Even a chain can smoke pork
Famous Dave’s • 208 Advantage Place (N. Peters Road) • 694-9990
by Gay Lyons
When I was growing up, eating barbecue meant driving to Ott’s at Dixie Lee Junction and bringing home a couple of pounds of pulled pork and a bottle of Ott’s special hot sauce. Later, friends introduced me to Brother Jack’s as a late night destination. We wedged ourselves into the oddly shaped space, ate “screaming pig burgers” and sang “It’s Cryin’ Time Again” with Brother Jack’s son and Ray Charles.
I love Dixson’s on Magnolia, a tiny place with one table and two chairs. The ribs are delicious, and I’m crazy about the cowboy beans, a spicy concoction of beans, green peppers, onions and beef. At FAT’s on Whittle Springs, you can sit outdoors on picnic tables and eat their tasty chopped pork and turnip greens.
M and M Catering, which operates out of a cinder block building in the parking lot of a Laundromat on Middlebrook Pike, doesn’t offer any seating, but the lines of people and the aroma are powerful testimony to the great barbecue. Everything I’ve tried has been good, but I’m especially fond of their beef brisket. M and M is close enough to my house that in a barbecue emergency, I could easily walk there.
A recent find is barbecue worth the drive at Townsend’s in Rockford. Try the awesome pig burger and seasoned fries.
The smaller the restaurant, the better the barbecue, right? So imagine my surprise when a national chain turned out to have barbecue as tasty as my favorite joints. I doubt I’d have tried it if it had not been praised by someone whose taste in barbecue I trust.
He was right. Famous Dave’s turned out to be a great place to sit at a table, enjoy complete bar service and a juke box and share a barbecue feast with friends. The extensive menu includes soups and salads, including a yummy-sounding barbecue salad, burgers and other sandwiches, lunch specials and Lil’ Wilbur Meals which include kid-favorites such as macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders and burgers along with kid-sized barbecue dishes.
I’m looking forward to trying the huge artery-clogging appetizer sampler platter, which consists of spareribs, chicken wings, chicken tenders, catfish fingers and onion strings, a large pile of skinny luscious-looking onion rings. Though there were four of us having dinner, we did not cut the usual wide swath through the menu. Instead we opted to share the highly recommended house specialty, the All American Feast.
The feast, which is served on a garbage can lid in homage to Famous Dave’s original garbage can smoker, provides a large sample of the restaurant’s dishes: a full slab of ribs, a whole roasted chicken, a half pound of your choice of either pulled pork or beef brisket, large portions of “Wilbur Beans,” slaw, fries, corn muffins and corn on the cob. The feast, which cost $50, could easily serve six. Since there were four of us, there was a sizable bag of leftovers.
The chicken was juicy and tender. Here’s how good it was. As a ritual of nutritional virtue, I always remove the skin of my chicken without even thinking about it, but I confess that I couldn’t resist trying some of the sinfully good crackling skin. The taste and sensation were worth the transgression.
Call me a heretic if you will, but I’m not a huge fan of Memphis-style dry ribs, preferring a wetter, saucier style, but these were meatier and moister than I expected. I liked them better than any I’ve had in West Tennessee. The sliced beef brisket was excellent, quite comparable to M and M’s brisket.
I like coarse slaw, so I only ate a few bites of the finely diced slaw since there were so many other things I liked better. Famous Dave’s beans are as tasty as Dixson’s cowboy beans. These were delicious, nicely spiced beans, with brisket, sausage and jalapeno peppers, nothing like the sweet baked beans served around here.
I’ll admit I’m a corn purist. I want to pick it and eat it immediately, cooked just until tender, lightly salted and spread with fresh butter. It’s impossible to cook corn in mass quantities and achieve that just-picked taste, but as restaurant corn goes, this was fine. The corn muffins were moist but too sticky-sweet for my taste.
The crinkly, stubby French fries do double duty, serving not only as a side dish but as sauce testers, a fabulous excuse for eating fries. Taste in sauce varies regionally and individually. Famous Dave’s addresses this situation with its six-packs of sauces, which hold five sauces plus ketchup. My favorites were Devil’s Spit, the hottest sauce, and Georgia Mustard, which reminded me of Ott’s sauce.
What’s a feast without dessert? The pecan pie was tempting, but the bread pudding was as good as our server promised. It was sweet, not too syrupy and especially good swirled through the accompanying vanilla ice cream.
There really is a Dave, by the way. According to our server, Chicago-native Dave Anderson spent 25 years sampling barbecue nationwide and perfecting his methods and recipes. Based on our meal, this was time well spent.