Central BBQ – Memphis, TN (Downtown)

Name: Central BBQ
Date: 5/16/19
Address: 147 E Butler Ave, Memphis, TN 38103
Order: Rib combo with brisket, pork, collards, chips (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: I should have listened to Speedy…

Speedy: …a lesson you can never learn often enough…

Monk: Actually, to be more precise, I should have consulted Speedy’s review of the original Central BBQ location to help figure out my order and that specifically I shouldn’t have ordered the brisket. To not bury the lede, I found the rest of the meal a bit underwhelming as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

This year for the Memphis in May Barbecue Championship (aka Barbecue Fest), I wanted to actually go to a Memphis barbecue restaurant (or two) outside of the festival. So first things first, as soon as we (our current neighbors and former Memphis residents, Mrs. Monk, and I) landed we headed to Central BBQ’s downtown location for a late lunch before checking into our our AirBnB. And by downtown, this Central BBQ is directly across the street from the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and where the National Civil Rights Museum is currently located.

We waited in a brief line to place an order and then proceeded to the open air patio. It was already a hot day in Memphis, but the indoor dining room was still pretty packed for lunch. Usually a good sign.

I’ll start with the ribs, the meat that Speedy gave 5 hogs in his review and called “without hesitation that these were the best ribs [he’s]  ever had…These are ribs that I’m going to dream about.” So, clearly the highest of praise from a man who knows his way around a rib. I…did not find them to be anywhere near that good. They were the best of the 3 meats I tried, but definitely not among the best ribs I’ve ever had. Not even close, really. I went for the dry rub ribs and while they were tender enough, I found them to be a bit bland, taste-wise.

The pulled pork was a bit dry and a slight notch below the just average ribs. It absolutely needed sauce and I wondered if it could have been from the previous day.

Now, the brisket. Or rather, the thinly sliced, dry roast beef-like meat served instead of brisket. Had I read Speedy’s review, surely I would have heeded his advice: “It was dry and lacked flavor, so just don’t order it, k?” So reader, don’t be like Monk and order the brisket. Listen to your friend Speedy, he’s a cool dude.

The collards were disappointing to Mrs. Monk (the collards aficionado), and I couldn’t agree more. The chips were recommended by our neighbors but I wished we had gone with a more classic barbecue side than a standard house made crunchy chip.

Speedy: In talking to Monk about his experience, I was disappointed to hear it. I myself am still a frequent visitor to Central BBQ, usually focusing on the ribs and wings. I don’t think I’ve had an experience as bad as Monk describes, but I have noticed some variability among visits. I also have concerns that the expansion of the restaurant (now open in four locations, with another opening in Nashville this year) has allowed quality to suffer. That said, its the most common barbecue joint I visit in Memphis (partly due to location, but also because I’ve had good experiences more often than not).

Monk: I was quite disappointed with Central BBQ and unfortunately, this would be the only Memphis joint I got to this weekend. I know Memphis has great barbecue joints and someday I’ll get to more of them (looking at you, Payne’s!).

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 1 hog
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Central BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Linkdown: 5/29/19

Robert Moss with a list of iconic barbecue joints in the South

Never drink bourbon with brisket? So says John Lewis

Major FOMO from this past weekend’s Hot Luck Fest in Austin

J.C. Reid: How cities outside of Texas are building a market for barbecue

Beaufort vs Beaufort: in the battle of the two coastal Carolina towns, barbecue probably isn’t the main reason to go, but each has their own longstanding joints in Roland’s Barbecue and Duke’s Bar-B-Que

For rib season

The story behind George Leach, former Indiana University basketball star and owner of OooWee BBQ in Charlotte

The backyard grill took barbecue out of the South, according to an excerpt from Jim Auchmutey’s new barbecue book “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America

ICMYI, a great story on the history of Carolina barbecue from Charlotte Magazine

Linkdown: 5/1/19

Daniel Vaughn gets help from Sam Jones in cooking a whole hog at home; I hope to put this to the test in the coming months

This article from Our State Magazine on pig pickin’ sides would also come in handy

Pig’s head: should it be included in your next cookout?

Scott Mason (aka the Tar Heel Traveler) is signing his latest book at Parker’s Barbecue today

RIP Twin City RibFest; it’s organizers announced that it will no longer be held in Winston-Salem

The 38th Annual BBQ Fest on the Neuse will be held in downtown Kinston this weekend with more than 175 vendors, 100 cook teams, and an expected attendance of 40,000.

Jiggy with the Piggy is also this weekend, taking place in downtown Kannapolis

The BBQ Capital Cook-off took place last weekend in downtown Lexington after taking 2018 off after a fire at the old Dixie Furniture plan

Might need to try Stamey’s pork skins soon

Linkdown: 1/16/19

More whole hog in Texas; Buck’s BBQ in Houston is doing one on Sunday

Also making its way to Houston is smoked bologna

Midwood Smokehouse’s Roadhouse burger with a patty made of a mix of brisket and chuck lands at #13 on Charlotte Agenda’s best burgers in Charlotte list

Stubbs and Son BBQ in Sanford (no apparent relation to Stubbs BBQ in Austin) makes eastern NC barbecue and has plans to both expand the menu as well as the dining room

Wide Open Country’ list of 18 Texas joints you need to try before you die

A humorous take on the suburban SMOKEBOY dad club

How a Chicago food writer learned to love pimento cheese from the former president of the SC BBQ Association, Lake High

Anyone interested in a t-shirt?

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous – Memphis, TN

Name: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Date: 12/18/18
Address: 52 S 2nd St, Memphis, TN
Order: Pork ribs and brisket combination (link to menu)

Speedy: I’ve been spending a lot of time in Memphis lately for work, working mostly with a local team. When my co-workers learned of this blog, they started peppering me with recommendations, but not once did a local tell me to visit Rendezvous. Apparently it is considered more of a tourist destination, but it is 1) super famous and 2) two blocks from my client site, so a visit seemed in order.

Monk: My neighbor here in Charlotte who used to live in Memphis confirmed that it is a bit of a tourist destination but that he always found their ribs to be pretty good, actually.

Speedy: The sign on Rendezvous advertises “charcoal ribs,” and walking up, it’s easy to smell the charcoal smoker throughout Rendezvous alley. As I went with a co-worker on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was fairly empty and we didn’t have to wait for a table. Upon entering Rendezvous, you descend into a basement and come to an old dinner-esque place. It doesn’t look like the decor has been updated a whole lot since it’s 1948 opening, but still, it’s spacious and comfortable.

The menu at Rendezvous is pretty simple. I knew I was getting ribs, but the waiter also recommended brisket, so I took him up on it. Standard sides are beans and slaw, and there’s not much else in terms of sides, so I just went with what was given.

The food came out super fast. The waiter told us that there was both spicy and normal sauce on the table, but advised we try the ribs dry first, which I obliged. I’ll say this right off – Rendezvous is not the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Memphis, but I don’t understand why it’s so shunned. The ribs were meaty, cooked well (maybe slightly undercooked) and had a nice, smoky flavor. They were fine without the sauce, but I did enjoy the spicy sauce as well.

Monk: It’s looking likely that I will be back for Memphis in May next year so if I’m wandering around downtown is it worth a stop?

Speedy: Well, there’s a Central BBQ downtown as well, so I’d recommend that first, but I wouldn’t steer you away from Rendezvous.

I didn’t expect much from the brisket (I never do outside of Texas), but it was actually decent. It had good tug and nice flavor. I could’ve used a little more bark and ended up using the spicy sauce on this as well, but I would order it again. Overall, a solid effort.

The one thing that surprised me was the slaw. Rendezvous’ slaw is mustard/vinegar based, and really is quite enjoyable.

Monk: Having not tasted it, it sounds like the slaw at Bill Spoon’s here in Charlotte. I’m curious if there is a Memphis connection there.

Speedy: I thought of Bill Spoon’s as well – it’s very similar.

Overall, if you’re expecting the best barbecue meal of your life at Rendezvous, you might be disappointed. But if you go in with realistic expectations, you’ll find it to be just fine.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew – High Point, NC

Name: Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew
Date: 11/21/18
Address: 1232 North Main Street, High Point, North Carolina
Order: Three meat combo (pork, brisket, ribs) with hush puppies, corn pudding, and slaw
Price: $$ (out of $$$)

Monk: Well, what do you know? The Barbecue Bros’ hometown of High Point has grown to the where someone has opened up a yuppie cue spot (next to a brewery no less). High Point’s always had standard issue barbecue joints like Kepley’s, Carter Brothers, or Henry James but a full bar barbecue joint that serves not only pulled pork but brisket, ribs, chicken and more? Now that’s something new for the Home Furnishings Capital of the World.

Speedy: While this is exciting, I take great offense at calling Kepley’s a “standard issue barbecue joint.” Where’s the respect, Monk?

Monk: All respect given, Speedy. That was not a comment on the quality of the food – I only meant that none of those I mentioned above go the “International House of Barbecue” route and also don’t serve beer or alcohol like Sweet Old Bill’s.

SOB’s opened in early November on North Main Street and shares a wall with the well-received Brown Truck Brewery. At the back of the Sweet Old Bill’s side of the building is a wood-assisted gasser just off the kitchen. Inside, a large bar area occupies approximately half of the interior with a decor that I would probably best described as “industrial chic” with my limited interior decorator vocabulary.

The three meat combo plate was decently priced at $18 and I chose pork, brisket, and ribs. Not ordered but also available was chicken and turkey. The pork had hints of smoke but benefited from being eaten with the slaw and table vinegar sauce, a small batch sauce I didn’t recognize or snap a photo of. I will note that a red slaw was advertised on the menu but what came out was a mayo-based white slaw. I still ate it, but was really hoping to try their version of a Lexington red slaw. Regardless, not a bad start to the meal.

The brisket at SOB’s comes pre-sauced but underneath that sauce were lean slices with a decent pepper bark. This was definitely not a Central Texas style brisket, but for High Point it was not bad. Not great, mind you, but not awful.

Speedy: For NC brisket, “not awful” is high praise…  

Monk: The dry-rubbed ribs were well seasoned and not overcooked, giving a good tug with each chew. Of the three meats I ordered, the ribs were probably my favorite, and thankfully they weren’t drowning in sauce like the brisket.

I already mentioned the slaw but when it came to the rest of the sides the scratch-made hush puppies were more on the savory end of the spectrum but were nicely fried orbs of cornmeal goodness. The highlight of sides was definitely the corn pudding, which had some sweetness and also appeared to be scratch made.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that they had a nice selection of craft beers, many of which were local to NC. I ordered a Brown Truck porter, which was made not 10 feet on the other side of the wall from where we were sitting – pretty cool and not too many other barbecue restaurants could claim that I’d bet.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with my meal at Sweet Old Bill’s. Being a new restaurant, they could have easily cut corners in a few areas but thankfully did not. The meats are not all quite there but I appreciated the attention paid to the side dishes. Keep in mind that they were only a few weeks old for this meal so with time I think they will eventually get to a good spot. They are certainly off to a nice start.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Linkdown: 11/14/18

– Bill Addison’s fifth annual list for Eater is now out and includes 2 barbecue restaurants: 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio and Franklin Barbecue in Austin; Franklin is one of only five restaurants (barbecue or otherwise) that have made his list all five years

– Whole hog barbecue is making its way to Texas

Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue is also making inroads in the self-proclaimed capital of Texas barbecue, Austin. Chef Evan LeRoy of LeRoy & Lewis Barbecue uses a trailer-mounted, whole-hog pit to offer pulled pork on his regular menu.

In perhaps the most ambitious implementation of Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue in Texas, chef Ted Prater of Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden in Austin is building a self-contained smokehouse with custom-built pits dedicated to cooking whole hogs. It’ll be ready in December.

– The owners behind Sauceman’s in Charlotte have sold the lot their restaurant sits on and are looking to relocate in Southend

– A short photo post on B’s Barbecue in Greenville

– From this month’s Garden and Gun, former Charlotte Magazine editor Michael Graff recalls the ribs he grew up on in Charles County, Maryland

– Dr. Howard Conyers spoke at his undergrad alma mater, NC A&T, yesterday on how science influenced his love of barbecue

– The more you know

– Damon Stainbrook, a former French Laundry sous chef, has opened his second Pig in a Pickle barbecue restaurant location in the SF area and is smoking onsite over California white oak

– I continue to love how Dave Grohl’s fallback profession is seemingly “Carolina pitmaster”

– Update: no longer a fallback profession:

Review: The Sqweelin’ Pig – Black Mountain, NC

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Name
: The Sqweelin’ Pig
Date: 11/3/18
Address: 3206 US Hwy 70 W, Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711
Order: Three meat combo dinner with pork, ribs, brisket, hush puppies, green beans, mac and cheese
Price: ~$21

Monk: As I’ve encountered in travels in the mountains of Western NC, barbecue is very hit or miss once you go west of, say, Hickory or Shelby. For every Buxton Hall or even Luella’s, there are those places that may smoke over wood but aren’t all that good or those that don’t even bother with wood. It’s all a game of barbecue roulette, essentially.

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The Sqweelin’ Pig started as a food truck that smoked solely over wood when now pitmaster Buddy Clemons lost his construction job in 2012 and decided to make a late career change to barbecue. It seems as though its working out pretty well for him and his wife (who then quit her own job to help him) as this Black Mountain location that opened earlier this year is the third location after Weaversville and Barnardsville northwest of Black Mountain. Here, a trailer is positioned just outside of the main restaurant with the woodpile stacked against the building.

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The wood smoke did come through once the three meat combo platter of pork, ribs, and brisket was delivered to the table. For the most part, the wood smoke alone didn’t make for great barbecue. The pork and ribs were passable (the pork being a bit better when adding one of their sauces, including an interesting blackberry vinegar sauce) but the brisket was what you expect at most places in the mountains of NC – thin, dried out, and with a consistency more like roast beef than Texas brisket. I’d be curious if they are reheating yesterday’s brisket.

The sides are scratch made but weren’t particularly noteworthy. I will note that all beer bottles, including several local beers, were all $2.50. My wife and I each opted for beers from High Wire out of Asheville while my father-in-law went for Coors Light. Again, each of those beers were $2.50 so not bad at all.

Unfortunately, The Sqweelin’ Pig fell into the “smoke over wood but aren’t all that good” category of western NC mountain barbecue places. I’d recommend sticking with the pork if you make it, but I’d also mention that Buxton Hall is only about 30 minutes west of Black Mountain…

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

 

Lewis Barbecue – Charleston, SC (Speedy’s take)

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Name
: Lewis Barbecue
Date: 8/1/18
Address: 464 N Nassau St, Charleston, SC 29403
Order: 1 pound brisket, 2 hot gut links, 6 bones pork ribs, corn pudding, collards (link to menu)

Speedy: Later in the day after my trip to Rodney Scott’s BBQ (and after visiting a brewery of course), some of my fam and I decided to visit another new-ish Charleston joint I was pumped about – Lewis Barbecue. After superb visits to both Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue (where John Lewis did stints), my expectations were super high. Finding a true Texas joint in South Carolina is definitely a treat.

The atmosphere at Lewis Barbecue is awesome. There’s an order counter, a bar, a fair amount of indoor seating and ample outdoor seating. Upon arriving, you order and just like in Texas, the meat is cut and weighed right in front of you. Even though we were still full from our earlier lunch, for our second lunch we made sure to order the brisket, pork ribs, and hot guts.

Monk: I was quite jealous when I heard Speedy and crew were doing Rodney Scott’s and then Lewis back-to-back. You may notice that most of my comments below are just agreeing with how good the food is at Lewis, and I hope I get a chance to get back there again soon (Labor Day weekend, perhaps?).

Rudy: I’m jealous too that you were able to visit Lewis Barbecue.  When he was the pitmaster at La Barbecue, that was the best brisket and maybe best ribs I’ve had, so I’ve missed him in Austin and have been wanting to try his place in Charleston.

Monk: Just throwing this out there…Barbecue Bros company retreat in Charleston next year?

Speedy: I’ll start with the brisket, as that’s the flagship meat. In short, it’s the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas. We got a mix of fatty and lean, and both cuts were smoked to perfection, seasoned perfectly. I liked the fatty better than the lean, as I felt the lean was a bit dry. Unfortunately, this brisket did not enter into the holy quadrumvirate with Franklin, La Barbecue, Killen’s, and Pecan Lodge, but it’s certainly in the next tier down. A must order.

Rudy: Like I said before, his brisket in Texas is the best I’ve ever had (although Franklin and Pecan Lodge are very very close) so I am not surprised that it was great, but am surprised that it did not break into that group.

Speedy: I was a little surprised too, Rudy. It was still darn good and very close, but maybe it was just a slightly sub-par day or that I usually don’t order lean at all, but it just lacked that extra something special.

Monk: While I have a few more Texas joints (notably, Louie Mueller) under my belt from my trip earlier this year, Lewis Barbecue is still the best brisket I’ve personally had at a restaurant. Note that I have yet to visit any of the spots mentioned in Speedy’s quadrumvirate. Also, based on the lack of spell check squigglies, “quadrumvirate” is apparently a real word and not something made up by Speedy.

Speedy: The hot guts took things to the next level. I like smoked sausage, but have always considered it a second tier barbecue meat. Well, John Lewis is challenging that. The sausage had a perfect snap and great flavor, with just  a bit of a kick. I’m not sure the sausage could have been better.

Monk: I didn’t know that you were biased against sausage, Speedy. Six-plus years into this barbecue blog and you still manage to surprise me.

In any case, I too loved the hot guts.

Rudy: I’ve had the hot guts two times and really didn’t like it all that much.  I think they are all beef and I am not a huge fan of that because I think it can sometimes dry out or crumble.  It could have also been because I had heard so much about them and went in with huge expectations. But most people rave about it and you guys are no different.

Speedy: The ribs were also enjoyable – served with just a light glaze, these spare ribs were big and meaty, rich and tender. There was a hint of sweetness associated with the glaze, and you could clearly taste the smoke, but I would have liked a little more rub under the glaze to add a little spice and seasoning. Still quite good, but if you’re going to skip a meat at Lewis, this is the one.

The sides at Lewis Barbecue are worth more than a casual mention – they are really really good. Particularly the corn pudding was amazing, so don’t skip it.

Monk: The corn pudding was both mine and Mrs. Monk’s favorite side from Lewis as well. Jon G’s Barbecue has their own version of a corn pudding inspired by Lewis and it’s nearly as good. The takeaway here is that more joints should add corn pudding to menus.

Speedy: The meal at Lewis Barbecue was really great. Eating it in the same day as Rodney Scott’s was a real treat (as well as a challenge in terms of stomach room). Both joints are must-visit if you’re in the Charleston area and offer great insights into different styles of ‘cue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Hot guts – 5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs