Dining Review: Keeping it smoky, fresh not 'Impossible'

Ethel Chillis (left) and Tina Walker prepare a lunch order  at Pollard's.

Photo by Alan Spearman // Buy this photo

Ethel Chillis (left) and Tina Walker prepare a lunch order at Pollard's.

After 15 years running his barbecue restaurant as to-go only, Tarrance Pollard was ready to expand with a dining room.

So he moved into the former Arnold's Barbecue location on Elvis Presley Boulevard in September. But running a full-service operation turned out to be quite different from a take-out joint, and his daughter knew where to turn for help: Food Network's "Restaurant Impossible."

"My daughter wrote the show to tell them about the problems were were having," Pollard said. "She's the reason we got on there."

Top: Big appetites can dive into the 'Ultimate.'

Photo by Alan Spearman

Top: Big appetites can dive into the "Ultimate."

In February, host Robert Irvine showed up with his crew to give Pollard's Bar-B-Q a makeover. The show will air late this month, Pollard said.

Pollard's is one of three new (or revamped, in this case) barbecue restaurants to open since last year's Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. We'll review them in the next three weeks as we prepare for this year's competition.

While it's the simplest of the three, Pollard's food is good overall and some items are very good.

It's not barbecue, but a good place to start is with the house-made hot links. We ordered them cooked with green peppers, tomatoes and onion, as suggested, and were both surprised and happy by what was delivered.

I expected a finer, firmer sausage, something similar to kielbasa, but the hot links are closer texturally to Italian sausage or bratwurst. The flavor is quite different, though, and isn't as distinct as either of the two. It's a delicious grind of pork, simple seasonings such as salt and pepper, a touch of garlic and perhaps a hint of cayenne.

The links are served sliced with the sauteed vegetables, and the whole shebang is coated in a slightly sweet, slightly smoky barbecue sauce. It's all good, all tasty, and nothing is out of balance.

Pollard said that one of the suggestions Irvine made was scaling back the menu.

"Before that, I think we had just about every kind of sausage you can imagine," he said.

Cutting back the large menu was a practical matter, and there's plenty left. There are several chicken, turkey and beef selections, and of course, plenty of pork.

The sandwich was piled high with tender, smoky chopped pork (pulled, if you prefer), topped with a dollop of a slightly sweet, creamy coleslaw and finished with sauce of your choice. We asked for hot sauce and found that while it was mildly spicy, there was little heat to it.

We were going to add a little sauce to the sandwich and realized there were no bottles on the tables. Spying a few on the counter, one of my dining companions retrieved one bottle, and then another, only to find out they contained ketchup.

This brings me to my complaints about Pollard's. Sauce should be on the table in a barbecue joint. Though not ideal, it could be on the counter, as at Pollard's you place your order at the counter and go back to get it.

But there was nothing on the table except salt and pepper. No napkins -- and unfortunately, the napkins we were given at the counter were flimsy. Food is served on foam plates, and worst of all, with cheap plastic knives and forks.

You really can't eat barbecue, particularly ribs, without getting messy, and you really can't efficiently cut ribs with a wimpy plastic knife. Try, and what you need are lots of napkins.

When we asked for to-go containers for our leftover food, we were given pre-cut sheets of aluminum foil to put over our plates.

Pollard's needs to step up in these matters, because the food is good and this all distracts from it.

Ribs were meaty, firm but very tender, with a nice seasoning blend applied during cooking and a generous mop of sauce added just before serving.

Attention is paid to side items. French fries, Pollard said, are freshly cut because they're not only better, but also more economical (a tip from Irvine). We didn't try them, though, because no one mentioned that they were fresh and frankly, it never occurred to me they would be. Put this on the menu, and say it loud, say it proud.

Beans were rich and dark, spicy with a nice sweet touch. Best of all were the fried pickles, which were a bit different from most because they start with hamburger dill pickle chips, which are very thin. These are excellent, served up as a crisp, tangy tangle.

Also nice are the Delta-style tamales, wrapped in paper instead of husks, spicy and very moist.

Don't leave Pollard's without sharing the brownie. Whether you're excited by or turned off by the mention of the bacon it contains, you're going to like it.

The brownie itself is very good, dense and moist inside with chewy places on the exterior. I didn't get any bacon in the bites I took (a dining companion did), and I didn't pick up any smokiness or bacon flavor.

Instead, I tasted a salty back note and thought it was excellent with the chocolate. The vanilla ice cream didn't hurt, either.

-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223

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Pollard's Bar-B-Q

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 4560 Elvis Presley

Telephone: (901) 398-2987

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

Reviewer's choices: Pork plate (sandwich and two sides; $10.50); ribs, (half slab, $13.50; whole, $19.50); tamales ($1); bacon brownie ($5)

Alcohol: Beer

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Comments » 1

anndrex writes:

In the traditional way backyard BBQ is cooked in South Memphis, sauce should be cooked on the meat, not poured on after the fact. I don't expect sauce on the table at Pollard's or any good neighborhood BBQ place. You are thinking of something else, not this kind of BBQ. Ask for extra sauce when ordering if you want more.

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