Chuck Hall opted to open his restaurant, Memphis BBQ & Blues in Milford, on Dec. 20, thinking it would be a slow first week due to the proximity of the holidays. He was wrong. Hall sold out of 380 pounds of smoked meat by 7:30 p.m. on the eatery’s opening day.
“We were having to make up menu items, but not a single person left unhappy,” Hall said. The restaurant sold out of more than 800 pounds of meat over the next two days. Hall had 520 pounds of meat in the smoker on the morning of Dec. 23.
“The thing about barbecue is if you run out, you run out. You can’t just throw another shrimp on the barbie,” Hall said.
Hall, of Wilton, owned a construction company and built acoustic ceilings for the last two decades. He and his best friend of 35 years Marc Deshaies had discussed opening a bar or restaurant together since high school.
“Marc and I wanted a bar with some good food and ended up with a restaurant that has a cool bar,” Hall said, adding that his wife Nadine is also a partner in the business. Her homemade fruit cobbler recipe is the only dessert option on the restaurant’s menu.
The building they chose for the eatery was built as a private residence in 1906 and later served as a schoolhouse, Milford Coffee and the Santos-Dumont Cafe. The school’s original chalkboard remains on the wall in the bar area of the restaurant. Hall also opted to keep the original pine door frames and the 116-year-old maple floors.
“She has a personality of her own,” Hall said of the building. “It seems to be a sin to pull out parts of her that have been here so long.”
Hall said he made it clear to the Milford Zoning Board of Adjustments in September that he would not change the character of the building by adding a smokehouse onto its side but would instead blend it in to meet architectural standards.
“I’ve always loved this building,” Hall said.
Hall hired 20 employees from a pool of what he said were “tons” of applicants. His head chef Ronnie Allen, a Memphis native, moved to the Granite State from Chicago to join the team at Memphis BBQ & Blues. Hall said a tear formed in his eye the first time he took a bite of Allen’s pulled pork.
“It was so good. Real Memphis-style barbecue,” Hall said, noting that Memphis-style barbecue boasts a sweet and smoky dry rub.
“With good Memphis barbecue you should just drizzle on the sauce, not just bury it,” Hall said. “If you have to smother meat in sauce you screwed up and are trying to hide it.”
All sauces and rubs are made in-house and all meats are delivered fresh daily to Memphis BBQ & Blues.
“We don’t believe you can smoke anything that’s been frozen,” Hall said. “You need to smoke fresh meat.”
The pulled pork and brisket are smoked at the eatery for 14 hours, Hall said.
“People said we need more on our menu,” he added. “There is no more unless you can find another animal to barbecue.” In addition to the traditional four barbecue proteins — ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken — Hall’s kitchen staff smokes its own salmon. “I had it yesterday for lunch,” Hall said. “It’s just ambrosia.”
A limited menu of mostly sliders and sandwiches will be offered on Sundays so the kitchen staff can clean out the restaurant’s two pellet smokers, Lil’ Mama and Big Daddy.
Among the sides at Memphis BBQ are baked beans, corn bread, baked potato wedges and mac and cheese.
“You cannot have barbecue without mac and cheese,” Hall said.
Popular appetizers have emerged from the menu: the Memphis Suitcase (a baked potato stuffed with pulled pork and topped with melted cheese) and the Hot Links (two slow-smoked hot link pork sausages, made exclusively by Butcher Boy in Nashua). The wings on the restaurant’s appetizer menu are not wings at all, Hall said, but thighs. “It’s slow smoked meat that pulls off the bones,” Hall said.
Hall plans to have live blues acts at the eatery two or three nights a week but assures customers that they will still be able to hear each other over the music.
“I want people to be able to have a conversation,” he said. “If you want a concert, go to the Verizon [Wireless Arena]. If you want to come listen to blues, come here.”