By Laura Gallagher
We live in a cookie-cutter world where even small towns feature a list of fast-food joints and chain retailers as long as your arm. So it’s a relief when you chance upon a restaurant with a little personality. In Decherd, a small town in southern Tennessee, that place is Larry’s Bar-B-Q at the Wagon.
The concrete pig with ‘Larry’s’ painted on the side is the first clue that you are in for a treat. Long ribbons of smoke curling above the smoker in front of the restaurant are your second.
Sandwiched between a Shell station and a strip mall, this establishment is a cross between a country barbecue joint and a cozy café. The prefab building owner Tammy Keese bought from the high school is painted green with white shutters. There’s a friendly patio on the front where guests can watch the cook fire the barbecue, watch TV and check e-mail, or, on Fridays, hang out and listen to live music.
Inside, family pictures, antique cooking utensils and numerous pictures of pigs cover the walls. There’s only room for five bistro-style tables. Customers place their orders at the half-door that opens straight into the kitchen.
Larry’s Bar-B-Q was started by Tammy’s dad and has been in business since 1971, but the location on Decherd Highway has just celebrated its second anniversary. Tammy still serves lots of old-timers who were friends of Larry’s.
“This is their place,” she says. “They can come and relax, find someone who’ll speak to them and give them a smile.”
Still, most come for the food. Smoked meats anchor the menu, and you can’t go wrong with any of the selections. Cook Billy Hendon adds a gentle touch to the Boston butt, beef brisket, pork spareribs and chicken he tends. All the sides are made in-house, many with recipes that remain family secrets.
“Daddy never shared his recipes,” Tammy says. “I still keep them in a lockbox at the bank.”
Only a handful of relatives have ever made the slaw and barbecue sauce. The mustard-vinegar-sugar “poolroom slaw” recipe comes from Tammy’s great-grandmother Emma Fraley and resembles a chow-chow relish. It’s the perfect complement to the pulled pork and slaw dogs. The tomato-based barbecue sauce starts sweet but finishes with some heat.
Other offerings include baked beans, potato salad, Italian green beans and turnip greens. There’s also a list of homemade pies and cookies that will make your mouth water.
“I don’t even have a freezer right now,” Tammy says. “We make everything fresh. I’d rather say, ‘We sold out,’ than serve you something that is not fresh.”
Larry’s Bar-B-Que at the Wagon is located at 1941 Decherd Blvd. in Decherd. Their phone number is (931) 967-9163, and hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Plate dinners with two sides range from $5.25 for pork to $8.25 for ribs.