Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Longtime Favorite - Three Little Pigs

I mentioned in a post on Moma's Pit B-B-Q earlier this week that the Three Little Pigs Bar-B-Q at the corner of Quince and White Station was a regular breakfast stop back in the 90s when I was a high school student working on a lawn crew every summer. The East Memphis restaurant, located in the same parking lot as the Billy Hardwicks All-Star Lanes bowling alley, was also a standard lunchtime barbecue stop for us back then, along with the Germantown Commissary. Of all the places we used to stop, the Three Little Pigs was my hands-down favorite for pulled pork.

A decade later, my wife and I spent the first couple years of our marriage living a few blocks from the restaurant in the Colonial Acres neighborhood. Being so good and so close, it was my automatic destination when I wanted barbecue back then, the same way the Tops on Jackson Avenue is now. And as much as I love my neighborhood Tops, its pulled pork can't compete with the Three Little Pigs'.

Back in the 90s, the restaurant had plate glass exterior walls surrounding the dining room. They were later replaced with solid walls to give the air conditioner a fighting chance in the summertime, since the building is surrounded by a giant blacktop parking lot. The brutal heat of Memphis in the summertime would also cause me to order the restaurant's excellent cheeseburgers instead of barbecue when temperatures reached the 90s and above. Eating a large pile of pulled pork loses some of its appeal when you know you're going back out in 100 degree weather to cut grass for several hours. I've been self-employed in the automotive field for the last seven years with a job that also keeps me outside for large portions of the day. So thinking back on those days, and knowing how much my appetite drops working in the extreme heat, has made me realize that I will probably be blogging a lot less during the worst of the summer.

The Three Little Pigs doesn't just serve great food. It serves it incredibly cheap. I got a jumbo pulled pork dinner with three sides for $6.79. The big double cheeseburgers I remember so fondly from my teenage years are only $4.99. If you come by for breakfast, that $4.99 gets you three eggs with three pieces of either bacon or sausage, grits or gravy, and biscuits or toast. And if you are you are having company and want to make sure no one goes hungry, a dinner pack with enough buns and meat for 16 sandwiches plus a quart each of beans and slaw is only $25.89.

The dinner usually comes with beans, slaw and fries. Since they don't offer potato salad, I subbed onion rings for the fries since I remembered how good they were. The lady who prepared my order messed up and gave me two orders of beans instead of beans and slaw. When I pointed it out she laughed, apologized and gave me a container of slaw to go with my double order of beans. I've been getting tired of baked beans, since I've encountered a lot of them straight from a can lately. But these reminded me of how good baked beans can be. The tasty house sauce had been simmered down to a nice, thick consistency and there was plenty of charred barbecue in them. In other words, I think they were actually baked.

The sauce at Three Little Pigs is a big part of what makes it so special. It's a mild sauce that is heavily infused with herb flavors and works perfectly with the smoky, delicious pork. The restaurant doesn't sell ribs. Pulled pork is the only barbecue on the menu, but I applaud that restraint since I'd much rather eat at a place that does one thing perfectly than somewhere offering multiple varieties of mediocre que. The slaw has a great combination of mustard and vinegary pickle relish flavors. I didn't eat the yeast roll included with the dinner, although my wife was always a big fan of them. I did eat all of the pork, slaw and onion rings and about three-fourths of the double order of beans.  I checked my blood sugar an hour after the meal to see how bad of an effect the battered onion rings and giant portion of beans had. I was happy to see that it was only 129 despite the gluttonous meal. The restaurant's devotion to using real seasonings instead of just piling on sugar pays off in more ways than just flavor.

Nearly every available inch of wall space in the Three Little Pigs restaurant is devoted to pig images, statues and figurines. In an era when so many places try to avoid reminding people where meat comes from, and just treat it as a commercial product that shows up at the grocery store as individual cuts wrapped in plastic, it is fun to see a barbecue joint fully embrace the magical animal that drives its business.

NOTE: Since posting this review I've been having lunch at Three Little Pigs almost every Friday since the pulled pork plate there is such an incredible value. I recently discovered that they offer a spicy sauce, which is basically the regular sauce with crushed red pepper added to it. It makes the sauce I already loved even better.

Three Little Pigs on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Old Millington Winery

I've already posted about my visit to the Pig-N-Whistle in Millington today. On my way back into Memphis after I was done working in Millington I also stopped by the Old Millington Winery on Old Millington Road. Generally speaking, if I'm going to have alcohol I stick to beer or whiskey. While I'm not a big wine drinker it is a kitchen staple for me that adds a little extra something to all manner of soups and braises.

When the weather gets nice this time of year, it means it is time for the Winery to start having music on Sunday afternoons from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. The owner, Perry, laughingly refers to his place as a "redneck winery," and the music tends to be some variation on old fashioned bluegrass. It's a great time to sample and purchase wine. You can bring a picnic basket and there is often a friendly vendor providing amazing food as well. If you happen to see a Hagrid-from-Harry-Potter-sized man selling crawfish, chicken wings or barbecue, be sure to try whatever he is cooking that day. 

Most of the wines for sale are right around $10 a bottle. As I mentioned in my blog on braising short ribs, I usually use the Big River Red in recipes calling for a red wine and the Vidal Blanc in recipes calling for a dry white. If you are looking for a truly southern drink, the Winery also sells Muscadine wine. Or if you have a designated driver lined up, go ahead and try the port, which ranges between 18 and 21 percent alcohol.

Since a lot of recipes call for just half a cup of white wine, it can be a good idea to freeze some small servings so you aren't opening a new bottle every time you need a splash. Ice cube trays work perfect.

Another Sole Survivor - Pig-N-Whistle

The last time I had barbecue at a Pig-N-Whistle location I ran into an unexpected fiasco at the now-closed Bartlett store when I arrived at the restaurant shortly after Herman Cain wrapped up a presidential campaign speech at the park across the street. Apparently that restaurant did about as well as Cain's campaign in the following months, since it is boarded up and for sale now.

Like Gridley's, the Pig-N-Whistle name has been around Memphis for a long time. From the 1920s through the 1960s there was a Union Avenue location at roughly the same spot as the current FedEx Office and Print Center near Union and Avalon. It closed long before I was around, but for decades it was supposedly one of the most jumping restaurants in the city. The sole-remaining restaurant is located in a former general store that dates back to the early 1800s just off of Highway 51 at the corner of Kerrville and Rosemark in Millington. Like the similarly-situated Germantown Commissary, the historic building sits next to a railroad track and provides a nice atmosphere for the rustic-looking restaurant. It also has a fairly large bar and plenty of reserved motorcycle parking out front, so I imagine it is a known destination for local bikers enjoying a ride through the country.

Back when the building was a general store, the community around it was known as Kerrville.

When I arrived there was a sign promising a daily special on a half-slab of ribs. When I went inside a sign informed me that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, half-slab dinners are marked down to $8.99 from the regular $11.99.  At that price a half-slab was barely more than a pulled pork plate, which made ordering a no-brainer, especially when I found out I could get my ribs with dry rub.

When my ribs came out I asked about the fate of the Bartlett location. My server said that the Bartlett store had been purchased by that building's owners about a year ago and retained the Pig-N-Whistle name but quickly fizzled out under the new ownership. During my visit to the Bartlett store, I thought the pulled pork was good and assumed my long wait and meager portions were due to the unusual circumstances. But a look at the shuttered store's Urbanspoon page seems to indicate that I wasn't the only one who left unimpressed. 

I had no complaints about my service or the quantity of food in Millington. I was greeted and seated as soon as I entered, the food was served quickly and I left contentedly full. The beans were canned, but I've encountered so many servings of canned beans on this quest I'm beginning to think I should just not mention the beans at all unless there is something remarkable about them. The slaw was also fairly standard, although I did appreciate the roughly chopped cabbage and the light hand with the mayo.

There was sauce available at the table, and it was good when I tried a little of it. But the ribs were juicy enough that the liquid fat mixed with the paprika-based rub to create its own saucy mix that was literally finger-licking good. They had a nice charred exterior and a bright pink smoke line. A few chunks of unrendered fat kept them from being perfect, but I won't hesitate to stop by for more the next time I'm in the area, especially if it is on a Tuesday or Thursday when the ribs are on special.

I've always been a fan of a good barbecue dry rub. And the rubs, which are generally made from a mix of paprika and other herbs and spices that is almost always a closely guarded secret, tend to be far healthier than liquid sauces as well. The mild but tasty Pig-N-Whistle sauce seems more natural than a lot of sauces on the market, which frequently list high fructose corn syrup as one of the first ingredients. But while it comes sixth on the Pig-N-Whistle sauce's ingredients; after water, molasses, white distilled vinegar, tomato paste and brown sugar; three of the first six ingredients are still sugar. In fact, almost all the 40 calories in a serving come from the eight grams of carbohydrate, and almost all those carbohydrates come from the six grams of sugar.  That doesn't sound too bad, until you realize that a serving is only two tablespoons. 

I'm not mentioning this to pick on the Pig-N-Whistle's sauce. There are far worse offenders out there. But this is why I always try to get my sauce on the side and only add a little if I enjoy it. At two tablespoons per serving, it can add up way faster than most people realize. Pork fat is healthy. Sugar is toxic.

Pig-N-Whistle on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bartlett's Gathering Spot - Moma's

I don't know how many times I had food from Moma's Pit B-B-Q on Stage Road in Bartlett as a teenager, but it is a fairly large number. My girlfriend throughout most of high school lived in the neighborhood behind the restaurant and her parents were quick to grab a family pack of barbecue and sides from the restaurant when they needed an effortless meal. Meanwhile, I worked for a lawn crew throughout all my high school summers with a boss who was a firm believer in starting the work day with a big country breakfast from a mom and pop barbecue place.

His main three barbecue places for breakfast food were Moma's, Three Little Pigs at Quince and White Station and Bryant's on Summer Avenue depending on the part of town we were working in. All three places packed in morning regulars who were on a first name basis with the staff, who kept the food orders coming out at a rapid pace. In fact, Bryant's developed such a huge breakfast business that it eventually dropped the barbecue from both its name and its menu when it became Bryant's Breakfast and started closing in the the afternoon. According to the menu, Moma's is still serving up the country breakfasts. And while I was there for the lunch, the place was still full of obvious regulars chatting with the friendly staff, just like I remember from breakfast visits during the 90s.   

Another thing I remembered was that the food itself was always on the disappointing side of mediocre. The prices are cheap and the service is fast, which helps to explain the steady flow of working customers. And the retirees who spend their days there are coming for the conversation. A regular sandwich plate is only $6.10 and my heaping dinner plate was only $7.25. But the beans were canned, the slaw tasted like sugar and mayonnaise, the hot barbecue sauce was bland other than the heat and the meat was a little below average thanks to some tough fat scattered through it. Basically, it was exactly what I remembered. For the regulars, Moma's is like a familiar dive bar without the booze. They don't go to be wowed by the food. They go there to be somewhere comfortable, surrounded by familiar faces. 

Moma's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Springtime Roadside Find - Wellington's

Yesterday I ran across an unexpected stop on my barbecue quest. I usually know where I am stopping for lunch when I head out in the morning. But while driving from Olive Branch to Southaven on Goodman Road in Mississippi on Monday I noticed a little roadside trailer identifying itself as Wellington's Fine Bar-B-Que on the south side of the road across the street from the Frontier Western Store.

 I did an immediate U-turn to go back and check the place out. there was a lady standing in the gravel lot taking orders so I asked for a chopped pork plate with my usual beans, slaw and water. The menu only listed sandwich plates, but she said a dinner-style plate was no problem. There was a solitary, beat-up picnic table next to the trailer. Since it was a sunny 80-degree day that had inspired me to wear shorts to work for the first time this year and no one else was using it, I decided to enjoy the weather by eating at the picnic table. Switching to shorts in the spring is a bit of a ritual for me. I spend a lot of time outside with my job and I try not to make the transition until I am reasonably certain I won't need to wear long pants again until sometime in September or October.

The chopped pork came with a nice dry rub sprinkled on it and a container of sauce on the side. I usually don't like mild sauces, since "mild" tends to be a synonym for "sweet." But this was a great, well-balanced sauce with a nice, complex herb flavor to it. The meat itself was flavorful, but it was too uniform and lean for my taste. Pork shoulder needs to have a mix of charred crust and rendered fat mixed in if it is going to be truly exceptional.

The slaw had a great mix of mustard and vinegar flavors but the baked beans tasted like they were straight out of a Bush's can. Still, enjoying barbecue is a subjective experience and I had a great time basking in the sun while eating at the old picnic table. The lady who took my order and brought my food said the Wellington's crew is looking for a permanent home, possibly in Memphis, and I'd love to see what they could do out of a full-size kitchen. For now you'll need to give them a call at 901-319-6843 to determine their exact location for the day. Or if happen upon the trailer when you're in the mood for some barbecue, just pull up and enjoy the moment.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My New Neighborhood Soul Food Place - Cave's

The historic Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhood where I live recently gained a new soul food restaurant to go along with local institution Melanie's on Watkins, which I haven't gotten around to revisiting since my quest began. Since the recently-opened Cave's Soul Food and More on Jackson at Evergreen is so close to my house, I decided to wait until I'd made several visits before I posted a review.

The first time I stopped in it was with several friends after we'd spent an afternoon moving a gargantuan air compressor. I kept it simple on my visit with an order of barbecue bologna, beans and slaw. I asked for baked beans but they accidentally included green beans instead. They offered to correct the mistake, but by the time my order came out several friends who had ordered green beans ahead of me were already raving about them so I decided to keep them. They were packed with seasoning, cooked with a generous quantity of pork fat and ended up being some of the best green beans I've ever had. The slaw was also solidly good and the thick-cut barbecue bologna, which is a favorite comfort food of mine, was excellent. I also picked up a menu that showed the featured items for each day of the week, but every time I've visited there have been additional items available that aren't on the printed menu so if you go make sure to ask what else they've cooked for the day.

Macaroni and cheese: Still served at every soul food place in Memphis, but Cave's does call it a "side," not a "vegetable."

On my second visit I went for the rib dinner. The ribs had a good smoky flavor, but is was largely overpowered by the river of sauce they were swimming in. The sauce had a good, mildly sweet flavor but the amount was so excessive I ended up moping most of it off with my napkins. They also still had a lot of tough, unrendered fat on them. Between Cave's and my experience with Lil' Anthony's Cafe on Lamar I have a new rule: If a restaurant primarily identifies itself as a soul food restaurant but also offers barbecue, stick to the soul food. The baked beans were good, but definitely not as impressive as the green beans from my previous visit.

On my third trip I ordered pork neckbones, turnip greens and yams for myself and chicken and dumplings, green beans, and black-eyed peas for my wife. The neckbones were deliciously tender and so flavorful that I assume they were smoked in the restaurant's barbecue pit. The greens already had a strong vinegar bite and nice spicy kick, so I didn't even bother adding any of the Bruce's Hot Pepper Sauce I usually put on my greens. If you have a tendency to reach for the Bruce's before tasting your greens, don't do it at Cave's. The kitchen already knows how Delta greens are supposed to taste. The yams were naturally great as well. I love yams, but they are hard to write about since they pretty much taste the same everywhere. If you ever encounter a place clueless enough to  mess them up, definitely avoid trying anything else. That certainly wasn't the case at Cave's, where I enjoyed every bite.

My wife declared the chicken and dumplings better than the Tuesday-special dumplings at Dino's around the corner on McLean. My wife is a big fan of Dino's chicken and dumplings, so that counts as high praise. The black-eyed peas were also perfectly seasoned. We got carryout and arranged our dining room table with the standard southern combination of salt, pepper, Bruce's and Louisiana Hot Sauce before we started eating. Other than a bit of Louisiana Hot Sauce on my neckbones, we didn't add anything to any of our food. The green beans had the same spicy vinegar tang as the greens. My wife wasn't a big fan, but I gladly took care of the ones she didn't eat. 

Unlike me, my wife is one of those genetically blessed individuals who can maintain a flat stomach and a healthy triglyceride to HDL cholesterol  ratio while still eating starch-heavy foods like chicken and dumplings.

When I ordered my neckbones, I was torn between them and the excellent-looking meatloaf that I also saw available. I'll be returning soon to try that meatloaf. I've also heard from friends in the neighborhood that the giant, hand-pattied burgers at Cave's are some of the best in town. The restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood and is now firmly on my mental list of nearby go-to carryout choices.

Cave's Soul Food and More on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Homemade Caribbean Pork Butt

A hectic schedule kept me from sampling any barbecue restaurants this week. But I still kept plenty of pig in my diet by cooking a four-pound pork butt from Newman Farm at home. The recipe came from the excellent cookbook All About Braising, by Molly Stevens, that I've mentioned in a past blog on cooking beef short ribs.

I started by carving a crosshatch pattern into the skin on the butt, then marinating it overnight in a combination of fresh garlic, ground allspice berries and coriander seed, thyme, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and fresh-squeezed orange and lime juice.

I usually avoid fruit juice these days due to the high sugar content, but this recipe only uses one-third of a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice for four pounds of meat. One navel orange provided all the orange juice I needed. Two limes provided all the lime juice I needed.

The recipe called for four hours of braising in a cast-iron Dutch oven. I didn't have time for that, so I just left it in a crockpot set on low for eight hours while I was at work Wednesday. The resulting meat was still incredibly tender and permeated with flavor from the spice rub. One nice thing about braising is that recipes tend to be very adaptable and forgiving.

When I got home I drained and degreased the cooking liquid to make a sauce while briefly finishing off the butt under the broiler in my oven with the skin side up so that the skin pieces turned into nice, crispy cracklings. The broiler also gave the outer parts of the a meat nice, charred flavor similar to what I like to have mixed in with my barbecue. I meant to take another picture after it came out of the broiler and added the sauce, but in the heat of the moment I just started eating instead.

For a side I used the recipe for "the world's best braised green cabbage" from the same cookbook. It is an incredibly simple dish that just requires throwing together a handful of common ingredients; cabbage, carrots, onion, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, chicken stock and olive oil; then leaving everything in the oven for a couple hours.

I had to skim a very large amount of fat off the cooking liquid to get to the sauce below. I was going to throw it away when I realized I was dealing with healthy, rendered pork lard from a naturally pastured pig that had been infused with citrus and Caribbean spice flavors. So I saved it and used a generous scoop of it in my cast iron skillet to cook my eggs this morning. They were a perfect match for the couple of slices of Newman Farm's peppered bacon I had with them. So I'll be holding on to my deliciously flavored lard to see what other foods I can improve with it.

UPDATE: I remembered to snap a picture of how the butt turned out when I ate the leftovers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Traditional Memphis-Style Downtown - Double J Smokehouse

I found out about the recently-opened Double J Smokehouse in Downtown's South Main District last week from a post in the Convention and Visitors Bureau's I Love Memphis Blog. The blog, which is a handy source for Memphis-related art and entertainment news, mentioned that the new Western-saloon-themed barbecue joint had plenty of big screen TVs for sporting events. Since I was working around South Main on Thursday afternoon, during the opening round* of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, I had plenty of incentive to duck in and sample the barbecue while catching some early tournament action.  

The restaurant had a pleasant, laid-back vibe while I was there. It's a "saloon," but I wouldn't hesitate to take kids there to eat. It wasn't anywhere near as kitschy as I'd feared when I heard about the saloon theme. I sat at the bar where I had a great view of the TV and ordered the $15 rib and chopped pork combo dinner. I drank ice water, but I noticed a nice selection of draft beer that included Ghost River and Fat Tire.

The barbecue at the Double J is automatically served with dry rub and a little bit of sauce on the side, the way I prefer it. It can be surprisingly hard to find real traditional Memphis-style barbecue Downtown since so many of the places on Beale that are aimed at tourists drench their meat in a wet, syrupy glaze. All the meat was infused with deliciously rendered fat and a strong smoke flavor that perfectly complimented the house-made dry rub. The chopped pork in particular was some of the best I've had. I ate every bit of it without adding a drop of the sauce, which was like a thicker version of the tangy vinegar sauce at Central BBQ. The slaw also had a nice vinegar bite, while the baked beans were pretty average.

The ribs were cooked a little past perfect, but still had a great flavor. I actually liked them better with a little of the sauce added, but I used it sparingly to keep from overwhelming the wonderful smoke and paprika flavors. If you are Downtown, they are a great example of real Memphis-style ribs. It is worth going off-Beale for them, especially since it's just a short, eight-block ride south on the trolley to get to there. And it is always fun to spend a couple hours roaming the South Main District, exploring the various shops, restaurants and bars.

If you visit the Double J, be sure to swing by Ernestine and Hazel's down the street. The supposedly-haunted bar was a brothel for river workers back in Downtown's rowdy past.

The Double J has good enough barbecue to please local purists, but it should also get to expose plenty of tourists to the marvels of dry rub since it sits directly next to the National Civil Rights Museum located inside the old Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. I've commented before about how unfair it is that Memphis had the bad luck of being associated with King's murder instead of his life, but the city should be proud of the work it has done to honor his memory with the museum. Visitors always seem shocked by just how emotional of an experience the museum ends up being.

If you are looking at the museum from this direction, just turn your head to the right and you will be looking at the back of the Double J.

* The NCAA and CBS are trying to get people to refer to the field of 64 teams as the tournament's "second round" in an attempt to legitimize the additional play-in games that were added to the beginning of the tournament in a shameless attempt to rake in additional money. I refuse to play along with their sham. Their monkeying with what pretty much every sports fan considered a perfect postseason setup would have been less infuriating if it wasn't being done by the same scumbags who insist that they can't change the near-universally despised BCS system for college football because it has too much "tradition."

Double J Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Soul Food and Comic Books - Lorenzo's

I've been meaning to eat at Blocker's Soul Food for months now. A few weeks ago I tried to visit the Winchester location on a Wednesday; a day that it is only open for dinner. On Tuesday I tried to stop by the Raleigh location only to discover that it had closed down and been replaced with a place called Lorenzo's Soul Food. Regardless of the name on the building, it was still a soul food restaurant and that is what I came to eat so I headed inside.

Lorenzo's is open seven days a week, but only for lunch. Like most soul food places, the selections change on a daily basis. After reading over my options on the board, I ordered a pork chop with turnip greens and yams from the friendly smiling ladies behind the order counter. I still haven't been able to catch a soul food place on a day that chitterlings were on the menu, but Lorenzo's did continue my perfect streak of seeing macaroni and cheese listed as a "vegetable" at every single soul food restaurant in the city.

The pork chops had a deliciously light and flaky batter on them and were still relatively juicy despite being cooked in the traditional southern well-done manner. Commercial pork  has suffered heavily from the breeding of leaner and leaner pigs in order to promote pork as "the other white meat." Meanwhile, I've spoiled myself at home with heritage pork chops from Newman Farms that I usually just sear on each side then broil for a few minutes. But this was still a tasty chop, and the $5 price tag for the entire meal is hard to beat. The turnip greens and yams were also solidly good. Despite the breading on the chop and eating half the corn muffin, my blood sugar an hour after the meal was only 107. Pork fat and greens are a powerfully healthy combination.

I'd been aware of the old Blocker's Soul Food restaurant in the same location for months, since it occupied the same shopping center as a regular stop for me. I've been a loyal customer of the Comic Cellar for years. In fact, if you count its previous incarnation as a store called Triple Play, I've been a customer for most of my life. The Comic Cellar's owner, Jason Prince, used to manage the old Triple Play store before buying it himself and rebranding it as the Comic Cellar, since the Triple Play name was based around sports cards that he hasn't carried in years since the bottom fell out of that market. The only cards he carries these days are for games like Magic: the Gathering, which I don't play but he regularly hosts tournament-style playing sessions for in the shop.

I was buying traditional superhero comics from Triple Play back in elementary school. And while I still enjoy superhero yarns by outstanding authors like Mark MillarGrant Morrison and Walking Dead author Robert Kirkman; these days my tastes generally run towards more adult-world-oriented works by writers like Garth Ennis, Mike Carey and Neil Gaiman.

Any time I enter the comic shop during a Magic tournament I inevitably hear this song in the back of my mind.

If you're a fan of the Walking Dead TV show, stop by the Comic Cellar and check out the creator-owned comic series, which has been going on since 2003. There are some big difference in who lives and dies, and when characters are killed off, between the TV series and the comic, so there are plenty of surprises in store even if you follow both.

However, if watching the painfully-clumsy Comic Book Men series that comes on after the Walking Dead is making you want to take in your old X-Force comics from the 1990s to see what they are worth, don't bother. When I stopped by the shop after my lunch at Lornezo's, Jason was explaining to yet another frustrated would-be seller that he doesn't have the time to appraise comic collections, since sorting and selling them is so labor-intensive and they are generally worth far less than people are hoping. So here is some free advice if you stumbled across this page Googling something like "where to sell comic books in Memphis": take the time to do it yourself on or give them away to someone who will enjoy them for the stories and art themselves like the kids at St. Jude. You aren't going to drop them off anywhere and walk off with a nice check.

The current Comic Cellar location is just north of the now-empty Raleigh parking lot where the original store sat in a shopping center anchored by a Service Merchandise.

The original location faced the once-booming, now-blighted Raleigh Springs Mall that I discussed in a post on Raleigh Bar-B-Que. As I pointed out in a post on the abandoned Lakeland Mall, the reasons some malls decline aren't as simple as certain reactionary people like to claim.

And on a final, unrelated note: The shopping center the Comic Cellar originally occupied was next to this still-creepy building. It is a Hispanic church now, but at one time it was home to the infamous Love In Action ministry, which offered in-patient counseling based on a particularly toxic interpretation of Christian mythology to attempt to badger and brainwash homosexuals into hiding in the closet from themselves. I thought the group was finally discredited and gone, but Googling them for this post lead me to an official website that makes it look like they are still promoting self-loathing-based mental illness from a new location in Bartlett.

Lorenzo's Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 12, 2012

Overpriced, Over-Sauced - 10 Bones

The first time I heard about 10 Bones BBQ in Southaven was last year in a newspaper article about the joint's fried ribs. There aren't many combinations of words in the English language that will grab my attention like "fried ribs," so even before I started my current quest I wanted to sample some. Today I finally made it to the restaurant, located just south of the Snowden Grove Amphitheater on Getwell in Southaven, MS.

Ten Bones is located in a modern strip center designed to resemble an old-fashioned town square. I've heard complaints about long waits and inattentive service, including friends who said they eventually gave up and left without eating. I didn't have to spend a lot of time waiting on my visit, since the restaurant was relatively empty when I stopped by at about 1:30. But the serving staff was noticeably young and inexperienced so I can see how things can get backed up when the place is busy.

I was surprised by the rib prices, which were the highest I've encountered so far. A half-slab with no sides was $17.95 while a half-slab dinner was $19.95. They also give you the option of adding a third-slab to any dinner for $9.50, and the pulled pork dinners are far more reasonable with a jumbo only costing $7.95. Luckily, on Mondays they offer buy one menu item, get a cheaper item free deal. So I was able to get a regular pulled pork dinner, a third-slab of ribs and a $2 fried rib for about $13 before tip.   

The fried ribs are made by refrigerating leftover ribs from the day before, cutting them into small servings and flash frying them to order. The meat itself was was delicous but unfortunately it was drenched in a thick, overly-sweet sauce that tasted like some sort of mild barbecue offering you'd expect to find at a Buffalo Wild Wings. It would actually make more sense to offer it as a dessert instead of an appetizer.

Ten Bones doesn't offer a plain pulled pork plate so I just got a sandwich plate and discarded the bun. It wasn't a bad deal with the Monday-only special, but without it I would have paid over $20 for a disappointing quantity of food. The third-slab of ribs came out wearing a heavy glaze of the same syrupy sauce as the fried rib. They had a nice, tender texture, requiring just enough give to pull them off the bone. The ribs also had a great smoke flavor, but I had to wipe a bunch of excess sauce off of them with some paper towels to appreciate it. There was a spicy barbecue sauce offered at the table that was far better than the standard sauce I'd been moping off and I enjoyed the ribs with a bit of it added on. 

The pulled pork had a great flavor and a nice mix of tender meat and charred outer crust mixed together. It wasn't doused with sauce like the ribs, so I just added enough hot to counteract the sweetness of the original that was on it. The little bit of slaw that came on top of it balanced well with the meat and sauce, but I would have preferred a bigger, separate serving. The baked beans were a fairly generic rendition.
Whoever cooks the meat at Ten Bones is doing a great job, but their work is being overwhelmed with subpar sauce. Since both types of sauce are available at the table, it would be far better to let customers decide for themselves which one and how much they prefer. Also, The Mondays-only special made made the price of my meal a pretty good deal, but at regular price the paltry servings would have made for the most overpriced meal on my quest. In fact, the only individual meal I've had elsewhere that cost a comparable amount was the "combo with ribs" at Central, which featured an outrageous abundance of food. If I was in Southaven wanting ribs, I'd save some money by just going to the ever-reliable Tops on Stateline Road.

10 Bones BBQ on Urbanspoon