Well, heck. If you’re in Lexington, Tennessee, at around noon on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday from March 1 to early December or January, and all you’ve had to eat all morning is a very good barbecue sandwich at B.E. Scott’s (okay, and some chips and slaw), you might as well — should — drive on a ways to Parsons, Tennessee, and have a sandwich at Ramey’s Bar B Que. I don’t suppose that many people do, but then not many people love their neighbors as themselves or hit the lottery big time. I’m a little short on both of those points, but I certainly did go on to Parsons for a barbecue sandwich. There unfolded my second stop on Day 3 of the Great Memphis Region Barbecue Sandwich Tour.
Parsons is a small town of 2,000 or so very friendly people. The town was founded as a railroad town in the 1880s. It’s just a few miles west of the Tennessee River, and grew as a link between river and rail traffic, and as a shipping point for the locally raised tomatoes. The railroad is long gone and the main tourist attractions are the recreation opportunities on the river and Ramey’s Bar B Que.
I learned of Ramey’s from an article in Texas Monthly, of all places, that mentioned Ramey’s. Texas Monthly is the magazine that picks the 50 best barbecue places in Texas very year, and, with the humility people often associate with the great State of Texas, declares that they also are, by definition, the best in the world. A mention from Texas Monthly about decidedly non-Texas barbecue is rare, indeed, and worthy of further study.
So to Ramey’s I went. I spotted it right away, a bold red building.
The focal point of Ramey’s is the window at which you give your order to a very nice person.
I ordered a regular (not large) pork sandwich, hot, with slaw. That set me back $5, including tax (plus a dollar tip). Off to the left, a red door opens into a pleasant room in which you can seat yourself at one of four four-tops.
Through the door I went, sat, and opened my Ramey’s sandwich —
Here’s the inside —
No picture could ever do justice to that sandwich, least of all that picture. As you can see, the pork has a slightly rougher chop than B.E. Scott’s, and that adds some texture, although the meat is meltingly moist and tender. And the pork has excellent — outstanding flavor, both of pork and smoke, and of pork fat smoke from the coals dripping onto the coals, and drifting up to add a layer of deliciousness. Ramey’s gets an extra kick of smoke by loosely covering the pig with a piece of very heavy cardboard during the low and slow cooking. The loose covering adds to the smokiness without either steaming or baking the meat. (“When you start closing them up with metal, you might as well put them in the oven.”) That’s world class meat, and the vinegar and pepper sauce is hot, but just right. It doesn’t compete with the pork, but balances its richness.
The slaw has a fairly fine chop, and includes some mayonnaise and carrot. It’s very good slaw, but I’d just as soon have it on the side next time. The mayonnaise tends to mute the bite that I think complements that delicious pork, but that’s just me talkin’.
One reason Ramey’s pork is so good is that they get their whole hogs from Fatback Farms, a product of The Fatback Project, which helps small farmers raise heritage pigs with care and without hormones, antibiotics, and the like. One of the founders was Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’; he also has helped Rodney Scott go big time.
But you have to visit Ramey’s between March 1 and sometime in December or January, depending on how cold it gets, in order to try their barbecue. Ramey’s doesn’t cook whole hogs in the winter. It takes too many coals to counteract the winter cold, and the meat can get dried out. Ramey’s doesn’t serve dried meat, and it’s too expensive to throw away. In the winter, Ramey’s stays open but menu shifts to chicken, ribeye sandwiches, smoked ham, grilled shrimp, and burgers.
I’m sure the winter options are good, but do go when you can get some of that great barbecue. Ramey’s is a Top Place, definitely worth a couple of hundred mile drive. If you go, say “hi” for me. They may remember the idiot who backed out of a parking space after lunch while staring lovingly at Ramey’s menu board and got hung up in a ditch. Within 60 seconds, about half of the town had come over and pushed my rental car out. Nice, friendly people. I think they were just waiting around to do something nice. My role was giving them an opportunity.
Do go to Ramey’s. Go there before or after B.E. Scott’s in Lexington. See which you like better. Im leaning heavily to Ramey’s. Great meat and superb cooking make Ramey’s a Top Place and a must-visit, so go.
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