Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Breaking the Rules - More Payne's

The first time I visited Payne's Bar-B-Q on Lamar I followed my standard rules for this quest and ordered ribs and a chopped pork dinner . Taken separately, I thought the barbecue sauce was too sweet and the cole slaw was overwhelmed by mustard and vinegar (and that is coming from a guy who loves mustard and vinegar in his slaw).

But I know a lot of people who love Payne's. And every single one of them raves about the same menu item -- the barbecue sandwich. So that made me wonder if the Payne's sandwich was a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. I didn't like the slaw served by itself as a side. But I was curious if the Payne's sandwich was similar in principle to a good muffuletta. I wouldn't want to eat a mound of olive salad by itself, but sometimes several strong flavors can balance out in a sandwich to create something grand.

Once I decided to sample my way the Memphis area's barbecue joints I quickly realized I'd need to keep my ordering fairly healthy since becoming an overweight diabetic wasn't one of my goals for the quest. I generally try to avoid processed junk like bread, sugar, corn syrup and vegetable oils. Because of this my, near-daily* barbecue consumption has slimmed me down while also improving my cholesterol profile. But let's be honest here; nobody orders a jumbo pork sandwich from Payne's because they want to drop a few pounds and lower their risk of a heart attack. So I went back to indulge myself with a spicy jumbo with slaw on it.

I also wanted to give Payne's another chance because the staff was so incredibly friendly on my first visit. When nice people are operating an independent, family-run business it makes me want them to succeed. The service was just as friendly the second time around. The sandwich was only five bucks and some change and it was enormous.

This is what makes people love Payne's. The heavy helping of sauce and slaw on the mountain of pork meat means it is best to eat a Payne's jumbo over a plate with a fork handy since the bun is probably going to disintegrate before you are able to finish the thing. The chopped pork had some nice charred bits mixed in with it to provide some needed texture. It still couldn't really taste any smoke, but I think that is just because the taste is so dominated by the sauce and slaw.

The ultra-tangy slaw that seemed way too strong by itself becomes pretty tasty when it is sitting atop the sweet, spicy sauce. Despite the sauce's spiciness the taste is still dominated by sugar. It is way more ketchupy than I prefer, but a lot of people love sweet sauces. There are even people who purchase bottled steak sauces and intentionally douse steaks with them. But don't worry, the Payne's sandwich is far superior to a travesty like that.

I've refused to grade or rank barbecue places with this blog because personal taste is too subjective to declare one style to be right or wrong. I personally prefer well-cooked dry rub pork ribs full of rendered fat. But I still appreciate the amazing wet ribs at Cozy Corner and the beef brisket at Fat Larry's

Our taste buds evolved to seek out fat, salt and sugar. A Payne's sandwich offers a huge hit of all three. If you consume a lot of sodas, sugary cereals or other sweets the Payne's sauce probably won't seem overly sweet to you. It's all a matter of what your taste buds are adapted to.

Also keep in mind that this is Memphis. Different people like different barbecue places better than others. But no one stays in business for decades selling bad barbecue around here. The Payne's sandwich wasn't my personal favorite barbecue variation, but I understand its appeal.

And while I talked about the heavy use of sugar in the Payne's sauce, I don't think our nation's health problems are being driven occasional indulgences like the jumbo Payne's sandwich. Most people can take one look at it and realize that it isn't something they should be eating on a regular basis. But a lot of people would be needlessly worrying about all the calories from pork fat, which is actually one of the healthiest components of the sandwich.

Almost all the chronic health problems in our country are caused by blood sugar. And some of the biggest culprits driving people's blood sugar up are the foods people eat when they think they are making healthy choices. I thought I'd illustrate that point by tracking the path my blood sugar took after eating the Payne's sandwich and comparing it to what happens if I eat something that a lot of people would mistakenly consider healthy.

I thought I would just show that the Payne's sandwich wasn't any worse that a low-fat lunch with plenty of whole grains. I was totally unprepared for how much worse the supposedly healthy choice ended up being. My blood sugar jumped to 176 within half an hour of eating the Payne's sandwich and peaked at 182 after another half hour. An hour and a half after eating it my level had started to drop a little to 173, and within two hours it was at the safe level of 115. Blood sugar levels over 160 are where you start really damaging the cells in your body. The closer you can stay to 100 after your meals, the more you will easily maintain a healthy weight without hunger and food cravings being an issue.

Turkey, whole wheat, veggies and low-fat baked chips. This is a lot healthier than a big, sloppy Payne's sandwich, right?

On Sunday I went to the Lenny's Sub Shop on Cooper and picked up a turkey sandwich on a whole wheat kaiser bun topped with lettuce, tomato, banana peppers, oregano, oil and vinegar along with a single-serving bag of baked potato crisps. Half an hour after that meal I was shocked to see my blood sugar was at 211. I wondered if I might have gotten a faulty reading but after another half hour it was up to 241. It finally peaked at 270 an hour and a half after the meal. Keep in mind that levels over 300 are where heart attack and stroke risks start to jump severely. This country is full of people unknowingly walking around with dangerously high blood sugar levels due to eating foods they've been told are good for them.    

Within two hours my blood sugar had finally dropped to 170 and half an hour after that it had plummeted to 96. And by that point I was HUNGRY. As in obsessed with eating, fantasizing about devouring an entire large pizza. At this point plenty of nutrition "experts" would tell someone to snack on something like fruit or additional whole grains to get their blood sugar back up. Instead I drank several hundred calories worth of coconut milk to hold me over until I could make it to Tops for some ribs.

I'm not trying to pick on Lenny's. There was just one near my house and I knew I could grab something that looked like what most people think of as healthy food. I actually love the chain's Philly and chicken Philly salads that pile a mountain of meat and cheese on top of a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and peppers. It comes with crackers and croutons on the side but I just throw them away.  

Processed food companies are always looking for ways to promote junk foods as healthy and nutritious. The company that makes Nutella just paid $3 million to settle a lawsuit based on years of false claims that the chocolaty spread with sugar listed as its first ingredient is healthy. I think of class action trial lawyers as some of the most parasitic scum on the face of the planet, since they get rich without ever helping anybody who was actually wronged in any meaningful way. In this instance, as a consumer you can apply for anywhere from $4 to $20 depending on how much Nutella you can prove you ate. But this could do some good if it makes other companies think twice about claiming sugary, low-fat foods are somehow good for the human body.

"With whole grain first ingredient" does not make Frosted Toast Crunch a health food.

* Believe it or not, eating so much barbecue for this blog has actually made me crave it more instead of burning me out on it. I actually eat a lot more of it than I post about it since I get cravings for places I've already written about on the quest. Since eating the Payne's sandwich last Thursday I've also had ribs from Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib shack for lunch Friday, ribs from the Tops near my house for dinner Sunday, chopped pork from Gridley's for lunch on Monday and a jumbo pulled plate from Three Little Pigs today.

 Payne's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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