When Marie and I first visited Memphis together in 2010, we only made one trip to a barbecue restaurant. It being Sunday, many of the heavy-hitters were not open, but Jim Neely’s Interstate was, and we had a pretty good meal there.
What I don’t know about Memphis barbecue would fill a book, but what I didn’t know about Memphis barbecue in 2010 would fill several gigantic volumes. For example, I didn’t know that some other members of Jim Neely’s family then had a separate, small chain of restaurants around town, their name kept in the public eye via a Food Network reality show called Down Home with the Neelys. Among Memphis’s bloggers and hobbyists, these are known as “the TV Neelys,” and their empire crashed and burned and, over the last few years, all their restaurants closed. But Jim’s place is still bringing in big crowds and has the appearance of a place that’s not going anywhere. It’s a cornerstone of the community.
After our first stop of the day at Payne’s, we drove over to the Cooper-Young community for my daughter to get another of those milkshakes at Beauty Shop that she loves so much and do a little shopping for clothes. Marie and I took our son to Burke’s, that tremendously good bookstore that’s been in business for more than a century, and I also really enjoyed browsing at the terrific Goner Records. Hands down, this place has by far the best selection of old and new punk LPs and 45s that I’ve ever seen in one place. The store also runs a label that releases lots of this material, and it was just a huge pleasure to dig through all this stuff.
That break finished, we drove over to Interstate, where my daughter absolutely rejected the idea of barbecue spaghetti. She did have a sandwich and enjoyed it, as well she should, because they make good ones here, but the spaghetti is a real Memphis must, I’d say.
According to Craig David Meek, who took a break from the great Memphis Que blog to write a book called Memphis Barbecue: A Succulent History of Smoke, Sauce, and Soul, barbecue spaghetti was first sold by Brady Vincent at one of the city’s iconic restaurants, Brady & Lil’s, the restaurant that eventually became the popular, and excellent, Bar-B-Q Shop after Vincent retired in 1980. While the Shop offers the original recipe, I would argue that nobody has popularized it and made it an essential dish quite the way that Neely has. His spaghetti is absolutely delicious, and you’ll be spoiled for life, looking at each plate of noodles with red sauce and meatballs that circumstances bring you with a dissatisfied grumble.
Neely got into the barbecue business because, in the early 1970s, the quality he was looking for was not available anymore unless you drove across town for it. Neely mixed up one of the most delicious sauces in town, and continues to feed dozens of hungry customers every day at this huge barn of a restaurant, where the thumping sound of a cleaver in the kitchen breaking up the pork punctuates every meal.
There are certainly barbecue places in Memphis that I enjoy more than this one, but it’s still very good, and absolutely worth considering when you’re putting together your itinerary for a Memphis ‘cue tour. I’m glad that we stopped by for another visit!
Other blog posts about Interstate 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!