Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bar-B-Q Shop - Memphis


It was mid-November and there was just a taste of winter in the air when I left Nashville. Travelling southwards towards Jackson, I pulled into Memphis with bbq on my mind. As fate seemed to dictate, I was once again out of luck with Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous by virtue of their refusal to open for Monday lunch. Hoping to console myself with equally well-smoked pork, I pulled up the directions for Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Avenue.

Why did I choose the Bar-B-Q Shop? The long answer, as you might expect, is that the name makes a consistent appearance in any Memphis bbq discussion. The short answer is that on my restaurant list for Memphis, Bar-B-Q Shop was the first one I hadn’t already tried. That out of the way, I took advantage of store front street parking and stepped into the burgundy colored rooms of the Bar-B-Q Shop.

Once my order had been placed, the first thing out the door was a bbq beef bologna sandwich.
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As numerous bloggers have commented before me, the lightly browned Texas toast is a unique feature of Bar-B-Q Shop.
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Between the Texas toast slices was a hearty slice of crispy edged bologna with plenty of cole slaw and bbq sauce for toppings.
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The best feature of this bologna sandwich, by far, was the combination of textures; from the silky emulsified interior of the bologna to the pepper laced and chunky crunch of the cole slaw, the sandwich was brought full circle with the mustard and vinegar twang of bbq sauce on top.

I was barely two bites into the first half of my bologna sandwich when the star of the lunch hour arrived, the Bar-B-Q Shop special.
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A small mountain of meat, the half wet, half dry portion of ribs in the middle was flanked by chopped pork on one side and brisket on the other.
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Starting with the chopped pork, this was a welcome portion of well smoked and still juicy chopped shoulder.
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There was the odd dry piece scattered in the pile, but drizzle of bbq sauce on top covered any faults and complimented the smoky richness of the pork quite well.

The brisket was a separate story. It’s been a few months since I ordered this plate and I can’t quite remember why I chose bbq brisket as one of the plate components. I can only say that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
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Finely chopped, overdone, and with a dry texture, this brisket was poor on its own but it went downhill when mixed with the bbq sauce. Eerily reminiscent of ketchup, this bbq sauce and brisket combination is one best left untouched.

With the chopped pork and brisket tried, it was time to move along to the ribs, starting with the wet ribs.
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Two ribs dry rub and two ribs wet with sauce, just enough to get a taste of the two styles.
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It took a nice tug before the ribs pulled apart but the effort was rewarded with a well-formed smoke ring. Texture wise these ribs were a little overdone but still had a silkiness that made me wish I had gone for a rack of ribs instead of the combo platter. When it came to the sauce, the thick tomato sauce seemed to do more to hamper the ribs’ flavor than help them.
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Finished with the two wet ribs, the dry ribs, from a little farther down the rack, were a bit more fall of the bone tender.
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Another dose of smokiness and that hard earned smoke ring worked beautifully with the salty and sweet dry rub. Pleasantly reminiscent of the bottom of a bag of bbq chips, the captivating flavors of the dry rub made it clear which part of this four component platter reigned supreme.

Hoping to take full advantage of my relatively rare trips to Memphis, there was one last part of this meal, an order of bbq spaghetti.
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After trying it several times before, I’ve never been completely sold on the idea of bbq spaghetti and this example didn’t make a very good pitch.
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Essentially a bowl of completely overcooked noodles, a fair amount of chopped pork, some sauce, and enough grease to start a fire, this was an oily and generally unpleasant end to the meal.

With my leftovers packed in Styrofoam and my bill paid, I had at least three hours ahead of me, plenty of time to reflect on what Bar-B-Shop had to offer. However, before I walked out the door, I knew one thing was far certain, the brisket and bbq spaghetti were the glaring exceptions to an otherwise immensely satisfying bbq lunch. With the brisket, these bad experiences happen far too often but I keep hoping I’ll find quality bbq brisket outside of Texas. As for the spaghetti, this is the third version I’ve tried and I still can’t see the appeal to a bowl of limp noodles, grease, and a few pork pieces for consolation. Outside of those two letdowns, Bar-B-Shop puts out a fine bologna sandwich and dry rub ribs that are worth a second visit if not a third as well. While I may not get to Memphis terribly often, until the planets align and I’m there when Rendezvous is open, Bar-B-Q Shop will be a serious contender for a rib-centric bbq lunch.

Bar-B-Q Shop Address & Information
Bar-B-Q Shop on Urbanspoon

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