Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Trucker's Special - Ray's

Memphis is a major distribution hub for the United States. Trucks on both I-55 and I-40 cross the Mississippi River as they travel between Memphis and West Memphis, AR. I-40 is a major east-west route that goes all the way from North Carolina to California, frequently along the same path as the legendary old Route 66. Meanwhile I-55 travels from southern Louisiana all the way up to Chicago. The two highways cross paths just west of the Mississippi River in West Memphis and the triangle they form with the river is filled with truck stops. Ray’s World Famous Bar-B-Que sits in that triangle and the big “CB CH. 16” on their sign is to let truckers know what channel to radio in if they want to have barbecue delivered to them at any of the surrounding truck stops.

 As soon as a pulled into the parking lot I could smell the hickory smoke pouring out of the little shack where the meat is cooked behind the store. It immediately made me hope that I was in for a treat like the ribs I had at Latham's Meat Company .

 The delivery service for truckers seems to account for a huge portion of Ray’s business. The restaurant was fairly empty when I stopped by today, but I could hear them taking orders over the CB and see drivers steadily making runs. Since Arkansas sits directly between Oklahoma and Texas to the west and Tennessee and Mississippi to the east it wasn't surprising to see that Ray's offers both beef and pork barbecue. I told the extremely friendly woman behind the counter that I was trying to decide between the pork ribs and the chopped pork when she told me about the “trucker’s special” for $13.95. The special is ribs, chopped pork, baked beans, green beans, potato salad and cole slaw. At first I thought I was supposed to choose a couple sides from that list, but you actually get all four. It seemed like a nice bargain that would let me try a little of everything. I was unprepared for the ridiculous quantity of food that got delivered to my table a few minutes later. It completely filled two styrofoam clamshells, plus there was a basket with several slices of white bread included.

If you get food from Ray’s don’t bother with the special, just order the chopped pork shoulder as either a dinner or a sandwich. There is no reason to get the ribs. They were tough, fatty and swimming in an overly-sweet sauce. I ate less than half of the rib meat with my order. On the other hand, I ate every single scrap of the chopped pork. It had a noticeable smoke penetration line on some of the pieces and a great mix of textures from the charred outer sections and the more tender inner meat. It used the same sauce, but in a far more conservative amount that let the sweetness from the sauce compliment the smokey meat flavor instead of overpowering it. I was surprised by the drastic difference in quality between the ribs and the shoulder.

The slaw was good. The rest of the sides were obviously store-bought, which is probably necessary for any restaurant doing so much volume from such a little space. And if most of your customers are used to subsisting on truck stop food, no one is going to complain about excellent chopped pork being served with canned green beans. All together I ate all my chopped pork, baked beans and slaw, about half my ribs and potato salad and about a third of the green beans. The lady working the counter seemed impressed.

They also offer an outrageous selection of cake in case you're somehow still hungry after your meal. It should probably be mentioned that a large portion of truck drivers are obese.

Finding Ray’s can be a bit of a challenge. If you look the restaurant up on Google Maps it will tell you to go where the red A is pointing to just south of I-55. I’ve marked the correct location, just north of I-55, with a green mark. It's easiest to just take the Martin Luther King Jr. exit from either I-55 or I-40 then head east on the service road.

Ray's World Famous BBQ and Catering on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. The wine list is small, includes only mass-produced commerical wines, and lacks any local wines. Food Truck Catering