23 March 2009
NASHVILLE BARBECUE: Part 10 - Williamson County
Is the number of barbecue restaurants in a given area inversely proportional to the relative degree of wealth in that area? The thought occurred to me as I scouted barbecue restaurants in Williamson County - the wealthiest county in Tennessee and the 18th wealthiest in the United States. Let's take a look.
We'll use the counties surrounding Nashville as our test population (excluding Cheatham County, because it doesn't have any people or barbecue restaurants).
If we look at the population of each county and the number of barbecue restaurants in each county, we can arrive at a normalized number of barbecue restaurants per 10,000 population. This tells us how many barbecue restaurants there are in each county relative to the population. Clearly, Williamson has the lowest number of barbecue restaurants relative to its population.
If we add in median household income, we can start to see the relationship between relative wealth and the number of barbecue restaurants. It's clear that the county with the lowest median household income - Robertson - actually has the highest number of barbecue restaurants relative to population, while Williamson has the lowest.
If we count only independent barbecue restaurants - no chains - the relationship seems to become even more pronounced. While it's impossible to tell if this relationship is legitimate based on such a small sample size, it appears that there might be at least some correlation here.
On to the food...
What Williamson County may lack in quantity, they certainly make up for in quality, at least when it comes to Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville. Since it opened in 2006, Pat Martin's place has become a destination for great barbecue in Middle Tennessee - a place that is truly worth the drive from Nashville or beyond.
Pat learned the barbecue craft cooking in whole hog country in West Tennessee. And although he's not cooking on cinder block pits, he's committed to doing barbecue right. It's always a good sign when you see a stack of wood and an ax out in front of a barbecue joint.
Martin's offers both spare ribs and baby backs, and you can get them wet or dry. On this particular day I went with the baby backs, and they were outstanding - cooked to a perfect tenderness, not quite falling off the bone, and seasoned just right.
The pulled pork sandwich was a big delicious mess. The coarsely chopped slaw provided a nice crispy counterpoint to the tender, juicy pork underneath. Put a spoonful or two of Martin's delicious tomato-based sauce on top for a shot of sweetness and you've got a real treat of a sandwich.
Williamson County's other local barbecue joint is in Franklin. BB's Bar-B-Q is on Highway 96, not far from downtown Franklin. I'm not sure exactly how long BB's has been operating, but I've only discovered it in the last couple of years. Although they have a handful of tables, it is primarily a drive-thru establishment. They offer a pretty extensive menu (see top photo).
The pulled pork sandwich was serviceable - lots of bark pieces and good flavor, but overcooked to the point where it was a bit dry. Tomato-based sauce was average.
The ribs were unremarkable - St. Louis style spares unadorned, with lots of smoke flavor but not much else, and not cooked quite enough.
Highlights: Martin's baby back ribs (Real Good), Martin's pulled pork sandwich (Real Good)
Disclaimer: Please note that these reports are based on particular servings of barbecue at a particular day and time. Barbecue can be prone to fluctuation. Your experiences may vary.
More reports in this series:
Part 1 - The Legends
Part 2 - The Chain Gang
Part 3 - Local Chains
Part 4 - Jefferson Street
Part 5 - Clarksville Highway
Part 6 - East Nashville
Part 7 - The West Side
Part 8 - Memphis Imports
Part 9 - T for Texas
Part 10 - Williamson County
Part 11 - Murfreesboro
Part 12 - La Vergne & Smyrna
Part 13 - Wilson County
Part 14 - Catching Up in Nashville
Part 15 - Hendersonville & White House
Part 16 - Portland & Gallatin
Part 17 - Robertson County
Part 18 - Dickson County
Part 19 - "Barbecue by any other name..."
Part 20 - Places We Missed
Part 21 - More Places We Missed