With lots of conflicting options with what to do on my Friday night (the first in many weeks that I hadn’t either had a gig or been out of town), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to choose. My drummer homeboy Mike Mosby had one of his Locked and Loaded events going on, Bristerfest was kicking off in Cooper-Young, Eden Brent was at the Center For Southern Folklore, and the Clarksdale Caravan Music Fest was going on down in Mississippi. But when I saw that my homeboys in the C3 Band were going to be playing at West Alley BBQ in Jackson, Tennessee, I decided to drive up there, both to catch their performance, and to check out the barbecue, which my homeboy Courtney Brown (C3’s drummer) had said was really good.
West Alley BBQ proved to be something like a large juke joint, with two older men tending to oil drum cookers outside along the side entrance. The look of the place would not have been unfamiliar to people who know Ground Zero in Clarksdale, but there were some elements that seemed more in keeping with Red’s Lounge instead, although the place was much bigger. The pulled pork was delicious, just as I had been told, and the club kept great roots blues playing over the speakers until it was time for the band to come up on stage. As I have discussed earlier, C3 is a blues power trio, with a repertoire that stretches from blues to funk to soul. Their performance on this particular night was augmented by a guest harmonica player that sat in, a visiting drummer that gave Courtney Brown a breather, and a superb female singer that closed out the night with a rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” It was definitely a night to remember in Jackson, and West Alley BBQ will be a place to keep checking up on.
It was fairly late in the day when I finally woke up on Wednesday morning, and I had had breakfast before going to bed. So I decided to forego the usually bacon and eggs and try some Texas-style barbecue, which generally means beef. Everyone had said that Franklin Bar-B-Q was the best, but I also knew that Franklin was an all-day proposition, and as badly as I wanted to try some beef brisket, I also wanted to do other things during the day as well, not spend it all waiting in line. So I had seen a place not all that far from my hotel called Rudy’s Bar-B-Que and Country Store, so I stopped there and decided to try their offerings. I didn’t know that they are considered one of the best barbecue places in Austin, but I can see why. Numerous times elsewhere I have ordered brisket and didn’t like what I got, but I loved the beef brisket I got at Rudy’s. I chose the lean brisket as I’m not a big fan of beef fat, and it was delicious, with a well-seasoned, smokey flavor that made the sauce almost superfluous. But the sauce was sweet and smokey as well, and made a nice addition. The inside is part dining hall and part country store, with long wooden tables the run the length of the room. Prices are not cheap, but neither are they outrageous, and the barbecue is really good. For those wanting to experience Austin barbecue without the four hours waiting in line, Rudy’s is a good option.
I recall on a previous trip to Atlanta trying to get into Daddy D’z one night when they were having a live band playing, and ultimately giving up because there was no place to park at all. The neighborhood around Daddy D’z has gentrified somewhat since that night, but Daddy D’z still has the same old hole-in-the-wall ambiance. That atmosphere, and the alluring aroma of smoking pork was too much to resist, and so after my A3C panel was over, I headed straight over to Daddy D’z for lunch, and I was thrilled with the result. As a Memphian, I’m picky about barbecue, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect, as barbecue is different in different states and cities. What would Atlanta barbecue be like? I’m not sure if Daddy D’z is typical of Atlanta barbecue joints, but the barbecue was not that much different from GOOD Memphis barbecue. It was largely lean pulled pork, with plenty of smoke flavor, and a good, sweet sauce that was extremely complimentary rather than overbearing. The french fries were good as well, and there are a considerable number of down-home sides including beans, cole-slaw, corn on the cob and more. One unique difference from Memphis barbecue restaurants is that Daddy D’z offers cornbread, which is delicious and just ever-so-slightly sweet. Sadly, my waitress told me that live blues bands at Daddy D’z are largely a thing of the past, but the walls are still covered with paintings that highlight live music. All in all, Daddy D’z is a must-visit when in Atlanta.
The Memphis In May World Championship BBQ Festival has always been a big deal in Memphis, It’s about four days of food and fun in Memphis’ Tom Lee Park, and fortunately, this year the sun was out, and much of the muddiness from the Beale Street Music Festival had dried out. Teams come from all over the country to compete in what is probably the largest barbecue festival in the world, and although you cannot sample the contestants barbecue or enter their areas without permission, half of the fun is seeing their decorated shelters and seeing the hilarious names that teams come up with. Of course some teams represents businesses like The Shed in Ocean Springs, Willingham’s and Double J Smokehouse in Memphis, or Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur, Alabama, and these typically are simply named for the business, which is also generally true for teams representing the Army Corps of Engineers or other governmental entities. Of the other teams, an amazing array of creativity goes into the names. References to films are popular, including “Natural Born Grillers”, “Aporkalypse Now” or “Reservoir Hogz”. Even more common are puns off music groups, such as the “Moody Ques”, “Notorious P.I.G.”, “The Count Bastie Porkestra” or “The Bastey Boyz.” At least one team referenced Elvis with “Love Meat Tender”! Unfortunately, health department regulations prohibit guests from sampling the competition entry barbecue, although one team, that of the late John Willingham was offering their competition barbecue for sale from a food truck. I tried it, and it was quite good. I later heard that The Shed from Ocean Springs, Mississippi was the big winner at this year’s competition.
On Friday, the VIP Reception for the On Location Memphis Film and Music Festival was hosted by Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous in downtown Memphis. The event was open to all filmmakers and music performers in the festival, and featured the Rendezvous’ world-famous ribs and pulled pork, as well as a couple of music performances.
Because I had a gig of my own up in Memphis, I couldn’t stay in Clarksdale for the Saturday night activities of the Juke Joint Festival, but in walking back to my car, it was fitting that my Juke Joint Fest Saturday both began and ended at Red’s Lounge, with great blues music wafting through the open door along with the tantalizing smokey smell of great barbecue from the cookers out front.
Carlos Elliot Jr. is from Colombia, but on a visit to Clarksdale, he became aware of the music of people like R. L. Burnside and Jessie Mae Hemphill. Since then, he has amazed audiences all over the world with his unique style of blues, and last night, at the iconic Red’s Juke Joint in Clarksdale, he celebrated the release of a new CD with his band The Cornlickers, to a standing-room-only crowd that spilled out into Sunflower Avenue despite the cold weather. Red’s is the real deal blues experience, with big oil drums cookers of barbecue smoking outside, and it is a must-visit experience during Juke Joint Festival.
After Mickey Rogers’ performance was over at the B.B. King Museum, I wanted something to eat, and the Blue Biscuit was literally a stone’s-throw away, and it looked quite intriguing. Reviewers on Yelp had recommended the catfish, and I love catfish if it’s done well, but once I was inside looking at a menu, I spied something totally unexpected- under the appetizers was a listing for “Biscuits and BBQ.” My waitress explained that it was exactly what it said it was- four freshly-baked biscuits with pulled pork piled on- rather unusual, but something that I had to try. She warned that it would take 20 minutes for the biscuits to bake, and it did, but the place has such a friendly vibe and cool appearance that I didn’t mind waiting. I was visited by the owner, who wanted to give me a tour of the place (which is truly large, with several rooms, a stage, a bar and two pianos, and decorated with all kinds of blues memorabilia and posters), and I learned that the executive chef is Trish Berry, formerly of Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett’s Madidi in Clarksdale. Soon my biscuits and barbecue arrived- the biscuits were hot and crunchy on the outside, melting on your mouth on the inside. Each had been halved, and in between was more delicious pulled pork than they could hold, delicately tender, with plenty of smoked flavor, and a sweet barbecue sauce on the table to add to them as desired. Despite its listing as an appetizer, together with an order of french fries, four barbecue biscuits was plenty to eat, and even with a drink and tip, came to only about $11. Although there was no live music on the night I was there, The Blue Biscuit does often feature live music, and has a Blue Biscuit Festival on June 1st. They also have two bungalows for vacationers or business travelers, and with a location in walking distance of the museum and blues clubs, it’s definitely where you want to be.
On my last trip up to Jackson, Tennessee I had left a concert poster at Reggi’s Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que, so this trip I decided to have dinner there, and it really is great barbecue. The medium sauce is both sweet and hot, and the meat is high-quality, with a good, smoky flavor. For a later snack, I bought a bag of homemade pork rinds, and they’re truly amazing, not like anything you’ve purchased at the store. Reggi’s is definitely worth a visit the next time you’re in Jackson, Tennesseee.