Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 62
70 Years of
Our food columnist, Fred
Sauceman, writes of smoky
ham, secret sauce, and blue
Stroy and photos by Fred Sauceman
The Old Elizabethton Highway winds
through and bisects Bullock's Hollow,
revealing beauty around every gentle
curve. In some places, the hillsides that
hug the highway are almost straight
up. The hollow fits the classic definition
of the word perfectly. In East Tennessee, we
often call them "hollers." Carter and Sullivan counties
are full of them, many named for the families who have
occupied the land for generations.
In the flat spaces cradled by those hills, families take
advantage of precious sunlight by growing magnificent
gardens. Rows of half-runner and Kentucky Wonder
green beans, and others bearing the names of families
who have nurtured them longer than anyone can remember, grow alongside yellow and white corn and yellow summer squash. Those hill-hugged gardens differ
very little from the ones Native Americans planted long
before white settlement of the area. Along the gentler
sloping hillsides, wild turkeys forage for food and occasionally saunter across the road.
Cross Indian Creek a couple of times and you're nearing Ridgewood Barbecue. It may have a Bluff City address, but there's no evidence of a town in sight. You're
in the country, in the hills. Round a curve in Sullivan
County and there it is, set tightly against a wooded hillside. On a good day, when the wind is right, hickory
smoke gives you a half-mile signal that barbecue is near.
Drive a little closer and you hear the crunch of wheels
meeting gravel. Vehicles of all descriptions, with license
plates from all over America, converge here, no matter
Larry Proffitt, above right,
watches daughter Lisa do some
the time of day.
As the late Ridgewood matriarch Grace Proffitt once
said, "If you have good food, folks'll find you."
Ridgewood is known for its barbecued fresh ham,
cooked in a pit over hickory wood for about nine hours.
But there's an unusual prelude to a plate of barbecue
that is drawing just about as much attention. It doesn't
come to the table in a cruet. It doesn't come "on the
side" in a small plastic cup. It doesn't come in a squeeze
bottle. Blue cheese dressing at The Ridgewood is served
in a bowl, lipping full. The sizes are small and large, although large and extra large would be more accurate.
You don't delicately and slowly pour this blue cheese
dressing over a salad. In fact, there is usually no salad.
When you order blue cheese dressing at The Ridgewood,
the dressing is the focus, not the accoutrement. It's not
intended to be poured over anything. Surrounding that
bowl of creamy, sharp dressing is a corona of saltine
crackers. Those crackers are your shovels, your tools. You
dunk them deeply into that bowl of blue cheese dressing,
getting as much of the product on there as you can.
"My father had a great push to create something
new," says second-generation owner Larry Proffitt. To
Jim Proffitt's list of creations-barbecue sauce and pit
design-add blue cheese dressing. Its reputation has
grown so over the years that it almost rivals barbecue as
a Ridgewood calling card. Before it became an item all
its own, it was listed on the menu as Roquefort dressing for "Head Lettuce Salad" and relegated to secondary
status in parentheses. Eventually it shed the parentheses
and the French name.