Southern barbecue is not exactly my cup of tea (“plate of meat” might be more appropriate here). I like smoked meat and grilled meat and sausage and brisket and ribs and all, but I’m not really into most barbecue sauces. Unfortunately (for me), the overwhelming majority of barbecue served away from the south(ern United States) is of the wet-and-slathered-with-bbq-sauce variety. It is relatively uncommon for local non-barbecue-specialized restaurants to serve ”dry” southern barbecue.
Lucky for me, there are southern-bbq-focused restaurants such as Memphis Blues, which gives diners a choice between “wet” and “dry” barbecue by serving their barbecued meats “dry” with a side of bbq sauce. Also lucky for me, they have a section on their menu called ”platters”. Each platter contains a selection of all of their barbecued meats as well as a good variety of sides.
Since my wife, son, and I were not heavy eaters, we chose the smallest Memphis platter (the lady who took our order still warned me that it would be nearly impossible for the three of us to finish this platter).
Here were the items on the platter and what they tasted like:
Chicken – The chicken was weird in that while the white meat was really dry, the dark meat was really tender. The barbecue process seemed to have accentuated both the negatives and positives of the texture of the chicken. The chicken was already flavourful without sauce, but the dry white meat definitely needed some sauce ( The sauce was surprisingly un-unappealing) to moisten up its way-too-dry texture.
Burnt Ends – The burnt ends were probably one of the least charred burnt ends I’ve ever had. There were hardly any charred flavours, but then there were also zero pieces that were too-dry-to-bite-through. They tasted like a slightly tougher and drier version of the ribs.
Ribs – The ribs didn’t have meat that was fall-off-the-bone tender- which suited me just fine. I like it when I can actually bite a little into the meat to induce it to fall off. The meat on these ribs allowed me to do just that. It didn’t take a lot of effort for me to bite off the slightly bitey, kinda tender, and acceptably dry meat. Adding the sauce did add moisture to the meat, but the moisture did not negate the dryness in any way. The un-sauced rib meat had a medium smokey flavour as well as a light sweetness. This sweetness and the red color of the meat reminded meat of Cantonese bbq pork. Adding a little bit of the dark bbq sauce tranformed the ribs from Cantonese bbq pork to southern bbq pork ribs.
Brisket – Like my experience with the texture of the chicken, I experienced an odd contradiction of dry and tender textures with the brisket. Unlike the chicken – where the dryness was in the white meat and the tenderness was in the dark meat – both dryness and tenderness were present in the same piece of brisket. The meat was so tender that it fell apart to the touch of my teeth, but each of the pieces that broke apart felt very dry. The dryness was easily countered with either a spoonful of beans or a bit of the bbq sauce. The beans and the bbq sauce also added much needed flavours to the bland-tasting, un-sauced brisket meat.
Pulled Pork – The pulled pork was already topped with a some bbq sauce, so it was flavour-ready from the first bite. Since the previously-pulled-apart pork fibers were pre-sauced, they were also pre-moistened. They were neither dry nor chewy, and they always transferred easily from my mouth to points south without any aid from external liquids.
Sausage – The sausage was smokey, bitey, and needed no sauce to ruin its straight-out-of-the-smoker enjoyability. Flavour-wise and texture-wise, the sausage slices were the most enjoyable of all the meat components in the Memphis platter
Coleslaw – The coleslaw was fresh, wet, and vibrant. It was a nice moist textural counterpoint to the dryness of some of the meats. It was also less sweet than most other versions of coleslaw served elsewhere. This lower level of sweetness allowed the coleslaw to act in a supporting role by never overwhelming the flavours of the starring meat components.
Cornbread – The cornbread was also not too sweet. It was moist enough to not become stuck in my throat and wet enough so that it does not fall apart to the touch. Having it with the un-sauced meat was a lose-lose proposition as the textural experience amounted to dry-on-even-more-dry.
Potato Salad – Like the coleslaw, the potato salad was fresh, wet, and vibrant. I was so busy with every other component that I skipped the starch-heavy potato salad after my first bite in an effort to stuff myself with as much meat as possible.
Baked Beans – I also prevented myself from having more than a few spoonfuls of the baked beans in an effort to conserve intestinal real estate. The spoonfuls I had confirmed that the sweet and moist beans acted as a viable replacement to the bbq sauce. If the beans weren’t so potentially filling, I would’ve used them more often to enhance the moisture and flavours of the different types of meats.
Fries – The fries were average. They weren’t super-crispy, but they were crispy enough for my son to enjoy them. They were also so lightly seasoned that my son asked me if he could add salt to the fries (he has never requested salt to be added to his fries before). I did visually detect some paprika powder as well as some green herby flakes on the fries, but their flavours were too weak for my taste buds to pick up.
BBQ Sauce – As mentioned above, the bbq sauce was totally acceptable to me. It did not have tomato flavours that were too heavy, nor did it have chipotle or any other overpowering flavour. It had just the right amount of molasses, vinegar, tomato paste, probably mustard, maybe soy sauce, and perhaps even a dash of worcestershire sauce – along with a bunch of other ingredients. Although I can’t say that I want a bottle of the sauce so I could have it with my home-cooked meals, I can say that moderate doses of the sauce made the various barbecued meats I had today more flavourful and more enjoyable.
I guess I was mistaken. Barbecue does taste better with sauce. I just needed the right sauce and the right amount of it on different kinds of barbecued meats to allow me to appreciate how much it enhances the both the flavours and textures of the each meat. That being said, I still don’t like barbecue enough to make it a part of my regular dining rotation. It is something that I might consider having once every year instead of once every week.
…oh and they served sodas by the bottle. Cute bottles, but no refills.