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Front Page - Friday, June 10, 2022

River City: Real Good Smokehouse has some work to do

The Stack at Real Good Smokehouse in downtown Chattanooga. - Photographs provided

When Good Dog opened in Chattanooga, its name reinforced the enthusiastic word-of-mouth. If you wanted a delicious hot dog, you knew where to get one.

Slipping a superlative into the name of your restaurant is a shrewd marketing tactic. If anyone is looking for a “good dog,” for example, a quick web search will yield the answer (or the phone number of a canine trainer).

More local restaurants should try this. For example, Urban Stack could become Good Burger to edge out Slick’s in the battle to be the city’s top burger joint.

Along these same lines, Ruth’s Chris could rebrand as “Five-star Steakhouse,” Totto could become “Super Duper Sushi” and Tata’s Grill could elevate its fame as “Fantastic, Awesome, Incredible Bosnian Cuisine.” (You could not place enough superlatives in front of Tata’s name, but that’s a topic for another article.)

This brings me to Real Good Smokehouse, a new establishment that aims to lure in ravenous patrons with a promise of quality meats. Located on Market Street in the former home of the shuttered Moe’s Original BBQ, Real Good Smokehouse has staked a claim as one of Chattanooga’s best smokehouses or barbecue pits – at least in name.

Of course, calling yourself Burger King does not make you the best.

A survey of the menu at Real Good Smokehouse suggests it’s at least a contender. Maybe it was because I’d skipped breakfast, or perhaps it was the really good photos, but everything looked delicious. (As a side note, I believe I just coined a clever name for a photography business.)

By “everything,” I mean the appetizers, sandwiches, platters and salads. If a smokehouse has disappointed you with a lack of options, that’s not going to be an issue at Real Good Smokehouse. From seafood, to sausages, to ribs, the restaurant caters to every taste.

When it came to the sandwiches, the Rich Girl caught my eye. Made of seasoned smoked shrimp, shredded iceberg lettuce, smoked tomatoes and a house sauce tucked into a butter-toasted lobster roll, it was tempting.

However, I settled on a classic: The Stack, which comes with a choice of meat on a butter-toasted bun and is topped with Real Good Cole Slaw, dill pickle slices and barbecue sauce. I selected smoked pulled pork as my protein.

It seemed to be the thing to do. When a restaurant delivers on the basics, it likely excels from there. Plus, how could I pass up the “Real Good Cole Slaw?”

For my side, I picked the smokehouse beans from a list that also included tallow fries, baked mac-and-cheese and potato salad. (For the curious, Google tells me tallow is used in food preparation as well as soap, candles, healing salve and skin balm, which is indeed very curious.)

I mentioned I’d skipped the most important meal of the day, so I was primed for the sandwich and beans when they arrived.

My first impression of The Stack was that it’s appropriately named. If you like the meat on a sandwich piled high, then you’re going to love biting into this thick beast.

Even with all that pork, I could still taste the perfectly toasted bun, the crunchy pickle and the tangy coleslaw.

Then I realized those things were all I could taste. The pork was moist but had only a hint of the smoky flavor I’d been anticipating.

Maybe this is a deliberate choice. I have friends who dislike a strong smoky taste. But if the menu had not read “smoked pulled pork,” then I would not have known it had been smoked.

The beans were good but left me with another bone to pick: Maybe my appetite has grown or my wallet has shrunk, but when I spend several dollars on a side, I want more than a large condiment cup’s worth in exchange. (Real Good Smokehouse is not alone in skimping on sides. Maybe it’s a new fad that’s lost on me.)

Lunch was actually a toss-up between The Stack and Coco’s BBQ Chopped Salad. Once again falling victim to a mouthwatering photo, I ordered the salad to go and took it home for dinner.

The menu describes Coco’s Salad as coming with a blend of crisp greens, one meat, hard-boiled egg, diced tomatoes, a house cheese blend and smokehouse granola.

Its photo features a plate laden with these ingredients, including big chunks of what looks like smoked turkey.

The salad I ate included far more lettuce, far less turkey and not enough egg or cheese to make an impact.

The ingredients were fresh but the granola prevailed over every other component – including the turkey (which did taste smoked).

Real Good Smokehouse is a casual dining establishment in which you place your order with a cashier and then take a seat and wait for your food to be brought to you. It was a relaxing way to spend lunch and I imagine would be just as laidback for dinner.

The restaurant, its website states, is the creation of Chattanooga-born Shannon Johnson, who grew up eating great barbecue that brought his family and community together.

It’s hard to not root for a local establishment – especially in light of the many chain restaurants that have planted their flag in Scenic City soil. So, even though I’d hoped for better, I’m looking forward to trying something else.

Maybe I’ll order the Rich Girl. Or the St. Louis Ribs platter. I skipped breakfast this morning and those photos look fantastic.