I could smell the wonderful barbecue aroma as soon as I stepped out onto the parking lot where there were a couple men unloading a large trailer of wood next to a giant commercial barbecue pit. My server inside later told me that the pit can cook 200 butts at the same time, so the owners have obviously been willing to invest the money necessary to produce the volume of slowly smoked pork is takes to feed such a large restaurant without cutting corners.
It threw me off for a second when I first entered the building and the hostess asked me if I wanted smoking or non. Tennessee has limited smoking to 21-and-up establishments for years now, and since DeSoto County, MS, is a suburb of Memphis it is easy to forget it is in another state with its on separate laws. Once I was seated in the nonsmoking section an extremely friendly server took my drink order and gave me a menu. When he came back with my ice water he also had an order of hot, freshly made pork rinds dusted with dry rub barbecue seasoning.
The pork rinds are a standard free starter at Memphis Barbecue Company, similar but vastly superior to the rolls that are common at other restaurants. I love pork rinds and I love dry rub, so I didn't waste any time tearing into them. I tried splashing them with a little of the regular barbecue sauce that was on the table and the result was great. Then I tried them with the flavor-packed hot barbecue sauce and it was even better. When my server came back to take my food order he saw me enjoying the pork rinds and started to suggest trying them with the spicy sauce before laughing when he realized that was already exactly what I was doing.
I ordered the half-slab rib dinner with beans and slaw. The ribs are offered wet or dry in both loin (baby back) rib and spare (St. Louis) rib cuts. Since the restaurant boasts about its amazing food and world champion pitmaster owners I decided to put them to the test with the leaner loin ribs. At $15.99, the price tag for a half-slab dinner certainly indicated that they were proud of their food.
The ribs had a coating of dry rub, but it wasn't the heavy dusting you see at places like the Bar-B-Q Shop in Midtown. Instead, there was just enough rub to mix with the rendered fat that seeped out of the meat while I was eating to create a sauce-like coating that was literally finger-licking good. As much as I enjoyed the hot barbecue sauce on my pork rinds, I thought that the ribs were better without it. The outer smoke line on them was a dark red color that faded to pink towards the interior of the meat. As good as the sauce was, it was an unnecessary distraction from the wonderfully complex flavor of the ribs in their natural state.
The beans and slaw were both solidly better than average compared to other barbecue places around town, although neither stood out as truly amazing. I usually avoid bread on my barbecue quest but I did nibble a few small bites of the cornbread that came with my dinner to verify that it was as good as it looked. I don't find it hard to pass on bread made from ordinary wheat flour, but I was a straight-up cornbread junkie in my heavier days and a good-looking sample will still temptingly beckon to me.
After tax and tip I ended up paying $21 for my meal at the Memphis Barbecue Company, which is pretty steep for a lunch stop. But for someone looking to enjoy great traditional Memphis dry rub ribs, I'd put it alongside the Bar-B-Q Shop, Leonard's, Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib Shack, and the newly-opened Double J Smokehouse in my current, totally unofficial and subject to change, in no particular order, top five**.
* There is a traffic light to help you get out of the Memphis Barbecue Company parking lot. I digressed into a long-winded rant about Goodman Road and its traffic in my post about Boss Hog B-B-Q. There was a report in the Sunday Commercial Appeal that the city of Memphis is bringing in a planning expert to tell them many of the same things I said in that blog post. Hopefully I can make it to his public presentation tomorrow evening to hear him speak in more detail. I am fascinated by the way cities, particularly mine, change over time. That's why this blog is frequently a discussion of the city disguised as a food blog. [UPDATE: I attended the presentation and wrote an outrageously long post about it here]
** I haven't posted about the Rendezvous yet, but keep in mind they aren't traditional Memphis ribs. They are a Greek take on traditional Memphis ribs. I have a lot less experience with the wet ribs around Memphis, since I order dry whenever I have the option, but if you do prefer wet, the ones at Cozy Corner would be hard to beat. Just don't ask them for hot unless you mean it.