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‘Southern BBQ Boys: Germantown Comissary – Memphis, TN

by Art Richey – Pork Barrel BBQ Media & ‘Cue-mmunications Contributor

For a barbecue joint to make it on the ‘Southern BBQ Boysfinal itinerary, it had to survive an intense vetting process: Was it facebook recommended? How many times was it suggested? Who suggested it? Was it generally close to our proposed journey? Could we find college girls within close distance? After weeks of preparation, planning and discussion, we collectively decided that one of the barbecue meccas, Memphis, TN, would be the first city on our tour. Luckily, the ‘Southern BBQ Boys had many family members and friends who called Memphis home so it was easy to 1) analyze (and trust) recommendations from seasoned Memphis locals;  2) have a trusty tour guide of the city; and 3) most importantly, find a free place to sleep.

Now, Memphis offers numerous delicious and worthy restaurants for any barbecue roadtrip or culinary adventure. However, the ‘Southern BBQ Boys’ stay would only last 2 days so we had to choose wisely. One name kept appearing over and over from facebook, friends, and our internet research: The Germantown Commissary. Now, my childhood presented a host of opportunities to sample Memphis’ finest ‘cue but I had never even heard of this joint, let alone experienced one of their pulled pork sandwiches. But after our visit, there is no way I will ever forgot this palace of pork.

After weeks of planning and dreaming about this day, we were finally on the open road….and two hours behind schedule. For those not familiar with this drive, it takes about 4 hours to get from Birmingham to Memphis…not a short trip by any stretch of the means. On top of that, we were antsy to eat, the scenery became boring within minutes of leaving campus and no one had consumed any food since last night’s dinner of Subway sandwiches from the school cafeteria. Needless to say, the four hours seemed like an entirety as Babe moved on down the highway. After hundreds of miles, Will’s blaring Kenny Chesney and Matt’s exhibition of using farmland as nature’s bathroom, we made it to our destination. The Germantown Commissary looks pretty much like you would expect any commissary (an old fashioned variety/grocery store) to look like: old wooden chairs on the front porch, train tracks nearby, and an orchestra of creaks as you open the door. Since we arrived rather late for the lunch crowd, we easily found a large table in the back. After hours of chatter, loud music and the sound of the open road, there was an immediate silence amongst the four of us as we studied the menu: BBQ Nachos, Pulled Pork Plate, Ribs, Beans, Slaw, and Sweet Tea were among the listed options. Our idea of this academic project was finally a reality.

We placed our orders, took notice of the decorum throughout the restaurant and absorbed the sweet smells from the kitchen and pit. Honestly, we really didn’t pay much attention to what we had ordered. I got a pulled pork plate with deviled eggs, slaw and homemade chips. Matt got the ribs. I wasn’t sure what Will or Jeff had ordered. But then, we realized what sin had been committed before our very eyes. JEFF HAD ORDERED A GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWICH. Matt, Will and I looked at him with faces of disbelief and shock. “You ordered a grilled chicken sandwich at our first BARBECUE STOP?” Will muttered.  Jeff, a native of Palm Beach, FL, obviously had a lot of learning to do on this study of southern barbecue. Lesson 1: grilled chicken is NEVER barbecue. End of story. Granted, this was an academic class and we had much to learn. But this one hurt really, really bad. We forgave his mistake, gave Jeff his lecture and by that time, our orders arrived.

The pulled pork was perfect: smokey and tender, but just enough that the meat could be appreciated. The sauce was a thick, smokey, brown sugar sweet tomato-based mixture with a smooth yet charming heat that took your palate by surprise. My sides: creamy, cold mayonnaise-based slaw that was an outstanding complement to the heat of the sauce, which was forcing moisture on my forehead. The slaw was top notch but my two other sides were incredible, heavenly and amazing: homemade BBQ chips and deviled eggs. I have no idea how they are made or what they do. But I will say no more. If you are in Memphis and make it to the Commissary, you MUST have these chips and deviled eggs. Period!!!

We finished our meals, sampled each other’s food (except for Jeff’s chicken sandwich), and paid our bill. It was a great meal for our first stop on a life changing journey of food, friendship and memories. We had no idea what we were about to get into or where this academic project would take us. But at that moment, our stomachs were full, sauce was underneath our fingernails, toothpicks were in our mouths and smiles were on our face. Life was good.

ART’S RECOMMENDATION FOR THE GERMANTOWN COMMISSARY: Pulled Pork Sandwich, BBQ chips, deviled eggs, slaw and sweet tea.

Art Richey is a “Southern BBQ Boy who grew up in Northwest Alabama and as kid was able to eat a half slab of ribs before he could talk. In his spare time he is a member of the Pork Barrel BBQ Competition BBQ Team and a Media & ‘Cue-mmunications Contributor to Pork Barrel BBQ.