Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Bar-B-Q Shop

MEMPHIS: The Bar-B-Q Shop
1782 Madison Ave
Memphis, TN 38104
Open M-Sat 11-9

Slaw and sauce on a pork sandwich are not mentioned as options on menus in Memphis. It's just assumed that these items will be included. The pork may vary from chopped, pulled or sliced, but the sauce and slaw are omnipresent. Without those two important moistening agents, the pork sandwich at the Bar-B-Q Shop may have been too dry to swallow. A pinch of meat out of the middle of the sandwich was devoid of moisture and was utterly flavorless. Fresh Texas toast, crispy slaw and a generous layer of sauce provided the crutch needed by the pork to make this a decent sandwich, but it's a bad sign when the meat is the low man on the ingredient totem pole.

The Bar-B-Q shop also typified a few things about Memphis barbecue joints that cater to a white audience (while it's black owned, most all the clientele on my visit was white). Service is from a server at a table rather than at the counter, meats are smoked in a gas assisted commercial rotisserie smoker instead of over charcoal, and the smallest portion of ribs is expensive. Just to get a bite of ribs you'll have to order at least the $14 'regular rib order'. I requested mine with the house specialty glaze rather than simple wet or dry. The glaze was super sweet, and needed the counterpoint of the significant dusting of salty dry rub seasoning. With the flavor overload on the meat, it was hard to detect any flavor from the pork or any smoke at all. In Memphis smoke is certainly secondary to the sauce, but some joints (like this one) seem to purposefully omit smoke from the flavor profile altogether.

One major positive that I took note of in Memphis was the absence of 'fall off the bone' ribs. This cliche term is thrown around so often to describe ribs in this city that I expected the meat to simply slide off the bones and on to my plate. Here the ribs were certainly tender, but they clung to the bone just enough to let me take advantage of nature's pork handles.

For a $3 up charge, BBQ spaghetti was a side option with the ribs. The amount of pork layered into the dish was admirable, but the soupy pool of grease at the bottom of the plate was excessive. Excessive too was the salt content of the sauce. I am no health nut railing against fatty, greasy, salty foods, it's just that this plate of spaghetti took things to a whole new level. It's no wonder the sweet tea is so sweet here. The sugar is barely detectable when trying to wash down so much sodium.

Maybe it was early in the day, so I was super critical, or I might have just had high expectations given the almost religious following of this joint's fans, but I wasn't overly impressed. I was told by a friend in Memphis that he really prefers the dry rub ribs here, and maybe the dry pork on this pre-noon visit was just leftovers form the day before. I'd certainly give this joint another try to find out, but I wouldn't repeat this order.

Rating **
Bar-B-Q Shop on Urbanspoon


Chris said...

You definitely went at a bad time. I was there a couple of months ago, and the meat is smoky, as it always has been when I go there. I usually order the half-and-half pork plate. (1/2 pork 1/2 spaghetti). It never disappoints!

Anonymous said...

I live here, was born here in 1958, and have heard the rave reviews of this place for decades. You got it right. It is VASTLY over-rated. Each time I have been here (3 times over the past 20 years) I have been subjected to candy-coated BBQ (which there describe as caramel covered pork, or some such.) Don't waste your time and $ -Go to the tried and true: Rendezvous or Cozy Corner.

Doug said...

whoa... as an east texan who goes for pork first, i loved this place. the gf and i stopped in on our way from nashvegas back to dallas, and we didn't want to leave. i'm probably the only east texan who doesn't like sauce slathered on my ribs, so i ordered the dry rubbed with sauce on the side. this was the highlight of our return trip. if you're in memphis again, give this place another shot.

and for a chain joint, jim and nick's ain't half bad.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.