The influence of Memphis barbecue extends well beyond its city limits to include its surrounding metropolitan area towns and the entire tri-state area. It’s a nice change of pace to escape the noise pollution and concrete jungles of the city by venturing into one of the little country towns on the outskirts. Tucked back in the country, a thirty minute, breezy, country drive outside of Memphis to Mason Tennessee, Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q is a place out of town and out of time. To get there from Memphis, you’ll enter Tipton County, the birthplace of soul music legend Isaac Hayes, and you’ll pass one of the original Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken restaurants. Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q is one of the oldest, if not the oldest operating bbq restaurants around Memphis. It was established in 1923 and rumor has it that this bbq joint is even older than Bozo the clown, who allegedly sued them for a copyrights violation. As the story goes, the clown lost a counter-suit because the bbq restaurant was able to prove that smoke was billowing from their smokestack as Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q long before the clown began painting his face for the public as Bozo the Clown. One thing’s for sure-Bozo’s Hot Pit BBQ has been around for a long time. I’ve heard a few old-timers speak of growing up on Bozo’s barbecue.
In a world of internet, iPhones and robot vacuum cleaners, Bozo’s hasn’t lost their old-time homey charm. The woody, smoky aroma and piggy memorabilia throughout the restaurant transported me back to another era; a place in time where folks are friendly and Best of all, old-fashioned downhome cookin’ was on the menu. And when it comes to the barbecue, they’re not clowin’ around at Bozo’s. I enjoyed the pork shoulder sandwich most of all. It came just the way I like it-‘dirty!’ That’s right, ‘dirty’- smoky, tender and loaded with bits of the bark or outer crust mixed throughout the meat. That contrast in texture, combined with the smoky flavor of the meat, the slightly sweet but mostly tangy sauces and mayonnaise-based slaw made one serious bbq sandwich. For those who want even more vinegar punch, Bozo’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q offers a tangy vinegar slaw as well. The ribs, only available on weekends, were tender and had a nice barbecued crust with slight, yet noticeable smokiness. But it was the bar-b-q sandwich that impressed me the most and one that I’ll be back for. In fact, I can already taste my next trip there, all clowin’ aside.
Scroll further down to see photos of the old Gus’s Fried Chicken in Mason, TN and to read a short story from one of my readers.
YOU BE THE BBQ JUDGE! Don’t forget my reader reviews page to let me know of your favorite bbq joint anywhere on the planet!
Thomas O’Brien posted the story below in the comment section. I liked it and decided to share it here, courtesy of Thomas.
A short story for you.
Many years ago, approximately mid 70’s, me and my young family moved to Galloway, TN. just down the highway from Bozo’s Barbecue. I had heard of Bozo’s and wanted to give it a try. One Saturday evening we made the short drive down highway 70 to find Bozo’s with a seriously long line literally out the door.
No way am I waiting in that line.
Hungry and impatient I spot a little shack across the road named “Maggie’s Short Orders.” We decide to give it a try. We were the only costumers in the store. A pleasant older woman, Maggie, greeted us and told us all she was serving this evening was fried chicken with beans and slaw. Hungry and ready to eat we said fine. She brought out the chicken on a platter like family style with our sides.
One bite and I had just sampled the best fried chicken I had ever tasted. I gorged and when the platter was gone she asked if we wanted more. Everyone else was sated but I wanted 2 more pieces.
When all was said and done this charming lady charged us $5.00 each. $15.00 for three people to leave stuffed.
I find out many years later that Maggi, was the mother of Vernon Bonner (Gus) of the now famous Gus’s Fried Chicken.
Maggie”s husband, Napolean Bonner, developed the recipe for the now famous chicken. They passed in the early eighties and about a year later their son Vernon, nicknamed “Gus Bully” reopened the restaurant using the family recipe as Gus’s Fried Chicken.
I have asked a thousand people but not one remembers “Maggie’s Short Orders.” Damn I’m Old.
And yes I did return and dine at Bozo’s on a few occasions and now with memories stirred I must do it again and stop by Gus’s across the street.
Thanks Thomas. I really enjoy these types of stories. Interestingly enough, the day after I read it we ate at Gus’s to celebrate that my son Blake had been honored with the presidential award of excellence at school. The place was his choice. While we were eating, Thomas’ story came to mind. Thanks again for that little piece of culinary history Mr. O’Brien.