Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Rules - Barb-A-Rosa's, Leonard's and Sam's Town

On the second day of my barbecue quest I realized I needed some rules. I’d stopped at Barb-A-Rosa’s on Highway 51 in Millington and gotten a disappointing excuse for a rib plate. Tough, fatty, room-temp ribs and bland beans, slaw and potato salad. And by fatty I mean using a fork to pry off large, cold chunks of gristle to avoid eating them.

I decided that I needed some sort of plan, both to make a fair comparison between the different restaurants and to avoid gaining 100 pounds. My rules are simple: Each day I stop at a barbecue place along my route and eat lunch. I order a plate. For those who don’t understand what a barbecue plate is, it’s a serving of meat with beans, cole slaw, and some type of bread. Sometimes the plate also include an order of fries. I don’t eat any of the bread, and if somewhere offers fries with the plate I sub potato salad instead and generally only eat about half the potato salad. Also, since I don’t drink soft drinks I always order water to drink. So I basically eat barbecued meat with beans, slaw and maybe a few bites of potato salad. That way I mostly avoid the three main evils of the modern American diet -- sugar/corn syrup, processed vegetable oils and grains. I choose between pulled pork and ribs based mainly on whatever I’m in the mood for; if I’m really impressed with one I can always try the other on a future trip.

The rules guided me through what could have been an overwhelming number of choices the next day, when I ate at Leonard’s Pit Barbecue on Fox Plaza Drive near Mt. Moriah in the Fox Meadows area. The restaurant had some cool vintage Memphis photos on the walls, a very courteous staff and a restored ‘54 Dodge panel truck in the dining area. And they offered a big buffet with great-looking catfish and country-fried steak alongside pulled pork and other southern treats. But I just ordered a pulled pork plate off the menu and subbed potato salad for the fries. The friendly people at Leonard’s aren't afraid of strong flavors. The meat had a very smokey flavor, the sauce for the beans was thick and rich and there was plenty of mustard and vinegar in the slaw. The mayonnaise-based potato salad was okay, but not good enough to make me break my “only a few bites” potato salad rule. I left the restaurant very impressed and determined to come back and try their ribs in the future.

I ignored the rules the next day when I attended a car show at the Sam’s Town Casino and ended up in the casino’s buffet, which featured a Corky’s Bar-B-Q station. Casino buffets are nightmarish places where there is a lot of decent-looking food that all ranges from mediocre to crap when you go to actually eat it. Eating at one about once a year is enough to remind me why I try to avoid them. You always end up with a bizarre mix of foods like the crab legs, wonton soup, fried rice, Asian beef stir fry, hashbrown casserole and fried chicken I ended up eating with my pulled pork, ribs and beans. This may sound like a lot of food to someone who hasn’t experienced a casino buffet. You get a big pile of food, but you only take a bite or two of most items before declaring them inedible. The pulled pork was pretty good but the ribs were dry and fatty. I wasn’t brave enough to try the suspect-looking slaw that was sitting in a big tub under the sneeze guard.

1 comment:

  1. I kinda disagree with your take on casino buffets. To use the "it is what it is" cliché, you can't expect a lot from them. For me, most casino buffets rate a "3" on a five point scale (with the terrible Fitzgeralds' Casino being the exception). In terms of quality, the Paula Deen Buffet at Harrah's is the best that I've experienced in Tunica. The food is fresh and tasty, although not quite as good as restaurants like Kooky Canuck (a personal favorite). Anyway, I take it for what it is and enjoy it.