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Summer Memphis report: (quite long)

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Being a Nashvillian who frequents Memphis, I decided that this week would be a great time to head down for a few days and eat my way through the city's fine bbq joints, as well as a few burger spots for variety. I still hae one more day of eating, but here is what I've got so far:

A&R bbq- Had a regular pork sandwich here, in the traditional Memphis style of course (pork, slaw, sauce). A good rendition of the Memphis classic, good flavored, smoky pork, though it was a little too fatty. The sandwich ran over with sauce, but I found that more seemed to be on the plate than between the toasted buns. All in all a solid sandwich. Not too be missed are the fried pies, specifically the sweet potato variety, which I believe can still be considered a vegetable in this form.

Arcade restaurant- Good sweet potato pancakes, though a little heavier than those at the Pancake Pantry in Nashville. They open at 7 a.m., but don't come until 8 if you want a taste of their biscuits, which won't be ready until then.

BBQ Shop- Their chopped pork sandwich is a little variation on the classic theme, served on texas toast rather than a bun (though you can sub for a bun). I opted for a regular instead of large sandwich, which came in halves for easier eating. Traditionalists may sneer, but I liked the texas toast version, as the pork pour out of the sandwich when I picked it up. I feel like I was a bit shorted on shoulder though, even if it was a small. Good to very good sandwich.

Blue Plate Cafe- I hit the downtown location on Court, had a buttermilk waffle with whipped butter and syrup. These are the thin, plate sized type, and are very good. Coffee was also good. One of my favorite breakfasts.

Central BBQ- Had myself a full rack of their justifiably famous ribs, half wet/half dry, with homemade thick-cut bbq chips. The dry half was quite tasty, with their seasoning evident but not overpowering in every bite. The wet half, however, was amazing. With just a good brush of sauce, rather than a drowning, you could still taste the spice rub perfectly. That sauce though, with a bit of sweetness that complimented the rub so well, won me over to the wet side. And who doesn't love homemade bbq chips?

Cozy Corner- The wet ribs here are different than those of Central, but are they inferior?-Hardly. Available in the standard half and whole rack, or in a 2 or 4 bone plate, these pork ribs require a bit more pull and chew to get off of the bone. No matter, this meat is so deeply flavorful and satisfying that I would eat them bone and all if I had the chops. Wonderful sauce, perfectly flavored meat, a must try rack of ribs for anyone interested in Memphis' best. Also, go with double beans for side items, as these are probably the best baked beans I have ever eaten. With a complex, smoky flavor instead of the usual sugary sauce, I found myself resenting the cup of slaw (which was fine) for what it could have been, but wasn't, another cup of beans.

Dyer's- I had to take a break from que at some point, so Dyer's it was. Yes, it is on Beale, which can be inconvenient and annoying, but once that double with cheese, sided by a generous mound of fresh-cut fries is placed in front of you, all becomes right with the world. Deep fried and greasy in the best way possible, it's a Memphis tradition everyone should try once (a week).

Huey's- The local chain that wins all the awards for their 1/3 pound huey burger. I had mine with everything but tomato, onion rings on the side.Perfectly juicy, though not as tall as all the pictures might suggest, the burger was very solid. The rings, made with red onion encased in a thick batter, were an indulgence that I would heartily recommend. The perfect way to cook a vegetable.

Interstate BBQ- Everyone knows about Interstate, and it has the crowds to prove it. At peak lunch hour, the parking lot was nearly full, but the restaurant was wuite large and I did not have to wait for a table. Got the regular pork sandwich, which arrived overflowing with pork and swimming in sauce. This baby was hard to eat, but well worth the dozen or so crumpled napkins. I wouldn't have minded a tad more of the slaw on top, which added a wonderful sweetness to the velvety, sauce covered pork. Probably my second favorite sandwich of the trip.

Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana- Las tortugas sits in a strip mall in Germantown a few miles from Wolfchase. I had to try thise "torteria/taqueria" because the chef apparently buys all of his meat, fish, and vegetables fresh every morning from local markets. Tortas are mexican sandwiches, served on fresh baked bread. I had the chorizo with onions, lettuce, peppers, queso fresco and an avocado slice. This was indeed one of the freshest tasting sandwiches I have ever eaten. Well worth a visit if only for a break from the fajitas and burritos we have all began to think of as real mexican food.

Neely's- Apparently ran by a family member a family member of Jim Neely, the owner of Interstate bbq, Neelys chopped pork sandwich was indeed very similar to Interstate in size, price, and flavor. Interstate gets the nod, however, for being more evenly sauced, and therefore more sonsistent in flavor throughout the sandwich. However, they are both great choices for a pork sandwich.

Payne's- Told this was a must-try and the best bbq sandwich in Memphis, I had very high hopes/expectations for this bbq shack. Housed in a building that can be called unassuming at best, Payne's is not exactly welcoming in appearance. This theme continues on through the front doors, where you enter into a disconcertingly dim dining area. I thought I was alone in the little place until I heard a woman's voice asking me what I might be having today. I ordered a chopped pork sandwich and we made small talk as she pulled an entire shoulder out of the smoker and began making my sandwich. When I told her that I heard this was the best, she upped the ante by including that if I didn't love this sandwich, she would refund my money and throw in a fried apple pie. She needn't worry. Big and messy, this fine sandwich was full of browned bits which offered a deeply satisfying crunch with every bite. The slaw, a tangy, yellow-green affair, would not win any awards alone but complimented the pork and sauce so perfectly that the first bite elicited an involuntray smile that wouldn't leave my face until I had finished. Possibly the best thing I have put in my mouth this year. Worth the entire trip.

That's all for now, but there will be more tomorrow. Sorry it was so long!

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  1. Forgot tops and rendezvous, i'll throw them on the next one.

    1. Whoa, excellent report! Some places I've tried, some I'm going to try- Please keep it coming!

      1. Excellent trip report. Your opinions echo my own. Interstate is good, but they serve Nestea instead of fresh brewed tea. That is blasphemy in this corner of the South. I think Nestea should be outlawed the way NYC outlawed trans fat. Blue Plate is pretty good, but they seem to value quantity over quality. Arcade's regular menu, including the breakfast, isn't very good. However, their daily plate lunches are excellent. The best breakfast spots in Memphis are Brother Juniper's and The Barksdale. Undoubtedly, Memphis has some great food if you know where to look. I'd like to hear a similar trip report on Nashville. All my Nashville friends keep recommending chain restaurants to me, which makes me wonder about the restaurant scene there. Maybe I just need new friends. You seem to know what you are talking about. What are some great "real" Nashville places to eat? I'd love to take a foodie tour of Nashville like you did of Memphis.

        5 Replies
        1. re: tennreb

          Please avoid those Nashville chains! It has historically been a HUGE problem in Nashville, the majority of diners looking for that comfortable chain feeel in and around town, and for the longest time it held Nashville back in terms of contemporary cuisine. However (thanks in large part to the popularity boom of chefs and cooking) we are finally coing into our own in this area of cuisine. Granted, we have always held it down with meat-n-3's, hot chicken, and so forth, but now we have some serious chef-owned and operated restaurants putting out high quality, seasonal food. Report and suggestions soon.

          1. re: notgreg

            Notgreg, you may just have explained Knoxville's obsession with chains.
            If Nashville does it, then Knoxville will follow, however subconsciously..

            1. re: shallots

              It seems that every small middle class city in the South is obsessed with chains. A friend of mine from Memphis recently moved to Columbus and complains that there are no good restaurants there. He constantly gets recommendations for Red Lobster and Carrabbas.

              1. re: tennreb

                Ha! Try going to Memphis and asking where to get some good bbq. Nine out of ten people will point you to Corky's- I can get that at home!

                1. re: Clarkafella

                  The Corky's chains are relatively new and aren't near as good as the original, especially the ones outside of Memphis. Even the original isn't that great. People recommend it because they are afraid to send outsiders to shady parts of town where the best places are. The Germantown Commissary is a good compromise between flavor and atmosphere.

        2. Very nicely done. Payne's is indeed the best thing anyone can put in their mouth. I am torn on whether to shout it more often so they get plenty of business (which they could clearly use) or to keep it quiet for us BBQ fanatics to relish without the masses. I'd rather see them get crowded than ever shut down, that's for sure.

          2 Replies
          1. re: biskuit

            We hit Cozy Corner, Neely's Interstate and Rendevouz on a recent weekend trip and the Cozy Corner was our favorite. If you want something other than bbq and burgers, try Gus's Fried Chicken. That chicken was so damn good, I've actually had dreams about it.

            1. re: offtheeatenpath

              Gus's in Memphis is good, but no where near the original in Mason. The only problem there(aside from seeing across the room through the grease/smoke in the air) was their periodic closing of the front door until they caught back up with orders. We had to wait outside for about an hour one time, but it was worth it. the only complaint that I have ever had about Gus's(any of them) is the absence of mashed potatoes on the menu. all the other sides are excellent, but I just like some mashed taters with my chicken.

          2. Mrs. Sippi thinks that Huey's makes the best burgers in the world. I'm quite certain I've had burgers that are reasonably the same in just about every city I've ever eaten a burger.
            While I don't think Dyers is the greatest thing on earth, there's just something so great about a deep fried burger. Especially one in 90 year old grease.
            I found it very beefy flavour and preferred it to Huey's.

            DT