Tuesday, July 31, 2012

“Let the Games Begin!”

Have you caught the Olympic spirit? As I write this, the U.S. men’s water polo team is playing and besting the team from Romania. Are those guys in shape, or what?

And today I write about our visit to Corky’s for the finals of the Memphis Pulled Pork Olympics featuring Central BBQ (my Memphis favorite) vs. Corky’s (Chuck’s Memphis favorite).

“Beginning in the early 1970's, Don Pelts began to visualize a Memphis-style BBQ ‘joint’ that made great premium BBQ in a fun 50's environment. After spending over a decade operating an existing Memphis BBQ restaurant…he finally set out to realize his dream. In 1984 Don found the perfect location and was ready to bring Corky's to reality. All he could think of was a small cozy place with old barn wood walls,
lots of neon, polished brass,
interior aged brick, ceiling fans, servers in bow ties and white shirts,
and, of course, piping in all the great music hits of the 50's and 60's. The rest is Memphis history!” (corkysmemphis.com).

“Corky's is good-natured and boisterous, with rock-'n'-roll tunes piped both indoors and out. Aromatic barbecue permeates the air. An argument over which is the best barbecue restaurant in Memphis persists, but this one pretty much leads the pack when it comes to pulled-pork-shoulder barbecue topped with tangy coleslaw. Photographs and letters from satisfied customers line the rough-paneled lobby, where you always have to wait for a table” (frommers.com).

While not as well known as Rendezvous and Interstate, Corky’s has managed to rack up its own share of honors. In 2011, Memphis Magazine awarded Corky’s Bronze Medal for Best Barbecue Ribs and the Silver Medal for Best Barbecue Sandwich.
“BBQ at this East Memphis eatery is cooked in the old fashioned southern tradition. Top choice meats are place in BBQ pits over hickory chips and charcoal and cooked low and slow. Corky's cooks its pork shoulders for 22 hours and its ribs for over 7 hours” (memphistravel.com).

Corky’s is a sit-down-and-be-waited-on restaurant. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait for a table and were quickly seated in air conditioned comfort, not far from where we sat four years ago. Corky’s menu is extensive, but we both knew what we wanted.
I wanted ribs. (I can’t come to Memphis and not have one meal of ribs.) Chuck wanted pulled pork. Then we saw the “Big Daddy” Combo with your choice of any three meats (ribs, pork shoulder, bar-b-q chicken, smoked sausage, smoked turkey, or catfish filet) with bar-b-q beans and cole slaw. Perfect. We can both get our wish plus some smoked sausage. And if this wouldn’t be enough, we added a side each of seasoned fries and the Ultimate Twice Baked Potato Salad.

Well, as you can see from the amount of meat on our plate, the extra sides really weren’t necessary. To start, the portion ribs was twice as large as I expected. I ordered them “dry” meaning no sauce—just rubbed with the house rubbing mixture.

I could have embellished the ribs with one of the three house sauces on the table (All of which I tasted and all of which I liked.) but these ribs could stand on their own. My only critique is that the two ribs at the narrow end of the rack were a bit dry but the remaining ribs were juicy and tender with all of the fat rendered during the long smoking process.

The pulled pork was moist and tender, but I would have liked a bit more smoke flavor; there was a definite absence of bark, which is my favorite part of pulled pork shoulder. Corky’s pulled pork remains Chuck’s Memphis favorite, but we both agree that 2Pauls (Lafayette, LA) and Phil’s (San Diego) are still our ultimate favorites.

The real surprise was the smoked sausage. This was delicious. Corky’s uses kielbasa rather than the more typical smoked beef and pork sausage and the taste difference was noticeable. Were I to return, I might just order the sausage and nothing else.

All of the sides were good. The hand-cut fries were nice and crisp and had been seasoned with the house rub.
I found the sweet baked beans similar to Central’s, but Chuck liked Central’s better. The slaw was delicious—a fairly large chop with shredded carrot in a creamy dressing. Corky’s had an interesting twist and added finely chopped green pepper to their slaw. I really liked this. The twice-baked potato salad was ultra rich and was made with sour cream, chives, and real bacon bits.

Wanting dessert, we took a portion of our meal home with us. This was a wise move on our part, since our dessert—Brandon’s Lemon Ice Box Pie (described on the menu as “Simply the best down home taste you'll ever eat.”)—was delicious.
I remember my mother making something similar, and all I can remember is that her recipe contained condensed milk and ReaLemon. Corky’s version was cold, light, and very tart and was the perfect end to our meal.

Any description of our lunch would be remiss if I omitted a reference to our server, Anita. She was bursting at the seams with personality and good humor and made this a memorable Memphis meal.

So who is the winner? The Memphis Pulled Pork Olympics ended in a draw. Both meals receive 4.5 Addies and both are worthy of return trips. But you can believe a return trip will not be in the middle of the summer!

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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