A former Crittenden County farmer and Memphis commodities salesman, Paul O'Neal could easily pass as a small-town Arkansas mayor.
"That's where the money is," O'Neal says in his drawl, standing in front of his restaurant, Station BBQ, and pointing to the spot where I-40 and I-55 converge.
O'Neal suspects Station BBQ gets a number of customers lured off the interstate by the neighboring McDonald's, but on this day, he greets every patron by name.
He maintains his charm when he fields a call from a pork vendor prodding him to buy in bulk to lock in a price. It doesn't vanish when he recounts a tale set at his parent's cotton farm involving a tourist couple and a falsely identified Johnny Cash landmark. And it's especially evident when he explains the origin of some of the best barbecue nachos west of the Mississippi River.
Before he opened Station BBQ, O'Neal spent two years doing "research," frequenting Memphis barbecue spots, asking questions in the kitchen, and gaining 20 pounds.
"I ate at every one of them, and I think they're all great. I still am a big fan. I've got an unquenchable taste for it," O'Neal says. "But I get excited when I eat my own product. I think my slaw is one of the best I've ever eaten."
Station BBQ offers no sauce on the table. For their wet ribs and sandwiches, they ladle it warm over the pork.
The menu also features dry ribs, barbecue bologna, a wedge salad, tamales and chili, catfish, and barbecue spaghetti.
O'Neal is particularly proud of their version of barbecue nachos, and he offers a little background. After weeks of cleaning the restaurant to prepare it for opening, O'Neal spent a day meeting with vendors. Exhausted, he only accepted a 4 p.m. appointment because he knew the man's sister and didn't want to upset her.
"This guy's like, 'I've got some sauce. I've wanted to open a barbecue restaurant my whole life, and I couldn't do it, and I want this sauce to be in your place. I'm only going to sell it to you if you'll take it,'" O'Neal says. "I take the sauce, and the sauce is amazing. It's a white sauce. You don't want yellow any more in my opinion. It's got just a little something in it that makes you want to eat more."
The BBQ Nachos ($9.95) include the white sauce, dry rub, and the barbecue sauce and come with pork or chicken.
Station BBQ will implement other ideas soon, including seasonal sauces like pineapple habanero, gleaned from 12 Bones in Ashville, North Carolina. For now, Ken's Oreo Balls serve as one of the creative outlets: crumbled, fried Oreos in clumps topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
"We just don't have anything that the locals can call their own," O'Neal says. "West Memphis needs something. It needs a catalyst."
If your ideal lunch break involves downing a monster barbecue sandwich and smashing a bucket of golf balls, PC BBQ at Vantage Point Golf Center in Cordova is the place for you.
Jason Wiggs, founder of the restaurant's namesake, the competitive barbecue team called Pork Choppers BBQ, opened PC BBQ in January after some prodding from one of the team's backers. The two would talk over the idea at the golf center, a stand-alone driving range with a pro shop, which happened to be looking for an in-house food business.
PC BBQ isn't for the meek in appetite. The Monster Sandwich ($12.99), weighing in at nearly one pound, includes an inch-thick slice of smoked bologna topped with a mound of pulled pork and slaw.
If that's not enough, try Eat the Pig ($29.99), a giant version of the Monster Sandwich with double the bologna and three pounds of pork. Customers who finish it in less than 30 minutes don't have to pay, but good luck.
"My dad does drywall. When he goes to eat, he doesn't have a lot of money to spend, but he wants a good amount of food. [When I first started catering], he said, 'If you're going to make a sandwich, make it big enough for a man to eat,'" Wiggs says.
"So I kept that theory. When you order a sandwich here, the thing people say is, 'Wow, it's huge.' It fills you up and allows you to get through your day. Even the hungriest man can come in here and get a good sandwich at a good price."
Wiggs offers his competition-style barbecue in the restaurant, cooking it slow at 225 degrees over peach and applewood, which infuses a sweet, smoky flavor. The meat is also spicier than the norm.
Pork Choppers BBQ, which has claimed 32 first-place finishes in competition, will stage a "Dinner With Your Dog" soon, teaming up with a local pet supply store to serve barbecue and gourmet dog food. The location also offers unique team-building or corporate outings complete with food, drinks, and golf lessons.
After devouring some competition-level meat, customers can relax on the patio overlooking acres of land in the back or swat a bucket of golf balls on the range.
"It's a nice place with beautiful scenery. You show up in the morning, and there will be deer out there," Wiggs says. "There are no cars flying by. It's almost a sanctuary where you can come and relax. No one's going to rush you."