DBBBBQ: Chapter 9

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Dances With Pigs
I entered Memphis at sunset. While it’s never been developed enough to assume the status of a major metropolis, this city has borne enough of America’s cultural weight to qualify as one of the greatest future ruins of our civilization. Its beauty of is evident in every sign of decay: each building crack, lonely track and sparse corner in Memphis is a holding point for a vitality that once defined the spirit of a nation. Not since walking the deserted streets and beaches of Odessa had I felt the impact of an urban and cultural remainder I sensed driving through midtown as the sun left central standard time.

While Memphis has lost many things since its heyday in the 60s, it remains one of the barbecue capitals of the world. Word on the subject is that North Carolina is the home of true-believer pork platters, central Texas the undisputed ruler of smoked brisket and Kansas City the great melting pot of styles and sauces. Memphis is beheld as the nexus of fall-off-the-bone pork ribs with a spicy dry rub. I couldn’t be happier to break my diet of pork sandwiches, but it wouldn’t happen that night.

At 6PM I met up with my host, a grad student and Memphis native who had taught English in Japan and studied a bit of Russian. He also happened to be an eater of Chowhound caliber and was excited to hear about my mission to die by BBQ. He suggested that we grab dinner at his favorite joint in town. It happened to be the first place on my list, so we gathered with a handful of his friends for craft brews at a local restaurant, then hit Madison Avenue for the most satisfying meal of the tour.

The Bar-B-Q Shop - Memphis, TN The Bar-B-Q Shop - Memphis, TN

The Bar-B-Q Shop is a medium sized restaurant and bar in midtown that serves sandwiches, ribs and most everything in between. A laid-back demeanor characterizes its three rooms as well as its staff members, who know that food speaks for itself but doesn’t discriminate when it comes to accepting vocal appreciation. Our waiter that night wasn’t just friendly, he brought us in on the game and shared our appreciation of the Q like an old friend. At least, that’s what his stomach and his laugh told me. My host ordered a pulled pork sandwich on Texas toast with BBQ baked beans and fries. I followed suit.

Pulled Pork Sandwich on Texas Toast - The Bar-B-Q Shop - Memphis, TN

When you’re eating the best barbecue in the country day in and day out, the nuances of meat sometimes sneak away, but the special details of a restaurant’s mastery become as sharp as Nintendo stalagmites. The Bar-B-Q Shop’s signature combo is serving its near-perfect pork on grilled toast and saddling it with the most serious of seasoned fries. Its fatality move is the sauce. Although it doesn’t compete with Fresh Air and Hog Heaven for originality, Dancing Pigs Hot compensates with raw power. Slightly thinner than ketchup, it lays on twice as easy, tickles the tongue with a classic tomato-based flavor, goes down like a charm, then burns you with the fire of Adam Sandler in Dirty Work. This is the kind of stupid good quality that’s usually marred by overzealous pepper usage, faint-of-heart sweetening or the failure to understand that while sauce can never make barbecue, it can certainly complete it.

Pulled Pork Sandwich on Texas Toast - The Bar-B-Q Shop - Memphis, TN Pulled Pork Sandwich on Texas Toast - The Bar-B-Q Shop - Memphis, TN

Spurred by beer and burn, I tore through my platter, barbecued sweat dripping from every pore on my face. Satisfaction ruled the table. Soul floated over the streets. It was a damn good night to be in Memphis, Tennessee.

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