If you were born in the South, like I was, the first word you spoke after “momma” and “dada” was “barbeque”. For most Southerns, barbeque is just a way of life that you assume is the same every place else in the country. My most vivid memory of barbeque when I was growing up is of my mother piling my sister and me into her VW bug and driving to someplace in Memphis, that looked more like a shanty, as my Great Uncle Hub used to say, than a barbeque joint. I had never tasted anything so wonderful in my life and to be quite honest, I have never had any barbeque that measured up to my shanty barbeque experience. But, that being said, there are some amazing barbeque joints out there and here are a few I think are worth the trip and my own recipe that you can enjoy at home.
My first stop is Memphis, of course, and there are three on the top of my list. First is the Rendezvous in downtown Memphis. It is in an alley and if you don’t know what you are looking for you might miss it, but just follow your nose to the best dry rub ribs ever. The Rendezvous is actually underground and is more like a barbeque catacomb than a restaurant. Charlie Vergos opened the Rendezvous in 1948, and has not only been a place where Memphians love to eat barbeque, but it has had an “A” list of customers over the years from Mick Jagger and Frank Sinatra to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The Rendezvous does not take reservations. On a busy weekend, you must be patient, but it will pay off. There aren’t any frills here– just honest barbeque with a few fixin’s that will satisfy any barbeque lover. Oh yes, if you don’t like your ribs dry, the Rendezvous has an excellent sauce, but try them dry before you reach for the sauce.
There are two other places that I think are excellent. My Uncle Bo would say that the best pulled pork sandwich in Memphis is at Leonard’s Pit Barbeque. Leonard’s has a little history with my family. My Grandfather was an engineer on the railroad and made just enough money to put a roof over his family’s head and food on the table for 4 children. Yet, every Friday when he would get paid he would treat himself to a pulled pork sandwich at Leonard’s. Leonard’s is a Memphis institution and what I like most about Leonard’s barbeque is that there isn’t a rub that is used on the pork before it is smoked. So the flavor that you get is purely from the slow smoking process. I also think that their coleslaw (check out “Recipes” under “Let’s Get Cookin’ ” on my website for Leonard’s BBQ Coleslaw) that comes on the sandwich has just enough bite from the vinegar and mustard to bring out the delicious flavor of the pork.
And then there is Corky’s. My first experience with Corky’s was several years ago in Los Angeles and I was having a real craving for Memphis barbeque. My friend, Pam, who is also from Memphis, said “well, why don’t you order some from Corky’s?” What a great idea. So 24 hours later, we were feasting on ribs and pulled pork thanks to Fed Ex. Even though it was shipped overnight, it still had that true smoky taste that you experience right in Corky’s restaurant. Now, for those of you who don’t know Federal Express’ headquarters and main hub is in Memphis, I don’t think this is some random event. I have to believe that Fred Smith, its founder, was a really a barbeque enthusiast and couldn’t wait to have the Fed Ex planes taking the tasty, smoky morsels of barbeque throughout the country – and who said pigs can’t fly?
Since I now live in Los Angeles and the Hamptons on Long Island, I had to find places that would satisfy my craving for barbeque. Here are two places that meet my high barbeque standards – Baby Blues BBQ and Townline BBQ.
authentic Memphis barbeque, but there is only one place that I think comes close. Baby Blues BBQ in Venice puts out some really good Memphis barbeque. Baby Blues looks like a hole in the wall, but don’t let that fool you – there is some finger lickin’ barbeque inside. Baby Blues does ribs Memphis style, dry and also does ribs with sauce. The menu is full of down home good stuff….pulled pork, brisket, chicken, ribs, catfish, bayou shrimp. The sides are even better – the macaroni and cheese is some of the best I’ve ever had. So if you are in LA and feeling a little homesick for some down home food, check out Baby Blues.
I am always skeptical if a Yankee can get the real soul of barbeque. First of all there are so many ways of doing barbeque, but understanding “low and slow” is the secret. When we first moved to the Hamptons, I remember driving down Montauk Highway in Wainscott and got a whiff of smoke from a real barbeque pit, and there was Townline BBQ. Townline is the real deal Texas style barbeque right down to the steer with the tinsel tierra gracing its wall.
Since I am used to Memphis barbeque, I was curious about what made Townline different. The menu at Townline has all the wonderful things that any barbeque lover could want…ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef brisket, burnt ends and smoked chicken all done to perfection by pit master, Sean. I have to confess that my favorite thing at Townline is the pulled pork sandwich – the pulled pork has the perfect smoky taste that you would expect, but the “supporting actors” of the soft and airy potato bun, coleslaw and the best ever bread & butter pickles just makes it killer. However, the secret weapon at Townline is the house made barbeque sauce. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what made the barbeque sauce so good and unforgetable. Now coming from a Memphis girl, this is a real kudo – and I admit that I use it liberally!! As luck would have it, while I was doing research for this blog I found that the pit chef, Joseph Realmuto, shared his Townline BBQ Sauce recipe on an episode of Barefoot Contessa (check out “Recipes” under “Let’s Get Cookin’ “on my website). Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
One menu item that I think is very smart is the Spoon Salad. Spoon Salad is a very fresh salad of romaine, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, black-eyed peas and jalapenos and, if you like, a nice serving of pulled pork, burnt ends or pulled chicken. So, if you want something a little lighter the Spoon Salad with your favorite barbeque on top is perfect (except put some of that great barbeque sauce on it!) The other mark of a good barbeque place is the sides and Townline has them all, the best of which I think are the collard greens, fried onions and hot wings. Townline also doubles as a sports bar, so if you are looking for a place to see a game with friends and have some great barbeque, Townline is the place.
Now, if you aren’t in the neighborhood of any of these joints and have a real craving for some good barbeque, not to worry. I have a recipe that is easy, tasty and can be done in the oven – good anytime of year – Chipotle Barbeque Ribs (see “Recipes” under “Let’s Get Cookin’ “).
From the deep South to both Coasts, there is good barbeque to be had….just follow your nose and make sure to wipe that barbeque smile off your face! And nothing goes better with barbeque than listening to the blues….enjoy a little something from the King of the Blues, Mr. BB King! Click on this link – When Love Comes To Town (Live) – BB King