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.