Saturday, December 7, 2013

Get Your BBQ Fix in Memphis - Restaurant Reviews

If you're wondering why this blog post is late, "Icemageddon", the weather system that was forecast to produce the Apocalypse across the DFW area, is to blame.  While it wasn't quite the Apocalypse, it did knock out my cable, and my internet with it, for nearly 2 days, which made it sort of difficult to put up a blog post.  But don't take my word for it; take a look at these photos to see what we've had to deal with.  I'm just glad we didn't lose our power.

Anyway, with that out of the way, my mom wanted to visit my sister and my two nephews over Thanksgiving, and being the road trip freak that I am, jumped at the opportunity to offer to drive her up there.  And a road trip to Memphis means one thing - time for some good BBQ.  For the uninitiated, as opposed to the Texas variety, BBQ in Memphis means pulled pork and ribs, with a sweet yet tangy vinegar based sauce.  We hit up my two favorite joints in Memphis - the Germantown Commissary and Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q.  Read my review of both after the jump.

First up...

Germantown Commissary

2290 South Germantown Road, Germantown, TN 38138
9 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday; 11 am-8 pm Sunday
Directions:  From I-240, take exit 15A/Poplar Avenue East.  Proceed to Germantown Road and turn right.  The Commissary itself is on the left, just past the railroad tracks.  Parking is usually allowed in the large church parking lot across the street - check the sign, however, before doing so.  Valet parking is also available.

The first time I wanted to come here, I was scared off by the line running out the door and into the street.  While I'm willing to travel far for good food, I'm not willing to wait in line an hour just for a table.  Then I found out about the take-out counter.  Although you have to fight through the crowd when you open the door, there's no waiting at the take-out counter, and since my sister lives only 15 minutes away, it was definitely the way to go for us.  My order was a traditional Memphis favorite - a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw, and a side order of deviled eggs.
If you order a pulled pork sandwich in Memphis, you must get it with cole slaw on top.  Trust me on this one.  I'm not a fan of cole slaw, but it works with this sandwich.

This was a simple meal, but delicious.  The cole slaw had just the right amount of creaminess without being excessively rich, with a good, fresh crunch on the cabbage.  The pork was tender and had a good amount of smoke flavor.  The sauce was of a good consistency, sweet but not excessively so, and had a little bit of tang from the vinegar base.  I like my food spicy, so my only wish was that it had a little more kick.  The deviled eggs were cooked well, though I would have liked just a little more dijon mustard for a bit more kick.  I've had their potato salad on a previous visit, and it is an excellent mayonnaise-based recipe. 

A colleague of mine said the ribs are really good at the Commissary.  I'll have to try them the next time I visit my sister.

Rating:  4 stars - I recommend either going early or going through the take-out line to short circuit the wait for a table.


Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q


(Sorry for the picture quality - it was already dark by the time we got there)
150 W. Stateline Road, Southaven, MS 38671
11 am-10 pm Monday-Wednesday; 11 am-11 pm Thursday; 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday; 11 am-7 pm Sunday
Directions: from downtown Memphis, take I-240 south and then I-55 south, cross the state line into Mississippi, and take exit 291 (Stateline Road).  Turn left (east).  The restaurant is on your left.  Trust me, you can't miss the sign with the neon pig.

Those of you who watch Food Network have probably seen the show "Down Home with the Neelys".  Jim Neely's claim to fame is this BBQ joint.  The original location is actually on 3rd Street in Memphis, but I prefer the location in Southaven.  It's the same menu, and there's never a crowd at this location, even on a Saturday night. 

To compare apples to apples, and just because, well, I like pulled pork sandwiches with cole slaw, I had the same thing here, with a side of beans.  My wife and I also shared a basket of seasoned fries.
Yes, that's a big a** sandwich.

I have to admit being a little disappointed with the pulled pork.  While tender, it was almost completely devoid of smoke flavor, and had a slightly stale taste.  It was as though it had been cooked for lunch, and then left under a warmer all day.  The pork was much better the last time I came here, so maybe I just came on a bad day.  The cole slaw was good, though, and gave the sandwich a nice crunch (and oddly, they put it on the bottom of the sandwich instead of the top).  And the sauce was just fine, with nice sweet and tangy notes, though again, I was wishing for just a little bit more heat.  The beans are really pork-n-beans, with chunks of pulled pork greeting you every couple of bites.  Beware, however, that these beans have a heavy dose of molasses, which makes them REALLY sweet.  I like sweet beans, but if you don't, you might want to consider ordering a different side.  The seasoned fries had a nice kick, and while not crisp, had a good texture and were obviously hand made.  I've had the onion rings on a previous visit, which were excellent - thick and crisp, with a hearty breading, perfect for dipping in ketchup.

Neely's most famous dish is another Memphis tradition, Bar-B-Q spaghetti, which is spaghetti with pulled pork in BBQ sauce.  Never had it, but I'm intrigued, and plan on giving it a try the next time I'm in town.

Rating:  3 1/2 stars.  The disappointing pork really warrants 3 stars, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt since it was so much better last time.

Other BBQ Joints to Try

Attempting to sample every BBQ joint in Memphis is about as futile as resisting the Borg, but if you're going to be here for several days, get a recommendation from a local (or someone at the office that's from/spends a lot of time in Memphis) and try it out.  The only other place I've tried is the Cordova location of Corky's, a local chain with several locations throughout Memphis.  It's been probably 3 years since I've been there, but my recollection is that it was good, but not great.  In other words, I wouldn't make a trip to Memphis just to go there, though the downtown location might be better.

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