The long Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and many of us will be headed south to the beach or other vacation spots. At some point on the journey, the need to stop, stretch our legs, and enjoy a meal outside the realm of fast food arises. Here’s a tip to use this weekend or anytime you’re on U.S. Highway 49 near the Mendenhall exit: Smokey Mountain Grille and Rib Shack. It’s my go-to spot whenever I’m in the area and craving a juicy grilled burger, pulled pork sandwich, or potato or thick BLT.
Twelve years after opening Smokey Mountain Grille on the highway just steps away from where her family-operated Cline’s, a popular Mendenhall restaurant, chef and owner Sheila Daniels continues to expand the menu of traditional barbecue and burger dishes to meet the changing culinary landscape.
For example, one of the restaurant’s signature moves is to place a loaf of homemade bread and honey butter for diners to sample while waiting for their food to arrive. Nowadays, the wait staff asks in advance if the bread is desired due to the increase of patrons on gluten-free and limited carb diets.
And, besides the regular lineup of pulled pork sandwiches and ribs, Daniels has expanded the menu to include more upscale offerings. Pork loin club is one example. A pork loin is smoked on-site and sliced thin, topped with smoked bacon and other dressings and placed and served with slices of grilled homemade bread.
Smokey Mountain Grille offers to-go meals that can be called in as you’re traveling and picked up at the convenient location just off the highway. If you have a little time to spare, I recommend stopping in and enjoying a leisurely meal at the cozy, family-owned restaurant featuring large windows overlooking the highway.
Once you’re seated, the hard work of narrowing down the menu choices begins. Since this is a restaurant I regularly frequent, I’ll share my favorites and provide a little information on the remainder of the menu.
For starters, I highly recommend the pulled pork nachos. In fact, this is a shareable dish if you’re traveling with others and are not ravenously hungry. A plate of crispy, seasoned tortilla chips is topped with tender, slow-roasted pulled pork, house barbecue sauce, diced tomatoes, jalapenoes, green onions, and melted cheese. As an appetizer or meal, it really doesn’t get any better than this dish.
If you’re saving room for pulled pork, the cheese fries are a worthy build-up. It’s a place of fresh-cut fries topped with barbecue sauce, cheese, smoked bacon, and house spices. With a dollop of sour cream and other toppings, it’s the perfect appetizer or side dish to the main event.
Speaking of the main course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with the barbecue dishes. After all, it’s the primary reason Smokey Mountain has earned such a following among local as well as tourists. It’s hard to single out one outstanding item, but I’ll start with the one I select most often and that Daniels claims is a top seller.
The pulled pork sandwich, which can be enlarged into a platter meal with three sides, is filled with tender, slow-smoked meat topped with the house sauce. It’s juicy, tangy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Borrowing a habit from North Carolina barbecue lovers, I often add a helping of the restaurant’s homemade slaw to the already-overflowing bun.
Daniels prescribes to the Memphis-style “slow and low” dry method of cooking ribs in the smokehouse adjacent to the restaurant.
“We don’t want to hide the flavor with the sauce,” said Daniels. “We prepare them dry so you can experience the full flavor. Of course, we take pride in our homemade sauce, which is why you’ll find it on every table.”
The Mighty Rib platter is a half slab of tender, fall-off-the-bone meat with three sides, while the Junior plate is a smaller quarter-pound portion. Large and smaller versions of pulled pork, pork loin and smoked chicken platters are also available. A combo platter contains a sample of ribs, pulled pork and smoked chicken.
Side dishes from which to choose are a green salad, baked beans, green beans, baked potato salad, slaw, baked potato, macaroni and cheese, pasta salad and fries.
Another favorite menu item is the Smokey Mountain Burger. It’s a mammoth mound of hand-pattied beef grilled to perfection. For the crowning touch, the beef is smothered with pulled pork, onions, cheese and smoked bacon.
Additional offerings include variations of the namesake burger and pulled pork sandwich. The Pig Sty sandwich contains a whopping pound of pulled pork, with the menu disclaimer that it’s “not for the faint of heart!”
As mentioned, the BLT has drawn me in on more than one occasion. Thick sliced of smoked bacon are encased in slices of homemade bread along with fresh tomato slices and tangy mayo. It’s the perfect light lunch or take-out dinner on the days when the restaurant is open later.
In the category entitled “local flavors” is another customer favorite. While grilled chicken tenders are found on restaurant menus around the globe, Smokey Mountain takes them to new heights.
Chicken tenders are hand-cut and fried to a golden brown, then smothered with homemade pepper jelly, melted cheddar cheese, smoked bacon and chopped tomatoes. If there’s such a thing as gourmet chicken tenders, this dish is it.
Other local favorites are The Pounder, another shareable dish; it’s a mammoth hamburger steak smothered in gravy and onions; a smaller version and beef tips with grilled peppers and onions.
My last favorite pick is the pulled pork spud. As the name suggests, it’s a large baked potato stuffed with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, sour cream, cheese and other toppings. There’s also a bacon and cheese spud and a variety of salads, ranging from garden to pulled pork and chicken, from which to choose.
As if all these delicious offerings weren’t enough, Daniels recently added two gourmet pasta dishes, shrimp and crawfish and Cajun chicken and crawfish to take advantage of seasonal fresh seafood. Topped with the restaurant’s creole cream sauce, both are fresh and filling.
Smokey Mountain Grille is located at 3799 Simpson Hwy. 49 in Mendenhall. The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. Lunch hours on Tuesday and Wednesday are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed for dinner; however, dinner hours on Thursday and Friday are 5 to 9 p.m., with the same lunch hours as previous days. Saturday hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Call 601-847-0340 to order to-go items or to obtain information on the restaurant’s catering menu.