Mar 9, 2014

A commoner at the Commissary, Germantown, Tenn.

As famous Memphis barbecue joints go, the Commissary may not have the fame and notoriety of Rendezvous, Interstate or even some of the places you’ll find on Beale Street.  But then again, maybe it should.  Or, at least maybe it's starting to.  

To be honest, I would not have known about the Commissary if my friend, Ken, hadn't clued me in prior to our trip to the Beale Street Music Festival last year.  But I’m apparently not in the know as much as I’d like to believe.  Ken had heard how the Commissary had catered the Masters golf tournament one year, and so it had been on his short list of restaurants to try for some time.  And, I have to admit, I’m glad we made the trip out to Germantown to try it.    

One thing the Commisary does have on its side is history.  Long before Germantown was swallowed up as a trendy Memphis suburb, it was a small railroad community.  Today, the old heart of Germantown still retains its small-town feel.  It may have something to do with the town having one of the most restrictive sign ordinances in the country.  Anyway, once you drive through the urban sprawl through modern Germantown (the easiest way is to take Poplar Avenue, Tenn. Hwy. 57, east past I-240 until you get to Germantown Road) and find the city center, you’ll find the Commissary smack in the middle of it. 

Like I said, the city doesn't believe in fancy modern signage.  But this works perfectly with an old-school place like the Commissary.  Fortunately, if you don’t notice the front of the building right away (and I really don’t know how you could miss the smallish parking lot to the side overflowing with cars at lunchtime), just follow your nose to the smokers behind the restaurant.

Oh, this lunch is about to get real.
Once I saw and smelled this, I knew they were serious about their barbecue here.       

Walking back in time at the Commissary entrance
The Commissary still retains the feel of the old country store which was originally here more than 90 years ago.  The entrance is narrow, and seating is cramped.  Every extra space they could find is used for dining.  And they need it.

Straight past the entrance you’ll see the menu perched above the deli counter which seems to serve as a carry-out station.  The featured desserts are showcased prominently in the display.  It also affords you a great view of the behind-the-scenes action.        

The walls are decorated with antique memorabilia as you’d expect from a barbecue joint with decades of history.  The tables are simple, black and white checkerboard tablecloths with a clear glass top, designed for easy cleaning.   After all, really good barbecue can – and should – be somewhat messy.  As with most Memphis style barbecue, your messiness will vary according to the sauce level you choose to pour onto your food.  Menus are visible through the glass to offer a tempting variety of ribs, sandwiches, platters, smoked sausage, chili and tamales -- you know, all the good stuff. 

And yes, let’s talk about the food.  Since it was lunchtime and I didn't want to "pig out" too much before heading to the music festival later that afternoon, I ordered the pulled pork plate, with a cup of Brunswick stew as an add-on.  They really seem to promote their Brunswick stew, and I absolutely love it when it’s done right, so how could I resist? 

The picture tells the story.  Juicy, tender and mildly smoky pulled pork that almost melts in your mouth.  A small dinner roll allows you to build your own sandwich if you’d like.  In addition, the sides at the Commissary are very, very good.  Many barbecue joints do sides as an afterthought, but not here.  The baked beans and Cole slaw stood out as being exceptionally good.  The deviled egg that adorns the Cole slaw is a nice (and delicious) lagniappe.  Tasty enough, also, that I’d consider ordering extra deviled eggs on my next visit.

And yes, I have to rave about the Brunswick stew.  I admit I was skeptical I’d find outstanding Brunswick stew outside of the Southeast, but the Commissary give any place in the Carolinas and Georgia a run for their money.  It may be one of the best things on their menu. 

While the Commissary won't sway my opinion of other barbecue outlets in the Memphis area (my top five at the bottom of my blog remain the same), it is definitely a worthy adversary in the fight to conquer your taste buds.  It's well worth the drive and visit to Germantown.  

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