Martin’s was our last stop in Nashville before heading to the airport and back home to Washington. I’d been to the branch of Martin’s in Cahaba Heights, outside Birmingham, and I’d thoroughly enjoyed the whole hog barbecue. It was right up there with B.E. Scott’s, and within shouting distance of Ramey’s among Tennessee whole hog places. I was eager to try it at its home in Tennessee. If the original was the usual notch or three up from a branch as far-flung as Cahaba Heights, it could even rival Ramey’s for Best-in-Tennessee honors among whole hog places. I’d heard that there had been some slippage in quality with Martin’s’ rapid expansion — six branches in Tennessee and outposts in Louisville, Birmingham and Columbia — but that the original location in Nolensville was the most reliable.
Nancy and I arrived, and I was a little surprised by how big, roomy, and new the place was — Martin’s first opened only in 2006, and I’d assumed it would have been around longer. Perhaps it had been, and they’d torn down the old one and expanded.
Martin’s is decorated with a ton of recently minted memorabilia, much as is the Cahaba Heights branch. I like that mounted raccoon a lot.
As it turned out, Martin’s now only cooks whole hogs on Friday and Saturday. I know whole hog used to be available every day in Cahaba Heights, and the web site emphasizes their whole hog barbecue. Their web site also mentions menu changes due to COVID, but I fail to see the connection.
I was disappointed, but I know that when a door closes on you, there’s always a window pane you can break to let yourself in. There was pork shoulder to be had at Martin’s, and they were cooking it over wood. I ordered a pork sandwich with a side of green beans and an order of Brunswick Stew, all of which I did a poor job photographing, even by my standards.
Nancy ordered a turkey sandwich with green beans and slaw.
Nancy opened by saying that the slaw was sweet and overdressed. She tried the turkey, and pronounced that it was okay, neither dry nor particularly smokey. She did like the green beans.
The pork came topped with slaw. The slaw wasn’t mentioned on the menu and I wasn’t asked if I wanted slaw. I started out by testing the pork that was untouched by slaw. The pork had good bark and a fairly good smoke flavor, but it was starting to get dry. The slaw topping would have been a good addition in light of the incipient dryness, except that the slaw was, as Nancy noted, sweet and overdressed. I tried some of their sauce, which tasted of vinegar, sugar, and pepper, in that order.
The Brunswick Stew was pretty good. I thought the green beans were excellent, nice and peppery, and the hit of the meal. Even Nancy liked the green beans, and Nancy, who grew up in Connecticut, has never liked — has actively disliked — Southern style vegetables. But then she did order banana pudding as a side at Jack Cawthon’s. Maybe she’s coming around.
Martin’s was a disappointment, and it seems that the rumors of slippage and/or uneven performance are true. I’m hardly ready to write off Martin’s, though. I trust the #2 in Nashville ranking by the Barbecue Bros, and I really liked their whole hog in Cahaba Heights (although I admit that my brother, David, may have been right about the too-fine chop). I’m very hopeful that they’ll shift focus from expansion back to quality and dependability. I imagine that the shortages of goods and labor due to COVID and the COVID response factor in a well, and I am hopeful that those issues will go away, far, far away. I’ll try Martin’s again, and hope that when you do, you’ll share your experience in the comments.
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.