Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hernando and Henderson - Coleman's and Bill's

On Monday I visited Coleman’s Bar-B-Que in Hernando, MS. Hernando is in DeSoto County, which has mostly become a giant suburb of Memphis. But as the county’s southernmost city, Hernando has been able to keep more of its small-town character than the cities of Horn Lake, Southaven and Olive Branch that directly border Memphis.

Coleman’s, like many barbecue places in the Mid-South, has a crew of aging regulars who use the restaurant as a gathering spot. There was a group of them filling several adjoining tables, drinking coffee and discussing the problems of the world when I stopped in. Coleman’s is mainly a sandwich place offering pulled pork and burgers. They don’t have ribs but they will serve the pulled pork as an “open face plate,” which is how I ordered it. The meat was good in a “Memphis average” way and the sauce had a very smokey flavor.

On Wednesday I went even deeper off the beaten path to Henderson, TN, where I ate some of the best pulled pork I’ve tried from one of the most humble-looking restaurants I’ve seen. Henderson is a small town just south of Jackson with a population of just under 6,000. I decided to just drive around until I found a barbecue restaurant. What I mainly found were churches. Henderson has churches everywhere you look and I’ve had customers invite me to their churches while doing business there. I also drove past the Church of Christ-affiliated Freed Hardeman University, which strives to provide students with a college experience that is very different than the one I enjoyed.

I was shocked when I failed to find a barbecue place on Main Street, since Main Street is a good place to look for a barbecue place in any small town. After a futile drive around the old town square and the area around the university I eventually ventured south down Church Avenue where I spotted Liz’s Bar-B-Q. At first I wasn’t sure if the place was still in business. The front door was open, but the little old lady inside told me they were closed on Wednesdays. She told me to come back the next day. When I told her I was from Memphis, only in town for the day and wanting to find barbecue in town for lunch that day she eyed me with suspicion and told me there was another place a little further down the road.

Further south I found a plain-looking building with several additions on the back of it that didn’t look like they were constructed with concepts like construction permits and building codes in mind. The hand-painted sign in front called it Bill Latham’s B-B-Q. The hand-painted sign on the side of the building called it Bill’s Bar-B-Q. I did like seeing the defiant “open every day" on the front sign.

Inside I tried to order a rib plate. The old man working the counter between the dining area and the kitchen told me that they were out of ribs so I just asked for a pulled pork plate. They don’t do fries at Bill’s, so my order automatically came with beans, slaw and potato salad. All the sides were good and the meat was excellent. It was served completely dry with regular and hot sauce available at the table. Serving pulled pork dry is a bold statement of confidence that encourages you to try the meat as-cooked before adding any sauce. I used a mix of the two sauces since I couldn’t decide which I liked better.

After I finished my lunch and left my plate and plastic tray at the counter I told the old man, who I assume was Bill, how much I’d enjoyed the food and that I’d tried to stop at Liz’s up the street. “You’re lucky they were closed,” he said with a bit of pride. “You tried the good place.”

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