DBBBBQ: Chapter 10


Bryant’s Breakfast and BBQ - Memphis, TN

Take Me to the River
I woke up Sunday planning on my usual fruit-and-fiber holdover for the morning, but when my host asked me if I wanted to check out one of the best breakfast diners in Memphis I had no call to refuse. Half an hour later we were sitting in Bryant’s Bar-B-Q and Breakfast, where the house special is grits, three country biscuits with gravy, two eggs and your choice of meat for about $7. Feeling that eggs might be a bit excessive, I had them replaced with a side of hash browns (a decision approaching Nintendo logic, I know). Sunday must bring loyalists out of the woodwork because the super sized white families crowding each table had a field day sizing me up.

Breakfast Platter - Bryant’s Breakfast and BBQ - Memphis, TN
Fried Bologna - Bryant’s Breakfast and BBQ - Memphis, TN Biscuit and Gravy - Bryant’s Breakfast and BBQ - Memphis, TN

I chose grilled bologna, which was only three tablespoons of grease away from heart attack heaven. The biscuits were the best savory biscuits I’ve ever had: huge, fluffy and devoid of both buttery residue and cottonmouth pockets. I expected the hash brown patty to come up standard, only to be surprised by its perfect fry and complex flavor. This was a bit of a mystery until I heard the busboys and cooks trading lines in Polish. I made a sandwich to remind myself of why I hadn’t eaten a fast food breakfast in seven years, washed it down with grits and headed for the Stax building at McLemore and College.

Complications developed on the way. I felt an unusual pressure building up in the center of my chest, followed by a sensation of burning release and then a spreading cold. Not wanting to take any chances with unfamiliar chest pains, I cut my plans short for a detour to a weekend clinic. After a two-hour wait and thirty minute examination I was declared safe rather than sorry. I was also declared black. By then my afternoon was gone, so I made plans for a rib dinner and headed downtown for a walk.

The Mississippi Riverfront - Memphis, TN

My first stop was the Mississippi Riverfront, one hell of a body of water. I’m a fan of Lake Merritt and a bigger fan of Primorskaya gulf, but the waterfront in Memphis knocks them out easily in terms of beauty. Makes the Colorado look like a pile of puke, too. I walked along the tracks for a while before going down to the banks for a closer look. Ships rolled over the river in a laze. Not a person to be seen on the embankment trail or on the West Memphis bank across the water. I don’t know what this place looks like on a working day. I don’t think I have any reason to find out, but could definitely stand to spend a few more Sundays between the river and the rail.

Beale Street is a different story. I would love to have walked down here sixty or seventy years ago to see Rufus Thomas in his element, but without the aid of time travel I found myself on a gaudy tourist strip with only Rufus Thomas Blvd’s street sign available to lay a smile on my face. I cleared out and headed to midtown for dinner.

Central BBQ - Memphis, TN Pork Ribs Half Dry - Central BBQ - Memphis, TN

Memphis Minnie’s Barbeque in The Haight in San Francisco is where the bay area’s faithful take Q communion. Its owner is just about the only chef in the bay who fervently denounces the need for sauce, and has done well enough for himself under that infamy. Minnie’s has always been good to me, so when I stepped into Central BBQ, apparently the gourmet choice of Memphis rib joints, my expectations were high. I ordered a rack of pork ribs half dry, greens and beans. The seriousness of smoke was apparent at first glance and the subtlety of ribs served in a basket sent my already high expectations to the moon.

Pork Ribs Half Dry - Central BBQ - Memphis, TN

Sadly, Central didn’t bring back any moon rocks this time around. The meat was plenty pretty, but it lacked any real character. Smoke was evident in the texture but not in the taste of the meat, and while a smoky flavor is by no means necessary, these ribs didn’t even capture the natural flavor of the pork like the joints I hit in North Carolina. That said, the dry half was wholly unimpressive. The wet half was a bit better, but the hot barbecue sauce slathered over the meat as an afterthought only highlighted its weaknesses.

I understand that the cooks here must have a lot of confidence in their product if it’s treating its sauce this poorly, but my experiences told me that either this confidence was squarely misplaced, or my appreciation of Memphis style is entirely off the radar. I do consider myself a sandwich man, so I’ll reserve final judgment on this meal until I can get back to Memphis and perform a real deal investigation of ribs. At a whopping $16, however, my dinner at Central BBQ evoked the words “Everett & Jones” more than any other.


Leave a Comment