By Raechelle Turnipseed
Food + Spirits Editor
Though Nashville is typically known for its mainstays of hot chicken, honky tonks, and country music, there are a few long standing traditions the city gets right as well. Think gospel music and Martin’s Bar-B-Que. Like gospel music, Martin’s Bar-b-Cue touts itself on spreading the gospel of the whole hog. We wanted to take them up on that message. So, we set out to see if Martin’s Bar-B-Que was good enough to eat beyond the Independence Day holiday.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (410 4th Ave S., Nashville), a hidden gem in Nashville’s SoBro neighborhood downtown, is the newest of four locations in Middle Tennessee with outposts in Morgantown, West Virginia and in nearby Louisville, Kentucky. Each year, the locally owned chain of restaurants, well known for their whole hog barbecue, serve up thousands of guests — even a few celebrities and some Titans football.
The restaurants and their owner Pat Martin have been featured on the Food Network, Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, and The Today Show and in publications such as Bon Appetit, Esquire, Conde Nast Traveler, and Men’s Journal. Martin, a West Tennessee native, opened his first location in Nolensville — just south of Nashville — in October 2006. Other locations soon followed, including one near Belmont University and the other in Mt. Juliet.
After chatting it up with Tony—Martin’s front of the house manager—we sampled a hefty platter of some of their favorites: the quarter chicken, smoked sausage, pulled pork, and sliced brisket. Never! We also sampled their delicious Tart & Tangy Coleslaw and their Sweet Dixie Baked Beans.
All of the meats were smoky and tender with their own unique subtle flavor. That is, except for the smoked sausage—it was bursting with flavor, with hints of different spices that perfectly blend together. We’ve never eaten sausage quite as tasty as this. Tony also revealed to us that his favorite meat is Martin’s smoked turkey and also raved about Martin’s specialty, the whole hog Bar-B-Que. It takes 24 hours to smoke the pig and it requires a “really passionate cook to babysit the hog” as it slowly cooks and to take it out at the right time when it’s ready.
In addition, we also sampled Martin’s unique array of Bar-B-Que sauces. We found that the quarter chicken paired best with either their Sweet Dixie BBQ Sauce and their Alabama White Sauce. Tony explained to us that the Sweet Dixie BBQ Sauce is their traditional thick and sweet sauce with a little citrus kick to it. It also goes great with the brisket. The Alabama White Sauce, which has its origins a little down the road in Florence, Alabama, is a mayo- and vinegar-based sauce usually known to be good on poultry. We’ve heard that it tastes sensational on Martin’s smoked wings.
The smoked sausage—our new favorite, as one might gather from our description—pairs deliciously with Martin’s Palmetto Gold Sauce. A nod to mustard-based Bar-B-Que sauces from the Carolina region, Tony likened Palmetto Gold to a “Bar-B-Que Honey Mustard.” This was so true! Its taste with the spicy sausage was nothing like we’ve ever tasted before.
With all their takes on Bar-B-Que sauces, one might also wonder if they have a spicy sauce for heat seekers. They sure do — they call it Devil’s Nectar, and, well, it’s intense. Our advice: be careful not to pour on too much, unless you think you can handle it. This sauce will creep up on you like the devil himself if you don’t watch out. First, you won’t feel anything at all. Then, you will slowly feel a mild heat on your tongue. Next, you will a little bit more heat. Lastly, that intense heat will hit you! But
that sauce is so good that the intense heat is worth it. Now this sauce, for us, goes really good with the pulled pork stacked high atop a johnny cake and cooled down with a little coleslaw on top. They call this a “Redneck Taco.” Add a cold beer to cool off your tongue.
Overall, we’re certain that we’re now well qualified to also spread the gospel of Martin’s Bar-B-Cue. We also can equally guarantee that this is a joint that you can visit year round. So, the next time you’re having a craving for something different than hot chicken or pub fare, head on over to Martin’s. We know we will.