Thursday, April 11, 2013

Great Ribs and Fried BBQ Pies - More A&R

When people talk about the best ribs in Memphis you frequently hear people mention A&R Bar-B-Q. You also here people dismiss them as okay but not all that special. I think a lot of that difference in opinion is determined by which location people have tried. Most of the A&R locations share buildings with other businesses and have little indoor pits inside the restaurant. Meanwhile, the stand-alone Elvis Presley location has more in common with rural West Tennessee barbecue joints like Helen's and Latham's.

April showers bring light conditions that can make outdoor photography difficult

The first time I posted about the A&R on Elvis Presley I'd been writing this blog for less than a month. At that point I was still heavily focused on educating people on the geography of Memphis and that post spent much more time talking about the nearby Soulsville neighborhood than the actual barbecue. That was also largely because in those early days of blogging I hadn't come to fully appreciate barbecue cooked in old-fashioned smokehouses.

This is the brick-chimneyed cinder block smokehouse behind the Elvis Presley location of A&R. You normally only see smokehouses like this in rural areas. Over the past two years I've eaten enough barbecue from enough places to really appreciate how much of a difference one can make. Having access to one in an urban area is a genuine treat.

After my recent post about the rib tips I enjoyed at A&R's Downtown location I decided to swing back by the Elvis Presley location to try the ribs there. A sign at the counter informed me that the company recently lowered the prices on its menu items to commemorate its 30th anniversary. My rib dinner plate was only $9.99 before tax, making it one of the best values in a rib dinner I've encountered.

Of course, low cost is only one part of a good value. But these ribs delivered on taste as well. I requested them dry with sauce on the side. Between the smoke and the light dusting of dry rub the ribs had so much flavor I barely touched the sauce. They had the perfect texture too; tender but without the fall-apart consistency so many people mistakenly consider ideal. The beans and slaw were pretty average, but with great ribs that cheap who cares? While the Manic American guys were in town they mentioned how impressed they were by the big old barbecue pit inside the Hickory Hill location of A&R and the ribs that came out of it. I haven't been to that one yet, but I'm now curious to try it soon. 

While I was waiting for my ribs at the Elvis Presley store I couldn't help but notice a large sign advertising "BBQ fried pies." It looked like one of the fried pies you usually see with fruit or chocolate filling at little country stores, only filled with pulled pork and sauce. I posted a pic of it on Instagram before eating my lunch. Over the next several hours I got enough messages questioning me about the fried pies on Facebook that I decided to swing back by A&R for a Hobbit-worthy second lunch.

It turns out the pies are available with pork, beef, chicken or turkey filling. I naturally went for the pork. I ended up waiting nearly 30 minutes for the pie. I'm not sure if that is standard or if there was a mix-up in the kitchen. I do know that when it came out it was way too hot to eat or hold. I had to poke some steam holes in it with a fork and let it cool down.

At $4.99 before tax the fried barbecue tax compares well to a barbecue sandwich in both price and volume. It is loaded with barbecue sauce as well as meat and ends up being similar to a barbecue-stuffed chimichanga, i.e., similar to a pothead's greatest dream.

Regular readers of this blog know that I normally try to make my barbecue and soul food selections as healthy as possible by trying to eat real foods in place of toxic, empty-calorie junk foods. I have three big rules I generally try to follow.

1. Avoid refined carbohydrates as much as possible, particularly wheat and sugar/high fructose corn syrup.

2. Avoid foods cooked with industrial-produced, chemically-extracted vegetable oils like corn, soy and canola oil.

3. Avoid unfermented soy products.

The fried barbecue pie features meat drenched in sugary sauce and served in a flour crust that has been deep fried; most likely in soybean oil. So it manages to completely break all my usual rules for healthy eating. Of course, we are talking about a deep fried barbecue pie here. I'm pretty sure anyone looking to drop a few pounds or worrying about heart disease or diabetes already realizes they shouldn't be ordering one.

It is obviously meant to be an occasional, yet delicious, indulgence. But like I demonstrated with a jumbo barbecue sandwich from Payne's Bar-B-Q in a previous post, it is important for people to understand why it is unhealthy and that the pork meat is actually the healthiest part of it. Meanwhile the rib dinner I had earlier in the day is actually pretty ideal for someone worried about their heart health or their weight.

A&R Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon


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