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

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