Before we left on our journey, our weird but loveable friend Keith sent us a link to an article: ‘The Great American Bucket List: 50 Restaurants to Try before you Die‘ (https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/best-restaurants-us-bucket-list) which we occasionally refer to as we pass through towns. The good thing about this article is that it’s not about 5 star or Michelin-rated restaurants, but rather places that have achieved high ratings based on their quality of food, no matter the size of operation or type of cuisine. So when we got to Memphis, Tennessee – arguably the world capital of Southern BBQ – we consulted the Bucket List. The article recommended Payne’s BBQ, revealing that ‘In a town as legendary in the barbecue world as Memphis, it takes a special kind of place to clearly sit at the top of the throne, and that place is Payne’s.’
So with that lofty endorsement, we loaded the coordinates into the GPS and made our way over to south Memphis for an early lunch. However, as we drove towards that area of the city, it became increasingly less appealing – lots of derelict buildings, graffiti-laden tunnels, and really rundown strip malls. Mama Bear started to curse Keith…
We finally arrived at the destination, right at the 11am opening time. Mama Bear took one look and said, ‘There’s no way I’m eating in there – you’re on your own.’
Papa Bear, giddy with excitement and not deterred by appearances, bounded through the empty parking lot and pried open the stuck front door. Upon rounding the corner into the restaurant, an older black woman was at the counter. Asking if they were open, she replied in a stout southern accent, ‘Why yes child, there’s usually a line-up out the door. What can I git for y’all?’ Really, this place experiences line-ups? And then looking further behind the counter, it didn’t look at all like it could cope with more than a couple of customers, let alone lines of people.
Oh well, having done some research the night before, Papa Bear knew what to order – a regular chopped pork sandwich with medium sauce and a smoked sausage with medium sauce. The bill, a modest $8.25. While waiting, people started to flow in. Maybe this place was something special…
After about 10 minutes, the brown take-out bag was passed over the counter and Papa Bear ran back to the RV. It was 11:15 and there were now about 10 cars in the parking lot… The bag was torn open and each item was presented on the table. Mama Bear gasped.
It certainly wasn’t pretty. And most amusingly, they put a toothpick through each bun as though that was going to hold the sloppy mess together. More surprising, both the chopped pork and the smoked sausage had a yellow, chunky, bile-like substance smothered all over them. Mama Bear peered closer, ‘Is that some sort of egg?’
With only a moment of hesitation, Papa Bear grappled the chopped pork off the table, took a big bite and discovered that the yellowy covering was in fact a sweet slaw. It was not only delicious, but perfectly complimented the tangy BBQ sauce. Was it easy to eat? Well, let’s put it this way – you wouldn’t want to have a first date at Payne’s… It was one of the sloppiest pork sandwiches Papa Bear had ever consumed (and partially worn). Then on to the smoked sausage. Again, the slaw married well with the smokiness and spice of the sausage. Papa Bear, with a saucy grin, nodded his approval to a disbelieving Mama Bear. And as a final approbation, the Bear, who had been watching all this with keen interest, was given some pork in her bowl. She devoured it and immediately came back to the table for more. The Bear loves her BBQ and clearly gave Payne’s a four ‘paws up.’