Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Memphis

Blue City Cafe – Memphis BBQ on Beale…

On the return trip back through Memphis on Sunday, the exhaustion of a two game Southern road trip weekend was starting to take its toll. After dropping Dad off at the airport for an early morning flight, I had time for one last meal in Memphis before making the final charge back home to Saint Louis. Though tempted to simply pull back into the BBQ Shop after an epic Thursday visit and order up a few slabs of their ribs, there were still a handful of places on my Memphis list to check off.

After exchanging a few texts with my friend Joe, a former Memphis resident and fellow BBQ aficionado, he pointed me in the direction of the Blues City Café on infamous Beale Street. Besides Joe, Blues City has an impressive list of accolades, having been featured on various food shows and magazines.

I found street parking a few steps away from Beale, and casually wandered down the street waiting for the doors to open at 11AM. Beale is one of the main nightlife streets in Memphis, often drawing comparisons to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. On an early Sunday morning the thoroughfare still reeked of the party the night before, garbage lined the sidewalks and shopkeepers were out hosing off their sections of the concrete. Reservations began to creep in about BBQ in such an obvious tourist area.

Once the doors opened, I walked into the empty restaurant and settled into a plush vinyl booth. There were a handful of offerings on the menu, but ribs were the only barbecue option. After my dubious encounters with beef the entire weekend, ribs were the only option I was interested in anyway.

The ribs arrived quickly, with a pile of french fries and a few other sides filling out the plate. Despite my initial reservations, and the touristy location, the ribs had all the hallmarks of some excellent cue’. They had a well developed crust on the outside, sliding easily off the bone to reveal the pink smoky meat beneath. Although there could have been more depth to the smoke profile (given the location I’m guessing its an exclusively gas fired smoker), and they didn’t share quite the same fanfare as the BBQ Shop ribs, this was still skilled BBQ by any measure. Certainly worth a stop if you find yourself wandering down Beale Street in Memphis, just be sure to arrive a bit later in the afternoon once they’ve hosed the place down a bit…

http://www.bluescitycafe.com/

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BBQ Shop in Memphis – Gettin’ Sauced…

Hot off the runway, I slung my fathers bag into the back seat of the car and sped back North into Memphis for a quick BBQ lunch. We were under the gun to get into Starkville before kickoff, and this would be his only chance to sample legendary Memphis Barbecue. According to the discerning taste buds of my friends Merritt and Dave, if you had one stop in Memphis, BBQ Shop was the one to make.

Walking down the sidewalk, a gleam spread across Dad’s face, the telltale aroma of BBQ wafting through the air as we approached. Sliding into a table we placed our orders, opting for a sampling of the pulled pork, brisket and signature ribs that are the foundation of Memphis barbecue. Given my usual aversion to all forms of obfuscating sauces, I prepared my usual request for dry ribs with sauce on the side. Through experience, this is the only accurate barometer for evaluating regional nuances in barbecue skill.

“I’d like that whole order dry please. Sauce on the side.” I explained politely in my customary fashion. Dad cringed, gun-shy about how a cleaver wielding southern pitmaster in the back might receive my blasphemous demand. He’d been in the South for all of fifteen minutes, and I was about to drag him into a spat about regional barbecue preferences. I’ve made this simple request dozens of times, usually to little resistance.

Not so this time.

“The ribs come with sauce”. The waiter explained, brushing away my request.

“I know. I want them dry, please, sauce on the side”.

“Where are you from?” He inquired raising an eyebrow, dumbfounded at such an outlandish affront.

“Texas. We like our barbecue dry.”

“Well you’re in Memphis and we serve them with sauce here”.

“No thanks. Make it dry. But I’ll try your sauce on the side.” I responded curtly, beginning to lose my patience.

“Listen, we’ve won awards for our sauce. I don’t want you to leave here without trying them the way they are supposed to be.”

I stared back blankly. I’ve heard the “award winning” spiel before. I searched his face for weakness, waiting for him to flinch first.

“Tell you what” he responded “I’ll meet you in the middle. We’ll make half of em’ dry for you, and we’ll put sauce on the other half. That way you can try them both ways. Sound fair?”

“Let’s do it.” I relented. I’d never had someone protest this vehemently, so perhaps there was something special about this sauce. With all that fuss, there had better be.

Our food arrived a few minutes later, and with eager appetites we dug in ferociously. The pulled pork was fairly standard, albeit a touch on the dry side and thirsting for a bit of sauce. Beef brisket was forgettable, having been chopped and losing the moisture that a properly sliced brisket would retain. As I would stubbornly learn the rest of the weekend, a properly cooked brisket eludes Southern barbecue joints. For all the accolades of their pork barbecue, I wouldn’t bother ordering beef in this part of the country again. They just don’t seem to grasp it.

The ribs, on the other hand, were a different story. Having eaten as much barbecue as I have at this point, there are very few instances where I am genuinely surprised. There are even fewer where that surprise is for the better. This was one of those rare instances where I was not only surprised, but completely blown away by something magical.

These ribs were absolutely phenomenal. Quite literally some of the best I have ever had – anywhere. Ever.

They were expertly cooked, showing a fat pink smoke ring and pulling effortlessly from the bone. The sticky sweetness of the sauce perfectly complemented the deep smoke profile permeating the pork. The sauce here is deftly applied to the meat, not slathered on carelessly. The ribs are then finished in the smoker for a few minutes, so the sauce melds perfectly with the ribs. Notes of brown sugar and cinnamon offset the saltiness, applied in just the right proportion to work together. One of those elusive instances where all the ingredients complement each other harmoniously.

Simply put, these are in the Top 5 ribs I have ever eaten. Period. (You can email me for the other four.)

I saluted the waiter on the way out, tipping him generously, and thanking him for the unusual display of fortitude in his product. If I’m ever within a few hours of Memphis again, I’ll be returning for these ribs alone. And I won’t be protesting the sauce the next time around…


Special thanks to my friends Merritt and Dave for their recommendation of BBQ Shop in Memphis. It’s a daunting task to send BBQ recommendations my way, but they offered up an entire list of Tennessee BBQ joints to try, and highlighted this one as not to be missed. Walk-off homerun on this one guys, absolutely perfect food. Now I can’t wait to visit you in Nashville for more!

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A rendezvous with Rendezvous BBQ…

If you’re inclined to take a gander at a map, you would notice that Google’s preferred route from Dallas to Oxford routes you on I-40 through Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is famous, of course, for Johnny Cash and Elvis. Evidently, they also make some ribs there once in a while.

 

 

More to the point, Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous Barbecue is internationally renown for being one of the most famous rib joints in the country. You have probably seen this place on scores of different television shows, magazine articles and “best of” lists. It’s a landmark in Memphis, and, apparently, I’m the only person on the planet to have circled the block three times in search of the place because it’s discreetly tucked away in an alley.

Judging by the throngs of hungry patrons waiting outside on a Friday night, Ol Charlie runs a pretty robust business. But since I had a hot date with a catfish sling in Oxford, I bypassed the line for an open bar stool, and hurriedly ordered up a two meat combo of brisket and their famous ribs. This would be a quick affair, so I admittedly did not get a chance to soak in the entire experience.

Memphis BBQ is noted for their emphasis on the “dry rub” style of ribs, which are heavily dusted before and after cooking with a mixture of seasonings. If you’re a regular reader, you already know that I much prefer a dry style of ribs and the well seasoned Rendezvous ribs had a pleasant spicy “bite” to them. I was a bit put off by it at first, but slowly I kept reaching for one rib after another, until I found my platter empty. They were oddly addicting, and got better with each successive bite. There are two downsides I would note. The first was that their charcoal cooking method leaves the rib meat a bit on the dry side for my taste. You have to work a bit to tug the meat from the bone, and I found myself reaching for the water glass more often than I would like. Second, was that the ribs didn’t have a very strong smoke profile to them, and I couldn’t really detect it in the meat. While it may have been intentional from their cooking methods, it left me wanting more.

To answer everyone’s lingering question; in a head to head battle I would still opt for Texas style ribs. I can think of a handful of places in Texas where I have had better ribs than Rendezvous, and, as a matter of personal taste, I prefer the simpler, heavily smoked profile of Texas ribs. But make no mistake, Rendezvous is still excellent by any measure.

 

 

The brisket was solid, albeit a bit on the dry side because it had been heavily trimmed prior to cooking. Still, it was better brisket than I expected to find in Memphis, though completely average by Texas standards.

Regardless, Rendezvous still serves up some excellent Barbecue and is considered the crowning jewel of a city that prides itself on great cue’. It’s notoriety makes it worth the visit alone, and I hope to return there someday to take in the entire experience with a handful of friends.

 

 

http://www.hogsfly.com/

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