Just 2 weeks old on my first visit, Memphis Mae's is yet another example of the latest trend: classically trained chefs opening highbrow restaurants featuring barbecue. Located in a strip mall in the Hudson Valley about a half hour north of NYC, Memphis Mae's seems to have it all. Outside, the smell of burning pork fat leaves no doubt that the barbecue here is real. Inside, the smell of spanking new mahogany booths is inviting. The menu is loaded with the usual barbecue items, plus some appetizing additional options (steak chili, BBQ pastry pockets, fried pickles, onion rings, jalapeño "bottlecaps"). The place looks very dignified, with framed jazz-related art and modern lighting. A blackboard menu behind the bar and funky wall colors add a level of comfort. It seems to be that rare place where you can get great barbecue and still impress your date.
I started with a decent cup of the "steak" chili that had some very tender pieces of meat, some tougher ones, and more tomato sauce than meat. And not much heat. Then I moved on to the Barbecue Road Trip, a 3-way combo with ribs, pulled pork and sliced brisket. The ribs can be ordered wet or dry; I got mine dry. The meaty St Louis ribs had a nice crust outside and were pink inside. Though tender, they lacked juiciness and flavor; they tasted more like babybacks. Brisket came sauced but was still pretty dry and lacking flavor. The unsauced pulled pork was good but also very dry.
Luckily, the sauces on the table were pretty good. There's a sweet and tangy sauce, a mustard sauce and a vinegar sauce. I liked all three, though the mustard was more of a deli style mustard than something you'd put on barbecue. The vinegar sauce was more vinegary than most, but good.
Sides were decent: the vinaigrette cole slaw was crisp and tasty; the meatless collard greens were perfectly cooked. The unusual cornbread was a twinkie-like square that was doused with honey.
The bottom line: Decent. Overall, this is a nice place with real barbecue, a much-needed addition to this area. I've got nothing against the "BBQ Bistro" concept; I actually like it. I just wish the barbecue (though good) was as impressive as the bistro.