When I arrived for the press night at Memphis Barbecue, which opened on December 1 in Crystal City, one of the first questions our hosts asked me anxiously was: “Are you a vegetarian?” The relief on their faces when I assured them I wasn’t was palpable. A warning to anyone who’s a vegan, vegetarian, or just not a fan of heavy protein—stay away! This is not for you. For those of us on the other hand who are naturally carnivorous though, it’s a whole other story.
We began the evening with cocktails and appetizers such as crab cakes, beef bruschetta, (a surprising concoction that had a lot of flavor going on), and best of all pulled pork egg rolls. Yes you read that correctly; they are the classic style egg rolls but filled with barbeque style pulled pork and a hint of coleslaw and they are absolutely delicious and completely unique. From there on we had our choice of Roasted Tomato Mixed Greens Salad or New Orleans Style Gumbo. I cannot attest to the salad—I didn’t order it—but the New Orleans Gumbo was zesty, creamy and rich in crab and shrimp.
From that point on we moved to side dishes and entrees. The zucchini left something to be desired, but all in all the side dishes were impressive. Simple old favorites like baked beans, mashed potatoes, and of course pommes frites, (aka French fries,) were all done with extra quality and purity. But the entrees were the real test; I ordered the ribs on the grounds that for a place specializing in b-b-que ribs are key. Although, the ribs were served with a knife and fork, these ribs were so tender they could be eaten without utensils. The meat just fell off the bone. Of course, a few purists argued that the rib experience isn’t complete unless you’re eating them with bare hands caveman style, but I imagine many of us would prefer not to be so primal or so messy at the dinner table. They also offered an excellent prime rib served with horseradish and barbecued shrimp that came blackened-cajun style. Memphis Barbeque offers a genuine wood-burning hickory grill that not only gives the barbeque a unique flavor but also, because of its open kitchen style, the smoky smell of the grill suffuses the restaurant and helps whet the appetite. Desserts are served with the famous Blue Bell ice cream. The original blondie special served with vanilla ice cream and Kahlua is quite satisfying.
Memphis Barbeque features an interesting ambience, a casual down home barbeque restaurant with a subtly upscale finish. For instance, all the giant plants are real. The red-brick walls lend an air of urban chic as does the soft, subdued lighting. Instead of actual neon signs of traditional Memphis culture we get silk screens of the iconic pics of Elvis and so forth. The music is country style, but at a lowered volume; it’s hardly the rowdy honky tonk atmosphere one usually associates with the words “Memphis” and “Barbeque.” There’s no dance floor. But the lowered volume does lend itself to conversation. In the end, Memphis Barbeque offers a tasty and original dining experience.
As long as you’re not a vegetarian.
320 South 23rd Street