On the morning of June 11, Federal Express dropped a large package on my doormat. It consisted of two wholesale boxes of Big Dipper Ice Cream Cones, bonded, sealed and shipped from Memphis less than twenty four hours prior.
The name on the return address was Matt Allen, the man I’ve been proud to call my boss since the day I responded to a Craigslist posting by a company named Ice Cream Man. Aside from being the most genuine and caring employer I’ve ever dealt with (I suppose it goes with the territory of running a business based on giving away ice cream), Matt has managed to win my respect through his love for all things soul. That said, I fully expected that a box shipped overnight to me from Memphis and bearing his name would contain some form of greatness. In short: I was correct. At length…
…The first layer of the package was a t-shirt from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As Ice Cream Man’s outreach director, I had organized a free ice cream social for the patients and staff at St. Jude, so while this gift was not a surprise, it was certainly a welcome addition to my summer wardrobe. Beneath the shirt rested a bundle wrapped snugly in a blanket of packing foam. The bundle itself was mummified in plastic and packing tape, taking up more space than a bottle of wine. Two paper bags flanked the Hefty cocoon, allowing the lasts wisps of the dry ice they contained to vanish as I exposed them to the warm Southern California air. I tossed the packing foam aside and tore through the adhesive and the protective to reveal a simple white take-out bag. After all of the fussing and fighting, I beheld an image I had not seen in well over a year, the time that had passed since I had last seen the banks of the Mississippi.
The dancing pigs, hooves locked in noble celebration as they turn to the tune of their own delicious demise, are the trademark of The Bar-B-Q Shop, my favorite BBQ joint in Memphis. On the morning of June 11, 2008, courtesy of the most famous ice cream man in the world, they surrendered their sweet song to me, 1,775 miles from their home and moments from their destiny.
While I’m not a member of the purist camp of American BBQ, I cannot overstate the difference that authentic slow smoking makes when it comes to a rack of ribs. Even I had nearly forgotten the unmistakable scent of Southern BBQ by the time it began to waft from the oven door. White flakes of coagulated fat melted, sizzled and popped as they were awakened from suspension. The complex aroma of grease and smoke tenderly filled the kitchen, as if history were paying a curious visit to the faceless parlor of suburbia. I inhaled the sweet, subtle soul of the meat. Then, I prepared to eat.
The pleasure of eating Memphis ribs is a sensation that can only be levied by a master of the craft. A subtle smoky flavor permeates every morsel of every rib, from the crisp, crackly, crust to the tender, browned meat to the chewy bits of cartilage subjugated by smoke for the diner’s consumptive convenience. No blackened corner is left untouched, no portion of the rack left unblessed: If cooked properly, a rack of Memphis ribs is enjoyable down to the bone and even two bites beyond.
This is certainly the case with The Bar-B-Q Shop, made apparent by the fact that I unknowingly gnawed my way halfway through a rib bone before realizing I was eating the skeleton of a pig. If that pig could still move, I’m sure its Danse Macabre would be nothing less than an invitation back to midtown Memphis, where the spirits of Soulsville have yet to rest, and dancing pigs aren’t afraid to do the dog right along with them.
The Bar-B-Q Shop
1782 Madison Ave
Memphis, TN 38104