My mad quest to eat at every barbecue joint in the Mid-South was randomly inspired by a visit to Captain John's Old Tyme Pit Barbecue in Collierville for lunch one day back in September. The store was originally a Coleman's Bar-B-Que back when that store was a chain. Today there are only two remaining Coleman's; one in Hernando, MS, and one on Millbranch in Whitehaven. To read more about Coleman's days as a chain, and other long-departed Memphis-area barbecue restaurants, check out the excellent Ghost Pit Chronicles blog. I just discovered the blog and I don't who the creator is, but it is obviously someone who has spent decades living in Memphis and enjoying our slow-cooked pork.
My experiences with Captain John's Barbecue actually go back more than a decade, to my days working as a reporting intern for the Collierville Herald newspaper back when I still had delusions of print journalism as a viable career choice. Today Collierville is just a fairly affluent suburb of Memphis. But when
I worked at the Herald it was fascinating to look at archived newspapers
from the first half of the twentieth century and realize to what extent
it had been an independent farm town at one time. The newspaper office was located just a few blocks north of Captain John's on the historic Collierville Town Square, where coincidentally, I married my wife years later in 2007 (Our reception was at the Beethoven Club in Midtown. We served barbecue. A few years later I celebrated one of my birthdays by barbecuing two whole pigs in my backyard).
When I recently began attempting to try every barbecue place I could it took me a couple weeks to realize my quest could make an entertaining, at least for me, blog. So today I decided it was time to return to Captain John's, both to give the restaurant a real review and to see what I thought of the food after more than four months of expanding my local barbecue knowledge.
I ordered the same thing I had on my original trip; a pulled pork dinner with beans, slaw and potato salad. The pulled pork is really good, with a nice complex mix of tastes and textures. Good barbecue is supposed to be tender, but it is always nice to have some of the flavorful outer crust from the smoked shoulder included with the meat like this serving did. The sauce and slaw complimented the meat perfectly with touches of mustard and vinegar. They didn't offer any options like hot and mild on the sauce, but what they served me had a great flavor profile without being hot. The beans seemed like a standard canned variety. The portions were filling enough that I only ate half the mustardy potato salad, which impressed me during my previous visit. It was still good, but my potato salad standards have since been elevated by my visit to One & Only BBQ on the opposite side of Germantown from Captain John's.
Overall, the food at Captain John's was good enough that I can still see how it inspired me to find out what other hidden, smoke-infused culinary gems are hiding in other humble-looking roadside buildings that I pass throughout the day.