I had my final barbecue sandwich of the Great Memphis Region Barbecue Sandwich Tour at the Corky’s on Poplar. After a lovely brunch on the big patio at Harrison’s — a very new place and another Chef Bubba Gross triumph — we bade farewell to the other guests after David and Taylor’s wedding and dragged ourselves to the Memphis airport. But first, one last stop for barbecue.
It was Sunday, so our choices were as limited as my familiarity with Memphis geography. At any rate, we wound up at Corky’s, one of the big-name Memphis barbecue places. It’s a popular place, with lots of tables filled and a line of drive-through customers. It’s no wonder, for Corky’s is a very welcoming place. It smells great as you’re coming in, and the staff is very friendly. And what could be more welcoming than a giant mosaic made from bottle caps?
And there are paintings of famous musicians, like the great Jimmy Reed,
and Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner, and Justin Timberlake. Who knew Justin Timberlake was from Memphis? Good music was playing, mainly ’50s and ’60s Stax hits. Corky’s has a great atmosphere for barbecue.
And I can’t say enough about the staff. They were friendly and attentive without overdoing it. And they were proactive. When Lily’s Wubbanub — a pink pig, of course — fell on the floor, a waitress darted over to pick it up and another brought over a cup of hot water to clean it off. Now that’s impressive. They put Nonnie and PaPa (well, at least PaPa) to shame.
Mike started us off with some good fried dill pickle chips (never accept fried dill pickle spears) which came with a nice horseradish sauce. Very good. I don’t think you can get fried dill pickle chips in DC.
I ordered some hot tamales for the table — four tamales served over chili and covered with cheese. In this instance, Mike ate one and I, as the representative of the table, ate the rest, and the chili.
The tamales were good, well worth ordering, especially after my earlier Helena tamale disappointment. The chili was …well, forget it. I irritate enough people with my barbecue commentary without stomping through the chili land mines. I’ll stay in my lane.
Normally, you order ribs at Corky’s. When you are about to get on an airplane with no intervening opportunity to take a shower, however, you generally want to stay away from ribs. This is especially true when there is a small child in your group. We all ordered sandwiches (Ella, who is 2 1/2, had a slider), and Mike added side orders of beans and macaroni and cheese.
The sandwiches all come with slaw and Corky’s barbecue sauce.
I asked for slaw on the side, and surprised our waiter by specifying “no sauce” for my sandwich. He almost seemed hurt by the request, and no one else followed suit. There was sauce on the table, and I had tried some on one of the excellent hot rolls that had appeared unbidden. The sauce was well seasoned, but it was thick and sweet. I could tell that the sauce would fight the pork, and probably win.
I did my usual test of the meat, by pulling some from the sandwich. The meat was good. It was flavorful and I could taste smoke. Adding some of the slaw to the sandwich made for a nice touch. In the others’ sandwiches, however, the thick sauce suffocated the smoke flavor.
If, unlike me, you like sweet barbecue sauces, Corky’s is probably a great place to go. Heaven knows they have a lot of locations spread across Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. They’re doing very well.
Looking back, I had some very good pork in Memphis, but, with the exception of the sauce at Payne’s, the barbecue sauces in Memphis were flat bad: they smothered the flavor of the pork. You can get truly wonderful barbecue outside of Memphis. The Dixie Pig, Helen’s, B.E. Scott’s, and Ramey’s are all Top Places, well worth the drive, and Abe’s, the Kream Kastle, and the Rebel Barn all were quite good. Of course, there are a lot of other barbecue places in Memphis that I need to try. If you know of a good place, please let me know.
In the meantime, if you go to Memphis, take your own barbecue sauce with you.
And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box. Or bookmark us and check in from time to time. If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event). Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome. And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.