Thursday, December 11, 2008

IEM Session #6- Something Ain't Kosher Here- Special Memphis BBQ Sandwich Edition

This is my second attempt at an IEM session away from my home turf. The first one was in NYC, but the lack of drama on that session made it tough to ever get motivated to write about it. Additionally, I deviated a little from the regular format and ate several different foods over 2 days. It just didn't end up how I had envisioned. On the Memphis session, not only was I doing barbecue pork sandwiches exclusively, the session was in conjunction with the Gonerfest music festival. The session was a tribute of sorts to the great city of Memphis, especially the fine people at Goner records who put on this annual festival that gives gonowheres from all over the globe something to look forward to in their lives other than cirrhosis of the liver. The session yielded far more excitement than the one in NYC, which seemed pretty ordinary somehow, even though I was eating stuff from as far away as Uzbekistan. Still, I'm not sure I want to do too many of these traveling episodes. The logistics of the usual East Bay versions are much more conducive to the outrageous. I know where the colorful characters are in Oakland. And since I'm at home, I'm able to do more pitstops, which allows me to recharge and eat more and ergo, write more. Also, when I travel, I can't go home and get my camera when I forget to take it with me. On the Memphis session, I had to get a disposable camera from Walgreen's. Hence, the even shittier than usual snapshots. One of the best parts of the Memphis session was the fact that I got to be driven around by my "celebrity friend," Mitch Cardwell, for a few of the stops. Crockett, California's greatest export, Mitch is a writer, promoter, lover, and bon vivant. I couldn't ask for a greater personality to accompany me on an eating session.

I ate at a lot of great places on this trip, but there were plenty I couldn't hit due to lack of time and stomach space (as usual.) For some reason, I wasn't able to route A&R on this session, which has been my favorite Memphis bbq spot since I first tried it in 2002. I also really wanted to try Neely's (not Jim Neely's Interstate) ever since I saw Pat and Gina Neely's show Down Home With the Neely's on the Food Network. The couple is so cute that you just want to pinch their cheeks, tie them up, and throw them in a river. They're supposed to have great bbq, though. Other people swear by Rendezvous. I could've probably eaten at 8 bbq places a day for a week in the Memphis area and never gotten to all of them. Next time I come to Memphis (hopefully at next year's Gonerfest), I probably won't do another session, but you can be sure that I will eat plenty of pork, even if I don't write about it. If you've never been to Memphis and you have even a passing interest in American music, I highly recommend taking a visit, even if you don't eat pork. I always have a great time down there and the pork is only 75% of the fun.

Eating Day: September 25, 2008

1. COZY CORNER- 745 N. Parkway- 10:58am- Sliced Pork- $4.95

This place is in a part of Memphis I don’t usually visit, unless I’m specifically going here to get BBQ. I think it’s in NW Memphis, but for all I know, they could refer to that area by some other name. It’s pretty close to the river; you can see the goofy pyramid from there. The whole block was being torn up and resurfaced. I’d be surprised if Mitch didn’t get tar on his rental car. Like a lot of the BBQ places I visited, Cozy Corner isn’t near anything. It doesn’t seem like the place you’d accidentally find. You have to go looking for it.

The wall adjacent from the entrance is strewn with signed celebrity photos, including Robert Duvall and other titans of showbiz like Jerry Lawler, Sherman Hemsley, and Kid N’ Play. There are some cryptic signs also. One sign lists all of the restaurant’s hours and then it just says the words “We Will Be Closed” under the list of hours. Is this a call to action telling us that they will be going out of business someday in the future? Another sign says “No illegal smoking.” Does this refer to crack/marijuana or is it a prohibition against smoking your own meat on their premises?

I’ve been to Cozy’s before. Their ribs are legendary, as are their Cornish game hens, but I’d never had a pork sandwich there. None of my Memphis friends seemed to mention Cozy’s for sandwiches, so I wasn’t expecting too much. We got there just in time. There was no line when we arrived, but by the time we left, folks were waiting outside to get in there. Even without a line, they were slow. I never understand what a long wait is about at a bbq place. They’re not smoking it to order, you know. Normally, I don’t mind waiting a while for my food, but on an IEM session, I can’t be lollygagging around. I was surprised that the hot bbq sauce on the sandwich was actually hot. It wasn’t challenging or anything, but there was some serious heat there. In most cases, I always think they gave me the mild by accident, because the “hot” sauce is usually not even slightly spicy. At Cozy’s the hot is hot. It’s also sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The meat was chopped pork with just the right amount of smoke on a sesame hoagie bun topped with really good non-runny cole slaw. In addition to the chopped pork, there were also pieces of sliced/pulled pork shrapnel in there with plenty of crunchy bits. I reckon we were probably the first customers to order pork sandwiches that day and they really hooked us up. If I wasn’t on a session, I would have gotten up and ordered another 2 sandwiches immediately. These sandwiches were just about perfect. Somebody was really going to have to throw some serious heat to beat this place. It’s always weird when you get such a great entry right out of the gate. I almost felt like I should just stop there and call off the competition. But I was in Memphis for Gonerfest. And when you're in Memphis for Gonerfest you eat pork. Lots of it.

2. P’S & Q BAR-B-QUE- 510 N. Missouri St, West Memphis, AR- 12:10pm- Chopped Pork- $3.90 regular

NOTE: Sandwich photo unavailable due to stupidity

I knew nothing about West Memphis other than it’s the place where a creepy "goth" kid with a terrible haircut and his 2 dimwitted followers were convicted of killing some toddlers and then became a cause celebre for alternative rockers everywhere. Metallica even provided the soundtrack for 2 documentaries about these "falsely accused" teens. Memphians seem to regard West Memphis as somewhat of a shit hole. I only spent about 45 minutes there, and saw roughly 20 blocks along 2 major thoroughfares, so I can’t really make a fair judgment on the town, but West Memphis didn’t look too crummy from what I saw.

Despite its name, P's and Q wasn't a strict bbq joint. In fact, they seemed to have a lot more non-bbq items than bbq. There were a lot of breakfast items on the menu and they seemed to be really pushing their burgers. Everyone in there was white- behind the counter and in front of it. I don't know how it is in the South, but in Oakland, white people seldom run bbq joints, and when they do, the bbq is weak at best. I didn't judge, though. I was willing to let these caucasians show me that pork is color blind. Well what do you know? P's and Q fulfills their own stereotype. The sandwich was a dead ringer for what was billed as "bbq on a bun" at my elementary school in Houston, TX. The pork was chopped to smithereens, was somewhat dry, and had near-negligable smoke flavor. It was served sans-sauce on a very standard small hamburger bun. There was a squeeze bottle of both hot and mild sauce on the table. I couldn't tell the hot from the mild, but they were both overly sweet with the consistency of caramel syrup you'd find on a make-your-own-sundae bar. The sandwich was far from inedible, but it was on the small side, considering its price. P's and Q seemed to be a hangout for local blue collar types, so I would guess there are other items on the menu worth trying, because Joe Six-Pack (fuck you in the neck, Sarah Palin) wouldn't frequent a place like this if there weren't at least a few knockout dishes being served there.

3. WILLIE MAE’S RIB HAUS- 321 W. Broadway, West Memphis- 12:29pm- Chopped Pork- $3.49 small

I haven't spent much time in the South, so I don't pretend to understand how race relations work down there in 2008. I lived in Houston for a while as a tween, but that was a long time ago and I never really saw any black people in the part of town where we lived. Anyway, in W. Memphis, it seemed like P's and Q was the "white barbecue place" while Willie Mae's, just a few blocks away, was the "colored barbecue place." I don't know if this is some de facto holdover from Jim Crow days that nobody told me about, but I found it pretty weird.

Despite the teutonic spelling of "haus," Wille Mae's was run by a jovial, large, African-American gent who wanted to know where we were from and why we were there. Once he found out we were from Oakland, he said, "I didn't know they had white people there." I should have said, "Yes we do have a few white people there, except they're all yuppie-hipster lamewads who would gladly pay you $15 for one of your sandwiches so they could say they had "an authentic Southern experience." The dude just kept on talking. He said he lived in California once, San Diego if I remember correctly, and he really liked it there. I think he had been in the Navy. He said he had to move because it was too expensive there. He had also lived in Flint, Michigan for a bit. He said he wouldn't live there again if you gave him "a whole row of houses." Roger and Me was right. Flint does suck. The guy kept on visiting with us asking questions about where we lived and what we had planned in Memphis. He probably would've kept talking forever if a bunch of uniformed school kids hadn't come in. I don't know if they were relatives of his, but he was talking to them like he knew them well. My sandwich arrived shortly after the kids did.

Right off the bat, I noticed that the bun was toasted, which is not too common with bbq places anywhere. Toasting is always a nice touch. The pork was chopped, but unlike P's and Q, it wasn't cut into such tiny morsels. The meat was quite smokey, but not overly so. It was very tender. I had ordered mine with hot sauce, but once again, I detected no trace of heat. The sauce was really thick and syrupy and almost as sweet as at P's & Q. When I bit into the sandwich, I would occasionally get a crunchy bit. I took off the bun and saw some crispy pork pieces (I think they're knows as "burnt ends"), but I'm quite sure that they weren't the only crunchy element going on in the sandwich. I believe that some of that texture was attributed to crystallized sugar in the sauce! Despite this oddity, this was a pretty good sandwich all in all. If I ever start a "See the World of the West Memphis 3" tour, the admission price will include lunch at Willie Mae's.

4. PAYNE’S- 1765 Lamar- 12:45p,- Chopped Pork- $3.50 regular

I imagine there are probably more barbecue joints in West Memphis than P's and Q and Willie Mae's. I'm curious if they're all segregated like those places seem to be. I'm happy that Mitch and I were able to enter Willie Mae's and break the color line at that establishment. Since that day, I like to think of myself as the Jewish Jackie Robinson of barbecued pork.

We left Arkansas and headed back for Memphis. Payne's would be my last bbq joint with Mitch acting as the Morgan Freeman to my Jessica Tandy. He was anxious to try Payne's, due to the praise it receives from Memphis' shit-rock luminaries. I've eaten there at least once on every visit to Memphis, but this was Mitch's maiden voyage at Payne's. Eating at Payne's takes planning. Their hours are unpredictable. They close early on the days they are open and I believe they're completely closed on Sundays and Mondays (at least), so don't go there without calling first. They're located inside what appears to be a former automobile service station. The remnants of garage doors are still visible on the side of the restaurant. The place is kind of dark, not only from the dim lighting, but also because the place is so smokey from all of that pork they're churning out. Eating there is probably a similar experience to commiting suicide by running your car inside a locked garage, if your car ran on wood, rather than gasoline. I can think of worse ways to go.

I like the Payne's pork sandwich. It was bigger than both offerings in West Memphis and almost as substantial as the one at Cozy Corner. The pork is perfect with just the right smoke and the perfect consistency. The chunks were bite size, not hacked to bits. The cole slaw is similar to the stuff you get on a bbq sandwich at Chef Edwards in Oakland. It's bright yellow, extra crunchy, and seems to be made without mayo. But once again, the whole thing is really sweet and the "hot" sauce would be an acceptable offering for ulcer sufferers or expectant mothers. I don't get it. I though Southerners were supposed to be tough. Turn up the heat a little, you inbreds! Don't get me wrong. I like sweetness on pork, but when the sugar isn't offset with some spicy heat, a pork sandwich can come across like a dessert. Maybe I've lived in Oakland too long, because I think I actually prefer the bbq sauce out here to the supersweet stuff that seems to be the default in Memphis. I know that most of the black folks running the BBQ joints in Oakland came from the South. I'm not sure from what area they originate, but wherever it is, it's an area where they don't try and put you in a diabetic coma along with raising your blood pressure and cholesterol. One disease at a time, please.

5. LEONARD’S- 5465 Fox Plaza Dr.- 2:15pm- Chopped Pork - $4.25

It was with great sadness that I parted ways with Mitch. It's always a great motivator to have an audience on an eating session and I couldn't have had a better companion on this journey. Mitch seemed genuinely interested in observing this endeavor, unlike my wife, who would rather receive a root canal than galavant all over town watching me make a disgusting pig of myself. Alas, Mitch had other things to do, so I went up to my hotel room for a brief rest before embarking on the next leg of the session.

Strangely, even the biggest sandwich I ate thus far (Cozy Corner) was not all that big. I would be surprised if it weighed more than 1/3 lb. And some of of that weight is sauce and slaw. I was 4 sandwiches into the quest and I didn't feel full. Eating 12 sandwiches seemed well within my reach. And luckily, I felt that familiar pressure building downstairs that told me that my coal chute would soon be making a drop off. After watching CNBC for a few minutes and learning that my employer was just about to go under, I was more than ready to mount my throne. This turd was extraordinary, my friends. It was one continous spiral that encircled the bowl several times. It was smooth and without flaw as if it had been made by machine, not man. On closer inspection, I decided it looked like Mr. Softee's East Indian cousin. This stellar deposit allowed me to temporarily forget that I was probably about to lose my job. All I could think about now were the reverberations in my prostate and eating more pork. Huzzah!

Leonard's is on the southeast side of town, a part of Memphis I'd never visited. It took quite a while to get there and I missed my exit off the interstate a couple of times. It's in an industrial/office park area near a lot of auto dealerships. It's mostly a sit-down family restaurant with decor that sort of reminds me of a Bonanza/Ponderosa; lots of brown wood everywhere. The kitchen is hidden and you won't see or hear anybody chopping up pork like in most of the other places. All I saw was a 50-ish woman who resembled Flo from Alice in both appearance and speech. Nice lady. The standard chopped pork sandwich here is called "the Mr. Leonard." I like when places name a sandwich after a person, but it's way cooler when they name it after somebody other than the owner, e.g. "The Woody Allen", "The Larry David", etc. At first glance, the sandwich looked a lot like the one at Payne's. It was almost the same size, but the sauce wasn't as sweet and there wasn't much smoke to the meat. The pork was very moist and it was nice not having my teeth hurt due to excess sugar, but the sandwich didn't have much flavor, period. They never asked me whether I wanted hot or mild sauce, so I suppose there's only one variety. With a little heat, this could've been a contender, but both the sauce and the pork were kind of pedestrian. I noticed that this place also has an all-you-can-eat buffet for both lunch and dinner. Depending on the day of the week, the lunch buffet is either $9.75 or $12.00 and the dinner is either $12.00 or $15.00. Leonard's bbq pork sandwich wasn't anything to write home about, but it would be more than adequate when offered in unlimited quantities and in conjunction with other items like fried catfish, country fried steak, and desserts. Next time I'm in Memphis I will be eating at Leonard's buffet if I have to walk there. I know that Tennessee is one of the fattest states in the U.S. Eating at a buffet with seriously gluttunous fat fucks is truly one of life's great joys.

6. TOM’S- 4087 Getwell- 2:51pm- Pulled Pork- $3.99

Tom's is the polar opposite of Leonard's. Leonard's is a family restaurant where Rascal and Jazzy riders wheel along the buffet balancing 3 plates in their lap before they dine in comfortable surroundings, waited on hand and foot by cheery and efficient waitresses. Tom's, on the other hand, is a take-out joint where almost the entire staff have gold grills in their mouths and they speak a country-Ebonics hybrid that makes the folks in East Oakland sound like Olivier doing Richard III. The centerpiece of their decor is the employee punch-clock on the front counter. They have a bizarre ordering system that seems inspired by Katz's in Manhattan. You order your meal at one place. Then you go around the corner and watch them prepare your meal. (There's a tip jar there.) And at the end of the counter, by the punch-clock, you pay for the food. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like at least 2 of these steps could be easily eliminated. Perhaps this is a kind of "Stations of the Pork", necessary for optimal results.

The pork had lots of great crispy bits in it with a good smoke to it. It was sitting on a bed of cole slaw that was really light on mayo and had big chunks of cabbage, just the way I like it. Once again, there was no hot/mild option. While the sauce was very thick and rather mild, it wasn't as sweet as most of the other offerings, so I enjoyed it quite a bit. Guy Fieri went to Tom's on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Tom's interior design scheme was completed with a photo of Fieri to accompany their beauteous punch-clock. When Guy visited, he talked to the owner, a Middle Easterner who bought the place a few years back. Apparently, he changed the rub a little and added some Mediterranean inspired herbs to the mix- e.g. oregano, thyme, rosemary. I couldn't taste any of these seasonings, but I was quite pleased with Tom's pork. It's too bad this place is so far out of the way in South Memphis, a little east of the airport. The quality sandwich and funky atmosphere could make Tom's quite a hit among the more adventurous pork-a-philes.

They have a closed-in porch room with a few tables for eat-in customers. It's separated from the rest of the establishment by a door. You could act a fool in here and the restaurant staff would never hear you. The air conditioner in there was on full blast and they were playing a radio station that featured one 80's top 40 hit after another. You still hear Huey Lewis on standard pop radio stations, but Roxette's "Dangerous"? Who's programming this station? I was starting to get a little queasy from the pork I'd been eating. I don't think I was really full yet. I figured I had room for at least 3 or 4 more sandwiches before I'd need to take a break for a while, but I was definitely experiencing smoked meat fatigue. The smokiness permeates your entire body. You can wash your hands, face, and hair, defecate, urinate, and exfoliate, but the smoke remains. I could've easily switched to pizza or tacos at that point and kept eating like a champ, but the smoked pork was exacting a toll.

7. JIM NEELEY’S INTERSTATE BBQ- 2265 S.3rd St.- 3:29pm- Chopped Pork- $4.50

I should've taken the town roads, rather than the freeway, to Jim Neely's. I could've used the extra digestion time. I had to pick up Kelly, Canderson, and Tiger Lily at the Civil Rights Museum at 4pm, so I was going to have to eat with vigor. There was no time for lingering and checking out the dining room. I had to order from the to-go counter in a separate room next door. I'd eaten at Interstate once before and recall that the dining room was coffee shop-esque and homey. That was the first and only place I'd ever eatnen BBQ spaghetti. It should've been better than it was, but they fucked it up by cooking the pasta to Chef Boy-R-Dee flacciditude. I don't think al dente is part of the southern lexicon. I also had ribs that day and vividly remember that they were superb.

I was at the take-out counter getting the small chopped pork sandwich. I figured I'd eat this sandwich, pick up the wife and chums at MLK's deathsite, and then allow myself to rest for a couple of hours before starting fresh around 6:30. The counter was staffed by a frowny 50-ish woman who never uttered a single word during our transaction. She was either sad, angry, worried, or a combination of all three. She clearly had bigger issues than making small talk with a dorky white yankee. I placed the order and gave her the money. She went in the back for a minute and then reemerged, only to stand with her back to me while she did nothing. After about 5 minutes, someone handed her a brown bag. Since I was the only one waiting, I assumed correctly that it was mine. I went outside to eat in the car. I figured I would be spurred to eat more quickly in the rental. Inside the restaurant, I might wind up reading a place mat or looking at all the memorabilia on the wall. In the car, all I could do was freeze in the blasting A/C, listen to XM radio, and eat. I took the sandwich out of the bag. Dear God in heaven! It had to happen eventually, but why now? This sandwich was at least 50% larger than every other sandwich I'd eaten that day. I'd been Ali Baba'd yet again. (See falafel session.) Oh, Jim Neely, why have you forsaken me?!

The pork was beautiful; moist with a delicate smokiness and chopped to the ideal configuration. The slaw was pretty standard mayo-based stuff, but not too sweet, and with an abundance of carrots, which was welcome. The sauce was mild. (Obviously, nobody asked me anything about anything, so if there was a sauce choice it was not offered to me.) It wasn't as thick as at Tom's, but like Tom's sauce, Interstate's mild didn't go crazy with the sugar. Once I took a bite of this sandwich, I knew it was a delicious, quality product in the upper echelons of Memphis pork. Alas, it also transported me to a place where I wanted nothing to do with eating. I was instantly past full. It was as if that first bite was the final passenger safely allowed on an elevator. After that bite, all other bites entered my pork-hole at their own peril. Despite this delicious sandwich, I could not enjoy this experience. And that was a shame. I began tearing off bite size pieces and swallowed each with a gulp of water like I was taking horse tranquilizers, an arduous process that seemed to take hours. Luckily, I received a call from Kelly informing me that they were going to be a little longer at the museum than they expected, so I had another 30 minutes or so to eat. And I needed every second. I think it took me a good 40 minutes to finish that thing. Of course, by now I was turning the rental Hyundai into a gas chamber that rivaled San Quentin's. I emitted ceaseless bowel explosions, but the pressure would not relent. In addition to being filled to the rim with food, every breath was completely permeated with smoke. I could not escape it. I felt like I was breathing in smoke, not oxygen. I tried eating outside, rather than in the car, thinking the smoke might dissipate, but this didn't work either. The smoke was in my soul like the Holy Spirit is in Shirley Caesar on an early Caravans record. At this point, I was more uncomfortable than during any session since fish and chips. When I finished the sandwich, I farted so loudly it was most likely audible in Nashville. Thanks for nothing Tennessee! YOU did this to me.

8. BBQ SHOP- 1782 Madison- 8pm- BBQ Pork Sandwich- $3.75

After picking everybody up, we went to the Goner record store to see King Louie One Man Band play his inimitable brand of good-time rock n' roll at the Gonerfest opening ceremonies. He is a personal hero of mine and was in rare form. After that, we returned to the hotel. I lay down on the bed feeling like a woman late in her third trimester. I fell asleep on my back periodically. Every time I tried to to turn over, I was awakened by the kicking of my pork baby. If not for the bbq fetus inside, I could've easily fallen asleep for hours. Unfortunately, I could only cat nap, because not only did I have to eat at least one more sandwich to make the session official, I had to watch bands for hours and hours and hours straight. Gonerfest is the premiere rock n' roll fest in the world for bands that play a mix of crumb-bum music that ranges from feces punk to crap garage to turd pop to diarrheah experimental. If a band is way under the radar, somewhat low budget in execution, and I think they're good, they probably are going to play at Gonerfest eventually. If you don't know about Gonerfest already, you probably like lousy music and should take the first train back to Russia. Sadly, at my age, seeing dozens of bands over 4 days is no easy accomplishment, even when they're bands you love. After a while, you just wish they could all shut up so you could talk about your plantar's warts. Despite my old age complaints, there were many great bands during the fest this year. Gonerfest always feels like summer camp. You see so many great people that you only see at the fest and you pick up and start talking to them like you had just seen them yesterday. And every year you meet new people from all over the place. It's always tough to say goodbye to these fine folks. Even if there weren't so many great bands every year, Gonerfest would be a blast just for all the great people down there for the event.

News of my pork eating session had gotten through the Gonerfest grapevine so I HAD to finish or I would feel like I had let down the entire poo-rock community of Memphis. There was no time for meat-induced slumber. After my brief nap, and enough gassy expulsions to engulf the entire Mid-South region, I felt a little better than before. I was definitely not hungry, but I no longer felt like jumping out of our 8th floor window of the Artisan hotel to end my discomfort once and for all. But it was time to eat, hungry or not. Restaurants would close soon and the bands would be starting before I knew it.

The BBQ Shop was just a few blocks from the hotel, but there was no way I was going to go walking in my condition. This is a step up in sophistication from most of the places I'd visited. Unlike most of the spartan pork joints, the BBQ Shop has a full bar, a hostess, and table service. Normally, these kind of things are a bad omen for bbq restaurants, but I withheld judgment because I figured Memphis might not relegate all bbq to "artisinal" (read: shitty-looking) establishments. Our waiter was a young rocker type with mussed-up hair, bad tattoos, and a tight t-shirt with an ironic design. I wouldn't be surprised if he played at Gonerfest sometime during the festival. It took unusually long for our food to arrive, but when the pen I use to jot my session notes died, the waiter gave me one of his pens. He wouldn't even let me pay him for it! What a southern gentleman! The sandwich came on a toasted bun. As stated earlier, I don't understand why all buns aren't toasted by law. Restaurateurs take note. Toasting is a real turd-polisher, no matter what you put on the bread. The pork came with just a little sauce. This place is famous for the sauce, but it appears they like to let you put most of it on yourself. There was a bottle of both hot and mild on the table in clear plastic squeeze bottles. The oil in the sauce had separated from the rest of the ingredients like you see in a vinaigrette, so I knew this had to be quality stuff. I took a bite of the sandwich as-is. The pork had a really good flavor and tons of the crispy burnt ends in there. It was well-smoked and had a lot of flavor in it already, so they must use some kind of serious rub. The pork was just a little on the dry end of the spectrum, though, so I shook up the hot sauce and squoze a little on my sandwich- on the bun and on the slaw. This sandwich was top notch. Not only was the sauce actually hot (not as hot as Cozy Corner, though), it had all sorts of spices going on in there, too. The oil, the tomatoes, and the slightly dry pork worked in concert remarkably. My hunger miraculously returned! I finished that sandwich in well under 5 minutes. Now that the session was official, all pain was gone. The BBQ Shop had restored my faith in pork and in Memphis in general. I could not wait to get to another place. I was ready to devour at least one more sandwich and fortify myself for a night of rocking, but I would have to step lively, lest we missed the kickoff of Gonerfest 5.

9. CENTRAL BBQ- Address- 8:55pm- Pork Sandwich- $3.99

Central wasn't too far from the BBQ Shop, but by the time we got there, I knew this had to be a quick stop. The bands were set to begin at 9pm, so even if the show started a few minutes late, we were in danger of missing the openers (The Limes) if I didn't eat like the wind. I didn't like the looks of this place. There was a big uncovered wooden porch area out front with a bunch of families sitting around. The kids ran roughshod making way too much noise. The parents were oblivious to their offspring and continued to drink beer and smoke cigarettes while they talked to each other about whatever parents talk about. There was no way in hell I was going to eat my sandwich out there, even if I had the time. The staff inside were having a grand old time laughing their asses off, talking to each other, and standing around doing nothing. Not a bad job for a teen. I thought they were about to close when we got there so I asked if it was too late to order. "No dude, you can still order, bro. Ha ha ha. Yeah." California's greatest gift to the world is the language of the stoner teen male. It's as ubiquitous in Tennesse as in Santa Cruz.

I took the sandwich and unwrapped it on the hood of the car. I ate it right there in the parking lot while standing so I wouldn't linger too long and miss the show. It was about average size compared to the rest of that day's offerings. I picked it up and realized that it wasn't even remotely warm to the touch. It was barely even room temperature. Not only was the bun cool, but after biting into it, I discovered the pork wasn't hot, either. Nice effort, Central. Things just kept going downhill from there. The pork was the driest meat of the day by a large margin. It was as if they had been drying it to make pork jerky and changed their minds a few weeks into the process. The sauce had a weird undertaste to it that reminded me of beer- and not the good full-bodied taste some foods will often have when beer is added. It tasted and smelled like a Solo cup of flat Old Milwaukee that had been left under a couch for 2 weeks after a keg party. I wouldn't have been surprised to have found a couple of cigarette butts on this sandwich considering the smell. Not pleasant at all. The sauce didn't do much to lubricate the dry meat, either. It just sort of sat there being disgusting. To top it all off, I'm pretty sure the bun was stale. The only thing this sandwich had going for it was the cole slaw, which had really crunchy cabbage in it and not too much goopiness. 5 bites into this endeavor, my hunger, which had been magically restored less than an hour ago, disappeared as fast as it had returned. With the dryness of the pork, the trainwreck of the sauce, the stale bun, and my complete fullness once again present, finishing the Central sandwich was a struggle.

I somehow managed to finish and we got into the car. I was annoyed that I wasted my time on that half-asswich. It was so far below every other offering that day. It was a shame to end the session on such a downer. We got to the show a few songs into the Limes' set. They were great, but I would've enjoyed them even more if I wasn't so stuffed and if my innards hadn't been topped with that misfire from Central. As the night progressed, I felt much better and I reckon I could've eaten 2 or more sandwiches. By the time Sic Alps played, I was so hungry I was ready to eat my shoe. Unfortunately, just about every bbq place in town was closed by the time the 2nd band hit the stage, so eating bbq again was pretty much a non-starter, unless I was willing to miss some bands. The first official night of Gonerfest was awesomely fun, even with all the smoked pork inside of me. Despite that night's discomfort and the fact that it smelled like a forest fire every time I urinated, I ate bbq twice more on that trip. You can't go to Memphis and not eat bbq, even if they are a little gun-shy when it comes to turning on the heat. Next time I'm down there, I'm bringing a second stomach and a bottle of hot sauce. That's what Elvis would do.

The Best:

  • Cozy Corner
  • BBQ Shop
  • Jim Neely's Interstate

The Worst: Central BBQ

COMING NEXT TIME (probably January): IEM#7- Cheeseburgers