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Four Days Without Green Vegetables

BBQ Shop

BBQ Shop

This post should be sub-titled “aka my last business trip to Memphis.”

As both of you readers are probably aware, I enjoy the porkier things in life.  Barbeque is delicious and inherently porky, so it rates pretty highly in my book.  A few times a year, I have the unique pleasure of spending several days in Memphis.  Naturally, in a town known for its barbeque, there are going to be a few standouts.

We had three and a half days in Memphis and only so many meals to eat.  The strategy: hit some old favorites, hit some new joints, and not rupture our stomachs.

Day 1: Arrival.  We go from the airport to Cozy Corner for lunch.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that the best barbeque can come from the most unassuming places.  Located in what would otherwise look like an abandoned strip mall and with signage that looks like it survived the ’70s with barely its dignity intact, Cozy Corner meets the “unassuming” criteria.  The menu featured the usual suspects, with one standout, a barbequed game hen, which had been recommended even though it was a departure from the usual fare.  What can I say – it was good – but did not bowl me over with deliciousness.  It had a solid, smoky flavor that did not overwhelm the bird.  My compatriots ordered sliced barbeque sandwiches (the only way their pork comes) which were good.  I dunno – I expected more out of this place, given the recommendations.

For dinner, we went to Rendezvous. What can I say about this place that has not already been said? If you’re a barbeque aficionado, you have probably heard of it.  Rightfully or not, they have earned the reputation as the originator of the Memphis style dry-rubbed, charcoal-cooked ribs.  We ordered the lamb ribs and barbeque nachos to start and everyone got a rack of ribs.  The ribs taste distinctively of charcoal, not overwhelming but prominent.  The rub contributes some flavor and texture, but their two sauces are welcome additions.  On this visit, the ribs were better than the last several times, just a bit more moist and meaty – your enjoyment may be a matter of which rack you get at what part of the night, which is not necessarily a good thing.  

Day 2: Lunch from Fino’s Italian grocery, another recommendation from a local source.  Quality Italian subs.

For dinner, we went to our old favorite, BBQ Shop.  I could rave for days about their barbeque.  We ordered the barbeque nachos, the best I’ve had in Memphis.  We skipped the BBQ Spaghetti.  Although they claim to hold the original recipe, I just can’t get into it.  This may be the only time that being Italian and a barbeque lover comes into conflict, because I don’t find this uniquely Memphian dish to be good.   The irony is that I love BBQ nachos – perhaps if I was Mexican or Texan I would feel differently about it.  I recommend the ribs and pork combo plate, which comes with, well, ribs and chopped pork.  Their chopped pork, which can dry out if not sauced, is mistifyingly moist and only comes with a squirt of sauce on top.  The ribs are smoky, meaty and moist.  Their two sauces are delicious; the hot has enough heat to tickle the tongue and the regular sauce has a nice bite to it.  And to top it off, they have an excellent beer selection. 

Day 3: Unremarkable lunch from the closest thing to the office, then Central BBQ for dinner.  For the last dinner, we wanted to close out with this highly recommended place.  The first thing I noticed when we arrived was that they had real wood stacked outside the smoker – always a good sign.  Then I noticed the entire smoking operation was surrounded by razor and barbed wire – security is apparently a priority.  We ordered a raft of food – smoked and fried wings, our third round of barbeque nachos, then I split an order of ribs and chopped pork.

The wings, served whole, are smoked before being fried and sauced.  I have to say I really like the smoked and fried technique – you get the best  of the smoke flavor and the crispy texture of a fried wing.  Their wing sauce is tangy and hot without being overpowering.  Their nachos are unusual in that they have a coating of cheese sauce and unmelted shredded cheese – slightly off-putting, but that was cured once we dug into the food.  The ribs were great – perhaps the best ribs of the week by only a slight margin over BBQ Shop – with a rich smoky flavor that did justice to their porky essence.  The pulled pork was solid – a little on the dry side, which was a disappointment after the ribs.  They also have 22oz bottles of Fat Tire.

Day 4: Breakfast at Bryant’s BBQ and Breakfast.  This is a place worth adding to your Memphis itinerary and further proof that anyplace with work trucks in the parking lot at 7am probably serves good, hearty food.  They apparently don’t serve barbeque anymore, only breakfast, which is why you want to be there anyway.  They have the largest selection of biscuits – everything from the standard egg and cheese to fried pork tenderloin.  The country ham biscuit comes with a slab of ham the size of your hand, which is great, but I recommend the fried chicken biscuit and a fried pie.

The verdict: BBQ Shop reigns supreme for your barbeque needs.  The ribs, the nachos, the pork, the beer – it all works together, deliciously.  I don’t think I can go to Memphis without going here, it’s that good.  In a town known for barbeque, where you can likely get some delicious barbeque right around the corner from wherever you happen to be, that’s a feat.  Of course, there may be a few challengers that I need to (re)visit.

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