What looks like an old two-story house on a busy stretch of Elm Street
is now a barbecue joint. Inside, it's the bar that's the hub, with old
time music memorabilia, collectible beer logo guitars and a replica
airplane siding all vying for attention when the stage is not in use. My
server emphasized, "We're a restaurant first, bar second." There are two smokers in the kitchen; one is a CookShack.
The barbecue offerings run fairly deep. Instead of smoked wings, it's smoked legs that constitute the poultry appetizer, with hot links and rib tips also on offer. Entree meats include St Louis ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausage and chicken. Platters include only one side; combo plates are nonexistent. A la carte selections allow some flexibility, but getting two meats and two sides for under $20 is a challenge.
I visited Memphis Barbecue and Blues solo for a weekday lunch.
I passed on the appetizers to add on a quarter rack of ribs.
Pulled pork sandwich: Served with a pickle, cornbread and one side, the pulled pork sandwich ($8.99) wielded an extremely generous portion that brought decent bark content and some pink color in the mound. I've often described barbecue meats as having "turkey thigh texture" or "turkey thigh moistness," but this pork was closer to turkey breast dryness. We're talking very dry. On the plus side, it was very tender, with an almost fishlike flaky quality. And I liked the bun, which was soft, wheaty and different from the usual commercial fare. Back to the meat (and the minus side): despite the attractive color, the flavor just wasn't there. I added a solid hit of barbecue sauce, then after a few bites realized I needed to add more for both moisture and flavor assistance. In terms of visual appeal and pure bulk, this sandwich was impressive. I just wish the barbecue aspects were equally impressive.
Ribs: Ordered as an a la carte quarter rack ($7.99), the trio of ribs arrived with a small pile of cole flaw as garnish. Though unsauced, the ribs bore a thin red glaze to go along with their bumpy thin crust. Their cut sides looked neither moist not dry, but the pink smoke ring was a nice surprise. Actual moistness was pretty much how it looked: neither moist not dry (I can imagine different people pegging it at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between). Texture was a bit firmer than average, but still tender enough and nowhere near tough. Although smoke was light to the point of being almost unnoticeable, the flavor was interesting. The ribs had a nice residual flavor from the sauce bastings as well as the rub.
There are three barbecue sauces in squeeze bottles, all fairly thick. Regular and Sweet are both offshoots of the molassesy Kansas City style, with hints of vinegar and spice, and a little too similar. Mustard is equally thick but closer to actual mustard than the more typical mustard sauces that are smoother, sweeter and spicier.
Beans: A shiny, saucy rendition had just the right amount of firmness and a deep molasses flavor with a little spice and a little rib meat too. These were one of the best sweet style beans I've tried.
Cole slaw: A not-so-saucy rendition had a light sweet-tart condiment that didn't really stand up to the still-dry cabbage.
Cornbread: A small block supplied with the sandwich was dry and not all that flavorful.
Even aside from the single side and lack of combos, entrees are pretty steep (full rack of ribs with one side is $24.99).
The Bottom Line
Based on a weekday lunch visit tackling two meats and three sides, I'm calling Memphis Barbecue & Blues a mixed bag, with more lows than highs. But even the lows had a glimmer of promise, and there's still much of the menu that I'd like to explore—ideally on a night visit, ideally with friends to help me make a dent and ideally after they introduce combo plates that allow such a dent without such a dent to the wallet. I'd hesitate to write this place off, but so far it's below average on a few different fronts.
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