If Monica Lewinsky had just taken her dress to the fine folks at Village Cleaners, they would have removed that icky stain without breaking a sweat. Last summer, a speck of Prince’s fried chicken fell into my lap and spread into a greasy red stain the size of Rhode Island. When I took my little blue-and-white checked shift to Village, Helen said, “No problem.” Sure enough, the next day, it was gone.
The day after I picked up a huge order at Tennessee’s Best Bar-B-Q, I was back at the cleaners. While opening my car door, I had propped the bag against my right hip, and the grease from the ribs had soaked through the box, the bag, my dress, and even my underwear.
I’d never have been at Tennessee’s Best Bar-B-Q in the first place if Manuel Zeitlin hadn’t left the Bar-B-Licious menu in my mailbox at the Scene. On it he had scribbled, “the best shoulder sandwich in town,” and told me Bar-B-Licious was located in a big yellow van at the corner of 18th and Charlotte. I had seen that same van one day at the intersection of Charlotte and 18th, parked incongruously right next to the NFocus van. I had made a mental note to return. I was glad for Manuel’s reminder.
I called the number on the menu and placed an order on the answering machineribs, shoulder, chicken wings, Polish sausage, beef barbecue, white beans, green beans, baked beans, potato salad, cole slaw. Then I advised my always-ready-to-eat Scene colleagues that I’d be bringing lunch the next day. They were pretty excited.
When I called the next morning to confirm my order, I was perplexed to learn that the Barb-B-Licious number had been temporarily disconnected. Just to be sure, I drove over to 18th & Charlotte, and, sure enough, the Bar-B-Licious van had vanished without a trace. Not so much as a rib bone in the lot.
I knew that if I didn’t show up at the Scene with food, as promised, my name would be off the holiday party list. What to do? Where to go?
This past winter, Tennessee’s Best Bar-B-Q opened with the announcement that it aspired to become the fast food of barbecuecomplete with “computerized meat smokers.” Right away, I had decided this was probably not something I or my picky readers would be interested in. But I was stuck, so, against my better instincts, I went on over.
Before I even tasted the food, I could see that the restaurantlocated on West End in a building formerly occupied by Kenny Rogers’ Roasterswas well on its way to achieving its goal. Spanking clean, with a counter and lit-up menu board, it did resemble a fast-food burger chain. There was no odor of barbecue at all.
Just like other fast food chains, TBQ offers meal deals, combos, kids’ combos, and family packs. I asked for some of everythingbrisket, turkey, shoulder, ribs, french fries, onion rings, cole slaw, barbecue beans, corn on the cob, and a barbecue baked potato. While I waited, I filled little cups with TBQ’s “award winning” saucesTennessee Mountain Hickory, Memphis Showboat, Carolina Tangy, Bold Texas Mesquite, Louisiana Cajun, and Southern Bold. It didn’t take long at all for me to get my food, and the friendly people working at TBQ couldn’t have been more helpful, even assisting me as I carried the four bags out to the car. (If only someone else had carried the ribs; I could have saved the dry-cleaning expense.)
Arriving at the office with bags of food, I was greeted with the usual unbridled stampede, but the sight of the TBQ bags pretty much wiped the eager anticipation from my coworkers’ faces. Still, it was free, and they were hungry. What the hey?
Let me briefly recap. Although I thought I was wearing all the grease from the ribs, that was not the case; the ribs container was still full of the stuff, and the ribs were swimming in it. Thumbs down.
The shoulder was average. The brisket was sliced too thick, and it had been cooked so long that it was dry. (The turkey was even drier.) The limp french fries were pleading for a dose of Viagra, the barbecue beans had an unpleasant meaty aftertaste, and the corn on the cob had been sitting in water so long it was like biting into a soaked sponge. The cole slaw was OK, and the onion rings were really good. Of the six sauces, we liked the hot Louisiana Cajun best, the sweet Memphis Showboat least. The Carolina Tangy took second place. Several of the sandwich buns were stale; we got no pickles with our pounds of meat, and there were no wet naps.
I’m sure Tennessee’s Best Bar-B-Q has its place in life. For example, if you go to McDonald’s when you want a burger, TBQ is probably for you. However, for those of you who are more likely to go to Fat Mo’s for your burgers, let’s talk Pop’s Bar-B-Q.
Listen up, all you big boys holed up at the Oilers training camp. Right about now you’re probably sick of the baked chicken and steamed veggies and fruit smoothies you’re being served in the TSU cafeteria. If you can sneak away from the puritanical grip of your conditioning coach, you’ll want to jump in your Range Rovers and head over to the corner of 28th Avenue North and Clifton. There, you can choose between the famed Swett’s or the less-well-known Pop’s, which is wedged into a strip center, between a market and a laundromat.
Place your order at a screen-covered window, and in just a few moments you can be rewarded with a sack full of shoulder on a bun, slabs of ribs, and hot chicken sandwiches. (If you have better timing and better luck than I’ve had on both my visits to Pop’s, you can also pick up a barbecue goat sandwich. If goat is what you really want, call first.)
At Pop’s, you’ll find plenty to make you fat and happy. The hot chicken didn’t have the blister of Prince’s, but it still packed some heat. The pinto beans were cooked with fatback, just like Mama’s. The corn muffins had a pleasantly sour taste, and the chunks of sweet potatoes had been dressed up with butter and brown sugar. The plate of ribs was huge and meaty and smothered in a thick, spicy sauce. The prices are weird$8.16 for a plate of long ribs, $2.14 for a hot chicken sandwich, $2.14 for a Polish sausage sandwich, $2.99 for the goatbut you can’t beat ’em. On Tuesday and Sunday, shoulder sandwiches are just 99 cents, if you purchase at least two.
And remarkably, in spite of a preponderance of sauce and grease, I walked away from Pop’s stain-free. If only Monica had been so fortunate.
Tennessee’s Best Bar-B-Q is located at 2014 West End Ave. (321-3800). Open Sun.-Thur. 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Pop’s Bar-B-Cue is located at 701-B 28th Ave. N. (321-4004). Open Mon-Thur. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m.-4 a.m., Sun. 1 p.m.-10 p.m.