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Memphis...Rib Capital of the USA...Not! (Long)

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Memphis...Rib Capital of the USA...Not! (Long)

Chuck | Aug 6, 2004 03:16 PM

Rolled into this town supposedly famous for their ribs. Made the mistake of allocating two days of our trip to one of the worst towns I've ever been to.

Homeless people sleeping on benches and in the doorways of big office buildings, boarded up storefronts all over the downtown area, panhandlers all over the place, filthy streets, the stench from garbage everywhere, etc. ....No, I'm not a fan.

But, we came for their "great ribs" and "Q" - Here's what we found. Because we arrived late and were staying downtown, we were limited that first night to Charles Vergos' Rendezvous ---Corky's, another supposedly great place was not in the immediate area. Then again, its now a chain and so many think that's a negative anyway.

It was a Thursday night, around 8:00 PM when we arrived at the Rendezvous, which was situated in an alley. There had to be 50 people standing around the front and an equal amount or more waiting inside. SOMEBODY MUST KNOW SOMETHING! Very impressive from a business point of view.

Being a former restaurant kitchen planner, the first thing I noticed was this amazing exhaust system running up four stories to the top of the building yet also discharging charcoal smoke right above the heads of the patrons waiting in the alley. Hey, their sign did say famous for "Charcoal Ribs" The smoke was unreal. No EPA regulations here. Also evident were 4 dumpsters in that alley just for this restaurant...to give you an idea of the volume they do.

We put our name down on a list and were asked to wait upstairs. There are two levels and I'd guess at least 750 seats. We had a 30 minute wait on a Thursday night at 8:00 PM ...This guy is raking in the $$$. They call out your name over a loudspeaker with speakers in the alley, too. You get 10 minutes to respond. This is not a customer friendly place. Big attitude at the desk from the girl taking the names..She is doing you a favor.

Before leaving the downstairs, I looked into the kitchen. I'd already seen it on FoodTV, but now I was there in person. Sure enough, they were doing the ribs the same way they'd shown on tv.

They take slabs, literally frozen together between oven heat resistant paper (like the stuff oven bags are made of but these were blue in color) and throw them on the top shelves of these adapted covection ovens without bottoms.

Rising from the open bottons is the heat from the charcoal. The kitchen is filled with smoke. As they defrost, they move them to the lower shelves.

The entire process negates the opportunity for a lengthly, slow cooking time. Consequently, you can only get tough, dried out ribs. That's exactly what we got. It's just like if you'd take raw ribs and throw them on your grill at home without any pre-cooking. Oh, but they do put a finishing dry rub on them that is tasty. Obviously, that's what people like. Customer counts don't lie!

It reminded me of Dreamland's feeble attempt at ribs in Birmingham. There, at least they were cooking on a wood pit, but they, too, just threw the slabs on a high fire source and they were done in 10-15 minutes instead of slow cooking them for 4 to 8 hours. The end result was the same...tough, dry ribs. The lazy cheap way...

A slab of ribs, some mustard based cole slaw, and canned baked beans (absolutely no attempt was made to make these canned beans their own) reached your paper plate for $16.00. The cans of a generic baked beans were right out in the open. They make no pretense otherwise! This guy is making money hand over fist...God bless Him. He's grossing at least $15,000,000 from this one location..that's conservative.

Obviously, our opinion of this place is not the same as all these thousands of customers ...plenty of people loved his ribs. We thought they were terrible. Incidently, while we were waiting, they called out parties of 39, 25 and 24 people. I kid you not.

But, perhaps the next day would be better? We were going to supposedly the City's best "Q" - Jim Neeley's Interstate - THE ORIGINAL. Not his brothers' other place called Neeley's.

Some, in response to my post, will say "Oh, you should have gone to Cozy Corner! Listen, Interstate is recognized as one of your best and that's where we went for lunch. I am not going to argue with you. It was around 5 miles from downtown in a surburban area. I was excited...I'd heard so much about this place over the years.

We ordered a slab of ribs and a platter of chopped pork, beans, etc. Both were ok and that's all...just ok. Far better than Vergo's but again, to be fair, Vergos never said he was offering us BBQ ribs...He said Charcoal Ribs.

Interstate's ribs don't even come close to those served at Tom Jenkin's in Ft. Laderdale. Not even close! And, I've had much better pulled pork at The Pink Pig (Lyons, SC) and The Georgia Pig (Bruinswick, GA). It was very discouraging. I'd rate Interstate a C....No more.

We came into this town with horrible traffic to boot and left the same way...Good Riddance Memphis! The only thing we enjoyed was the minor league baseball game - beautiful stadium.

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