Barbecue is always on my mind when I visit Memphis, and this trip up US-72 allowed us to visit one of the less heralded barbecue places in the region. It’s probably the first that anybody using this highway will spot after they cross the state line.
Captain John’s was originally one of the many locations of Coleman’s, a chain that was really huge in the 1960s and 1970s, but has been whittled down to two or maybe three locations around the region today. Most of the Coleman’s buildings were very distinct, rectangular buildings, all windows and a thin strip of signage. The Ghost Pit Chronicles Tumblr has many photos of old Coleman’s buildings “not fooling anybody” by housing other barbecue places or real estate offices.
The Collierville Coleman’s opened in 1973, and was purchased in the mid-1990s by Ron and Linda Johnson, who changed the restaurant’s name. They serve a sandwich and sauce that is very, very similar to the one offered by Tops, which is the largest remaining Memphis barbecue chain. Tops predates Coleman’s, but has outlasted it. I think of Tops as a pretty decent “Memphis average,” and Captain John’s is right in line with that.
Might there be a reason this tastes so very similar to Tops? I did notice that their beans came from Bush’s; several industrial-sized cans of it were in clear view behind the counter. The Pit, Fire and Smoke Memphis BBQ Guide (link below) suggests that Captain John’s and Tops both buy their sweet and sticky sauce by the jug from an outfit in Louisiana.
This wasn’t bad by any means, but Memphis average is pretty ordinary in a town full of standouts. There are places that I enjoy much, much more than this, but just to be fair, we did stop by a Tops later in the trip in order to confirm my thoughts about the taste of these meals. More on that one day next week.
Other blog posts about Captain John’s Hot Pit Bar-B-Q:
You can see all the restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s a terrific resource for anybody planning a road trip through the southeast!