By Gary Nager

While there are some very good places in our area that some members of our staff at the New Tampa Neighborhood News are lukewarm about, there is no doubt in this reporter’s mind that Sonny’s BBQ, the 45-year-old Gainesville, FL-based “real pit” barbecue chain, isn’t one of them.

In fact, there wasn’t one person in the office who wasn’t excited when I said I was doing a story on the Wesley Chapel Sonny’s, which just happens to have been and continues to be owned by my friends and former neighbors in Hunter’s Green — Jim and Kristina Hoff (photo, right) — since the location in front of the Publix-anchored Hollybrook Plaza on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. (just south of S.R. 54) first opened 14 years ago.

Everyone in the office rushed to check out the menu online to pick their favorites. Office manager Nikki Bennett got her half chicken lunch plate, sales and advertising assistant AnnMarie Beck got to enjoy her pulled pork lunch (graphic artist Porsha Lemos was beaming about her pulled pork sandwich), staff writers Matt Wiley and John McGurl both slathered plenty of sauce on their pulled beef brisket sandwiches and yours truly had tastes of my two favorites — the rib sampler combo and the High Springs chicken (I love Sonny’s sizzlin’ sweet and other BBQ sauces, but I order the chicken without the sauce) topped with cheese and mushrooms.

I got the rib sampler in order to enjoy my Sonny’s favorite — the meaty, tender signature baby back ribs — but also to sample, for the first time, the new classic dry-rub ribs, which I really enjoyed dipping into the sweet BBQ sauce to offset the spiciness of the dry rub.

Speaking of sauces, you can take home all four kinds of Sonny’s bottled BBQ sauces — mild, smoky, sweet and sizzlin’ sweet — as well as the dry rub, and of course, Sonny’s also offers the fresh and delicious “Garden of Eatin’” for those dining in, as well as chicken Caesar and “big” salads both to go and to dine in-house. And, you can’t beat Sonny’s delicious corn on the cob, BBQ baked beans, French fries, homemade corn or garlic bread and other sides, like fresh veggies, plus homemade sweet tea.


Need A Cold One?

Back in 2010, the Hoffs were among the first Sonny’s owners to add the chain’s new “lunch counters,” where you can sit in comfort and watch big, flat-screen TVs while enjoying an ice cold beer, a glass of wine and premium liquor selections. There are even four varieties of great new chicken wings to enjoy and great all-day Happy Hour specials — just don’t call the lunch counter a “sports bar.”

“We separated the lunch counter from the dining room, so families can still be comfortable,” says Kristina. “You can get alcoholic beverages in the dining room, too, but adults who want to enjoy their food and drinks away from children really seem to enjoy the separate lunch counter.”

Jim and Kristina hope that now that the widening of both S.R. 54 and BBD has been completed, more of their regular customers — like the Neighborhood News staff — will start returning more…regularly.

“It’s been a long haul with the road,” says Jim. “We opened the lunch counter just as the construction really got rolling. Even some of our regulars didn’t know we had it because they just couldn’t handle the traffic to get here.”

In the ad on pg. 32, you’ll find a great deal on Sonny’s Special Feast for Four. And, Sonny’s is a great place to bring the family for Mother’s Day.

Sonny’s BBQ is located at 5324 BBD. For more information, call 994-8989 or visit

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