Whether or not Mothership BBQ is off the beaten track is relative. If you’re one of the 700 people who live in the town of Berry Hill or you work in one of the many businesses squished into that square mile of land, you’re familiar with the neighborhood.
But the 50 people who showed up when Jim Reams opened the doors to his new barbecue place on Saturday, June 10, were not Berry Hillsians, nor did they just stumble upon it on the way to somewhere else (as I did the following day, when it was closed). The Charter Fifty boarded the Mothership from the blogosphere, though they probably had to check MapQuest to get to 2806 Columbine Place—“in the heart of Berry Hill,” as the website asserts.
Such is the long arm of cyberspace. Advertising sales staffs shudder in horror at the notion, while some of us tilt our heads like befuddled dogs, or roll our eyes, muttering, “who the hell has time to blog, anyway?”
If you’re one of the last holdouts still clinging to your blog virginity, there may be no more pleasant and tasty way to pop that cherry than via the blog Jim Reams set up to promote his business. Just get online, go to mothershipbbq.blogspot.com and you’re onboard the Funkenswine Express. (The restaurant’s official website, www.mothershipbbq.com, is currently under construction.)
At the top of the blog page will be Reams’ most recent post, typically having something to do with the business—from a thoughtful examination of the ethics of censoring comments posted on a business site to a Q&A on his cooking methods. At the bottom is his first Mothership post, dated June 7 and titled “Welcome.” At the end of each post is a link to the comments others have made about his posting, or his food, or other bloggers, or a childhood memory with seemingly no relevance to his post—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Reams’ writing is witty, observant and charmingly self-deprecating. Whether or not you even like barbecue, the blog will suck you in, and next thing you know, an hour has slipped away, your editor is calling three different phones, you’ve missed your deadline, your kids are hungry—wait, that was me. But it could happen to you too if you’re not careful. Instead, take 10 minutes to sit back and read the following tale of Jim Reams’ road to BBQ Valhalla. Then make haste to the Mothership. Even if you think you don’t like barbecue, it’s worth the trip.
Reams’ path from the University of North Texas to Berry Hill was anything but linear. After graduating from UNT’s prestigious music program in 1989, he moved to Nashville to play bass guitar. Unable to survive on his paltry musician’s income, he took jobs bartending, writing and editing. He eventually landed a gig playing in a house band on cruise ships, leading to wild adventures on the open seas, not to mention culinary explorations in exotic ports of call.
Tired of the never-ending struggle of a musician’s life, Reams moved to Boca Raton, Fla., in 1996 to take a “real job” as marketing director for a theater. He married and had a kid. In 2002, he was laid off from the
The family decided to head back to Nashville, with Reams going on ahead to set up a food service business that would cater lunches to offices, aiming at the lucrative pharmaceutical sales market, in which Mrs. Reams makes her living. He found a commercially zoned bungalow in Berry Hill, installed a commercial kitchen and wrote a meticulous business plan. But in 2004, Reams and his wife divorced. Needless to say, the pharmaceutical sales connection dried up, and the business, Cater America, struggled to take off.
Meanwhile, in 2005, Reams started a personal blog, for the same reason many bloggers do: “I had written a novel,” Reams says, “and I knew it had problems, so I wanted to write another, but I just couldn’t do it. I wanted to write, so doing a blog was a writing exercise. At first, no one reads it. Then you get some people, and if they like what they read, they’ll tell other people. You get comments, read their blogs and write comments there. It becomes a community.”
After a couple of frustrating years trying to get Cater America off the ground, Reams reexamined his life. “The catering thing wasn’t working,” he says, “and I wasn’t happy, so I thought about doing a business in the building where people would come to me instead of me going to them. I looked around the neighborhood, and barbecue made sense to me. I’ve always been attracted to fire and meat—I’ve always been the guy who handled the grill. But there really was no formal plan this time.”
Earlier this year, Reams started making road trips on the barbecue circuit, studying regional peculiarities. He figured out a way to convert his catering kitchen into a small sit-down and takeout restaurant, purchased an industrial-sized smoker-grill in Florida, hauled it to Nashville and, on May 23, publicly announced his plans for the restaurant in a short post on his personal website: “I’ve always thought that the dumbest business a person could go into was the restaurant business. I am not opening a restaurant. It’s a joint. A BBQ joint. More to come.” Accompanying the post were two photos: the big-ass smoker hooked up to his SUV, and a teaser sign on his building that read, “Coming Soon: Mothership BBQ.”
The next several posts chronicle the trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant: Jim the Blogger seeks Bob the Builder, free BBQ for life. On June 7, he directed traffic to the new blog for Mothership BBQ, and on June 9, began the countdown to lift-off the next day. Without an inch of conventional advertising, 50 customers showed up, and word of the Mothership’s successful launch spread quickly. (Parliament’s 1975 album Mothership Connection inspired the restaurant’s name; the original working title of his unpublished novel, Fever in the Funkhouse Rib Shack, begat the name of his alter ego Dr. Funkenswine.)
That makes good copy, but the proof is in the pig, and Reams’ swine is mighty fine. As Dr. Funkenswine reveals, Reams trims and lovingly hand-rubs every rack and butt—with his own secret blend of spices— before putting them into the Kingsford-charcoal-and-hickory-chip-fueled smoker, which he pilots solo. “I don’t really have a method. I just kinda know when to add hickory, when to open the vents, when to mop, when to take it off.”
Reams removes his ribs when they still have some “snap” to them, which means before the meat is falling off the bone. In the world of professional barbecue, if the meat falls off, the ribs have been cooked too long. If you come to the Mothership when he has just pulled his ribs off the grill, they’ll be snappy. If you prefer a sloppier rib, come later in the day, or put them in a slow oven at home—“not the microwave!” He hand-pulls his pork shoulder into ropey sections and big chunks of hunka hunka burnin’ butt that he piles high on a bun or a plate.
Reams’ baby back ribs and pulled pork are so moist and flavorful that you can eat ’em completely nekkid, but then you’d miss the bodacious sauce—midway between sweet and vinegar, another top-secret recipe, available in regular or hot. I settled the issue by dipping my meat when I felt the urge for some sass. At present, the trio of Mothership-made sides includes a tangy, crunchy slaw, pinto beans that taste like they’ve been simmering on your momma’s stove all day, and a superb red potato salad. Mac and cheese, that classic Southern vegetable, is in the research and development stage.
The menu is behind the counter, written on a dry-erase board for spontaneous modification. It’s succinct: pulled pork sandwich ($4) or plate ($6 with two sides), pulled pork and rib combo ($8), rib plate ($9.50), rack ($18 full/$9 half).
While you’re waiting for your order, check out the ’70s album covers tacked to the walls—you’ll either laugh out loud or flash back to the lost weekends of your youth, depending on your age. Commandeer a seat at one of the mismatched dinette sets in the ’Ship’s so-called dining room, or take your plate across the street to the poured concrete table in the park for a Berry Hill picnic. No matter what gender you are, were or want to be, do not leave the Mothership without visiting the ladies’ room, a cheesy panorama that marries Boogie Nights and Valley of the Dolls into one extremely dysfunctional family.
However you arrive at the Mothership, your first trip won’t be your last. Jim Reams came to Nashville to play music, but he’s found his groove in barbecue.