It’s been a few months since my last foray into the world of Memphis bbq. Then, with friend Sam in tow, I ate my way through a significant portion of the Cozy Corner menu. This time I’m on my own in Memphis. Even though I was just passing through on the way to Nashville, the midday hunger pangs hit me just as I reached Southaven. Needing no excuse to try a little more Memphis bbq, I got off the interstate and made my way to Payne’s Bar-B-Que.
Why Payne’s? The long answer is that I’ve been reading about it for months, even years. From the regional bbq guide on Serious Eats, a Serious Eats review by James Boo of The Eaten Path, to the urgings and writings of the North Mississippi Commentator, all roads have been pointing to Payne’s. People have poured over the neon yellow slaw, the perfectly cooked pork, and the scintillating sauce, I had to see it for myself. As for the short answer, I just wanted to try something different.
With the rain just starting to fall, I pulled into the small parking lot at Payne’s and walked into to a fairly anticlimactic scene. There’s not much to the interior at Payne’s. A dozen tables at the most, most of them wobbly; sparsely lit and painted with the shadows of the cinder block façade of the windows, the room focuses on the small counter and surprisingly diminutive kitchen. Looking over the counter, there’s a door to the pit on the left and a stove straight ahead. Besides an abandoned pot and an ever-flickering pilot light, there wasn’t much to see.
Outside of the pork sandwiches, I didn’t have much of a plan going into Payne’s, but after weighing the menu option and asking for advice from the counter, I went with a fairly predictable order of a chopped pork sandwich and a smoked sausage, both with hot bbq sauce. Let’s ignore the fact that I ordered the two most popular dishes on the menu and just say that my love for chopped pork and sausage is stronger than my love of ribs. I decided to save them for another northbound trip.
In no time at all, my number was called and I returned to my table with my first plate of Payne’s bbq.
Right away, I knew I’d made the right choice with the hot bbq sauce. From the first bite, the sauce waltzed into my mouth and set up its own lingering spice camp on the back of my tongue.
Starting at the first bite, this sandwich was a happy mess to eat. Just bringing it near my mouth released a downpour of loose pork and slaw. While the meat isn’t overly smoky, most bites arrived with the harmonious combination of well-smoked pork and hot bbq sauce but every now and then a piece of bark slipped through the cracks. Then, what was a relatively underwhelming meat on its own forms the near perfect trio of pork, smoke, and sauce.
Up till this point, I’ve neglected to really talk about the slaw. I’m not really sure what to make of it. Colors like that rarely occur in nature, but when teemed in excess with the staggering amount of pork and bbq sauce, it provides just the right amount of crunch & tartness to each bite.
Here, this overcooked tube of meat didn’t benefit from the addition of hot sauce and slaw nearly as much as the pork. This sausage had a nice smokiness and real potential, especially with a side of the hot bbq sauce, but it was just too dry and overcooked for me to really enjoy it.
If there was one happy complaint from my time at Payne’s Bar-B-Que, it’s that they are not shy to overload your plate.
Unfortunately, the sheer amount of sauce soaked pork and slaw meant that the poor hamburger bun was not long for this world. The hot dog bun of the smoked sausage met the same grizzly, soggy fate. However, it is that resulting collection of sticky, greasy hands, bbq sauce marked shirts, small mountains of used napkins, and silly grins that are still teeming with vinegar tipped and cayenne based burns of hot bbq sauce that makes a trip to Payne’s Bar-B-Que worthwhile. I may have taken my sweet time before I finally paid a visit to this small bbq outpost in the midtown section of Memphis, but with the temptation of another pork sandwich and the possibility of excellent ribs, I’m sure the second visit will arrive much sooner.
Payne’s Bar-B-Que Address & Information
1762 Lamar Ave, Memphis, TN 38114 // 901.272.1523