For lunch yesterday I had to chose between two barbecue places that are only a couple of buildings apart in a shopping center in front of a large industrial park along Brooks Road, just west of Elvis Presley Boulevard, where South Memphis transitions into Whitehaven.Tastee Bar-B-Q has been on my list to try for months now, while Down South Bar-B-Que just showed up recently. I ended up going with Down South, since it had more windows and it was an usually warm and sunny day for late January.
The little restaurant was laid out like an old-fashioned diner with a tall short-order counter and a combination of bar stools at counters and a few booths along the walls. There was only one employee working behind the counter. He was finishing up an order for the restaurants only other customers -- two women and a young boy in the booth next to mine -- but he said that he'd get my order in just a minute and that I was in for some "real barbecue."
I order a pulled pork shoulder plate with hot barbecue sauce, beans and slaw. The man behind the counter turned out to be the owner, Sam Wilkes, who said he'd recently moved his restaurant to Brooks from a previous location further south in Whitehaven on Raines Road. It may not be a great place to go if you are in a hurry, since it took him a little while to get my order together, but he was friendly the entire time and the food ended up being worth a ten or 15 minute wait. The pulled pork had a great smokey flavor with a deliciously bacon-like charred outer crust from the shoulder mixed in with the rest of the meat. The slaw was a little creamier than I normally prefer but it made a great foil for the excellent spicy sauce that was on the meat. The beans also had a nice kick to them, although they were fairly standard overall.
When Sam asked about my thoughts on the pulled pork and I complimented the mix of textures from the different parts of the shoulder he proudly said, "You know your barbecue. I'm going to get you a little bit of my beef brisket so you can try it." The chopped brisket ended up being perfectly tender and seasoned. He served it without any sauce so I could, "really taste the meat itself." I'll definitely come back in the future to try a full order of brisket. He said he uses wood, with just a little charcoal to get it started, for all his cooking and one of his secrets is that he uses more pecan than hickory in his smoker. "I don't stick to any traditions, I just do what I like best," he explained.
I was eating a late lunch at after 2 p.m. so I was only customer left in the store as we discussed cooking philosophies and I mentioned my barbecue-eating quest and my blog. This caused Sam to decide that I also needed to try a sample of his rib tips and ribs. He served both of them dry as well, which showed a tremendous, well-deserved faith in his cooking.
Keep in mind that my original plate had already featured a very large serving of shoulder meat. The rib tips and ribs were tender and flavorful, but I was in pain by the time I finished them. Before I left Sam gave me a tour of the piles of different types of wood that he keeps at the back of his store and showed me the pit where he mixes them together to make his carefully balanced smoke. Between Down South and my recent visit to the flagship Reggi's Bar-B-Q in Jackson, I've learned that a picky owner paying meticulous attention to selecting wood for the barbecue pit can pay big dividends in flavor.