Pure Comfort Food at Papa Kay Joe’s BBQ in Centerville



A family trip out Highway 100 to Perry County was a combo platter: visit two family cemeteries, and look for barbecue.

Family cemeteries are much more interesting than memorial gardens. In a family cemetery, the stones tell the story, if you know how to read them. My great-great grandfather had the grim task of establishing a cemetery when his beautiful, smart 27-year-old daughter died giving birth to her fourth child. Seventy-two years later, that son chose burial beside the mother he never knew in a small, remote cemetery instead of a busy, cheerful family cemetery among a sprawl of his siblings, cousins, aunts, grandparents, and everyone else with his last name.

You have to listen carefully to cemeteries, and brace yourself for what you might learn. That's the dark side venerating deceased ancestors.

While it's good to know where you came from, it's also relief to leave the dead to bury the dead and seize life.

So with "barbecue eyes" on, we turned the car back toward Davidson County and found Papa Kay Joe's, which got its own sweet write-up by the Southern Foodways Alliance (it's a stop on what they call The Southern BBQ Trail). Here's a quote from a 2008 interview with pitmaster Devin Pickard:

"There’s no knobs, there’s no gas lines, there’s no eyes, there’s no thermometer; there’s — there’s nothing. It’s just coals and a shovel and you do it — you do it long enough and you begin to learn how to fire the meat. ..."

Oh yes yes yes.

I mean, this tidbit of Boston butt, swaddled in a pair of lard-griddled corncakes, was adjudged one of the 21 finest barbecue sandwiches in the South by Garden and Gun magazine.

Smoky, pink, juicy and irresistible, the meat is offered with a choice of three sauces, but it doesn't really need them.

There are two locations in Centerville: the mothership on the Linden Road (which Nashvillians call Highway 100) and a satellite on Ward Street (that's by the McDonald's, behind the gas station). Papa Kay Joe's has been operating for years; not having eaten this fantastic barbecue yet is an indication I need to drive out and see the family more often.

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