Where: Pepper Jack's, 3720 Taft Highway, Signal Mountain
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price range: $2.95 (cup of soup)-$15.95 (fried Gulf shrimp plate, with two sides and cornbread)
Pepper Jack's, a new Signal Mountain eatery (in the former Waycrazy's Bar-B-Que building), is establishing its own tradition of fine barbecue pork and beef and tacking on a few unique additions.
We arrived midafternoon on a Saturday. The lobby was fragrant with the smell of hickory smoke, delicious roasting meats and savory cooking.
We were met at the door by our hostess and given a choice of sitting in the cozy bar or in the dining room. I like the quiet, so we went with the dining room.
We kicked off the whole affair with Pepper Jack's Blazin' Rings of Fire appetizer ($5.95), a basket filled with freshly sliced sweet onion rings dipped in a cornmeal-jalapeno batter that comes just short of setting your mouth ablaze but goes well beyond the common "O-ring."
I ordered the beef brisket with sides of mashed potatoes and fried okra ($12.95). My wife spied the Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner with two sides ($9.95), generous portions of juicy chicken breast tenders in a crunchy, tasty home-style batter. For sides, she chose red pepper pasta salad and fresh-cut fries.
My son decided on the Open Range burger, a thick ground-beef patty cooked medium and topped with barbecue sauce, grilled jalapenos, Applewood bacon and crispy onion straws. A side of fries completed the plate ($8.95).
My beef brisket looked overdone, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it well-smoked and juicy. The mashed potatoes were home-style with plenty of lumps and gravy, and the okra was good, fresh and crisply battered.
My wife raved about the chicken tenders, declaring them some of the best she's had. The piece I tasted was so tender it struck me as delicate, and I wished I'd added a third side of that zippy red pepper pasta salad.
The burger, which my son devoured before I got a bite, was gauged as "awesome" and plentiful enough to satisfy a 20-year-old's appetite. We could not finish the heaping piles of fries that came with two of our three orders.
Pepper Jack's menu is expansive with a pepper theme. The items aren't cheap, and some plates are even a little expensive, but quantities and quality match well enough.
Appetizers range from chips and salsa ($3.95) to fried pickle spears ($5.95) or a dozen wings ($9.95), wet or dry. There are also offerings of stuffed peppers ($6.95), onion fries ($5.95) and stuffed potato skins ($7.95).
The soup and salad menu lists 10 treats that range from a cup of soup of the day ($2.95 cup, $4.95 bowl) or Pepper Jack's chili ($3.50 cup, $4.95 bowl) to a Caesar salad with blackened shrimp or two varieties of chicken salads (all $9.95).
Entrees include a 10-ounce hamburger steak ($11.95); Pepper Jack's chicken breast, topped with sautéed sweet onions, mushrooms and pepper-jack cheese ($11.95); old-fashioned meatloaf ($12.95); vegetable plate of four sides ($7.95); fried chicken, which consists of half a marinated chicken that's breaded and deep fried ($11.95); a Gulf shrimp plate of jumbo butterflied and hand-breaded shrimp ($15.95); and a chicken potpie ($7.95, or $8.95 with one side and $9.95 with two sides).
Pepper Jack's also offers a blue-plate special with the meat of the day and two or three sides ($8.95 and $9.95).
Those who come for the smokehouse goodies can pick plates of pulled pork and two sides ($11.95), pulled chicken and two sides ($11.95) or the brisket, a pulled pork or pulled chicken sandwich on a kaiser roll, with sides of coleslaw and fries ($7.95). I was a bit disappointed not to see ribs on the menu.
If a sandwich is your target, Pepper Jack's has traditional and signature items to offer, including a BLT, chicken salad sandwich, and chicken sandwich (all $6.95); a French dip ($8.95); deep fried hot dog ($4.95); Junkyard Dog ($8.95); hamburger ($6.95, with extra charges for cheese, bacon, sautéed sweet onions and mushrooms or chili); the Pepper Jack burger with tomato, lettuce, a Ring of Fire, and pepper jack cheese ($8.95); a patty melt on Texas toast ($8.95); or a turkey burger ($7.95).
Pepper Jack's also caters and has pork, chicken, wings, meat loaf and sizes in large, carry-out quantities.
The service was prompt and friendly, and our server regularly checked on our drinks and was helpful in describing the dishes and specials of the day. A pork pot roast was the meat of the day when we visited.
The exterior of the building is a log-cabin design with a spacious interior, split between a bar side with high-top tables and a dining room with traditional tables and booths.
The decor is rustic with old enamel signs, appliances and a military-themed area. There's parking in front by the door and a large lot to one side.
Pepper Jack's was a hit with me and my family. It was a 20-mile drive from where we live, but we decided the relatively short, scenic road trip was well worth it. We'll definitely be back, and soon, for some smoky, tasty goodness.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at facebook.com/ben.benton1. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/BenBenton.