Friday, October 17, 2014
Central BBQ (Memphis, TN)
I seem to be traveling a lot lately. Today I found myself headed for Little Rock to retrieve some Halloween yard cutouts that my father-in-law had made for us. Since we were planning on a sophisticated and refined "Endless Shrimp" dinner at Red Lobster, I was specifically told to come hungry. I can usually put away 70-80 shrimp on an empty stomach, but when you're driving through Memphis it's almost impossible not to stop for barbecue. I decided on a quick lunch at Central BBQ, partially because they make their own pork rinds!
Central BBQ has consistently been ranked one of the top barbecue restaurants in Memphis for the past decade. They also seem to be a favorite of Southern Living and Garden & Gun (yes, I subscribe to both). Central has opened up a couple of satellite operations around town, but I wanted to check out the original. Sadly, when I arrived I was informed that they were closed while the floor was being remodeled. I had already psyched myself up to try Central, so I headed for their downtown location.
There was a line out the door at 11:15. Sigh. I had a little wiggle room in my schedule, so it wasn't a huge problem. No surprise, the two-year-old downtown operation is noticeably newer and has a bluesy/touristy atmosphere. The order counter is just inside the double doors, so I'm sure there are normally customers waiting along the sidewalk. I don't know if this was intentional, but it definitely gives passersby the impression that Central is insanely popular. They also have a large covered patio, which was perfect on a cool day like today.
I'm normally a brisket kind of guy, but this is Memphis. I got a half-slab rib plate: half wet, half dry. Their plates come with two sides, and I picked potato salad and the homecooked pork rinds which brought me here in the first place.
Central's potato salad was really good. It had some nice spice to it from the paprika sprinkled on top, as well as a decent crunch of pickle in each bite. The pork rinds looked excellent, and indeed they were. They were wonderfully crisp and dusted with just the right amount of salt. I considered getting a few bags of pork rinds to take home with me, but I didn't have time to wait again in the ever-growing line to order.
The dark crust on my dry ribs was quite inviting. When I cut the rack apart, I found a pink smoke ring coupled with a prominent smoky flavor. The succulent pork was cooked perfectly. It was close to falling off the bone, but thankfully still hung on nicely. Central has four different barbecue sauces available to try, though none were needed. These ribs were great on their own.
I found the wet ribs to be delicious in their own right. The sugary glaze was still light enough that I could taste the smoke. It had also caramelized on the crust somewhat, adding a pleasant sweetness and sticky texture. Since they were part of the same rack, I was surprised that the wet ribs were a little tougher than the dry ones. Hmm, weird.
All things considered, Central BBQ was pretty awesome. Hopefully next time I can hit up the original location.
147 E Butler Ave
Memphis, TN 38108