Wednesday, April 23, 2014 · 7:47 a.m.
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The exterior of Shuford's Smoke House features the signature pink cartoon pig. (Photo: Staff)

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.

About us
I am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 25, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is "simple, no frills." These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. This week, we tried Shuford’s Smoke House at the foot of Signal Mountain.

The restaurant
Everybody is at least aware of Shuford’s Smoke House, even if they haven’t eaten there. It’s that little shack at the foot of Signal Mountain with the pink cartoon pig and the University of Alabama paraphernalia plastered everywhere. All of that can be forgiven because the barbecue is among the best in the city. Owner Jeff Davis has helped take Shuford’s from a good place to eat to a Chattanooga institution. I had never eaten at Shuford’s before Tuesday’s meal, and Lauren had only been once when she was in middle school. I was also feeling a bit under the weather (general wintertime blechness), and after running through a list of potential DND venues, the only food that sounded appetizing was a slab of ribs smothered in barbecue sauce. To Shuford’s we went!

The service
We arrived at about 7:30 p.m. and were the only people inside, save for another couple. We chose the original location of Shuford's instead of the new(ish) Dayton Boulevard location because it was closer to our downtown residence. The interior is endearingly grubby—like a barbecue joint should be—with nearly everything covered in crimson red. Even the barbecue sauce was crimson-colored, no doubt an homage to Davis’ beloved football program. In fact, college football is seemingly almost as important as the food at Shuford’s. The takeout menu is called "The Kickoff," and I had to look twice to find the food items, which are listed in the borders. Shuford’s is a great place for a sit-down dinner or drive-thru pickup, but the reputation is for their catering. The restaurant offers custom smoking by the pound and a variety of family packs, complete with sides. Davis is willing to cater a party of any size, and I imagine we visited during the only slow week they’ll have through the holidays. What immediately surprised me about Shuford’s (and it probably shouldn’t have) was just how friendly Davis was to us. I overheard him speaking to another customer, and he spoke at length about how some people are meant to be doing certain occupations. Davis was meant to make barbecue. And he does it very well.

Cornbread done right in an ancient cast-iron skillet. (Photo: Staff)

The plates
As mentioned, I’ve been feeling under the weather (probably because of the weather) for the past few days. The only thing I could imagine eating was barbecue, and as I sit here and write a few days later, I’m almost willing to believe my consumption of Shuford’s ribs played a role in my recovery. The rib plate was served with a half-rack of hickory-smoked ribs covered in Shuford’s special sauce. Each plate comes with two sides, and I chose green beans and mac and cheese. Davis set out a couple of gallons of tea for us to drink, too. Lauren ordered the pulled pork plate with mac and cheese and green beans. Apologies for the lack of diversity in side choices. The ribs were huge and slathered in sauce. Lauren made a point that unlike some barbecue places the meat at Shuford’s is the star. Our sides were delicious, but the flavor of the mac and cheese and green beans complemented the meat, which was the obvious centerpiece for the meal. Davis also brought out some leftover cornbread from Thanksgiving. It was prepared in an old cast-iron skillet that any Southerner knows is the proper way to serve cornbread. Enough with the pretentious overanalysis of our food, though. This is, simply, great barbecue that highlights years of experience and expertise at a craft. The flavors are spot-on, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying barbecue dinner in Chattanooga. The world needs more places like Shuford’s Smoke House and more business owners like Jeff Davis.

Shuford's Smoke House offers generous portions with no frills. (Photo: Staff)

Would we go back?
Restaurants like Shuford’s Smoke House are successful because they do one thing well. Many unsuccessful restaurants are too focused a variety of flavors or too eager to jump onto a faddy bandwagon. Like a well-worn leather duffel bag, barbecue joints like Shuford’s will never go out of style. Even when other restaurants are pushing to the edge of gastro-science and culinary breakthroughs, people are still going to require a barbecue pork sandwich—and Shuford’s will be there to provide it. Hell yes, we’ll be back. And next time, I’m bringing my other stomach.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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