Created for the lover of barbecued meat, Sonnys Real Pit Bar-B-Q is a chain restaurant that was founded by Sonny and Lucy Tillman in Gainesville, Florida, in 1968. This restaurant chain has slowly expanded northward and now has 152 locations in nine states: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.
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Sonnys menu is short and simple, with food options available in the following areas:
Barbecued Ribs- The mainstay of the Sonnys menu, the choices here include baby back ribs, Smokey St. Louis barbecue ribs, and Sweet and Smokey St. Louis Barbecue ribs.
Barbecued Beef, Steak, and Burgers- Barbecued beef, charbroiled steak, Barbecued beans and franks, and a charbroiled hamburger are listed among the choices in this area.
Barbecued Pork- Pulled pork and sliced pork are the available options in this part of the menu.
Chicken, Turkey, Catfish- For those who like the barbecue but want something with a little less fat, Sonnys offers options like barbecued chicken, chicken tenders, charbroiled chicken, smoked turkey, and catfish.
Soups & Salads- A full salad bar can be purchased separately or added to any meal for a small price. There is also a soup of the day available and Brunswick stew.
Combos- For those who cannot make up their minds, Sonnys offers some combo meals that include your choice of various combinations of pulled pork, ribs, barbecued chicken, and barbecued beef.
Each meal comes with your choice of side dishes (which can also be purchased separately) like baked beans, onion rings, garlic bread, corn nuggets, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, cole slaw, potato salad, okra, and French fries. Beverages include Coke products, iced tea, lemonade, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, milk, and beer. There is no actual bar, but depending on the location, some Sonnys restaurants will include a few products on draft plus some more in bottles. Others have nothing but bottled beer.
The interior of Sonnys isnt anything fancy, but it does attempt to keep diners comfortable and entertained while they eat. The inside of each restaurant features plenty of wood, along with a few plants and pictures, to give the restaurant a down- home feel. And to keep guests entertained, Sonnys restaurants have televisions placed in each corner of the restaurant, usually tuned to four different programs to allow for variety. The televisions are not necessarily tuned to sports either- they are set to whatever programs the staff wants to set them to. If you dont like what youre viewing and no one else objects, you can request that the television channel be changed. The staff is always quick to help and make your visit enjoyable.
Seating includes a combination of tables and booths. The typical Sonnys location can accommodate about 150 guests in the dining area.
Sonnys has at least one nice feature that helps keep people coming back: the low prices. Each meal at Sonnys sells for only about $4 to $8 total. The all you can eat salad bar sells for $2.99 and the all you can drink beverages retail for just $1.70. The total bill, for a family of four, will usually cost between $25 and $30.
Another strong point of Sonnys is the helpful and friendly staff. Always ready to serve, the waiters and waitresses are quick and courteous, prepared to replace anything that is not satisfactory without question and quick to refill your drinks without hesitation. Even when the restaurant has become a little more crowded and the pace is more hectic, the waiting staff is still friendly and ready to make your visit enjoyable.
Sonnys Real Pit Bar-B-Q is a restaurant with southern charm and authentic southern cooking. The Tillmans founded the restaurant with the goal of creating an establishment that was casual and that featured plenty of barbecued food prepared in authentic southern fashion. Even today, 36 years after it was first opened, Sonnys still prepares its meat in a hardwood smoker, giving it tenderness and a smoky flavor that is true to the form of southern barbecue.
I have visited Sonnys a few times and when I first came here, a few things about this restaurant surprised me. First of all, I was expecting to have my food served with the barbecue sauce already poured over the meat. This isnt the way they serve things at Sonnys. There are several different barbecue sauces to choose from and since each persons tastes and desires are a little different, Sonnys serves the meat plain, allowing each customer to add the type of sauce he/she likes best. The sauces offered include Sonnys Mild, Sonnys Sweet, Sonnys Smokin, Sonnys Sizzlin Sweet, and Sonnys Mustard Barbecue. Each table is equipped with a few bottles of sauce (not necessarily all 5 varieties, but at least three of four of them), just waiting to be added on top of your ribs or sandwich. My personal favorite is Sonnys Smokin. The sweeter sauces are a little too sweet, in my opinion. But this is exactly why Sonnys serves the food the way they do: free of any barbecue sauce so that each customer can choose what he/she likes best.
One other surprise that I experienced upon first visiting Sonnys is that the barbecued beef sandwich is made from rib meat. I ordered this sandwich thinking it would be prepared similar to other barbecued beef that I have tried in the past (more like chopped steak). I was surprised to find that it was prepared using the meat from beef ribs. It was still decent tasting- moist and tender-, and I especially liked the fact that it was served on garlic toast (like Sonnys other sandwiches). But on my second visit, I decided to try something a little different and I ordered barbecued pulled pork instead. I enjoyed this sandwich a little more.
As far as the food goes, one thing Im not too impressed with at Sonnys is the side dishes. I think they are a little too plain and unexciting when compared to the main courses. Like the crinkle cut French fries. They remind me of the frozen fries you can buy at the grocery store- practically tasteless and quite bland. The coleslaw and potato salad are also rather forgettable. But then again, maybe Sonnys meant it to be this way, to compensate for the fact that the barbecued meat dishes are so tasty and to keep ones taste buds from becoming too overwhelmed. Getting through a side dish of fries can prove to be a chore, but once you dive back into your barbecued ribs or barbecued sandwich, you will forget all about the blandness of your fries or other side dish.
Sonnys has a casual atmosphere that reminds me of eating dinner in your family room or den. With the wooden walls and tables, Sonnys has a home- like feel to it. The only thing missing is a corner fireplace. And I like the fact that Sonnys includes a few television sets to allow for at least a little bit of entertainment. The sound is usually turned off, but at least there is something to look at. There is background music, too, played on a continuous tape, and every time I have visited Sonnys, the featured tunes have been country.
Pricing is one of Sonnys stronger points, with most every meal on the menu selling for less than $8. This includes the all you can eat dinner options. With a really hearty appetite, one can feast on unlimited barbecued beef, pork, and chicken for only $7.99. On Sundays, this offer is reduced even further, to only $5.99 (this may vary from one location to the next). Prices like these make Sonnys only a dollar or two more expensive than a fast- food restaurant.
Sonnys presently has 152 restaurant locations. This is an impressive number, but unfortunately for many, Sonnys has locations in only nine states and they are all in the Southeast. And out of those 152 locations, 99 of them are in Florida. That leaves only 53 locations in the other eight states. This means that, with the right business strategy, Sonnys has plenty of room for successful expansion into more states. The food is cooked southern- style, but that shouldnt discourage potential customers from paying a visit. Whether you live in the northern states, the mountain west, or the northeast, you likely have a taste for barbecued food so Sonnys should be successful wherever it may go.
Sonny and Lucy Tillman no longer own the Sonnys chain that they founded more than 35 years ago. The Tillmans stepped down and decided to retire in the early 1990s, selling the restaurant chain to Bob and Jeff Yarmuth. The new ownership has expanded franchising opportunities but has kept the original recipe for preparing the meat intact. The Tillmans might be retired from the Sonnys system, but their food is well- liked and the new owners felt there was no need to alter a successful formula.
Overall, Sonnys is a pretty good restaurant chain. I really like the barbecued pulled pork and barbecued chicken and the ribs are juicy and delicious. Side items could use a few improvements, but the restaurant as a whole is still a good one. It offers great- tasting authentic southern barbecued meats with a warm, cozy atmosphere and an attentive, friendly staff. Add to that the low prices and you have an establishment that makes for a nice place to visit when the urge for barbecue takes over your senses.
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