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Chandler’s reviewed by CLAY
Today, I had the privilege of driving from Nashville to Winston-Salem, NC – not quite my hometown, but my home during college. I knew that I’d be passing through Knoxville on the way and decided to stop for lunch. At the recommendation of Eat It Tennessee Facebook fan Scott Woods, I decided to stop at Chandler’s Deli.
As far as I could tell from their website, Chandler’s is a barbecue restaurant- right up my alley. I plugged the address into the GPS and was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t far off I-40, and wouldn’t add much time to my trip. As I approached the restaurant, I realized that it wasn’t exactly in the ritzy part of town. Now, don’t get me wrong- this can sometimes be a very good thing for a restaurant, especially a BBQ joint. The building that Chandler’s occupies is very obviously an old Taco Bell, which is apparent from both inside and out.
I entered Chandler’s and was immediately struck by the fact that this was not the cleanest, largest, nor most modern establishment. Again I thought, “not reassuring, but it could be a good sign for a BBQ place”. I stepped up to the counter which was like having a cafeteria line at an old Taco Bell counter. However, I was definitely thinking inside the bun today. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, collard greens, and fried okra. It is a barbecue joint, after all. When I ordered, the friendly woman behind the counter informed me that she would “have to heat some pork up” for me. I said OK, but I was a little surprised that a supposed BBQ restaurant wouldn’t have pulled pork fresh and hot during the lunch rush. As I looked around I noticed that almost everyone else in the restaurant was eating fried chicken. For a moment I reconsidered my order, but decided to stick with my guns- I was craving some good BBQ.
Since she was heating up the pork for me, the server offered to bring it to my table (assuming I could find one in the small dining room). I took my veggies and tea, paid, and found a table in the corner underneath a pair of signed photos of Derek Dooley and the new University of Tennessee basketball coach (Editor’s note: Cuonzo Martin). I sat down and started eating my veggies. The okra was good, but slightly over breaded, and the greens were also good, but a little less leafy than I prefer. Overall, solid side items for a hole in the wall barbecue joint. After five minutes or so, my sandwich arrived. Unfortunately, it was not quite what I had been hoping for. If this is the best BBQ that Knoxville has to offer, it is no wonder that Lane Kiffin left town (Editor’s note: Cheap shot, Clay).
The BBQ wasn’t terrible, but it was far from great. The flavor was a nice blend of smoky and sweet, but the sauce couldn’t hide some dryness in the pork itself. Unfortunately the pork also a good deal of fat and chewy gristle- and maybe some pork bone that had been smoked to the point of being soft. I know that pulled pork isn’t exactly “lean” but these bits of tough, gelatin like chewiness do not a good barbecue sandwich make. There were a couple of bites that I couldn’t get down, and I had to resort to picking through the pork with a fork to ensure that I avoided unsavory forkfuls.
I left full, but not impressed. While nothing at Chandler’s was terrible, nothing was especially good either- from the food to the setting, to the atmosphere- everything left me slightly disappointed. I wish I had the chance for a mulligan on my lunch order. Based on a visual survey of the dining room, everyone else was really enjoying their fried chicken. Perhaps a proper order would have included a few pieces of fried chicken (which did look delicious), and a couple of other sides- of which there are many (and Yelpers recommend the mac-n-cheese). I hate to give a poor review to a reader recommendation, but I just wasn’t that impressed. I would welcome the chance to try Chandler’s again with a regular like Scott, and I have a feeling that with the proper order, my meal would have been significantly more enjoyable. Unfortunately, this visit simply missed the mark.
That said, we always welcome reader suggestions for delicious, unique, fun, or adventurous restaurants. Keep them coming and we’ll do what we can to give them a try!