A friend and I stopped by a gas station in Jonesborough for a terrific barbecue meal on a recent Saturday evening. Yes, you read correctly. The Parson’s Son BBQ is located off Jackson Boulevard in Jonesborough in an old gas station. And, yes, they still sell gasoline as part of Uncle Dan’s Gashouse.
The location in Tennessee’s oldest town is actually an evolution for this eatery, which is owned and operated by Tom and Cheyenne Harwell. According to a story printed on the front of their menu, the couple’s first venture into food service was a hot dog cart they operated at a local Lowe’s Home Improvement store. Later, they opened and operated a mobile food shack at Advanced Call Center Technologies in Boones Creek.
When they opened their barbecue restaurant in Jonesborough in October 2011, they decided to name their enterprise after Tom’s father, a pastor in Alabama who also wrote a weekly article for the local paper under the title “The Country Parson.” Naming the restaurant for him — he died in 2007 — was a way of honoring his memory.
The Parson’s Son BBQ looks like an authentic rustic barbecue joint you might see in any small town of the South. The two dining rooms are painted yellow with white trim, and the concrete floors are painted red. The exterior of the restaurant is painted beige with red trim, including a red picket fence. There are some chairs and benches on the front porch area near the entrance to the restaurant.
Customers order at the front counter upon entering the eatery. After placing orders, customers are free to choose to sit at one of the eatery’s tables or picnic bench. They can also pick up their orders once they’re prepared at a counter near the front of the restaurant. There are windows into the kitchen area, which lets diners monitor the progress of the preparation of their meals. There’s also a television set in one corner of the dining area.
The menu focuses on barbecue sandwiches and platters, as well as ribs and chicken. The eatery also offers some other sandwiches, Tex-Mex items such as nachos and pork tacos, as well as Soup Beans and Cornbread and Red Beans and Rice. The restaurant also offers some salads, including a Pork Topper Salad, Chef Salad and a Side Salad.
On Saturday evenings, the restaurant offers all-you-can-eat barbecue pork spareribs after 5 p.m. This special comes with three sides, bread and butter and all the ribs you care to eat.
My friend decided this was too good a deal to pass up. I considered some of the other options, including a Beef Brisket Platter, the Smoked Chicken Quarter Dinner and The Beast, which is a fourth-of-a-pound hot dog covered with pulled pork, baked beans, cole slaw and shredded cheese, all served on a large hot dog bun.
I decided to order a sampler platter, which came with pulled pork, smoked chicken and two sides.
The sides available include Potato Salad, Potato Chips, Mac and Cheese, Cole Slaw, Sour Slaw, Baked Beans, Red Beans and Rice and Soup Beans. On Thursdays, the restaurant also offers “Spud Day” featuring huge baked potatoes. Friday and Saturday evenings, the restaurant also offers huge Twice-Baked Potatoes.
I paired my meal with Mac and Cheese, as well as Soup Beans with chopped onions. My friend accompanied his meal with Baked Beans, Potato Salad and Cole Slaw.
Food is served on disposable plates with plastic utensils. The platters were garnished with sweet pickle chips and served with a small loaf of dark bread and butter. The bread seemed a novel addition to the meal, but I really liked it.
Diners add their own sauces to the meat. The options include Alabama White Sauce, Southern Belle, Georgia Peach, North Carolina Tang, Tennessee Summer, Lucifer’s Revenge and Satan’s Fury.
I liked Tennessee Summer, which is described as a spicy tomato-based sauce with intense flavors. I also liked the Lucifer’s Revenge, an even more intense version of Tennessee Summer.
I also appreciated the subtler sauces, including Georgia Peach, which is made with peaches and black pepper, as well as the Southern Belle, a dark red, thick sauce.
My friend enjoyed the ribs and requested three servings before getting his fill. Ribs are served in 8-ounce portions at a time for the all-you-can-eat special. The meat came away from the bone just beautifully. With a generous splash of the Southern Belle sauce, these tender, smoky ribs tasted great.
I also liked the pulled pork barbecue and smoked chicken, although I added some of the more intense sauces to these meats. I also made liberal use of the North Carolina Tang, a vinegar-based sauce.
Most of the sides were also a hit, including the Baked Beans and Soup Beans. The Baked Beans featured a dark, sweet flavor and were enhanced with an ample addition of smoky barbecued meat. The Soup Beans were also well-seasoned and tasted good with the strong white onions. The Cole Slaw, made with both green and purple cabbage, was a refreshing side item, as was the hearty mustard-based Potato Salad. I felt the Mac and Cheese fell just a little short of the mark. The al dente pasta used didn’t quite combine with the cheese sauce for the creamy, comfort-food nature I usually expect from this dish.
For dessert, we each indulged with a large, rich Brownie. The eatery also offers a Chocolate Chip Square, as well as a Fudge Monster, which begins with either the Brownie or Chocolate Chip Square, to which a topping of ice cream, chocolate syrup and whipped cream are added. The Brownies offered a wonderfully sweet conclusion to our visit.
If the whole family enjoys barbecue, you might want to try some of the restaurant’s “For the Whole Table” deals. The Family Feast Sampler, creatively served in a trash can lid, offers ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken, sliced brisket, four large sides and bread and butter. The Whole Hog Rib Sampler provides a whole strip of ribs, four large sides and bread and butter.
There’s also a menu for the kids, as well as other “Grab It and Go” combination meals. We were certainly impressed on our first visit and have even discussed returning with some friends for future visits. If you go, do let them know they were recommended.
AT A GLANCE: The Parson’s Son BBQ, 101 West Jackson Blvd., Jonesborough. 753-5757. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Friday: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Most menu items $15.99 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. Catering available.