Pork Paradise

While driving down Poplar Avenue, a little over an hour after arriving in the wonderful city of Memphis for our annual Spring Break trip, a small SUV passed us on the right. Among the ten or twelve bumper stickers plastered across the back of the bright blue vehicle, one immediately caught our eyes. It said “MEAT IS GROSS”. I looked over at the driver and said, “No. No, meat is wonderful. While I respect your right to have an opinion, in this case you are just wrong. We just drove FOUR hours in order to spend FOUR days consuming as much barbecued meat as humanly possible in the world capital of smoked pork. Meat is most certainly NOT gross!”

Of course, no one heard me say any of this besides my wife, who just giggled and rolled her eyes.

We decided to begin this year’s visit with a quick stop at Leonard’s Pit Barbecue for a hearty meal before checking into our hotel downtown. We had been to Leonard’s before, but only for the buffet. We ordered off the menu this time – and in a rare move, we ended up ordering the exact same thing; the rib and pork shoulder combo platters. We also ordered a basket of onion rings for an appetizer, which honestly was a mistake on our part. They were delicious, but there were too many of them and our bodies just aren’t used to that much fried food. We barely ate half of the basket.

The ribs were very good, but not quite knock-your-socks-off good. We ordered them dry, and they were tender and juicy. I only had two complaints; first, even though it had a very visible pink smoke ring, I didn’t get a strong smoky flavor from the meat. My second complaint was with the rub. It was very seasoned-salt heavy which really made it a bit too salty for my taste. The pork shoulder was better though. Probably the best bite I had was when I made my own slider by piling some of the meat on a small dinner roll with a little of their sauce and a fork-full of slaw. It was an overall above-average barbecue meal, even with my few minor complaints.

We then made our way to our hotel and finished the night off with a high-energy Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at the FedEx Forum. I’m sure that helped us work off any excess calories we consumed with those onion rings (not).

On day two, we started early with a quick sandwich at what is apparently a Memphis institution, but one we had never actually tried, Tops BBQ. I learned quickly that there is a reason they’ve been around for 60 years and have 14 locations – and it’s definitely NOT the service, which was frankly rude and impatient. Fortunately the food made up for it. It was an honest-to-goodness Memphis-style BBQ sandwich served lightning fast. It was a nice way to start the day.

Later on we found our way to Cozy Corner, another place we had been to before, but just had to try again. I ordered the large rib plate and she got the Cornish hen – then we split the meat so that we could each try both. They don’t serve their meat dry, which I prefer, but instead covered in their signature sweet and spicy sauce (more spicy than sweet actually, which works for me). I will say this – if I have to eat “wet” ribs, these are the ones I want! Both entrees were outstanding – even if they’re impossible to eat with even an ounce of decorum.

We laid pretty low on Saturday, choosing instead to walk around downtown, make the obligatory trip up Beale Street, and ride the trolley around the loop before enjoying a large mid-day meal at one of our favorite que joints; Charlie Vegos’ Rendezvous. Unlike some people, we like the fact that there are virtually no choices at the ‘Vous. We want ribs and they come dry (just like we like them), there’s no such thing as unsweetened tea, and every meal is served with slaw & beans (period). But it has yet to disappoint us.

Before heading home on Sunday, we had to try somewhere we had never been, so on the advice of the blogger over at Memphis Que, we went to a place we might’ve passed right by otherwise; Double J Smokehouse & Saloon. It’s not just “new” to the Memphis barbecue landscape, it just officially opened in March – but it was immediately obvious that they knew what they were doing. I ordered ribs (duh) and the wife got pork steak. I am usually suspicious of too many options at a place that is supposed to be a BBQ joint, fearing that what I’m there for will suffer from lack of attention. But that wasn’t the case at the Double J. Everything we had there was amazing, from the BBQ Egg Rolls appetizer to the grilled asparagus. But the star of the show, as it should be, was the meat. The ribs were tender and juicy. I could be wrong, but I think they were a different, slightly fattier cut than most of the ribs in town which gave it kind of a bacon flavor – not that I’m complaining. And the pork steak was equally tender and delicious. What a great way to end our 2012 spring break!

Of course, we also went to two Redbirds ballgames, and though they lost both nights, we did get to partake in one of the best reasons to go to AutoZone Park – Rendezvous BBQ Nachos. We have always just got the standard pulled pork ones in the past so we decided to mix it up by ordering the smoked sausage one night and the pulled chicken the next. Both were amazing. That’s right, we ate barbecue in one form or another seven times in four days.

So, NO – meat is absolutely NOT gross.

Especially in Memphis.

Hungry?

Tom's BBQ & DeliOne of the stops on our barbecue agenda this year was a little joint on the edge of an industrial park called Tom’s BBQ & Deli. Since we typically only eat one real meal a day on vacation, it ends up being at odd hours when the restaurants aren’t too busy. So when we entered the little red shack at the corner of Getwell & Raines, the lady at the counter asked if this was our first time at Tom’s. We replied with an affirmative, “yup”, which immediately prompted a rousing chorus of “THEY’RE NEW” across the kitchen. We talked to what we presumed to be someone of authority at the counter for a few minutes and explained to them that we come to Memphis once a year and always seek out a barbecue joint that we haven’t tried. We chose them as one of our stops this time because we had seen them featured on the food network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, which he referred to as “Triple D”. They mumbled something about hooking us up as we meandered towards the “Pick Up” end of the counter. When they brought the trays out, there were the two plates that we had ordered, ribs and rib tips with two side dishes each, plus a pulled pork sandwich, a beef brisket sandwich, some smoked bologna (aka Tennessee Round-Steak), a cup of each of their three sauces and two deserts. And on top of that, they didn’t charge us for our drinks! We had a mountain of food, more than we could possibly dream of eating, for less than $20. Our conclusion; Tom’s tries to kill newcomers. Haven’t quite figured out why yet though.

And as far as the food goes, it was all excellent! The ribs, though not my favorite cut, were meaty and cooked perfectly. The rub was complex and flavorful without being overpowering. The brisket, shoulder and bologna were all great. The sauce was sweeter than I normally like but otherwise good. The sides were inconsequential, with that much meat we barely ate them anyway. But the standout was the rib tips. They call the particular cut they use “button bone” which is right where the rib meets the loin, and the meat is actually closer to loin. They are nowhere near as fatty as most of the rib tips in town, and there’s just something about that meat that really absorbs the flavors of the rub and smoke. They were “off the hook” as Triple D’s Guy Fieri would say!

I feel like I need to only eat salad and raw veggies for the rest of the week to make up for all of it. In Memphis, for those who aren’t familiar, the only vegetable you can get most of these places is slaw, and it’s usually piled on top of your sandwich. Meanwhile, I am still eating the leftovers today for lunch. Not that I’m complaining.

Tom's Barbecue & Deli on Urbanspoon

The Killer B’s

On Wednesday the great Memphis Barbeque Tour continues! For those who don’t know, the wife and I take an annual trip to Memphis during her Spring Break to enjoy all of the big B’s: Barbeque (Memphis is the home of the best BBQ in the world), Baseball (Cardinals AAA affiliate Memphis Redbirds), Beale Street & the Blues. I occasionally also partake of a beer or two, and sometimes, if the weather is nice enough, we even visit the Botanical Gardens.

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I always look forward to our Spring Break trips; not really a full-fledged vacation, but better than a weekend getaway. I love the way Memphis seems to revolve around music. The sign on the way into town says, “Home of the Blues – Birthplace of Rock N’ Roll“. And it’s true; there is always music in the air everywhere you go. Plus we are self-proclaimed BBQ Snobs. We always try to hit one of our favorites, usually the Rendezvous, and at least two places we haven’t tried yet. Here’s where we’ve been so far in no particular order (at least the ones we can remember);

And we’ve loved them all. Some were better than others. Some were in fairly scary locations. But we’ve never had bad, or even mediocre barbeque anywhere in Memphis. Among the ones that we haven’t tried yet are Marlowe’s, Tom’s, Leonard’s Downtown, Pig -N- Whistle, A & R, and Tops. So if anyone has any recommendations, we are always open to suggestion.

Monday Miscellany

Oops

I missed last week’s Lenten Prayer entry. It was a tough week for me in the office & by the time I remembered about the prayer – I choked. Not that I’m trying to make excuses or anything! (cough) I will try to add two this week to make up for it. And I apologize for letting that of all things slip.

Baseball After All

As my wife & I were preparing for our annual Spring Break trip to Memphis, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to do one of our regular activities. We always try to catch at least one Memphis Redbirds (The St. Louis Cardinals AAA affiliate) game at Autozone Park. But unfortunately this year Spring Break falls the week prior to the beginning of their season opener. Needless to say, we were terribly disappointed. HOWEVER; we just discovered that we WILL be able to attend a ball game after all! It just so happens that while we’re down there, Autozone Park will be hosting the second annual Civil Rights Game, which “pays tribute to one of our country’s most significant eras of social change and honors Major League Baseball’s involvement in the historic struggle through which legendary African-American players broke barriers and made important contributions to American society.” (quoted from official MLB press release.) It’s not the Cardinals or the Redbirds unfortunately. Instead it is the Chicago White Sox & the New York Mets. But at least we can still look forward to some baseball!

I Don’t Feel Very Stimulated

Like many other Americans, Friday I received a letter in the mail explaining (in a very poor way) the free money that the Government just decided to mail to us on a whim – you know, since we’re not in, or headed for, a recession. (right?)

Click HERE to read an interesting article about why President Bush’s Economic Stimulus Package not only won’t work, but why we shouldn’t want it to.