Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Memphis BBQ

I read in a local rag that Memphis has been called “The Garden of Eatin’” and I could not agree more. There are so many things here that are so good. Some cities have hot dogs. Some have pizza. Some have both. Some are famous for steaks, some for their seafood. Memphis is famous for food, plain and simple. Now, I’ll admit that most folks think of barbeque when they think of Memphis food and we do seem to have the market cornered in that regard. I’m not saying there aren’t other cities and towns with good barbeque. I’m just saying that there aren’t many other places out there with the barbeque density that we enjoy.

Memphis is barbeque. It is not an exaggeration to say that there’s a barbeque joint on every corner here. If the hype is to be believed (and, in my experience to date, it pretty much is), most are quite good. What’s sad is that with so many different barbeque places in and around town, we should have really hit a few more. But we’ve made some favorites and you don’t always want BBQ, you know.

Today we hit one of the more popular barbeque joints in Memphis – Central BBQ, and that prompted me to write something about our barbeque adventures to date. What’s funny is that in any other town, this might seem like a lot of places, but we haven’t even scratched the surface. I could easily list 10-15 other places we want to try.

In alphabetical order, here are the barbeque places in the Memphis area I’ve eaten at and my impressions of them:

A&R BBQ: A&R is a local chain and we stopped at the Stage Road location. This is the only joint on this list that doesn’t get a favorable review. You know it’s probably not that bad in most other cities, but compared to any other barbeque place in town it just doesn’t stack up. The sauce is bad, the smoke flavor isn’t very strong and they don’t give you as much food as comparable establishments.

Brad’s Bar-BQ: This restaurant is located down the street from one of our very favorite barbeque joints (see Pit-N-Whistle below). In an effort to try different places we stopped at this place once. We were very impressed. It has a down-home Southern kind of feel. We’ve only eaten there once, but it left an impression. We want to go back.

Central BBQ: Today was our first time eating here. It’s often rated one of Memphis’ best barbeque joints and we’ve been told by many that it’s a great place. We weren’t disappointed. So far, I’d have to say it’s the best barbeque we’ve had. Their barbeque nachos are truly amazing. Their pulled pork has a great flavor (though it was a bit dry). Their sauces are really good. I’m sure we’ll be visiting Central any time we’re downtown.

Jim & Nick’s BBQ: Jim & Nick’s is an anomaly. They’re a chain from outside Memphis and it takes some balls to bring your sauce into BBQopolis. Yet here they are and they’re awesome. The barbeque is as good as any average place and the rest of their menu (burgers, etc.) is amazing – probably our very favorite restaurant in town.

Millington Pig (gone – now just Pig on Beale): This was the very first barbecue restaurant we ever ate at in the Memphis area. When we were house-hunting we wanted to try some “real Memphis barbeque!” Unfortunately the Millington Pig was good, but not good enough. They closed down a while ago (they were a spin-off restaurant of their main location on Beale Street) but the BBQ wasn’t too bad. Decent pulled pork and very good sized portions.

Neely’s BBQ: There are several Interstate and Neely’s BBQ restaurants throughout Memphis. The Neely family are Memphis food royalty. We at the location on Jefferson and you could see the effects of their recent Food Network affiliation. There are banners and signs up all over the place, but otherwise, the restaurant feels quite worn in. The food was good, but I guess I was expecting something grander given their Food Network ties. The pulled pork was all right, the sliced brisket was OK, but the sliced turkey was dry. The ribs that I had were wonderful and moist. My parents were with us and there ribs were a bit tough.

Pig-N-Whistle (both locations): Pig-N-Whistle has two locations in and near Memphis. The location in Bartlett is wonderful (despite what the reviews on Google say – don’t know what they’re smoking). I have not had a bad thing on their menu (and I’ve eaten just about everything on it). They offer their ribs in three styles – wet (with sauce), dry (no sauce) or muddy (sauce with dry rub on top). Muddy is favorite. Their barbeque nachos were, until today, my favorite in town. However, there is a location in Millington and their food is nowhere near as good as the Bartlett location. This is sad because it’s a lot closer to us and the building is really cool.

Post Office BBQ: This place is a favorite around the Navy base. Most everyone I work with loves this place and I finally got to go a few months ago when one of the senior enlisted in my shop retired. Truly, this is a fantastic barbecue joint. It probably has the best-tasting meat of any barbecue restaurant I’ve eaten. Their serving sizes are amazing. It comes in a close second to Central.

Rendezvous: Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous is probably THE place everyone thinks of when they think of Memphis barbeque. It’s a Memphis institution and it has earned its reputation honestly. I ate here for the first time just a couple of months ago when a friend was in town from Long Island. He wanted to eat there so that’s where we went. I think Rendezvous has the most unique rub and finishing style of any other rib joint in town, but I’ve not going to say they’re the best. They’re definitely worth the visit though. If you’re in town and have the chance, definitely stop in – you’re not only getting good food, you’re soaking in Memphis history. But, if you don’t get the chance, don’t sweat it. Go to the joint nearest you; you’ll be fine.

Rum Boogie: This is the first barbeque place we ate at on Beale St. I can’t even remember why we went downtown, but I remember my first pulled pork sandwich there. Until recently, I thought they had the best tasting pork in town. Their sauce is quite good. Portions are, like almost everywhere else, enormous. The greatest thing about Rum Boogie, though, is the atmosphere. Hanging from the ceiling, everywhere, are guitars signed by famous people. Our first time there, I sat under a made-for-metal shredder signed by Dimebag Darrell. A few minutes into lunch, a guy got on the small stage and started playing some acoustic blues. That’s Rum Boogie – great food and good music in a place filled with history.

Tops BBQ: Tops is a huge local chain. There are 14 locations in and around Memphis. Tops does a lot to define Memphis barbeque. They’re not the best, but they offer solid flavors in good portions. Their beans are great. They’re not my first choice, but they’re close to work and offer a solid choice if I need a barbeque fix.

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