Gridley’s Fine Bar-B-Q
In a town of big name BBQ places such as, Rendezvous, Corky’s, and Neely’s, it’s easy for some small gems to get lost in the mix. It seems as though these places have been around forever and the old and wise still keep the young and arrogant in their place by serving what the people expect and never stray from the recipe for their success. However, in my pork filled adventure through the BBQ capital of the world, I found a place that has not only the elements from a fine establishment, but also the elements of an epic tale of family, success, adventure, death, failure, and rebirth.
Traveling down Stage Rd. in Bartlett to a favorite pizza joint of mine, Jimmy’s Hot Dogs, which serves traditional thin and deep dish Chicago style Pizza, Chicago Dogs, and Italian Beef Sandwiches, I spotted a place in a strip mall whose name struck me as familiar but couldn’t really understand why.
I did a little research before my trip. There weren’t a lot of results from my Google search and they didn’t have a web page, but there were a few mixed reviews online so I decided to go and see what this mysterious place was all about.
I will say that it took me four trips to Gridley’s before I felt I had enough information to do a fair review. Amazed at the menu and after speaking with Doug, the owner, he directed me to an interview that he did for the Southern Foodways Alliance a few years back with Rien Fertel. What I gathered from Fertel’s interview and Doug Walker himself, was an amazing story of Clyde Gridley who worked for the Loeb family (and old Memphis BBQ/Laundry/Convenience Store family) and decided to take over one of Mr. Loeb’s BBQ restaurants before he died. Mr. Gridley saw a bigger picture for BBQ restaurants than just little dives and had a white table cloth restaurant with waiters donning black tuxedos serving up Memphis style BBQ. Gridley’s was a big name in the Memphis game in the 70’s but due to a tragic car accident, the Gridley name as far as BBQ went was on its way down.
From what I gather and from the mixed reviews, after Clyde passed away the ownership and management changed hands a few times and the consistency and the pride that Mr. Gridley prided himself on was lost until Doug Walker, the current owner took over almost a decade ago. Mr. Walker, or Doug, as he introduced himself, took pride in accepting a challenge to bring a failing business back to its former glory, a place where this young Mississippi Delta boy grew up eating on his trips to Memphis as a younger man.
Long gone were the white linens and the hot towels brought by professional waiters, now the place was adorned with old Elvis and Coca-Cola memorabilia and tacky “antique” advertisements that you would see in an Applebee’s.
The first time I went I was overwhelmed by the menu. Gridley’s logo say’s it’s the “The Taste of Memphis”, but it’s almost the anti-Memphis BBQ joint and I don’t mean that negatively. Just about all Memphis places have the same menu: Pulled Pork, Dry Ribs, Chicken, BBQ Nachos, Sausage and Cheese Plate, and some even do the Memphis original BBQ Spaghetti, but Gridley’s Menu was different. I don’t want to say it was “innovative” but the crazy varieties lead me to believe that either Doug or Ole Clyde smoked a little more than just pork.
This menu had all of the above plus BBQ Po-Boys, BBQ Burrito that was stuffed with pulled pork and sauce topped off with chili and broiled until the shredded cheese is perfectly gooey, whole turkey legs, and Brisket. There was a little Delta influence as the homemade Tamales made the cut and could be ordered plain, with chili, with cheese, or both. The BBQ shrimp looked intriguing too because this wasn’t the “redneck” bbq shrimp where you get shrimp covered in the micro waved house tomato sauce. This was the real deal. Maybe not on par with some NOLA BBQ shrimp but this spicy garlic butter sauce was definitely not something that I expected in a strip mall joint in Bartlett, TN.
As I said earlier, I had to eat here four (that’s right, four) times to see if they knew what they were doing. I can’t remember what I specifically ordered on each trip but it wasn’t a hit or miss place, everything I had was great in its own right. 3 out of the 4 times I went, my order was taken by the nicest, young blonde girl. The only thing sweeter than this girl behind the counter was the super sweet tea; at Gridley’s there is no unsweet tea…only Sweet and Super Sweet.
Here is what I had and how I would rate them.
Tamales w/ Chili and Cheese—-9/10. These are some fine Tamales and a great way to start a meal. The Chili was temperature hot but could use a bit more salt and heat but salt was on the table and Louisiana Hot sauce is available so “no harm, no foul”
BBQ Burrito—9/10. A stoner’s dream meal. I just expected Jon Stewart to come out of the kitchen after the server asked me how it was to say, “Yeah, but have you ever had it….on weed?” The sweetness of the sauce was perfect with the chili and cumin seasoning of the chili and you could melt cheese on anything and it makes it better. Again, I added some salt and hot sauce and it was divine. I didn’t think about it then, but I bet a dollop (that’s right, I said dollop) of sour cream would take it to level N for Nirvana.
Ribs—This is a tricky score and it just depends on what kind of mood you are in. You know how I mentioned this was the “anti-Memphis” Q shop? Well, the ribs were part of that comment. The ribs at Gridley’s are wet. This is not a bad thing, but for those who know Memphis ribs know that ribs are dry unless you request wet and for those that are expecting them dry will be a tad disappointed. The spare ribs were tasty, had a great pink smoke ring, a true Memphis style bark, but were covered with sauce. I like the sauce, but being spoiled, I like to control my own sauce. Also, the first ribs I had were super meaty but the second time were on the skimpy side. I know that I probably just got the small side of the slab, but I did notice. I hate to do this, but I have had better ribs in Memphis…they are still good, but 7.5/10
Pulled Pork—8/10. Actually, you can get pulled, sliced, chopped, or any other way that you can think of. One great thing about Doug and his staff is that they aim to please which means if you want your bbq pureed they will put it in the blender for you. Like the ribs, the pork is seasoned and slow smoked over hickory for 14 or so hours. You can see the time they put into the meat by the moistness and tenderness of each bite.
Beans—9.5/10 just for uniqueness sake. The beans Clyde made famous for Gridley’s is a secret recipe but one taste and you can tell that they are laced with curry. This is another “anti-Memphis” concept that seems to work. I, of course, like curry and know that there are some that don’t. I understand that it is a “different” taste but it isn’t overpowering, just subtle enough to add flavor and be different. I like the concept and I like how they taste. They may not be my favorite in all of Memphis (which goes to Payne’s, but that is a different review) but they really are delicious and also offer traditional beans to those who are scared or boring.
Slaw—10/10 for freshness being homemade, and not being too mayonaisy, but 5/10 for just tasting just like cabbage with some vinegar a dab of mayo and no other flavoring. So I’ll avg those and say 7.5/10. Its good on the sandwich because it doesn’t mask the bbq with all of the mayo, but by itself, it’s a little bland.
BBQ Shrimp—10/10. ‘Nuff said. 11/10 because the bread is so good.
The Bread—UNFREAKING BELIEVEABLE. Most places you get a plain roll or cornbread but this 4 in long sourdoughy/yeasty roll is great with the bbq plate, spaghetti, the shrimp, etc.
Potato Salad—6/10 I don’t think it was homemade because it tasted like the sweet stuff you get out of tub at the grocery store. Maybe it’s because I just hate the flavor of sweet relish, but, “Blah”
Bad Bob’s Big Bar-B-Q Sandwich—8.5/10. Huge Jumbo BBQ topped with slaw and sauce w/ fries. Just like the regular sandwich but bigger and served Sonic Style with 1 onion ring.
Sauce—8/10. There are actually a mild and a hot. The sauce has perfect texture as it isn’t too runny and doesn’t sit on top of the meat in a thick blob. It has good spice and tart but not overly vinegary, and I believe a little curry in it as well (or at least a touch more cumin than most) I wouldn’t say it’s a great sauce but it’s very good and more importantly, it complements the meat well.
I could go on and on, but the Red Beans and Rice, the Nachos, the Loaded Platter Fries, were all good. Nothing there was a disappointment, the service was great, the food came out fast and fresh, and I got to speak with the owner. That’s a nice bonus in any business and in these economic times, I like that personal touch.
If you are tired of the same old, same old, give Gridley’s a try and you won’t be disappointed and there is definitely something for everyone. Doug and his crew have a good thing going and take pride in making people happy. I’m not sure if it’s as good as it was in the 70’s but I’m sure that Clyde is looking down and proud that his name still hangs over that door.
Gridley’s Fine Bar-B-Q
6842 Stage Rd