Thursday, March 29, 2012

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


  1. I live virtually next door to the old Bartlett location so it was a go to spot for me. I basically agree with your assessment of their ribs and their pork in general. What I really miss about the place is their delicious barbecued chicken which they smoked over-night. Their pork wasn't bad at all or I wouldn't have eaten it twice. It was more what I would call average. It was probably the best barbecue in Bartlett for what that's worth. We're not exactly Barbecue Mecca....

  2. The Original Pig & Whistle was awesome...I remember the one on Union Ave. in Memphis; it had the most amazing onion rings EVER!! You could get a dinner plate piled high with individual rings with the lightest batter...for 1.00.  I've never had any as good since. Kids called it "Hoot & Holler". Would so love to have that onion ring recipe!! I actually sat in their parking lot eating onion rings with my future husband, while my engagement ring was being made in downtown Memphis; 1965.