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The Memphis Blues BBQ House is celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and owners George Siu and Park Heffelfinger decided to celebrate the only way they knew how: Carolina Whole Pigs and accompanied by a fantastic selection of wine.
George Siu and Park Heffelfinger, owners of Memphis Blues BBQ House, are a match made in foodie heaven. You can’t help but get excited when talking to this riotous pair about their successful chain of restaurants or when eating their slow-cooked southern-style BBQ fare.
1465 West Broadway and 1342 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
It’s been 10 years since their flagship location opened on West Broadway and they celebrated earlier this month with a Carolina Whole Pig Pickin’—where guests devoured two whole pigs that had been cooked in the BBQ pit for eight hours—with plenty of friends and colleagues (and some pretty fabulous wines).
Memphis Blues owners George Siu and Park Heffelfinger. (Image: Chris Mason Stearns)
Wines with BBQ, you ask? Heffelfinger (an accomplished and well-respected wine educator) and Siu (an accomplished “wine lover”) explain why this is a wonderful idea.
“Wine enhances food. Beer just fills you up,” says Siu. In their cookbook, Bringin’ Southern BBQ Home, Heffelfinger further explains their theory: “Wine, on the other hand doesn’t fill you up, improves the taste of food, stimulates the appetite and aids with digestion. In an ideal world, the food flavours are lifted by the wine, and the wine flavours are lifted by the food. What a concept!”
For the 10th anniversary, Carolina Whole Pig Pickin’ guests were treated to two slow-cooked whole hogs, some of Memphis Blues’ famous side dishes and an impressive selection of red, white and rosé wines. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
This is a concept that I’ve personally tested and wholeheartedly endorse. At the pig pickin’ festivities I enjoyed three of the wines on offer with my pork, all of which were selected to perfectly complement the feast: Selbach’s Riesling (Germany), Bartier Scholefield’s rosé (BC VQA), and Vina Robles red blend (California).
Siu and Heffelfinger are passionate about sharing their wine expertise and appreciation with their customers and have a great wine selection at Memphis Blues, with over a dozen reasonably priced varietals by the glass, at $6 to $9.
“When Park said I was a wine lover, that was just a nice way of saying wino”, cracks Siu, who met his business partner over 20 years ago at a wine class. “George took a wine class from me,” says Heffelfinger, who founded the Vancouver Wine Academy, “and we found out we were food and wine geeks, and we just started hanging out.”
The seed was planted for Memphis Blues when the two went gaga over their first pulled pork sandwiches, which they tried while passing through the Memphis airport on a business trip.
Co-owner George Siu chats with hungry guests. “On a good week we’ll go through eight and a half tons of meat per [restaurant],” he says. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
Already established in the industry, George as a wine educator and Park as a dessert restaurant owner, they began talking about bringing southern-style BBQ to Vancouver. They developed a business plan and headed down south to do some reconnaissance.
In Bringin’ Southern BBQ Home, there’s a funny story about their arrival at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, where they travelled to research authentic BBQ.
They were hoping to receive expert advice from some of the champion barbequers, but most of the competitors gave them a lukewarm reception.
One team, however, was happy to let Siu and Heffelfinger hang out with them and one member even challenged the “Yankees” to guess the ingredients in their prize-winning, closely-guarded dry rub.
“Being the food geeks that we are,” says Siu, “we scraped some into our hands, took a hearty smell, and listed off every single ingredient in [the] rub while Park wrote it all down in his notebook. As [the guy] realized his mistake, his face crumbled and it looked like he was going to throw up.”
The dry rub, it turns out, is a key component to southern-style BBQ, which I learned is very different from the boil-and-baste method used by many restaurants serving ribs (and many home cooks making them too, myself included).
Co-owner Park Heffelfinger gives us a peek inside the BBQ pit where chicken and ribs are slow cooking to perfection. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
Southern-style BBQ uses “low, slow heat, aromatic hard wood [to create the smoke], and a nice rub on it,” says Siu. “One of the things about smoking in the traditional southern style,” adds Heffelfinger, “is the dry rub forms a crust that’s called a bark, and if you don’t have a good bark, then you haven’t got authentic BBQ.
“In the first hour,” says Heffelfinger, “that’s where it all happens, the bark forms and the smoke permeates. After that it’s just about low, slow heat over a long period of time.”
Siu and Heffelfinger share their rub recipes and many other delicious gems (like pulled pork, beef brisket, cornbread, and BBQ spaghetti) in Bringin’ Southern BBQ Home, and, as of this week, are retailing a selection of their rubs and sauces at all of their restaurants (check out the dinner I made using their new all-purpose rub and recipes from their cookbook here).
They currently have five locations in BC, two of them in Vancouver, and another one set to open in Yaletown this spring. Also in store for next year: an expansion into the prairies, with locations opening in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.