Linkdown: 6/12/19

From this month’s barbecue issue of Charlotte Magazine

Texas Monthly on 2019’s best barbecue books

Houston’s barbecue scene is on fire

Several Lexington barbecue joints are featured in this blog post from Bites of the Bull City

Robert Sietsema on the history of barbecue in NYC from the 80’s to the present

Sam Jones will be doing a book event at the downtown Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville on June 25

Congrats to The Smoking Ho on 6 years

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

Memphis in May 2019

Monk: For my second Memphis in May with the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers, they finished a very respectable 12th out of 35 teams in whole hog (just missing a call) in addition to 18th out of 118 in tomato sauce, 23rd out of 95 in mustard sauce, and 71st out of 145 in wings. Not bad for a group of guys that gets together once a year to do this festival, even if they’ve been doing it for the past 29 straight years (one of only a handful of teams that can claim that). In any case, Memphis once again proved to be a fun weekend of barbecue and drinks. Can’t wait for next year!

Cotton Pickin’ Porkers

Some of the other tents

Speedy, Mrs. Monk and me

Miscellaneous shots from the festival weekend

Linkdown 2/20/19

Author Adrian Miller made his way through NC, SC, GA, and FL last week doing research for his forthcoming book “Black Smoke” and made a stop at Grady’s BBQ

The new Rodney Scott’s BBQ has opened in Birmingham and is one of three new spots to check out

While back in Charleston, Rodney flew back in town to meet with presidential candidate Kamala Harris at the Charleston store

South Carolina Tourism is breaking records in part due to the Barbecue Trail

RIP Rick Schmidt of Kreuz Market

Last weekend’s Whole Hog Summit in Kinston was a “great success”

According to Travel Channel, Memphis is a the hottest southern destination to visit in 2019, partially due to barbecue

In Memphis, you’ll be surrounded by some of the most finger-licking delicious barbecue joints in the country. Whether you prefer brisket, pulled pork, or a slab of baby back ribs, more than 100 barbecue joints across town are ready to wow you (mostly with pork since that’s what Memphis-style is all about). The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest each May draws more than 75,000 barbeque-loving attendees. While in town, sign up for a class with Memphis Barbecue Supply, including free classes on how to cook competition-quality pulled pork and pork ribs. Yum.

Meatfest: NM style

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

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint – Nashville, TN

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Name
: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Downtown location)
Date: 7/21/18
Address: 410 4th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37201
Order: Big Poppa Sampler (Full Rack Ribs, 12oz Pork, 12oz Brisket, ½ Chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, fries) with 6 Memphis dry rub wings, 2 orders of hush puppies, and 2 cornbread hoe cakes (link to menu)
Price: $141 (for 6)

Speedy: With Monk coming to town, I had to take him to my favorite ‘cue in town – Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. I had reviewed the OG location of Martin’s many years ago, but since then, three other Tennessee locations (as well as two Kentucky ones) have opened. While I greatly enjoy the food, I took Monk (and crew) to the downtown location, which is one of my favorite places in Nashville – barbecue or otherwise.

Monk: The downtown location of Martin’s is amazing – flat out. As soon as we stepped up into the upstairs beer garden, I knew it was going to get 5 hogs for atmosphere and ambiance. The upstairs was an airy, open air space with plenty of natural lighting and big ass fans to keep the air circulating. Besides the smokeroom off to the side, it had a small stage, two small bars flanking either side of the room, several long beer garden-style tables, ping pong, shufflepuck, and dartboards. If we ever hit it big from barbecue blogging, I will be taking photos of this space to an architect to replicate at the loft I would buy once I’m flush with all that theoretical barbecue blogging cashish.

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Speedy: With six of us in tow, we ordered the Big Poppa Platter, which consists of a full rack of ribs, 12 oz pork, 12 oz brisket, ½ chicken, and 3 pints of sides. We tacked on a few extra sides and a half dozen wings and we were good to go.

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I’ll start with the ribs. We ordered spare ribs instead of baby backs since they are bigger and we had six hungry men. The rack of ribs was massive – plenty for us all to eat. We ordered dry ribs, and they showed up heavily seasoned as a full slab. The ribs were tender, cooked perfectly, and delicious. I do wish we had ordered baby back ribs, as the quality of the meat is better. On the spare ribs, there was a big more tendon than I like, but that’s a nit-picky complaint. Overall, I could have used a little more spice in the rub, but the ribs are very, very solid.

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Monk: Martin’s is one of the few restaurants in Tennessee (or anywhere else, for that matter) that is still doing whole hog barbecue. With the purchasing power of a growing regional chain, I imagine they are able to make the economics work, but regardless I applaud them for continuing the whole hog tradition. As for the pork itself, our portion was a mixture of pork that was overall lighter than the darker meat of the shoulders predominantly used in the NC piedmont (though shoulders are also available on the menu). I’m not quite sure what the nuances are between western TN whole hog and what you’ll find in eastern NC or the Pee Dee region of SC (a topic which I’ll gladly earmark for more research later), but I quite enjoyed what Martin’s served.

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Speedy: The brisket is about as good as you can find in Tennessee. It had good bark and was cooked pretty well (maybe ever so slightly overcooked), but it is not on the same level as some of the Texas joints. Martin’s brisket does have nice tug and flavor, and has good bark, but it just doesn’t quite have the peppery goodness needed to reach the upper brisket tier. However, if I’m hankerin’ for a good brisket in Tennessee, Martin’s is the best choice there is. As a side note, while not sampled on this visit, Martin’s does offer a cheeseburger topped with brisket that simply is not to be missed. Beef on beef – brilliant!

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Monk: We don’t normally order chicken but seeing as how it came with the Big Poppa, we embraced it. Smoked chicken is not my jam but it definitely worked when dipped in the Alabama white sauce that came with the tray.

Speedy: The wings were good – using the same dry rub as the ribs (other flavors are available, but we went with the dry rub). They were smoked well, but could have stood to be a little meatier. Like everything at Martin’s, the wings were very good. Smoked wings can be a little difficult to find, so I appreciate a place that does them right, and Martin’s is that.

Monk: There were literally no complaints about any of the sides we got. Some of our group raved about the mac and cheese, others loved the green beans, and I thought the hush puppies were solidly above average. But I was most intrigued by the cornbread hoe cakes, an item I’ve not ever seen on a barbecue menu before. In western NC, our cornmeal comes in the form of hush puppies whereas in the east you’ll see cornsticks or more traditional cornbread. The hoecakes were savory and not overly sweet  but I would definitely get them again – I know Speedy gets them most times he visits. Oh, and they have Cheerwine and Sun Drop in glass bottles! So awesome.

With Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Downtown Nashville, all of the meats are consistently above average, the sides were great, and the space was awesome. One more thought on the space – after we finished our meal, our group stuck around for another hour or so, grabbing another pitcher while playing darts. I would have gladly stuck around for several more hours, but alas we were headed to Third Man Records before throwing axes in East Nashville (side note – Speedy showed the guys a great time that weekend in Nashville). I can see why Martin’s is Speedy’s favorite joint in the city and I would gladly go back for another meal at this or any of the other locations.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Chicken – 3.5 hogs
Wings – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Friday Find: The ‘Vous Trailer

This was forwarded to me by Captain Bob of the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers, whose brother-in-law is working on this documentary. This trailer gives a taste of what the documentary will be, and I can only imagine the stories that the joint has seen. To be released sometime in 2019.

“The ‘Vous” is a feature length documentary about the world famous barbecue restaurant The Rendezvous as a microcosm for Memphis and the South from the 1940s to today. In addition to memories and celebrity stories from the larger than life waiters of “the ‘Vous,” the film explores the culture, politics, music, and societal struggles that embody Memphis’ rich history.
**To Be Served in 2019**

Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House – Knoxville, TN

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Name
: Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House
Date: 7/19/18
Address: 3725 Maryville Pike, Knoxville, TN 37920
Order: Sampler (brisket, pork, and ribs) with side salad, slaw, greens and beer (link to menu)
Price: $29

Monk: In 1999, the Knoxville, TN funk-soul band Gran Torino had a modest regional radio hit in the southeast with “Moments with You.” I recall liking it in high school but listening today, it seems a bit overproduced and saccharine. In any case, fast forward 10 years and the band is no more but lead singer Chris Ford has found another passion in barbecue. After years of catering, he opens up a barbecue restaurant just outside of Knoxville in a former marina off the Little River, Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House. Six years later, he is successful enough to open a second location in downtown Knoxville. While the music life may have not ultimately worked out for Chris Ford, he seems to be in the early stages of building a mini barbecue empire in Knoxville.

I knew that Grant of Marie, Let’s Eat! was a fan of Sweet P’s from his visit and it was his suggestion to stop there two years back when I was last passing through Knoxville on the the way to Lexington, Kentucky. Unfortunately, it would have been too much of a detour on that trip, so I stopped at Full Service BBQ instead (which worked out ok). This time through, I was heading to Nashville, so a swing through south Knoxville to hit Sweet P’s made much more sense.

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I had been on the road for 4+ hours from Charlotte after a small breakfast so went for the sampler platter of pork, brisket, and ribs which came with 3 sides. Grant mentioned in his review that he was a big fan of the pork (the only meat he got on his visit) when he went and for me it was by far the best of the three meats. The pork came unsauced and sitting in a bun but I opted not to eat as a sandwich and instead used a fork. It was smokey and moist and with a few dashes of the table vinegar sauce (one of three available), it stood out above the rest of the meats.

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The brisket was a bit overdone (or perhaps held and reheated from the previous day based on the texture) and sprinkled with a sweet and savory rub that just was not pleasing for me. A few bites in and I knew I didn’t have to finish my portion.

The ¼ rack of ribs were better than the brisket while still being just slightly above average. It was also sprinkled with the same rub as the brisket, though this harkened to more of a Memphis dry rub so didn’t bother me as much as the brisket. They weren’t overdone and pulled away from the bone properly with each bite.

As for sides, the slaw was standard but the greens were a bit of a mess. Knowing what lay ahead in terms of drinking and eating that weekend, I chose a side salad as my third side, which ended up being the side that I ate the most of.

Outside of the pork and side salad most of the meal ended up in the to-go box. If you are stopping at Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House while in the Knoxville area, my suggestion would be to save some money and stick with the chopped pork plate.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 2 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs
Sweet P's Barbeque and Soul House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Germantown Commissary – Germantown, TN

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Name
: Germantown Commissary
Date: 6/10/18
Address: 2290 S Germantown Rd, Germantown, TN 38138
Order: Speedy: 3 meat plate (pork, ribs, sausage, fries, green beans) (link to menu)
Price: $23

Speedy: Earlier in my career, I did quite a bit of travelling, which caused me to eat out a lot and eat barbecue all over the country. That has slowed down quite a bit over the past 2-3 years, but I recently started hitting the road a bit again, starting with a client in Memphis. Expect several reviews over the next few months from this neck of the woods, but the first place I stopped was Germantown Commissary.

Monk: Those miles in the car won’t be ideal from a Speedy’s work/life perspective but on the other hand, it should be great for the blog!

Speedy: Germantown Commissary is not really a commissary at all – it’s really just a barbecue joint. It apparently started that way, but after selling some ‘cue he had been smoking in his parking lot for a party, owner Walker Taylor decided to continue selling pork shoulder. It’s got the look and feel of an old timey barbecue joint and my guess is that things have not changed there a whole lot over the years. I was seated immediately and approached by a waiter, who enthusiastically took my order.

In true Barbecue Bros fashion, I ordered a combo plate, with pork, ribs, and sausage. The Commissary was out of brisket (it was late in the day), so I’ll have to wait for the next trip to try that. The food came out quickly and I was ready to dig in.

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As expected, the three meat combo was easily enough food for two people. I started my meal with the pulled pork, which came with large pulled chunks with a sweet sauce already applied. Overall, the pork was tender and I could taste the smoke, but the sauce lacked the tang that I normally enjoy. I also wish it had been pulled a little better, as the chunks were a little hard to navigate. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed it, but i think this pork would suit better a sandwich than eating alone.

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I next went to the sausage, which I thought was quite good. It had a nice snap and a good, slightly spicy flavor. I could taste the smoke, but was not overpowered with it. The sausage also came with sweet barbecue sauce on it (the same sauce as the pork), but it worked better with the sausage than the pork, in my opinion. The plate came with two full links, so there was plenty of sausage. I would certainly order this again.

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Monk: Next time, would you order either the pork or sausage with the sauce on the side?

Speedy: I’d probably stay away from the pork altogether, unless I just wanted a sammie. The sausage I thought was very good with the sauce on.

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The star of the show, however, was the ribs. A full slab of spare ribs was delivered, topped by only dry rub (I was not asked wet or dry). I understand why no sauce was applied – none was needed. The ribs were cooked perfectly, offering a clean bite without falling off the bone. The flavor was great – able to taste a mixture of the pork, the smoke, and the seasoning, which had a hint of spice and a hint of sweetness. My only complaint is that i thought the slab could have been a little meatier, and it was a little awkward to handle, as the meat was not trimmed at all. Overall, the ribs are a must order at Germantown Commissary.

Monk: I predict that Speedy will become a Memphis ribs expert over the next few months. Hmm, perhaps a power rankings of them will be in order…

Speedy: As with all barbecue in Memphis, I entered into this meal with high expectations. While I was slightly let down by the pork, the sausage and ribs more than made up for it. I also want to mention that the service I received at Germantown Commissary was top notch – everyone could not have been nicer. All this means I will definitely be back.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pulled Pork – 3 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs
Germantown Commissary Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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What I Ate at BBQ Alley at Memphis in May

Monk: The Memphis in May Barbecue Fest has a few barbecue vendors inside the grounds and while local health regulations prohibit teams from serving barbecue to the general public if you are lucky you might find some barbecue teams handing out samples – for instance the Traeger team was handing out brisket samples all weekend. Another option for barbecue that weekend was BBQ Alley, a “consumer experience” where you can purchase $15 tickets which give you 5 samples of barbecue dishes from Big Green Egg as well as 3 notable restaurants – this year those restaurants were Paradise Grill in Atoka, TN, Dr. BBQ in St. Petersburg, and B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Savannah and Atlanta.

Speedy came in town for a few hours around lunchtime on the Saturday of Barbecue Fest so we decided to check BBQ Alley out. I only ended up having four of the five dishes served but here they are in the order that I tried them.

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Pork loin with rice from Big Green Egg/Leisure Boys

I’m not familiar with them but Leisure Boys appeared to be cooking on behalf of Big Green Egg. This well-seasoned pork loin was a fine start the the BBQ Alley experience.

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Snake River Farms ribeye and pork loin with garlic bread from Dr. BBQ

I didn’t snap a photo but the man himself, Dr. BBQ, was hard at work behind the table working the Green Egg to produce this ribeye from Snake River Farms in Idaho.

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Mike’s BBQ Smoked Wings from Paradise Grill

Paradise Grill is a barbecue restaurant in Atoka, about 40 minutes outside of Memphis, and they brought “Mike’s BBQ Smoked Wings” to BBQ Alley. I remember it being a very solid smoked wing.

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Brisket from B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque

The couple of brisket bites from B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque were the best of the bunch (as to be expected) but the best part was meeting pitmaster Bryan Furman and speaking with him for a couple of minutes. Bryan actually grew up in Charlotte and graduated from West Mecklenburg High School, so we talked about Charlotte a little bit in addition to his restaurant and experience at Memphis in May. Brian is a super nice guy, and was even kind enough for a quick photo. If you are in Savannah or Atlanta, go to B’s!

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Bryan Furman of the awesome B’s Cracklin’ Bar-B-Que in Savannah and Atlanta

All in all, BBQ Alley was maybe a little pricey for what you get but was a chance to try some legit barbecue while at Memphis in May Barbecue Fest.