The proof's in the 'cue
by Ian Donnis
383 Washington St. (Route 1), South Attleboro, Massachusetts, (508) 761-5700
Open Mon-Thurs, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (Fri-Sat until 11 p.m.), Sun, 12-9:30 p.m.
Major credit cards
There's something strange about running into a stonewalling effort worthy of
the CIA when you call a barbecue restaurant and ask how the place got started.
It's reasonable to expect, if not a tale about a favored recipe being passed
through the generations, some yarn about how the proprietor got hooked on 'cue
while roaming through the Carolinas or Texas. But after hearing good things
about Memphis Roadhouse, I faced obfuscation and bureaucratic references to a
My wariness increased after stepping into the restaurant, a quick 10-mile hop
up Interstate 95 from Providence, which on first blush resembles a
replication-ready barbecue theme park. Red-checked tablecloths, pig cut-outs
and ubiquitous photos of cattle and blues musicians are the dominant design
motif. Is this place a culinary analog, I wondered, of the Wal-Mart, Staples,
Best Buy and other big-box stores that line this stretch of Route 1? But the
proof's in the pudding, and the more I ate at Memphis Roadhouse, the happier I
Meals start with generous pieces of cornbread and it's good -- not too sweet,
just shy of moist, ample corn flavor, and real butter on the side. Memphis
Roadhouse offers a huge menu -- besides barbecue, there are steaks, chops and
an insert for Louisiana-style seafood -- and an array of drinks, from wine and
bottled and draft beers to oversized frozen drinks. An omnibus approach often
results in efforts being spread thin, but this four-year-old restaurant carries
it off with skill and value. (It turns out the place, which isn't part of a
chain, is owned by Roland Prevost, proprietor of the Salty Dog at Boston's
Faneuil Hall. His staff might be hapless at basic PR, but they prove their
stripes where it counts -- the kitchen.)
Appetizers include wings of fire (six for $5.49, 12 for $8.99), barbecue
shrimp skewer ($6.99) and Delta crab cakes with remoulade sauce ($2.49 each).
The latter was a winner -- a large cake featured a crunchy brown exterior,
tender minced crab stuffing, and a nicely tangy sauce on the side.
The barbecue choices are basically down to ribs, dinners and various combos,
all of which come with excellent coleslaw and smoky pit beans. It's no wonder
this place is popular with families; a half-chicken dinner is $7.69, a
two-meat combo is $10.99, and the barbecue and spaghetti dinner is $6.99. My
sister, Stephanie, a North Carolinian, went for the chicken dinner, while I
chose "All meats, pig out" ($17.99), a plate piled high with Carolina pulled
pork, Memphis ribs, sliced Texas beef brisket, a quarter BBQ chicken, and a
smoked Texas sausage.
Memphis Roadhouse doesn't stint on the servings -- we both had enough to take
home -- and the wood-fed grilling delivers the goods. While the purportedly
spicy sausage was bland, the brisket, ribs and chicken were flavorful, tender
and well- seasoned. Big bottles of Tabasco grace each table, and the house
barbecue sauce is a molasses-and-spice-based concoction that does wonderful
things with the smoked meats.
On a return trip, I thought I'd died and gone to New Orleans when a stellar
oyster po' boy ($8.95), was placed before me for Sunday lunch. A generous
quantity of big oysters were perfectly fried -- crunchy on the outside, sweet
inside -- and piled on a bun with chopped lettuce, a mild tartar-like sauce and
topped by a tomato slice. The sauce worked well (this from a mayo-phobe), and
the delicious ensemble, joined by a choice of coleslaw, beans or French fries,
made me into an unabashed Memphis Roadhouse convert.
Service is attentive here until meals are served, and then the waitresses
disappear. But in a land with too much needlessly mediocre food, the kitchen's
attention to detail is far more important: The tomato slice on the po' boy
tastes like a real tomato; the excellent sweet potato pie is dense and not
overly sweet, with hints of nutmeg and allspice; the collard greens in a side
order ($1.99) retain their flavor, with a peppery afterbite, and come with a
hunk of pork; the lemonade is home-made. If only this place, which offers 21
different kinds of tequila, would make a proper margarita by using fresh lime
juice, instead of the ubiquitous and abysmal sour mix.
Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]phx.com.