Friday, September 27, 2013

Outside Nashville - Papa Kay Joe's

Last weekend I was in Lebanon, TN, a small town just east of Nashville, with some friends for the annual Redneck Rumble car show. The Rumble is an event for rat rods, traditional-style hot rods and bobber-style motorcycles.

If you like traditional hot rods like these, you'll like the Redneck rumble.

Since I was going to be passing through Nashville around dinner time on the way home I posted a message on the Memphis Que Facebook page asking for recommendations on where to eat. Several people mention Nashville hot chicken places like Prince's and Hattie B's. Nashville hot chicken is one form of southern food I haven't explored yet, and based on some of the pictures I've seen and reviews I've read it is something I need to try. But I was in the mood for barbecue (big surprise right?) so I followed a tip to check out a place called Papa Kay Joe's Bar-B-Que located west of Nashville in Centerville.

The pig on the sign is exactly the same as the one on this sign from a boarded-up barbecue joint in West Memphis, AR.

I looked up Papa Kay Joe's on my phone and found a listing for an address on Ward Street in Centerville. It was going to be about a 40 mile total detour from the interstate, but it seemed like a worthwhile adventure. The directions on my phone said to take Exit 172 and head south on Highway 46 for several miles before making a right on Highway 100 and driving about 17 miles to get to Centerville. But we had only been off of I-40 traveling on Highway 46 for a couple miles when we saw a big sign for Papa Kay Joe's

At first we were confused, but also happy that we weren't going to be driving near as far out of the way as we expected. On the way into the restaurant I noticed an additional sign noting that we were actually at Papa Kay Joe's East. There are two locations. So if you are traveling on I-40 and want to try Papa Kay Joe's barbecue without driving all the way to Centerville just head south from Exit 172 and you'll find the restaurant on the right side of the road a couple miles down. Just be warned that it is closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Once we were seated and looked over the menu the friend I was traveling with ordered a pulled pork sandwich with fires and slaw. I noticed an interesting sounding item on the menu that featured a pile of pulled pork on a cornbread cake but I ordered a rib dinner with beans and slaw.

 My friend let me try a bite of the pulled pork from his sandwich before he inhaled it and it was great. It could easily be eaten with no sauce, although the restaurant offers both mild and hot barbecue sauce.

My ribs failed to impress me. They came coated with an ultra-sweet sauce that dominated the flavor. The hot barbecue sauce available at the table was much better than what came on the ribs, I would have requested the hot but my server had told me the ribs were served dry. Their texture varied from overly-mushy in some areas to over-cooked to a jerky-like consistency in other areas. Compared to the excellent pulled pork my friend  I was left with that feeling where you want a time machine to jump back and warn yourself to order differently.

The menu listed both mayo and vinegar slaw. My friend and I both ordered the vinegar-based but the restaurant was out so we ended up opting for the mayo based instead. While I generally prefer vinegar slaw the mayo slaw at Papa Kay Joe's is really good. It is roughly chopped, the mayo is used sparingly and it is seasoned with black pepper. If more mayo-based slaw was like the variation served at Papa Kay Joe's I wouldn't have an aversion to it. The beans were totally average.

My rib dinner also came with a cornbread pancake. I realized just how much of a mistake I'd made while ordering when I took a bite. The thing was delicious. My friend asked to try a bite and ended up wide-eyed at how good it was as well. On the way out of the restaurant I noticed a framed article on the wall from Southern Living magazine. It quoted owner Devin Pickard saying the cornbread cakes are fried in pork lard on a griddle because he thinks barbecue restaurants should celebrate pork fat.

The next time I have an opportunity to eat at Papa Kay Joe's there is no question what I will be ordering. I will be getting one of those outstanding pork lard-fried cornbread cakes topped with the restaurant's outstanding pulled pork and slaw. Even now I find myself daydreaming about just how spectacular it will taste.

Papa Kayjoe's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon


  1. Interestingly enough, I just had phenomenal brisket in Brooklyn, accompanied by blah ribs.

    The cornmeal pancake is something I've seen around Louisville, served piled with chopped mutton (or the meat of your choice).

    1. You see the cornmeal pancake at soul food places around here, but the pork lard frying took this one to the next level.