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Aug 24, 2007 12:28 AM

Memphis - Chicago tourist needs help

We want BBQ!!! We're staying at the Madison Hotel downtown. Where's the best BBQ in Memphis??

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  1. I'm sure the Memphis chows will jump in with their various picks. But you're only 6 blocks from the Rendevous. Once past the tourista mode, some pretty6 good ribs. Also, if you're driving you may want to check out Payne's on Lamar--lunch only isn't in the best neighborhood for night time venture. (also an Elvis Presley Blvd, I think) or Corky's on the east side of town, another Memphis landmark BBQ joint. Blue City on is also a good choice for ribs.

    1. What a great predicament you have trying to find the best que in Memphis. I did a pretty extensive trip report earlir this summer that I will post here for you.

      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!

      7 Replies
      1. re: notgreg

        If you go to the Rendezvous, only order dry ribs, sausage and cheese plate, and the bbq nachos. Everything else on the menu is not good. If you want really good bbq, drive about a mile from downtown to Cozy Corner (lunch only) or Neely's. Central BBQ and BBQ Shop are very good as well but a little farther from downtown (about 10-15 minutes away). You can't go wrong with Interstate BBQ either. The Rendezvous is the only one within walking distance of the Madison, but it isn't the best and their sandwich is just plain bad.

        1. re: tennreb

          Unfortunately, I didn't even find the ribs at Rendezvous good. They were doused in vinegar.

          Central and Cozy Corner were by far the best I tried on a recent trip. Bar-B-Q Shop had good meat too, but the dry rub on the ribs was a little sweet for my taste. Didn't get to Neely's. I am afraid I thought the Huey burger was just another burger.

          I have some photos from this month here:

          1. re: Wilfrid

            The Huey burger is nothing special, just a good burger. The best burger in town is the soulburger at Earnestine & Hazels. I'm not sure what they do to it, but at 1 AM, you can't find anything better.

            1. re: tennreb

              Where is Ernestine & Hazels? Sounds like it would be worth checking out...

              1. re: Clarkafella

                It's at the corner of South Main and GE Patterson. It is a late night bar that used to be a brothel frequented by passengers from the train station across the street. They just serve beer and burgers nowadays, though.

                1. re: tennreb

                  Well at my age, beer and burgers would probably be a better idea anyway...

                2. re: Clarkafella

                  Here's a link for Ernestine & Hazels. They're located on Main Street, a few blocks south of Beale. If you show up before midnight, the place is usually pretty empty, but you may be able to get one of the bartenders to give you the grand tour. The place has a lot of history and is definitely worth a visit.


        2. Gosh everyone - thank you so much for all of the recs. Unfortunatley, two days before this trip my Grandfather passed away and we nixed our plans and took the next plane 'back home' to be with Grandma and the family. We're planning on doing this trip now later in the fall (October or early November). I've printed all of your review and suggestions and I really appreciate all of your help!!

          1 Reply
          1. re: frankiewickerpark

            I'm sorry for your loss and pray your time with the family helps everyone pull through.

            Since you still seem to be planning your trip I have a couple of recommendations.

            For BBQ the above are all great. I love Paynes, with Neely's a close second.

            You didn't ask, but I have to mention my favorite place to eat in the world, Ronnie Grisanti's. There are many Grisanti's in town, all run by different family members, but Ronnie's is just amazing. Get there a little early to beat the crowds, and you'll have a night to remember. Secret tip....ask for the Gorgonzola Filet, it's not on the menu and only sometimes in the specials, but they'll make it if you ask.