The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
Where: 301 Signal Mountain Road
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 12-6 p.m.
Once you have your mind set on obtaining some good ol' Southern barbecue, there really isn’t anything to do but feed that craving. Lauren (she’s my 24-year-old picky eater of a girlfriend) and I have visited many a barbecue joint in our almost three years together. We love the stuff. For this week’s date night, we decided to try a place we’ve never been: Nooga-Q Smokehouse Grill has been revived since a fire that destroyed the original building in 2010. Located in Red Bank, Nooga-Q offers “Chattanooga-style” barbecue with a variety of fried foods and seafood offerings to keep things interesting. We were hungry and ready to dig in.
The first thing you notice about Nooga-Q is—and forgive my naughty-sounding description—a huge, black meat smoker out back. The sinfully delicious aroma of smoking pork and beef hits your nostrils as soon as you exit the car. As for the actual restaurant, the exterior is very utilitarian: corrugated steel, a simple sign and a few picnic tables out front. As you enter the building, you feel as if you just won a NASCAR race. Every table has a black and white checkerboard pattern. Sports memorabilia and folk art hang on the walls. This is a not a fancy place. It’s a building designed to bring barbecue to the people, and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing to be.
Our server was Kelsey. She was knowledgeable and happy to help us make our decisions. We were the only people in the restaurant for about 20 minutes (there was a brief hailstorm right before our meal), and Kelsey made sure we were well taken care of. The food was delivered promptly, and our drinks were filled. You really can’t ask for much more. I have been told by past patrons of Nooga-Q that the service can be slow at times, but this was not our experience. But again, we were alone in the place.
I had half-and-half iced tea, and Lauren drank water. I try to save my heavy drinking for Tuesday through Sunday. This was Monday.
Kelsey encouraged us to order the “pig pickles” as an appetizer, but we didn’t listen and ordered the "fried shrooms" instead. I’m quickly learning that it’s important to listen to your server when they make suggestions. The shrooms were whole mushrooms, battered, fried and served with a ranch dipping sauce. They were also flavorless: no seasoning (we added salt), just fried mushrooms. I did eat all of them though, which is probably more of a testament to my lack of self-control than the appeal of this appetizer. In short, get the pickles. We will next time. I’m sorry we didn’t listen, Kelsey. She also suggested the “ultimate barbecue nachos,” which sounds delicious but not like something I could eat as an appetizer before a huge meal of barbecue.
Lauren went with the beef brisket plate and a side of mac and cheese with baked beans. I chose a pork plate with the same mac and cheese—what can I say? We’re a couple for a reason, and mac and cheese is a big reason—and green beans. The pork is a variation of Memphis-style and Tennessee-style barbecue. It was not entirely “pulled” apart, and the sauce was straight up “Tennessee" sweet with a touch of spice. My pulled pork was delicious. Lauren’s beef brisket was less exciting. She and I both thought it was a little too chewy. Lauren also wanted me to note that her brisket was better for lunch the next day. Maybe it needed some rest? The sides were good, but not mind-blowing. We both thought the mac and cheese was, again, under-seasoned. This seems to be a theme with Nooga-Q. I added pepper and salt to almost everything, except the pork. The baked beans were delicious—sweet and savory. My green beans were just green beans.
This was the first time in my life that I’d eaten a dessert at a barbecue restaurant. I ordered the banana pudding, and Lauren ordered the Hershey pie. Lauren said her pie was good, but she could tell it was most likely made by Hershey and not at Nooga-Q with Hershey's chocolate, if you get what I’m saying. The banana pudding was delicious. It was light on the vanilla wafers, and the emphasis was on the pudding. As an added nice touch, fresh banana slices were topped on the pudding. The serving size was huge. It was impossible to finish at one sitting. There is never any question as to whether Lauren is going to finish her slice of pie. This was no exception.
Would we go back?
Do I think there are better barbecue offerings in Chattanooga? Absolutely. Nooga-Q isn’t the best, but it’s far from the worst in town. This place is a middle-of-the-road, no-frills, you-get-what-you-pay-for, budget barbecue joint. It doesn’t claim to be anything else and delivers exactly what you’d expect for the price. Also to its advantage, Nooga-Q is situated near a high-traffic area on Signal Mountain Road. It’s convenient if, like us, you have a hankering for a barbecue fix. There are also several items that I need to try once my stomach returns to a normal size. The ribs, for example, sound great. So yeah, we’d go back. Good job, Nooga-Q, on being exactly what we’d thought you’d be.