Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Rib Hunt

In 2006, Vol Fan and I had just started our roaming ways.  Vol Fan had just started the work that would take us all over the country.  Little did we know what was in store for us.

Vol Fan was invited to attend a pre-season football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars at the stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.  When he returned, he had a fabulous tale to tell.

On the way to the game, they had stopped at a BBQ joint.  More of a hole in the wall than restaurant.  They had two things on the menu.  Ribs and pulled pork.  That was it.

Vol Fan told of ribs so glorious that he thought he had died and gone to heaven.  The best ribs he had ever eaten.  However, there is one problem.  The ribs were so good that every thought left his head other than that delicious meat.  He cannot remember the name of the place.  Or if it even HAD a name.  Or its location.  Or anything else about it.  Only that he was in heaven while gnawing on those bones!

So asked him if those ribs were so good, what was the second best?  And thus, the hunt for the best ribs in the country was started.  So in our travels, places have come and gone off of his list.  But we always track his top five. 

Vol Fan's criteria for good ribs is simple.  He doesn't judge based on the sauce.  It is based solely on the meat.  Does it fall from the bone easily?  Is it juicy?  Is it flavorful?  If the meat needs sauce, it doesn't cut it.  Not saying that sauce can't add to the experience but tastes for sauces are so individual that it really can't be a part of his judgement.

So here is his list:
  1. The No-Name Place in Jacksonville, Florida - One day we will figure out its name.  But probably not before we have another job near Jacksonville...
  2. Baby Blues BBQ, Venice, California - We heard about this place on The Travel Channel and so we didn't want to pass up the opportunity to give it a whirl.  Vol Fan had the platter that included 1/2 rack of baby back ribs and 1/2 rack of Memphis-style ribs, which are a little bigger than baby backs.  Both were delicious but the baby back were the hands down winner.  I had the pulled pork (I always have pulled pork.  I just can't stomach gnawing on a bone!) and seriously, it was the best pulled pork I have ever put in my mouth!  This is a tiny place so if you arrive at prime time, be prepared to wait.  We arrived just in the nick of time and had to wait about 10 minutes.  While we were eating, we heard the hostess say that wait time was about 1.5 hours.  As long as you weren't dying of hunger, it would totally be worth the wait!
  3. The Commissary, Germantown, Tennessee - We ate here with Bubbles on a quick run through Memphis several years ago.  Another tiny, hole-in-the-wall place with plenty of atmosphere.  The BBQ was delicious.  And I wish I would have saved a little room for dessert because the cakes and pies looked off the hook.
  4. Jot 'Em Dot, Athens, Georgia - This place was located within walking distance of our lodging while working in Athens.  They had great atmosphere and bands played regularly.  And from the fumes coming from the back porch, the staff and patrons also enjoyed a toke now and again.
  5. Calhoun's On The River, Knoxville, Tennessee - A Knoxville tradition, especially on Saturdays in the fall.  Just don't show up wearing anything but orange!
Also good:
  • CJ's BBQ, Oxnard, California - This place gets bonus points for having extremely cold beer!
  • Rendezvous, Memphis, Tennessee - A Memphis institution located near Beale Street.  But the ribs that day just weren't up to snuff to make it into the Top 5.
  • A place in Gaffney or Spartanburg SC that neither of us can remember the name.  It was visited long before the list was even started, possibly Southern Barbecue but we are not certain.  We should have started writing things down long ago!
  • Roadside shack near Shiloh, Tennessee - This place was literally a 6*6 outbuilding with a smoker and picnic tables along the roadside.  But it was good!
  • Cheddars, Jamestown, Virginia - Also just a good variety, family restaurant.  Since this is a chain, I can't say that every location would have good ribs...but it is based out of Texas so who knows?
  • BBQ joint located at carwash in old gas station, Knoxville, Tennessee - Probably the most seedy of joints that we have ever eaten but still really good:)  It is located at Walker Springs and I-40, right at the top of the exit ramp.  You can pull up and order a rack or a half a rack or even just a couple of ribs if you need a snack.  Cash only!
Any places that we should add to our "must try" list?


snghere said...

I just finished lunch... baby back ribs! Since I don't eat them often, they were really, really good from the grocery store deli!

Mental P Mama said...

The Rendezvous always gets my vote. And anything with any sauce on it is a FAIL in my book. Dry rub and 24 hours at a minimum in a smoker. Yeah, baby! We Tennessee people need to educate the world!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

I'm not much of a BBQ or ribs person, but I do love most anything on the menu at Calhoun's on the River in Knoxville... YUM.

VolFan looks like a Happy Camper with that Baby Blues BBQ bag.....

Busy Bee Suz said...

Oh my two need to do a food tv show on your BBQ search!!!!

Nelson's Mama said...

Things have been crazy here, sounds like you've been having fun! Glad you feel better!

Jealous that you got to go to the races - looks like fun! We had a Derby party and will say that my horse won!!

Hubby got to judge at that little BBQ gig in Lynchburg; he spent an entire day at "school" - I'd have been ready to barf!

Caution said...

There's place near us that is open on Sundays only. It is a little trailer with some huge smokers outside. Hot, sticky picnic tables with lots of bees. Absolutely glorious!

Grandma J said...

Ruddy's in Texas! It's a chain but dang there are several varieties of bbq beef, and on your first visit they give you a sampling of all of them!!!

laurenne said...

YOU BETTER TELL ME next time you go to Baby Blues! I live right there. I will come meet you. I won't eat ribs because there's probably no other food that grosses me out more than ribs.... but they have good corn!