Smoked turkey plate and homemade chips with blue cheese @ Central BBQ

Last night I made my first stop at Central BBQ’s new Downtown location. It’s a huge space at the corner of Butler and St. Martin, cat-a-corner from the National Civil Rights Museum.

I walked in, and immediately noticed how upbeat everyone was. The kitchen staff was joking around. “We have 13 orders for sausage and cheese plates! We have 16 orders for sausage and cheese plates! We have 22 orders for sausage and cheese plates!” Clearly they were having a good time. At the front counter, the cashier was talking to people who were visiting a Central location for the first time. “We are all about the pig,” the cashier said. “That’s why we put it on our logo.”

Central may be all about the pig (much as I am all about the tube tops), but I wanted to try something else. I’ve had Central’s BBQ pork sandwich at their Midtown location and at festivals. Now that Central is my neighborhood restaurant, I was determined to branch out. I ordered the hand-made chips and blue cheese for a starter.

Easily enough for three people to share, this app is a large plate of Central’s potato chips, made in house. The chips are tasty enough on their own that they really don’t need dip; but the blue cheese, sprinkled with Central’s dry rub, is irresistible…. so much so that I forgot to take a pic of my plate before I’d already dipped a couple of chips.

Some of my south Main friends have been eating at Central nearly every day since it opened. “The pork and ribs are good, obviously,” they told me. “But what you really need to try are the beef brisket plate or the smoked turkey plate.” I’ve never had turkey prepared by a Memphis BBQ joint, so I decided to give it a shot. The plate comes with a roll and two sides. I could have picked the standard BBQ sides of slaw and BBQ beans, but since I don’t get enough green vegetables in my diet I decided to order greens and green beans instead.

WOW they were quick. By the time I’d filled my drink cup (with MOUNTAIN DEW!!!!!) and made a trip to the restroom, a server was calling “TWENTY-FOUR!” and holding my chip & dip plate. Less than two minutes later, my main entree arrived. Central has quick service down to a science.

The turkey is rubbed in Central’s dry rub, marinated, and smoked. I was given my choice of mild or hot BBQ sauce to top my turkey, and I requested hot. It was AMAZING. If I had to list the top 10 meals I’ve had in my almost 11 years Downtown, this turkey plate would be among them for sure. It was that good. My sides of green beans and greens were a nice complement to the turkey, as was the chips & blue cheese plate that I had just started working on. It was more food than I needed, and a higher tab ($16.63 after tax) than I generally plan on having at Central. For a first-time visit, though, I didn’t mind.

If you want to try Central’s different BBQ sauces, they have a self-serve station at the back by the drink machine. Although I drank Mountain Dew because I wanted to wake up a bit for my poker game, Central has 10 beers on draft as well as beer in bottles.

The only problem with my meal was self-inflicted. As I ate my turkey, I surfed Facebook on my phone to kill time until my 8:30 poker game at the Double J down the street. I happened upon a post about the game… and the start time had been moved to 8:00! I looked at the clock on my phone. 7:58. Uh oh! I hated to do it but I had to leave the last third of my turkey. The good thing about Central is that you pay when you get there, so you don’t have to spend extra minutes finding your waitress, getting your check, and paying at the end. Again, I really appreciate the effort Central makes to get customers in and out quickly.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it may be a while before I try anything at Central that comes from a pig. I cannot wait to have this turkey again. I also cannot wait to try the brisket plate, and see if holds up to the high praise my South Main friends gave it (the turkey sure did). Then I want to try the chicken wings. I had them at the Midtown location a couple of years ago and they were great. I got them with Central’s hot dry rub and my friends had a good laugh as more of the rub ended up on my shirt and pants than on the wings.

If you’ve never considered ordering turkey from a BBQ restaurant, give Central’s plate a try. You will not be disappointed.