I think I've been a little too dismissive of the barbecue choices on Beale Street so far. Sure they are generally aimed at tourists and a seem little overpriced. But while I haven't had any truly amazing barbecue on my visits to the Pig and Blues City Cafe, all the ribs I've eaten on Beale so far have been enjoyable. And the food prices are high compared to other parts of town, but so is the rent. You are paying for location, and sometimes location means a lot.
I was strolling down Beale Thursday, enjoying the perfect weather, while trying to decide where to grab lunch. I noticed that the upstairs patio at Alfred's looking particularly inviting, but it was also empty. So I stuck my head in the door and asked a smiling server about eating up there. She cheerfully told me to head right up. I noticed I was one of the only customers in the entire restaurant, which explained the empty upper-patio.
View of Beale to the west from the upper-patio.
Alfred's sits at the corner of Third and Beale. I spent a fair amount of time discussing Third Street, which is what the infamous "Blues Highway" U.S. 61 is called when it passes through Memphis, in my post on Interstate Bar- B-Q. When you sit on the upper patio of Alfred's, you are looking down at the intersection of two of the most important roads in the history of American music.
View of Third to the north from the upper-patio.
I've always sort of avoided Alfred's, since I tend to just think of it as a generic dance club blaring popular mainstream music, while I prefer more punk-rock-oriented dive bars. But during the middle of a weekday, when Beale is mostly empty, it seems like a great place to do some day drinking with friends. Unfortunately, I was by myself and had to get over the bridge to West Memphis, AR, after lunch for some afternoon work responsibilities, so I just ordered a water to drink.
View of Third to the south. That is the Westin hotel and Gibson guitar factory on the right. You can't see it in the picture, but the FedExForum is directly across the street from them on the left. The Red Hot Chili Peppers played a sold-out show at the Forum later that night, so my pictures of an empty patio and fairly empty streets are really just the quiet before the storm.
I laughed and explained I was a lifelong Memphian with a blog when the waitress asked where I was from while I looked over the menu. I was on Beale Street in the middle of a weekday with a camera taking pictures of everything around me. So it was completely natural to assume I was a tourist. In a way I guess I was. One of the most fun things about my barbecue quest has been the way it has allowed me to explore the city from a fresh perspective, instead of mindlessly passing through different parts of town while I work.
I was happy to see that Alfred's serves regular half and full slabs of ribs instead of the oddball-sized small, large and full serving options I've noticed at a lot of Beale Street eateries. I order a half-slab dinner and continued to soak up the sun, the gentle breeze and the view while I waited for my food.
I was impressed as soon as I saw my plate. The rib dinner was $15.95, but at least the portions were in line with a half-slab dinner from other parts of town. Alfred's only offers wet ribs, which seems to be standard on Beale, but the sauce had been added while the ribs cooked so it was soaked into the meat and crusted on the outside. The end result was tasty rib meat that had a nice mix of flavors and wasn't overly sauced. The ribs and the beans also had a dusting of dry rib. When I started eating the beans I realized they were just canned beans that had been spruced up with dry rub then baked for a few minutes. But even that little bit of effort made them much better than regular straight-from-the-can beans. The slaw was also pretty standard.
The ribs actually had a better smoke flavor than the ones I had at the Pig the week before, although the Pig's were a little more tender and juicy. Both were good enough to make me realize that, while I may not find any of the absolute best barbecue in Memphis on Beale, I should be able to enjoy some really nice meals. And the higher prices are just a natural part of eating in a tourist district.
You aren't just paying for the ribs. You are paying to have the ribs here. I also had excellent service, but I was up there by myself so I don't know how it is when the place gets slammed.