Thursday, October 04, 2007

Review: Memphis Minnie's Bar-B-Que Joint

When you think of The Haight in San Francisco, images of tie died t-shirts and other eclectic clothing, black light posters, the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin might come to mind.

When I visit The Haight it’s smoke that I think about! Not the kind of smoke that is typically associated with that bohemian part of town, the smoke that comes from a little barbecue joint called Memphis Minnie’s Bar-B-Que Joint & Smoke House.

You can’t help but to notice the little red building with its windows ablaze and the cartoon like sign featuring a jolly chef toque adorned porker. We actually came across it as if by mistake. After being smacked in the nose by the aroma of wood smoked meat we frantically looked around wondering where the intoxicating BBQ smells were coming from.

When you enter you find yourself transported instantly to the Deep South. The smell of barbecue is heavy in the air and there is row of tables occupied by a wide variety of patrons clearly enjoying their meals. There is a small pie case that displays some of the regional desserts, the sauces that they make, and some piggy influenced chachkis, which can be found all around the restaurant.

At first I found the menu board to be a bit complicated. I don’t mean to say I didn’t understand what the items on it were; I wasn’t sure why some of the items were on it. I guess when I really think about it one item kept distracting me; Premium Sake. As it turns out I am not the first to point out that Sake and barbecue are an odd combination. Their official position on the sake is that there are similarities in the long standing traditions and artisanal approach to both, and besides, the Sake tastes great and so does the barbecue so together they are doubly good. Ok, I’ll buy that. Some people drink red wine with fish and white wine with beef, and some people will drink Sake with barbecue.

Since we just happened to end up at Memphis Minnie’s and this was not a planned review I was a bit unprepared to order the variety of foods that I would for a typical menu sampling. Since I was with a couple of other people I just let them know that I would be eating off their plates for the sake of the review. They hesitantly agreed.

I ordered the Minnie’s Taster; three meats with a choice of two sides. On my plate will be the Texas Big Bones, the 18hour Smoked Texas Brisket, and the Memphis Sweet Smoked Pork. Accompanying those meats will be the Potlikker Greens and the Tart ‘n Tangy Slaw. In addition to those I will also be sampling the St. Louis Smoked Pork Ribs. I really had my mind set on the Andouille sausage, alas there was none. In all fairness it does say “Not All Items Are Available All The Time” right on the menu board.

I prefer to start with the sides, let’s get the supporting cast out of the way so that we can get to the main event. The slaw is crispy and tangy. There are slivers of red onion and bell pepper which compliment the shredded salad. This is not your typical California creamy mayo slaw. The dressing is on this is vinegar based and has a distinct twang to it. There is a sweetness that follows as your taste buds snap back, but it is well balanced and not sugary.

The Potlikker Greens are prepared in a classic down south manner, with onion and vinegar and slow cooked tender greens. I found these to be quite delicious but a little sweeter than I like. I did put about half of them down before the sweetness got to me.

Center stage was a battle for the best and quite honestly I find it almost impossible to pick the best of these incredible smoked delicacies. The beef ribs are rich and dark with a zesty bark. The meat comes away from the bones cleanly and they are the most tender beef ribs I have ever experienced. Next, the pork shoulder, buttery soft and smoky with just the right amount of spices. The outside pieces are sweet and sticky from the slow cooking process. No knives are needed here. The beef brisket was juicy and tender. The flavors were mesmerizing and the texture was perfect. There was a quarter inch smoke ring on the tender beef slices. The St. Louis Ribs also came away from the bone cleanly. The outside was crusted with spices and slightly charred meat while inside; the tender pork, pink from smoke was juicy and sweet. I struggled with the idea of putting sauce on this perfectly cooked meat but the variety of sauces on the table was intriguing.

On the table were three sauces Red, Vinegar, and Mustard sauce. First the Texas Red; Bold, tangy, and sweet, the flavor of ginger and clove stood out. The North Carolina Vinegar Sauce is tangy but not sour. I think the word vinegar in the name of this sauce is a bit misleading. It is fresh and herbal and really wakes up the meat you sprinkle it on. South Carolina mustard sauce is a just little sweet and has a delicate nature. It is a perfect accompaniment for the any of the pork dishes. All of the sauces were balanced and enhanced the meats. They were delicate enough to let the meats natural flavors come through, yet bold enough to stand up to the rich smoky meats that they adorn.

In Northern California where you find barbecue restaurants with no pits, and heavily sauced meats cooked in ovens, Memphis Minnie’s is a whole new world; like walking through a portal to a land where barbecue matters. The meats are perfectly prepared and the sauce is optional if needed at all. If you can’t go to the Deep South to experience the real barbecue culture, go to Memphis Minnie’s and experience real Bar-B-Que!

Memphis Minnie's. 576 Haight (at Steiner), S.F. (415) 864-PORK. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Beer, wine, and sake. American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa. Wheelchair accessible.

No comments: