Last week found a sell off to Memphis so visited for a few days. Didnt have time to post for recommendations but did print out some excellent threads and planned the food on the plane.
First many thanks to all (particularly, but not restricted to, Randal and Tater). Of course, the food destinations were mostly BBQ particularly as Toronto is severely BBQ-challenged.
So, as an outsider, here are my impressions, both general and specific.
On the BBQ front, started with Cozy Corner for lunch. Great reception, people really friendly. And the star here was the sliced pork sandwich which surprised me, as I prefer the texture of pulled pork. Great balance between brown and white meat. BUT the bread (with the OK ribs) and the bun were frightening memories of the Wonderbread years. And this bread experience was repeated elsewhere. All the places served similar bread OK this may be a Memphis tradition, but some traditions take a little getting used to, and I wasnt there long enough. Also the slaw served on the bun was a bit unsettling for a newbie whos never had it served this way before. Nothing wrong with the slaw itself, but it made the bun really wet and wet Wonderbread is, if anything, worse than dry (to my palate). Also the vinegar from the slaw detracted from the basic BBQ giving a hint of South Carolina style, which is my least favourite style. So, for the remainder of the visit, I ordered slaw on the side. Nevertheless, despite these personal style issues, Cozy Corner still delivered the best sandwich on the trip. Also tried the local specialty BBQ spaghetti here didnt bother ordering it again. Not sure why this is such an attraction. But the beans were excellent great molasses flavour.
Next up was Central BBQ. The pork in the sandwich was pulled (good start) and I ordered slaw on the side. BUT the pork was really dry (maybe thats why the slaw is added!) and mostly white. The bun was discarded (again!). VERY disappointing. But the ribs aah this is the thing to order here. Fabulous. Smoky, pink, spicy, hot temperature. Definitely worth a detour.
BBQ Shop was an all-round disappointment. By far the best-appointed and also great service. And more ethnic diversity here than at either of the previous places. But by now we were no longer ordering bread so had both wet and dry ribs (our first dry ribs in Memphis). But both dishes were really bad. Both sets of ribs were dried out and tough with the sauce/rub seemingly added as an afterthought. And both were bland. Definitely the worst of the trip, although the beans were pretty good.
Rendezvous was closed all week, so couldnt try it, and both Corkys and Neeleys Interstate were passed on because of lack of time and less favourable reviews (although both have branches at the airport but we skipped those).
For our finer dining experience we had a short list and we planned on checking menus as we travelled before making a final decision. But, restaurants in Memphis dont seem to post menus outside. We checked out Automatic Slims, Beauty Shop, Tsunami, Café 1912, and Encore and NONE of them had a posted menu. And I dont think it was because they change their menus daily. We ended up at Beauty Shop (their door was the only one open so that we could check the menu before making reservations). Fair prices for what we had, including wine. Menu a bit bizarre most interesting dish was the chicken wings with watermelon. Somewhat whimsical but the ingredients didnt seem totally together cant see any reason for the toasted cashews (is this a local specialty? could it be a riff on pecans?). Duck was huge and unexceptional. Pork chop excellent and fennel dust worked well. Service was excellent, but restaurant was far from full. Desserts are bought in (nothing wrong with that, but I usually associate this with casual dining).
But we really enjoyed our visit (even though our return flight was the only one cancelled that day). Despite this being the Elvis Birthday weekend we were surprised at how few tourists seemed to be around. We didnt queue for anything, anywhere (including Graceland and, by the way, skip the peanut butter and banana sandwich too, but I probably dont have to tell you that). All service people were very friendly and welcoming. But even Beale Street was virtually empty I hope that that reflects Memphis in January, rather than a trend.