Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous with Barbecue Destiny

Rendezvous Ribs

Rendezvous is tucked in an alley just across the street from the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Photo by Craig Thompson.

World Famous Rendezvous Ribs - Craig Thompson

Serving up famous Rendezvous Ribs in Memphis, TN. Photo by Craig Thompson

Big racks of ribs at Rendezvous - Craig Thompson

Smoking big racks of ribs at Rendezvous in Downtown Memphis. Photo by Craig Thompson

Dry rub ribs at Rendezvous Restaurant in Memphis

World-famous dry rub barbecue ribs from Rendezvous. Photo by Craig Thompson

Rendezvous entrance

One of the most famous barbecue restaurants in the world - Rendezvous. Photo by Brand USA

Pit Master at Rendezvous. Photo Credit: Craig Thompson

Pulling Rendezvous Ribs from the smoker in Downtown Memphis, TN. Photo by Craig Thompson.

There’s a revolution going on in the South these days. You may be aware of it. You may have even tasted it. Southern cuisine has been elevated to magazine spreads and television shows by an endless supply of up-and-coming chefs. This is a good thing. But let’s be clear, this revolution isn’t about what’s new. It’s about what’s always been good about Southern cuisine: good old fashioned barbecue.

The challenge of eating barbecue in Memphis, of course, isn’t about finding a good place so much as it’s choosing which incredible establishment to visit. So where should one take their first bite of Memphis barbecue? The answer is simple: If there’s one place where everyone’s journey should start, it’s at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, home to the world-famous Rendezvous ribs.

For most Americans, barbecue is about the sauce. Sometimes it’s sweet and sometimes its spicy and sometimes it’s tangy. At Rendezvous, the ribs basically come dry. The only moisture is a vinegar solution added just before serving, which is then immediately countered with a sprinkle of dry-rub spices. The idea is that the ribs and the smoke produced by the restaurant's signature coal chute create intense and original flavors that, frankly, sauce would only hide. Keep it simple and get out of the way. This, folks, is very Memphis. Don’t worry, you’re not going to be shown the door if you ask for sauce. Rendezvous supplies plenty of options. They just don’t put it on the ribs for you.

Over its more than fifty years of smoking, Rendezvous has earned a global reputation, becoming a must-eat stop for a host of politicians and celebrities passing through town. High-profile rib eaters include Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, former Vice President Al Gore, entertainers such as Mick Jagger and our very own Justin Timberlake. Not too long ago even Princes William and Harry sat down for a plate of ribs.

But no matter how well known Rendezvous is or how many celebrities stop in for a photo-op, it is still a place for regular people looking for an authentic barbecue experience. Even the setting has its own easy-going charm. Located across the street from the famous Peabody Hotel and a short walk away from AutoZone Park where the AAA Redbirds play, Rendezvous is actually a basement level establishment you step down into. In the late Spring and Summer, this is a blessing as it offers visitors a place to sit back, relax and cool off with a beer as you wait for the waiters to drop a full rack on classic red-checkered tablecloths. The walls hold approximately 10,000 pieces of art and memorabilia, too. Turns out Vergos was also a collector of just about anything that caught his eye and might interest his customers, including antique weapons, Southern art, and a healthy number of autographed celebrity photos.

The amount of world-class barbecue in Memphis is a source of pride for us. So, picking the best one is next to impossible. Sometimes it just depends on the day of the week or whether or not someone burned hickory or cherry wood. Point is there’s a lot of great barbecue happening in Memphis. And Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous is not only one of the best, but it’s become, in many ways, our greatest ambassador for Memphis barbecue.

By Peter Short