked extremely well with the ribs, and almost as well with the pork. But where it was really at was the vinegar sauce. Oh my goodness, the tang and the pucker were just what that meat needed to elevate it to something really special. My favorite was a combination of both, about 33% sweet to 66% vinegar.
Full of protein, and fat and happy, I went about my merry way, but not before ordering a boatload of pulled pork and sliced brisket to take home with me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get down that way again, but if you’re traveling through Tennessee on I-75N, keep an eye out for the Sweetwater exit. It’s an oasis in a desert of mediocrity.
If you’d like to go: Bradley’s Pit BBQ and Grill, Exit 60 off I-75, 517 New Highway 68, Sweetwater, TN, 423.351.7190