The old hit TV series, Cheers, gave the rest of the country a glimpse into the Boston bar scene in the 1980’s. Anyone who has watched the show, remembers what made the show-chemistry. It was all about the relationships between the bartenders, regular patrons and drifters. Every city has its own bar scenes, and every bar has its own vibe. In Memphis, Beale Street, Overton Square and Cooper Young are some of the
hottest spots for nightlife. But just a short drive outside the city limits, Tennessee has its very own Cheers. It’s Cheers of Millington, owned and operated by bartender Kimmi Cummings. It’s a standard bar in most ways. There are drinks, games and a lively social life. Even during the early afternoon, when I stopped in, this country bar was alive with conversation, jokes and laughter. Imagine a touch of Roadhouse (a la Patrick Swayze), meets Boston’s Cheers, but cozier.
And of course, there is the bar food. Yes, bar food is a thing. Not only is it a thing-it’s a very popular thing. I mean, buzzed or not, who doesn’t like cheeseburger sliders, buffalo wings and pizza? In fact, in recent years bar food has been elevated to a new level of respect in the culinary world. But don’t forget that this is a Tennessee bar. And any self-respecting Tennessee bar offers standard
Tennessee fare-and that includes at least some form of barbecue. Smoked wings, ribs and bbq pizza are popular in the Memphis area. Of course, not every club or bar has its own pit. In such cases, barbecue may be sourced out. That’s not a bad thing, as long as it’s locally sourced and not shipped in from some far away industrial plant. Local bbq joints, and in some cases local bbq competition teams have been known to provide ‘que for various pizza parlors, bars and burger joints around Memphis. Using quality locally smoked pork adds an artisanal element to whatever dish the meat is being used in.
Of these restaurants outsourcing bbq, I’m quite partial to the locally smoked barbecue served up by Cheers of Millington. It comes from a friend of mine, Adam Bullock of bbq competition team, Coon Valley Cookers. I call him Pit-Boss, because aside from restaurant pit-cooks and full-time competition pit-masters, I don’t know anyone else who smokes meat more often than Adam. But we’re not talking space-age push-button model electric smokers and the like. No sir. Adam Bullock
fires up his pits using wood logs and lump charcoal (partially burned wood). He’s a country pit-master of the old-school variety; a beer-drinking, camouflage ball cap wearing (with the bill curved), fishing, hunting, boating, honky tonk, country boy and he’s proud of it. He’s an authentic pit-master. He can barbecue anything, from ribs, shoulder, brisket, chicken, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, coon and I dare say roadkill, if it’s a fresh hit (OK, just kidding about the roadkill). And his smoked meats are outstanding.
You see, barbecue is an artisanal craft. Many restaurants have brought it into the new age with computer-controlled smokers that could pass for spaceships. And quite honestly, who can blame them when consistency is needed to feed the masses? But when I want something really special, I go for Adam’s type of real pit barbecue. Of course, to get his best, freshest ‘que, you’d need to go directly to him. He smokes up meats all the time for various events. It’s all done by word of mouth, communicated between people who know the secret of his amazing barbecue. But one doesn’t need to hire a private investigator to find him. He’s easy enough to find these days on social media. Or simply go to Cheers for a deliciously smoky bbq sandwich. They didn’t have slaw to offer for the sandwich, which is standard for these parts, but truly, the essence of bbq is the smoked meat anyway. Next time, I’ll consider ordering pickles to add that tangy, crunchy element in place of the slaw. The sauce was a standard sweet and tangy
bbq sauce, which complimented the pork fine. But again, the real winner was the meat itself. Despite the fact that the meat had been smoked in advance by Adam, I was impressed at how much wood smoke and moisture the meat retained. That’s a sign of high quality ‘que. I particularly enjoyed the bits of crusty bark from the outside of the pork mixed with the tender, succulent interior meat. I usually make it a point to request it that way. Adam has a particular way of forming lots of nooks and crannies to create more surface area for extra bark on his pork, by simply scoring the meat before it goes onto the pit (don’t miss the pictures).
I can’t say enough about Adam Bullock’s bbq. It’s some of the best I’ve placed in my mouth. But before it all goes to his head, it’s worth mentioning, that he’s got some pretty stiff competition right under his nose. See, he made the mistake of telling me of a friendly bbq contest with his wife, Shannon. Sorry Adam, I’m telling all…it turns out she WON, sort of. It was a wet ribs vs dry ribs contest-her wet ribs vs his dry ribs (ribs without sauce). She made a homemade sauce and he used his own bbq dry rub seasoning. I only learned that he actually hickory-smoked the meat for both sides, because I pulled the information out of him. So really, they both won. But in humble fashion, the Pit-Boss simply smiled and said, “What can I say man? She got me.” #bbqcouple
Thanks for visiting my Memphis bbq blog! Comments, rants, raves, disagreements and downright bbq feuds are welcome below. Tim Shirley