Thursday, October 17, 2013

Central BBQ

According to many Memphis locals, the best barbecue restaurant in town is Central BBQ.

Central has a few locations including a downtown location within walking distance from the Westin Memphis hotel, but we were lucky enough to also visit the original location (shown here) on Central Avenue about 5 miles east of downtown.

If you're not a barbecue expert, then here's a little BBQ 101 to orient yourself.

1. BBQ is probably the truest authentic American cuisine as hamburgers and hot dogs trace their roots to Germany (Hamberg and Frankfurt?) and pizza has its origins from Italy.

2. There are 4 primary barbecue styles in the United States - Texas, Carolina, Kansas City and Memphis.

3. Memphis BBQ is primarily pork ribs (both dry and wet) and pulled pork sandwiches (as well as other dishes like nachos and pizza).

4. It goes well with cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans and a large sweet tea.

5. BBQ is delicious.

Central Avenue Location
Central BBQ is one place on a long list of popular Memphis BBQ restaurants, but just about every local we asked told us we had to go to Central, so it was an easy choice. Since we rented a car on Saturday to visit Graceland, we decided to stop by the original location (2249 Central Avenue) for a late lunch.

About 5 miles east of downtown, the Central Avenue location is a standalone structure on a big street (similar to a McDonald's). There's parking available around the building as well as a covered outdoor patio for additional seating. We arrived just after 1:30PM so there was a line of about 10 people waiting to place their orders, but since the place is pretty small inside, half of the people in line were standing outside. Fortunately, there was a menu on the wall so new comers could think about what they wanted to order as they were waiting.

The place is very casual and is set up more like a quick service restaurant where you place your order with the cashier and then get a receipt with your order number and have a seat. As soon as your food is ready, a server will come out calling your number and will bring your meal to your table. Soft drinks are self-serve and free refill, though I think they they did offer some bottled beer choices as well.

Fortunately, they still accepted credit cards, though on the Saturday we went, they didn't take American Express cards, so have your Visa or Mastercard handy.

The wait wasn't too long and in about 10 minutes, our food was being delivered to us. We ordered a half slab of ribs (half wet and half dry), plus a pulled pork sandwich and 2 sides (beans and mac & cheese). The half slab is usually $13.89, but they were having a special that day for just $10. For some reason, it was cheaper to order the half slab of ribs and 2 sides a la carte instead of the Plate option (which came with 2 sides), so of course, that's what my father did.

The half slab was about 6 ribs, but with all the sides, the food was more than enough for an adult male. As you can imagine, the ribs were just amazing. Perfectly smokey flavored and the crispy outside paired perfectly with the tender juicy meat inside. The wet side was very tasty and had just enough spice to them, but we were glad that we ordered half dry as well, because the sauce can be overwhelming in excess. In general, we noticed (and loved) that Memphis food - fried chicken, baked beans and BBQ - all had some spicy heat to them.

And upon a strong recommendation from our Avis rental car associate that morning, we ordered a half order of the BBQ pork nachos. Crispy chips covered with pulled pork, spicy Central BBQ sauce, cheese and jalapenos. While delicious, it was VERY heavy and filling. We struggled to have more than a handful of bites along with our main meals. Even the half order of nachos was a massive portion, so definitely be very hungry if you dare to order the full serving.

Fortunately, they also have take away boxes to bring home any leftovers you may have. We definitely made use of those boxes at every meal because our eyes were oftentimes larger than our stomachs.

Downtown Location
On our last day in Memphis, we decided we wanted one last taste of ribs before we went back to New York, so we asked for a late 2PM checkout at the Westin and walked half a mile to the downtown location of Central BBQ (147 East Butler Avenue) for an early 11AM lunch.

Unbeknownst to us, we were actually walking in a pretty bad part of town.

The complete lack of pedestrians, abandoned warehouses with broken windows, empty mattresses in the alleys and shattered glass on the ground should have given my parents pause, but they were pretty hungry and it was 11AM on a Monday morning, so they continued onward. On the way back, however, we made sure to walk along South Main Street where there were more tourists and commercial establishments.

But it was a short walk and we arrived at Central BBQ just before 11AM, but unlike our visit to Gus World Famous Fried Chicken a few mornings before, there was no line and the doors were already open. As soon as you walked in, you were in the hallway with the big green menu up on the wall. This location didn't have the $10 half slab special, but every item was exactly the same as the Central Avenue location.

As you can see, the downtown location place was very spacious including a bar area with beers on tap. They even had another large dining room area in the back.

My mother decided to be "healthy" that day and had the BBQ Brisket Chef Salad. But as you can see in the photo here, I don't know how healthy the salad was because they definitely didn't skimp on the brisket. My father went back to his favorite half slab of Memphis ribs (half dry/half wet) with a side of beans and mac & cheese.

I however, couldn't get enough of their french fries and sweet tea. I even took home the souvenir Central BBQ cup to remind me of our great Memphis barbecue lunches.

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