I have to preface this Hi-Lite with a short explanation about why no rib can ever live up to my expectations. My Father-in-Law had the best ribs I’ve ever eaten in my life. I mean consider the fact that his ribs and jerk chicken was what was served at our wedding and you only begin to understand how we thought that no one could really do a meal as good as he could. He never had a chance to open his own rib joint and that’s a damn shame because it would have put Memphis rib places out of business. I say that with the full understanding of how important ribs are in Memphis and I say it without hesitation. This means that Neely’s was really up against a high measuring stick. Did they succeed?
I’ve eaten at Corky’s ( I didn’t write a review. I should have though because someone at Corky’s actually cloned my credit card and I had to get a new one. Shame on you Corky’s. How do I know it happened there? It was the only time my card was out of my pocket and was given to someone. Due to this happening I no longer give restaurants my credit cards. Lesson learned.)
I’ve eaten at Rendezvous (No review for that place either. Those little, tiny ass ribs, made my stomach upset for the price I paid for them.)
I’ve eaten at Tops (…)
I’ve eaten at A&R (It wasn’t bad, but didn’t warrant a review.)
I’ve eaten at Central (The line was hella long, so I was pumped and excited about going in. What I got was a cold ass slab of ribs and the same old, same old. I was not blown away.)
I’ve eaten at The Commissary (It was catered to the Apple Store I worked at and everyone was going crazy over it. I thought it was… meh).
I’ve eaten at Arnold’s (This list is getting long isn’t it? No review because once again I have high standards.)
I’ve even eaten at the Neely’s on 3rd Street which is the OG location and because I was not floored. I kind of just gave up on the idea of finding a BBQ joint that made me say, “Well CotDamn!”
So writing a review about this new Neely’s location on the surface is a good thing because I must have thought high enough of it to include it in my Memphis Hi-Lites. Well, right and wrong. I’ve been twice. The staff is youthful and engaging. We were served by two different people on each occasion, but what was interesting on both occasions is that the general manager came out both times to actually talk with us and this is why this location has earned a review. Customer service and cost. When the general manager takes his time to make sure you are comfortable you know they actually care about what they are doing. With so many young people manning the front of house, this could become an issue for some customers, but for me I thought they did very well. We got refills before they were requested and most important the wait time was about 12 minutes. Our first time it was right at about 15 minutes, but it was a bit busier. This second time around there were about three other parties, but plenty of seats available.
But Chris, what about the food?
- I don’t like wet ribs. Both times our ribs came out slathered with sauce. Was I mad about this? No. Would I have preferred they ask me if I want dry or wet? Of course, but I didn’t bug out on this at all and here is why, that was some good ass sauce! I mean the sauce was good enough that it made me excuse the onion rings for not being real onion rings. (More on this later).
- The sauce they used on the ribs was on the beans!!!!! Double good. The ribs were tender and already sliced which was actually a very good thing. This allowed for sharing.
- The slaw was standard fair and is par for the course for every rib place or chicken wing place I’ve visited in Memphis. The moment someone decides to actually create a variety on their slaw, I can see that place actually becoming more popular… which leads me to
- The onion rings. I make my own onion rings at home. I don’t fry them, I bake them. I cut my yellow, sweet onions into thick rings. Once they are cut, I put a little salt, pepper and cinnamon on them, yes cinnamon. I then coat them with corn bread batter that has honey and sweet heat mixed into the batter. Now if I can take my time and create onion rings, you know I like onion rings. Here is the thing, the onion rings were crunchy, and when I dipped them in the sauce, they were good because of the sauce… but like the slaw if someone in Memphis (someone does care a lot about onion rings see my Folks Folly review) that worked at fast casual restaurants took the time to create better sides they could literally market themselves as the anti-Memphis when it comes to sides. In short, I wanted the onion rings and slaw to match the beans and sauce, but since they didn’t I just put the beans on top of the slaw and killed that. Same with the onion rings.
- Did I say the sauce was hella good? The sauce is good enough that had it been on the counter at the exit I probably would have bought some to take home (The sauce is at the call in register, but the server didn’t ask if we wanted to take any home). The ribs were better than Tops, Rendezvous, Corkys and the rest previously mentioned, but remember I really do have high standards.
I guess I can say that the line that is outside of Central BBQ everyday is there because they have a reputation, and I think this Neely’s location could develop a reputation. The customer service is good, the sauce is bananas and the ribs are tender. I think with one signature side Neely’s becomes the anchor for restaurants in the area between Hickory Hill and Hacks Cross. This should really be considered because the only Independent Restaurants in the area are Hueys (Good but it feels a little grimey) and The Half Shell. Everything else in this area is a chain restaurant and can’t tout itself as locally owned and operated. I think adding a Green Fork option will also solidify the restaurant. What I think helps overall though is the price. That picture up there of all of that food. Here is the receipt below. On a 5 fork scale I give Neely’s a 3.5. I will definitely go back again so that is a strong 3.5. They could easily earn half a star from me by adding a signature side item, some locally sourced menu items and the option of wet or dry ribs as an option when ordering, oh and maybe a house made hushpuppie as opposed to the white bread. Everybody gives you white bread at small locally owned restaurants.