Thursday, February 26, 2015
Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q (Memphis, TN)
In a completely unexpected and amazing turn of events, I found myself headed for Fort Worth, Texas to judge a barbecue cookoff show for a certain food-themed television network which shall remain nameless. How awesome is that?!?!? As excited as I was, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to grab some Memphis barbecue along the way. Interstate Bar-B-Q is a joint I've had on my Memphis list for a while now, so I thought I'd stop and check it out.
Interstate is owned by Jim Neely, uncle of Food Network's Pat Neely. This seemed like an appropriate pick under the circumstances. It's also close to the interstate (hence the name), which made it an easy pitstop. This place has a fairly simple atmosphere, no fuss. The walls were filled with framed awards and articles, as well as a ton of autographed celebrity photos. Clearly Interstate has had a long and popular history amongst Memphis barbecue lovers.
They have a pretty extensive menu here. I opted for the Sampler Platter: pork ribs, beef ribs, hotlinks, brisket, pork shoulder, bbq spaghetti, beans, potato salad (instead of the advertised coleslaw), and bread. All that for just $21.00, which is relatively inexpensive considering that it's basically a five-meat, three-side plate. This was definitely more food than I needed, but my only other option for a combo was a two-meater, and that wasn't going to cut it. Oh well, if nothing else the sampler was a great way to taste as much of Interstate's barbecue as I could.
Interstate's beans had a pleasantly sweet flavor, with a nice spice blend as well. There was a lot of tender meat mixed right in, too. The potato salad had only a mild mustard flavor, coupled with a good amount of pickles. The bbq spaghetti also tasted great. It was slightly spicy and was loaded with shredded barbecue.
Their brisket came thinly sliced but still had some decent visible bark. My slices were a nice combination of fatty and lean, both of which were very tender and juicy. I was also able to taste the smoke through their tomatoey sauce, which is a rather impressive accomplishment. There wasn't any visible smoke ring, although I'd rather have my brisket taste good than look pretty.
I found the pulled pork a little bland, with only minimal seasoning and not much smoke. In fact, the only thing that had any real flavor to it was the sauce. Maybe mixing some bark into each portion would help things somewhat. The meat was tender enough, but just a tad dry. I'm not the biggest pulled pork fan in general, so I might just be biased.
The all-beef hotlinks had a great flavor and a nice char. They were definitely spicy. I tasted a little smoke, but it's actually quite difficult to make sausage that's exceptionally smoky. Although the coarse grind suggested homemade links, I believe these came from Evergood Fine Foods. Either way, they were really tasty.
Since the pork ribs were drenched in sauce, I decided to just use my fork and save a few dozen napkins. The meat came off with no effort at all (and no, that's not a positive attribute). At least they were tender. There was just a hint of smoke, and the crust had only minimal seasoning. I think if it hadn't been for the sauce, these ribs would have been pretty flavorless.
I saved the beef ribs for last, mostly because they were on the very bottom of my pile-o-food. The beef ribs that I'm used to have a high fat content and literally melt in your mouth. These, however, took considerable effort both to cut and to chew. The flavor was good, but lacking the degree of smoke I expected. Fattier, higher quality beef back ribs would have been a better choice, although I suppose that would definitely increase the price of this combo.
The service at Interstate also left a lot to be desired. My waitress was an incredibly sweet lady, but I never saw her again after she brought my food. I ended up walking to the register and just telling them what I had ordered. Similarly, the hostess sits right up front and talks on her cell phone the entire time, only setting it down temporarily to seat customers. I think this lack of care from the front-of-house staff mirrors my concerns about the pitmasters out back.
While I was finishing up my meal, I overheard a phone call from the table next to me. "Hey man, bring your butt on down to Interstate Bar-B-Q." That should definitely be their official slogan no matter what, but I found myself somewhat underwhelmed by Interstate. I think the term "mediocre" is an unfortunately perfect description of their barbecue. A two-and-a-half star rating for Interstate would probably be more accurate, but I didn't feel like modifying my entire rating system, so I rounded them up to three stars because of the tasty sides.
Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q
2265 S 3rd St
Memphis, TN 38109