Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Same Street, Different Worlds - More Tops

On Thursday I had a half-slab rib dinner from the Tops on Thomas Street /U.S. Highway 51 in Frayser. Thomas Street the name for U.S. Highway 51 where it passes through North Memphis and Frayser. South of Chelsea Avenue it is called Danny Thomas Boulevard, while it is simply referred to as Highway 51 to the north of Frayser.

In Memphis we have a longstanding tradition of making sure the names of our roads change every few miles. To keep Highway 51 extra confusing we also run it down Union Avenue for a stretch Downtown, then refer to it as Bellevue in South Memphis before changing the name again to Elvis Presley Boulevard as you go further south towards Whitehaven. Poplar Avenue is pretty much the only street in Memphis that crosses the entire city without a name change.


The aging Tops on Thomas Street has its barbecue pit on display in a glass-walled room in the front of the store, similar to the setup at the older of the two Tops on Summer Avenue. I ordered my ribs with sauce on the side and at this restaurant they actually came out dry. Most of the Tops where I've tried ribs baste them with sauce while they cook, so they still have a glaze on them even when ordered "dry." Since that is how they do it at the Tops near my house, I associate the glaze with Tops ribs in my mind. The Tops on Stateline Road in Southaven is the only location where I've  dad true dry ribs with rub on them. It currently has my favorite ribs that I've tried from the chain.


Despite the differences in saucing techniques, the ribs at all the Tops locations tend to be pretty uniform in tenderness and smoke penetration. The ones I had on Thomas Street had the flavor and juiciness I expect. They aren't the best in town, but I've never had a disappointing order.


That Tops location sits a few doors down from the currently-empty Frayser Maid Restaurant. I first heard about the Frayser Maid about ten years ago when I was working Downtown at Walker Radiator Works next door to the legendary Sun Studio. A coworker at Walker swore by the country-fried steak at the Frayser Maid. The shop closed at 4:30 p.m. and the restaurant closed at 5 p.m. so he would call ahead to let them know he was rushing up there for a carry out order as soon as he clocked out. The building has sat empty with a "For Lease" sign for about a year, but the sign came down recently and the building is now wearing a fresh coat of paint so I am curious if someone is about to do something with the space. I've already posted about Frayser's economic woes in a past post about another Tops location there and I'd love to see more independent businesses in the struggling community.


While the Tops on Thomas Street represents an old look for the company, the store located just off of Highway 51 on Wilkinsville Road in Millington is one of the newest in the chain. It opened just a few years ago and was probably a major factor in the Millington location of The Pig closing down shortly thereafter. I didn't stop at the Millington Tops on Thursday, but I've eaten a double cheeseburger there in the past so it was already crossed off my list of Tops I need to visit to have tried all 14 locations. I've currently been to 11 so the end of this fun little sidequest is drawing near. 

Tops Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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