BBQ East South Central Region
Scroll through the East South Central states, or click a new region on the map.
Q Tips, a new section lists unsolicited BBQ restaurant recommendations that showed up in my email. Congratulations to my wife Connie for coming up with the name. Q Tips.
Jack’s Bar-B-Que (October 2010)
Nashville , TN 37203
Jack’s is a Nashville legend, so four of us went while at the PCOC conference. Jack’s is on Broadway, in the bar, blues, and BBQ district. It’s a few blocks down from the Ryman Auditorium and across from Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, so add points for atmosphere.
Inside, Jack’s looks like a BBQ joint – exposed brick walls with mortar lines, tchatchkes everywhere (a poster of W.C. Fields with a neon pool cue, some stuffed animal sitting on a shelf by the door), booths and tables jammed so tightly together that it took an effort to reach a seat, noisy, and mobbed. Non-stop lines reaching about forty feet from the counter to the door.
I had a three meat plate with Texas brisket, St. Louis ribs, and sausage, mac and cheese, and apples, an odd combination to order in Tennessee . The brisket was very good – melt-in-your-mouth tender but too mild. (I mentioned this to a local later who said “what do you expect, ordering Texas brisket in Tennessee ?” – a good point). The ribs were excellent, even with the little tip bones still on – almost no fat, juicy, almost falling off the bone. The sausage was excellent overall. The mac and cheese was excellent, grainy and salty enough that my mother would have approved. The apples were very good but almost an afterthought. Nicky, another “diner” – had the smoked chicken and approved highly.
Jack’s had three sauces that I saw. The mild was nice and sweet, the hot was mildly spicy but not enough to burn out my tongue, and the vinegar was excellent. Add in a combined order-taker/meat chopper who was one of the most no-nonsense guys I’ve ever seen.
Overall rating – Excellent, between most of the meats and the generally rowdy air, held back from Outstanding only by the mildness of the brisket.
Thanks to Nicky (“We have to go out for BBQ tonight! Twice! We’re in Nashville for pete’s sake.”) Bleiel, Chris Hester, and Deb Sauer for the company and commentary.
501 Donelson Pike
Hermitage (Nashville), TN
This is an unusual, two-part review. Be sure to read both parts…
Part 1 (the original review) – Difficult to pin down. The slogan is “Get your booty to Bar-B-Cutie”, which immediately adds points for tackiness. The place also looks like a roadside joint. On the other hand, they’re expanding out of Tennessee and even plan to open a store in Valencia, Spain(!), so it’s hard to tell whether the roadside joint look is real or the product of an industrial designer.
Donelson Pike is a stone’s throw from the airport – take 40 E out of the airport, take the first exit (216C) for Donelson Pike, Rt. 255, and go about 3/4 of a mile to the traffic light at Elm Hill Pile. (Watch for the Walgreens on the left at the traffic light as a landmark.) The restaurant is on the right, about 100 yards past the light.
I got takeout (the dining room was being renovated but should be done now) – a three-meat platter of ribs, brisket, and pulled pork with mac and cheese and cinnamon apples and BBQ’d bread. The ribs were excellent, meat falling off the bone. The brisket was also excellent, thick slices but cut against the grain so that I could cut it with a fork. The pulled pork was very good – tender, but a little mushy. The only problem with the meats was that they were very little spiced and smoked and didn’t come with BBQ sauce so they were too mild. The mac and cheese was very good but, as usual, needed salt. The apples were excellent but were unpeeled, which gave them a weird texture.
The BBQ’d bread may be one of those local things that’s incomprehensible to an outsider without a guide. The stuff looked like two slightly over-fried pancakes but had almost no taste whatsoever. I assume they’re to be used to pick up the meat, but had no idea.
Overall rating – Very Good, based on the quality of the ribs and brisket but with points deducted for the mildness of the meat, lack of BBQ sauce, and the BBQ’d bread.
Part 2 – The review in part 1 wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. A month or so after I wrote it, Bar-B-Cutie management emailed me to say that they were sorry that the experience hadn’t been better and inviting me to try again. I explained that my eating depended on where my clients were and that I couldn’t say when I might be in Nashville again. They then offered to send some samples to try again.
A week later, UPS delivered two packs of ribs plus beef brisket, chicken breasts, pulled pork, mac and cheese, baked beans, and mild, sweet, and hot sauces. I tried the samples with a team made up of my wife Connie, my nephew Dave, and his wife Ana, who doesn’t eat red meat (which adds a unique angle to a BBQ review). Here’s the revised assessment…
The brisket came in thick but tender slabs that cut with a fork – outstanding. The flavor was mild but fine, but also worked well with the mild and sweet sauces. The chicken was excellent, flavored all the way through, moist, and at the stage where it could easily have been turned into pulled chicken. (Ana said that chicken that’s flavored all the way through is often dry, but that wasn’t the case here. She also stole most of the chicken off everyone else’s plates, which I took as a sign that she liked it.) Like the brisket, the chicken was mild, but also worked well with the mild and sweet sauces. The pulled pork was also excellent, a mix of large chunks and threads and with no mushiness. (This was a real accomplishment given that the stuff had been cooked, frozen, shipped, and reheated.) Like the other meats, it was excellent on its own and with the mild and sweet sauces. The ribs were also excellent, with Connie pointing out that the meat came right off the bone. The ribs also went well with the mild and sweet sauces but didn’t need them.
The beans were excellent, moderately chewy with a slightly tart aftertaste. Connie, the bean expert, liked the fact that no one ingredient predominated. She also loved the meat chunks mixed in with the beans. The mac and cheese was okay but needed more cheese and more salt. Ana and Dave put seasoned salt on their portions and approved.
Everyone liked the mild and sweet sauces and kept going back and forth between them. Dave and I tried mixing them with good results. The hot sauce was good in small doses, but any more than a dab overwhelmed the taste of the food. Connie said it was “a killer.”
Overall rating – Excellent (bumped up from the Very Good of the first review) based on the quality of the meat, the sauces, and Bar-B-Cutie management’s concern over my first review. That degree of concern for client satisfaction is rare and deserves to be rewarded and commended. I’ll happily go back if I’m ever in the area.
Neely’s Bar-B-Que Restaurant
5700 Mount Moriah Rd Extended
Memphis , TN 38115
A BBQ standard around Memphis . Every person with whom I discussed BBQ down there mentioned it. (Also an obvious selection since my middle initial is E – “Neil E.” A sign from above?)
Neely’s looks like a traditional (non-chain) BBQ place – a nondescript looking building, a nondescript sign. You walk directly into the takeout area, then down a hall into one of the darkest dining rooms I’ve ever seen.
I ordered a two-meat combo – ribs and pulled pork – with cole slaw and fries. And something new, a Memphis speciality recommended by every person I met, BBQ’d spaghetti.
The pulled pork was very good, threads with some chunks. Good consistency, minimal mushiness. Ribs were also very good, large and meaty. But the sauce was disappointingly bland, to the point of detracting from the meat. My client told me later that you can order ribs “tourist style”, with the sauce, or “traditional”, without sauce and with a final sprinkling of the dry rub just before the order leaves the kitchen. I’ve had the latter at a BBQ place in Michigan and think it would be much better than the sauce in this case. Next time…
Average fries. Excellent cole slaw.
About that BBQ’d spaghetti… Cover regular spaghetti with a mix of equal parts spaghetti sauce and BBQ sauce and add pulled pork. (What one local described as “spaghetti the way God intended” it.) I’m still unsure about this. It’s one of those dishes whose components are all very good individually but don’t seem to hang together when mixed. Probably needs some more field testing.
The service seemed very slow, but the waitress did call me “honey”, always good for extra points.
Overall rating – Very Good, with a possible bump to Excellent if I ever get back to try the ribs with the dry run.
5000 Old Hickory Blvd
Hermitage (Nashville), TN
Once again, I feel like I’m consorting with the dark forces – e.g. a huge BBQ chain rather than the quirky little mom-n-pop places but, once again, I like Famous Dave’s. It’s still got the industrially designed quirkiness, but it’s good.
To get here from the airport, take 40 E, take exit 221 for Old Hickory Blvd, turn left off the exit, and go about two miles. The restaurant will be on the right, just after one of many shopping malls, and just after the Steak-and-Shake. Be warned that Old Hickory may have been a picturesque local road at one point but now looks like something out of the Jetsons – heavy traffic and moving fast.
I got a two-meat platter of brisket and, for a change of pace, Texas hot links, with mac and cheese and cinnamon apples. The brisket was excellent, thick slices but cut against the grain so that I could cut it with a fork. It was about equivalent to Bar-B-Cutie’s brisket (see above) but had more flavor and could be jazzed up further with the six different sauces on the table. (The Sweet and Zesty is always good, and The Devil’s Spit is always worth a shot.) The hot links were great – sausage basted in the sweet sauce which gave them a nice honey flavor. They came with a vinegar sauce on the side, which was good but interfered with the honey flavor. The mac and cheese was very good but, as usual, needed salt. The apples were excellent.
Overall rating – Excellent.