Pulled pork sandwiches at Martin's Bar-B-Que. | Photo by Steve Coomes

I’ve seen a lot of buildings repurposed as restaurants, but Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (3408 Indian Lake Drive) might be the biggest and most radically made over among them.

What once was the elegant Indian Springs Golf Course clubhouse, the edifice maintains its manor house exterior (mostly), while getting a BBQ shack interior. Ceilings are gutted to bare joists and walls are covered with wood paneling, distressed metal wainscoting and de rigueur kitsch of license plates and Coca-Cola signage. Floors are a mix of concrete and wood, tables are hardwood, and chairs are backless metal stools. Not quite Spartan, but spare even in the hyper-casual sense so common to restaurants these days. The net effect is thematically appropriate, but acoustically reflective. And like so many new restaurants, once a crowd fills in and the music volume rises, voices must be elevated for conversation.

And it’s big, seating about 200 inside and likely half that outside on an expansive deck that, sadly, won’t see any use for many months.

I and a guest visited Sunday for its soft opening, when menus were shared for viewing purposes only. (Click here to view. Prices are not listed, but you can eat here easily for $15-$20, but spend more as well.) The drill saw servers deliver random samples of menu items, a format I really liked when The Fat Lamb conducted its softy two weeks ago. This time it worked unevenly for our table, which didn’t get a terribly wide variety of tastes. This isn’t a criticism, only an acknowledgement that we missed out on some signature barbecue dishes.

We tasted a pulled pork sandwich with slaw—a garnish I like a lot, but which keeps the diner from tasting the meat itself first. Best I could determine, the pork was lightly smoky and vinegary. The smoked chicken wings were delicious, as was the ground brisket burger. The broccoli side salad was excellent, but other sides such as cole slaw, potato salad and pinto beans were ordinary and under-seasoned.

We saw tables around us receive metal pans piled high with pork, smoked brisket and a half chicken, but none came our way. Not intentionally, I’m certain, it just happened. When an absence of food extended to 25 minutes, we stopped a server and asked if he could bring us something to taste. He returned with a sheet pan containing eight small wedges (large bites) of brisket taco, which were good, but since we were reserving some gut space for ribs and brisket, we told him we didn’t really need eight. (Again, no harm, it was a training date.)

After a shared chunk of coconut cake, we were plenty full and decided to leave without waiting for the other hoped for goodies. I’m loathe to ask for much of anything at soft openings, let along demand it—yet we saw some of that entitlement mindset—so we left grateful that we’d not be cooking that evening.

Martin’s BBQ Joint has a terrific reputation in Tennessee, so there’s no reason to assume it won’t duplicate that here. The staff was friendly, hospitable and genuinely willing to serve. When you get people with those inherent qualities, the machinations of restaurant service are easy to teach and execute. So I have high hopes for the place.

But I still wish I’d have had some ribs!

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