One site that will always catch the eye of any barbecue enthusiast out on the road is a jumbo barbecue pit in a parking lot, smoke billowing out. And that is exactly why I was forced to make the twenty five minute trip out to Loven Fresh Baking Company and Smokehouse Barbecue in Oakland, TN. I had passed by the little bbq shop with the big bbq pit on my way to see family in Selmer, TN. Unable to stop at the time, I would eventually make the trip with my wife and kids. It’s actually a bakery, deli and bbq shop all combined into one. The store itself was tiny, with a few wooden picnic tables outside for seating. But I liked it. It reminded me of picnics, family reunions and church pot-lucks, which are all the heart and soul of American barbecue anyway. Sitting next to a hickory log pile and the large smokin’ pit provided a front row seat right in the heart of the barbecue action.
Stepping into Loven Fresh bakery was like taking a trip back in time to a charming, wholesome, country store. Shelves were lined with goodies ranging from molasses to fruit preserves to an assortment of gourmet flavored oils, no doubt intended for dipping some of that fresh-baked bread into. Other shelves featured Loven Fresh’s freshly baked breads, cakes and the little gem that started it all for owners Chris and Angela McKnight-banana nut bread. Their bio on the back of the store’s flyer tells the story of Chris making banana nut bread loaves for Angela to sell at work. Orders reached a few thousand within only a few months. Since then, he opened Loven Fresh and hasn’t stopped multiplying loaves since! I was there for the ‘que, but it’s hard to resist homemade banana nut bread, so I took a loaf home to the family. That poor loaf never had a chance! Once the boys got hold of it, the bread lasted for about five minutes. I enjoyed a couple of slices with cream cheese spread between-yum! It was moist and zingy with spices. The pungent cinnamon and other spices make this loaf stand out from the rest. A slice of this banana nut bread and a cup of freshly ground locally roasted coffee would be a delightful way to start the day.
It’s true that there’s a lot of loven’ in this oven, but I was more interested in what was in the pit. Chris had hooked up with a competition bbq team, eventually honing his own craft. As a result, the unique bakery-deli-bbq shop was born. We’ve talked bread. Now let’s talk shoulder. The meat had a deep and obvious smoke ring, which was evidence that it had been smoked for many hours. It was also very tender and had really good bark or crust developed from spices and smoke on the outside of the Boston butt. These crusty bits were mixed throughout the pulled pork-just the way I like it. That way, I get a nice contrast of textures-crispy, chewy, tender, juicy. The sauce had some good tang, the right amount of sweet and worked well with the crunchy slaw to compliment the smoky sandwich.
Barbecue shops are notoriously inconsistent. But the smoky pork sandwiches I’ve grabbed on return visits to Loven Fresh have still been-crispy, chewy, tender, juicy and oh so smoky. Each time I return, the little bakery-bbq shop seems to have grown up a little. Soon the pit was moved into a covered patio adjacent to the building, where smoke still billows out, drawing in bbq lovers. In July of 2014 I decided to take the boys to a massive inflatable water slide called the Midsouth Family Fun Park in Eads, TN. Since Oakland was just a few miles down 64, where to eat lunch was never a question in my mind. The trip was a win-win situation. The boys got to slide and I got some ‘que at Loven Fresh! All three of us had the barbecue pork sandwich with sauce and slaw. The meat was still on “que.” They’d also built a charming patio with a fountain and some plants.
I am already planning yet another visit. See, I asked Chris if the buns for the bbq sandwiches were baked in-house. But trying to bake fresh buns for the thousands of bbq sandwiches he cranks out on a regular basis is not plausible, given that Chris is the owner-operator of this bakery-bbq shop. He’s keeping it small in size, but great in quality. One could, however, special order fresh buns and pick up smoked pork shoulder by the pound with sauce and slaw to take home. In fact, Chris can bake an assortment of breads. Now I can imagine what some of my fellow bbq connoisseurs might be thinking; that a traditional bbq sandwich is made with a very simple burger bun-nothing fancy. This way, the smoked pork can be the star of the show. But imagine if you could get that simple burger bun freshly baked and piled with freshly smoked pork shoulder, homemade bbq sauce and slaw! Could anything be better? In fact, that’s exactly what I plan to do on my next trip to Loven Fresh. I want to experience the ultimate oven fresh, Loven Fresh bbq sandwich!
Overall, Loven Fresh is just one of those rare bbq gems, where the owner-operator serves up passion on bun. Still small, still passionate about great food. The meat, the smoke, the aroma, the charm-Loven Fresh Baking Company, Barbecue and Deli is the little bakery-bbq shop with big flavor; and a must stop for ‘que-lovin’ folks like me.
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