Wednesday, July 18, 2012

(Not) “Walking in Memphis”*

To again quote that noted 20th Century philosopher, Yogi Berra: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” We have arrived in Memphis to weather that is a carbon copy of that in Southwest Virginia—temperatures in the 90’s, high humidity, and the constant threat of thunderstorms. While Chuck deals with heat far better than I do, even this is too much for him. So our activities will be limited to eating. Usually high heat is an appetite depressant, but to quote an up and coming 21st Century philosopher, Nadia G. (Cooking Channel/Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen): “Everything in moderation. Especially moderation.”

When we were last in Memphis, we made the “All BBQ All the Time” tour. This trip we plan to broaden our horizons and seek out other alternatives. But BBQ will still be part of the mix. And we have penciled in trips to our two favorites from last time—Corky’s (Chuck’s favorite) and today’s lunch at Central BBQ (my favorite).

“Craig Blondis opened Central BBQ with partner Roger Sapp in 2002. Their goal was to turn Memphis on to the ‘competition style’ they’d been perfecting on the barbecue circuit since the early 1980s.... Still a barbecue competitor Craig Blondis is as serious as one can get
concerning smoked meats. But Central BBQ doesn’t take itself too seriously….Blondis’ voice can be often heard shouting spiritedly above the cacophony that is Central BBQ; he always seems to be having the most fun of all.” (

On our last trip we came away unimpressed with the city’s two best known barbecue restaurants—Rendezvous and Interstate—and this
may have been a similar reaction to others based on this comment: “(T)he barbecue restaurants that outsiders most connect with Memphis aren’t where Memphis dwellers eat…it seems like there is a current or former barbecue restaurant on every corner. One of the newer eateries among them is Central BBQ. Most of my friends who live in Memphis say this is their favorite and—for what it’s worth—I agree” (

“Be prepared to stand in line…during peak times at this small counter-service-only ’cue shop. Central’s respectable versions of tangy ribs and pulled pork shoulder have put the place on the map….Place your order and choose a table—either on the breezy patio or inside the tiny dining room. Arrive early to catch a good seat, as this place stays packed at meal times…” (

And if the line when we arrived at noon is any indication, this is a
favorite and has been named 1st Place for Best BBQ , 2nd Place for Best Ribs and 3rd Place for Best Hot Wings (Memphis Flyer Reader’s Poll) and Gold for Best BBQ, Bronze for Best Ribs, and Silver for Best Wings (Memphis Magazine Reader’s Poll).

And the line did not abate—in fact may have gotten longer—for the duration of our visit. And what is taking these folks so long to order? Didn’t you see the menu posted on the doors? Do you have to ask questions about every menu item?

Our orders were placed just in time to grab an empty booth in the indoor (and air condi-tioned) dining room.
Every table contains three forms of hot sauce along with a shaker of the house’s signature rub (for sale at the front counter). But it is at the self-service counter at the back of the restaurant where you find squirt bottles of the restaurant’s sauces that included a mild, a hot and spicy, and a vinegar-mustard.

Central BBQ became my favorite because of their wonderful pulled pork that is as described at as: “…the real treat on the menu is the pulled pork. By itself or on a sandwich, the taste will blow you away. It’s moist enough that the sauce is optional, and it is so tender it hardly requires chewing, but it’s not mushy either. The bits of meat with bark let you experience the depth of the flavor without the grease.”

I ordered the Pork Plate which is seven ounces of dry rubbed and marinated pork shoulder, which is slow smoked for over fourteen hours. Central’s pork is served pulled (but may also be served chopped) and with extra bark (the outside, heavily smoked meat) upon request.

My plate came with two sides and I had my choice of BBQ beans, green beans, potato salad, mac n' cheese, greens, slaw, home cooked potato chips, home cooked pork rinds, fries, and onion rings. Believing that pulled pork demands slaw, that was one of my choices. The second was the BBQ beans which I planned to give to Chuck.

I ordered the pork dry (without sauce) and with extra bark. I was somewhat disappointed that the portion didn’t contain the amount of bark that I expected. When I think Memphis BBQ I think pork and I think smoky. And this pork was smokier than most we have found. If you don’t like a strong smoke presence, you’d probably not like Central’s pork. And I am not a fan of a lot of sauce. I did retire to the sauce bar and came back with a small cup each of the mild and hot and spicy. But I didn’t pour it over the meat but rather took a forkful of pork and then barely “kissed” the sauce with the meat. That’s enough sauce for me.

I was rather let down by the slaw which was coarsely shredded and very light on dressing. I began to wish that I hadn’t given Chuck my beans which were Southern-style sweet and very good.

Chuck ordered the large (seven ounce) pulled pork sandwich and a side of good house-cut and twice cooked fries. Given that Central was not his favorite from our previous visit, I was curious about his reaction. Valiantly attempting to hold his massive sandwich together with both hands, and with slaw hanging out the side of his mouth and
sauce dripping off his chin, Chuck mumbled through a mouthful of pulled pork: “This is really good.” Or at least that’s what I think he said. It was kind of hard to understand. And the biggest piece bark in either of our servings came falling out of his sandwich and was immediately confiscated by my fork.

We’ll be headed to Corky’s for the BBQ showdown. It will be interesting to see if our joint memories are correct. As for Central BBQ, it receives a 4.5 Addie rating.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.
We added this photo as one of those examples of “Parking Lots I Should Not Have Entered.” Even entering the Central BBQ parking lot was not a good idea, but I had hoped to find a spot in the back. But “the back” was a narrow 30-foot-long drive that led to the gate shown here and then past a row of parked cars. Well, I made it to the gate, but the 23-foot, dually truck was stopped by the gate. (Later, when I was photographing these smaller trucks, they made it through with only some difficulty.)
Then came the real thrill—backing up, turning around in a narrow space (made even smaller by the presence of two cars trying to navigate the same turn), and then driving the “wrong way” out of the parking lot.
*"’Walking in Memphis’ is the signature song of American singer-songwriter Marc Cohn, from his self-titled 1991 album. The song became Cohn's biggest hit, peaking at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, after being re-released in fall 1991, reaching #22 on the UK chart. The popularity of this song helped Cohn win the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1992” (

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