Saturday, October 31, 2015
Even though it's only a 45-minute drive south of Nashville (and even closer to my side of town), I really don't know that much about Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I figured that the best, or at least the tastiest way to find out what the place is all about was by sampling their barbecue. One of the town's most well-known joints, Kirkenburt's Smokehouse, closed up shop back in March, although no one on the Interwebs seems to know why. Who then would show me the glories of 'Boro barbecue? Today I gave that honor to Slick Pig. With twenty years of meat-smoking experience under their belt, they were sure to be a worthy contender.
This being Halloween, the employees were having a bit of fun in their costumes. The woman who took my order was a giant banana, and her fellow cashier was a flight attendant. Well done, ladies. Slick Pig's setup is rather simple, which I hoped meant that they were focusing their energy and their cash on the barbecue instead of the ambiance. That being said, everything from the chairs and barstools to the walls and tablecloths was appropriately Middle Tennessee State University blue and white. No doubt the proximity to the Blue Raider campus does a great job of bringing in large crowds.
Slick Pig has several lunch specials to choose from, although they're actually available all day. Most are of the usual sandwich-and-chips variety, but their massive #5 Combo Platter includes six smoked wings, a half-rack of pork ribs, a quarter-pound of pulled pork, a quarter-pound of brisket, a half-pint of stew, coleslaw, and garlic toast. Of course, it also costs $25.00 and is meant to be shared by two or three people. Well, at least I'd have some leftovers to take for lunch on Monday. I politely substituted potato salad for the slaw and anxiously awaited my excessive lunch order.
The potato salad was homemade and rather tasty. You wouldn't guess by looking at it, but there was a ton of flavor to go around. It was mostly mayo-based, with just enough mustard to make things interesting.
Growing up in Central Texas, I've certainly eaten my fair share of stew. Brunswick stew, however, is something with which I'm relatively unfamiliar. While Brunswick traditionalists might opt for squirrel or possum as their meat of choice, Slick Pig thankfully uses a chicken/pork/beef combination. It is essentially a thick soup of meat, tomatoes, and corn (and some purveyors might include okra and beans as well), which I was happy to have on a cold, rainy day like today. There wasn't as much of a spicy kick as I had hoped for, and the shredded meat inevitably kept juice running down my chin the whole time. All in all, it was a decent accompaniment to my lunch, but I think I'll stick to the customary beef, carrots, and potatoes-type of stew.
Slick Pig's hickory-smoked wings are by far their biggest seller, and for good reason. The crispy skin was well seasoned and delightful, as was the tender meat. I could definitely taste the smoke, which isn't always the easiest accomplishment when poultry is involved. These are surely a favorite of the MTSU coeds.
I wouldn't really say that the pulled pork was pre-sauced, though it does come with a drizzle of runny, Carolina-style vinegar. That actually made the pork extra tender and very flavorful. The vinegar didn't mask the natural pork or the smoke either, but instead amplified things nicely. While a little more bark might have made the pork even better, it wasn't altogether necessary.
When I see the word "brisket" on a barbecue joint's menu, I obviously expect my beef to be served in slices or, at the very least, chopped. Instead, I received large cubes of beef which ironically would have been better suited for the stew I'd eaten earlier. When in Rome, I suppose. Despite my hesitation, there was a good hit of black pepper in each bite. The brisket was also tender and not the least bit dry or greasy. I couldn't pinpoint any evidence of smoke, either visually or on my palate, but it was still tasty enough.
The ribs fell apart with very little effort at all. Many folks see "falling-off-the-bone" as a positive attribute for ribs, but I do not (and never will) share their sentiment. Most of the ribs had a decent texture, though some bites were noticeably on the dry side. The sugary rib glaze was by far the dominant flavor here, and just a hint of smoke was all that I could find outside of that. A good dusting of salt, cracked black pepper, and maybe a little chili powder would have done wonders.
On Tuesdays, Slick Pig offers all day 99-cent pulled pork sandwiches. I can't wait to go back and see how many of those bad boys I can scarf down, perhaps with a side of smoked wings for good measure. As for the rest of their barbecue, I'll pass.
Slick Pig BBQ
1920 East Main St
Murfreesboro, TN 37130
Saturday, October 17, 2015
It's been quite a while since I've taken a random barbecue road trip, and today seemed like as good a day as any to break that streak. I set my sights on nearby Lebanon, Tennessee and headed east to Tom's Blue Moon Bar-B-Que.
Although I arrived at Tom's just a few minutes past 11:00am, there was surprisingly only one other table of customers inside. I realize this might be a tad early for some folks, but I assume they don't just open up at 10:30am for the fun of it. Customers or not, Tom's has a lively and inviting atmosphere. There was an older gentleman setting up a Peavey amp in the corner, so apparently they do have live music from time to time. I'm sure that helps bring in larger crowds.
I was happy to see several combo plate options on Tom's menu. The prospect of four meats was tempting, but I decided on a three-meat plate of brisket, pulled pork, and ribs (for which I gladly paid an extra dollar), with potato salad and fried green tomatoes as my sides. Given the name of this joint, it also seemed quite appropriate to add on a bottle of Blue Moon, even if it was technically still morning.
The tomatoes came out piping hot, but I didn't see anyone battering them, so I'm guessing that they started out in the freezer. Their uniformity and general lack of flavor suggested that my assumption was correct. At least they were crisp. Thankfully, the potato salad was miles better. It tasted like a mustard/mayo combination, which lent both a zesty acidity and a good sweetness.
My first few bites of the pulled pork were a little dry and a little bland. I did find some rosy pieces of bark, and they were much tastier. That aside, the pork had only a mild smokiness at best. It wasn't all bad, but could have used more seasoning and more time in the smoker.
Tom's advertises their brisket as "Texas-style," and it certainly looked it. I had watched my piece being cut, and the sight was enough to make my mouth water. This fatty cut had plenty of bark to go around. Unfortunately, there was only a slight hint of smoke, and not even the fattier portions seem to have soaked up much of it. I kept waiting to uncover a punch of flavor somewhere, but to no avail. The beef was rather tender, so I suppose that's something.
To be honest, the ribs looked pretty gnarly on my plate. I've been pleasantly surprised before, so I didn't let their appearance stop me. Sadly, both the crust and the rib meat were tough to chew. I had hoped that these ribs would have more flavor than my first two meats. No such luck. Even a little more salt would have helped tremendously. I hate to waste food, but I didn't have it in me to eat more than one rib.
I really wanted to like Tom's Blue Moon Bar-B-Que, and considering all of the glowing reviews online, I figured that I would. Instead, I left feeling rather disappointed. Tom's has a lot of potential to create some really spectacular barbecue, but they're not quite there yet. Godspeed.
Tom's Blue Moon Bar-B-Que
711 Park Ave
Lebanon, TN 37087