I have had the Memphis BBQ experience I was looking for. The NBBQA conference is done for another year but those memories will certainly last a long time. In 4 days I ate lived and breathed BBQ with a few hundred other enthusiasts. However there was a core group of us again that went out on our own to seek out those unique Q & food experiences that are best experienced within a smaller group of friends.
Our group Dave from Sweet baby Rays, Rays Nephew Duce Raymond , Ron Nunes BBQ Organizer, Kelly & Roni from 4 Legs Up, Chris Jones from Colins Creek Barbecue, Joey McManus from Joey Mac’s Smoke Stax, Tim Clendenning from Windy City Smokers, Woody Steve Wasson & Brenda Grubb from Woody’s Smoke Shack all set out to experience some authentic Memphis Q and food. I felt once again blessed to be with such great people.
We set out to a place I have been waiting to eat at since I read about it in Peace Love & BBQ – Cozy Corner. It’s in a less savoury part of Memphis where the windows of derelict buildings are smashed out everywhere, a bit of desperation has set itself on the people and the poverty is overwhelming. However when you pull up to this battered restaurant- you are greeted with nothing but pure Love & Sunshine by the owner Desiree. This woman is a true light within this downtrodden area. She puts her beliefs in God on Display throughout the restaurant from the bibles next to the register and the menu board which proclaims they would not accept any tips and thanks God.
When I spoke with her she was warm and lovely readily giving anyone and everyone that walked through the doors a hug a word of encouragement and true sincere expressions of care and concern. The restaurant itself was a relic in itself. The stained blue Berber carpet, missing ceiling tiles and flimsy wall panelling really does the place no justice. However you don’t need decor to have great BBQ. I have seen this time and time again. Cozy Corner is one of those places.
We decided as we usually have in the past to get one of everything on the menu. This is really easy when you are traveling with a pack of 11. When we received the tray I was shocked to see the huge amounts of sauce on the Cornish hen, the ribs and the pork in addition to the smoked bologna sandwich. I am not a big fan of sauce and this looked as coated as an oil slick.
Everything at this place was wonderful. The hen was tender sweet tangy and spicy- I savoured the tiny little drum stick I had then the breast meat – intensely flavoured and spicier than the rest. My rib was perfectly cooked coming off the bone with just an easy tug of teeth once again surprisingly not overwhelmed by the sauce. The bologna cut into almost an inch thick slab was a throwback to my childhood. It was layered with sauce and coleslaw on a typical hamburger bun. It was awesome. The coleslaw and sauce really added to the overall flavour of the bologna sandwich. I could imagine coming here with my children just for that Sammie alone.
Everyone that serves you or interacts with you in this iconic place-smiles. They thank you profusely. It is a wonderful experience to feel appreciated. They get it here. You can certainly understand why they are still there. It is perfect with all of its “imperfections” Most of all what makes it perfect is the combination of Desiree’s continuance of this wonderful BBQ joint and the warm fuzzy feeling you leave with it.
We stopped at Rendezvous in the downtown core as well. It’s down an alley way near the Peabody in the same location it has been in for -well forever it seems. In 1948, Charlie Vergos cleaned out a basement below his diner, discovered a coal chute, and started a legend. Charlie’s kids run things now, and their kids are coming along, and their kids will follow.
The alley is full of dumpsters, trash and the smell of charcoal. Seedy would be one way to describe it. However as you stand there you see people from all walks of life heading into Rendezvous: Ladies dressed to the nines with their Manolo Blahnik boots and Louis Vuitton purses, men in their sharp Ralph Lauren suits and Brooks Brothers, everyday people in their Nikes and hoodies attire all carefully treading around the dumpsters to get to this place. Not only people walking in but there is a constant flurry of vehicles driving up and dropping people off.
Now imagine yourself walking into an antique store jumbled full of treasures and timeless classics, full glass showcases containing lots of kitschy fun stuff. The floor is mottled and cracked there are people everywhere sitting at tables eating BBQ. Then take a walk to one of their antiquated back rooms full of signs and pictures from all over the world and you know you have arrived at Rendezvous.
Our party once again tried everything we could possibly partake in on the menu while still allowing us to remain upright without going into a protein coma. We ordered a sample platter of all of their meats plus a couple of sides. However before I go into more detail on this I will have to tell you about my most favorite part about Rendezvous and that would be our server. To call him a server seems a bit of a disservice he is a Legend here at Rendezvous himself. Big Jack Dyson is a flurry of Southern comebacks and full on court press hospitality. He will have you laughing and feeling comfy in an instant. He has been at Rendezvous since 1969. They don’t have a lot of staff turnover issues at Rendezvous.
Big Jack brought us out some of their gumbo to try on the house. It was an interesting medley of flavours for sure. He also brought us some lamb ribs that were gamier than most I have tried. These were not what I was used to but it was just fine. The food overall at Rendezvous is not something I would go back for to be honest. I didn’t like their ribs or the pulled pork at all. I was really looking forward to some dry ribs but these were not it. They were just not my thing. I don’t think many in our party liked them at all. I don’t think you go to Rendezvous for the food. You go for the experience. I would go again for the experience. It should not be missed. The ambiance and the cold beer were a great combo. However next time I think I would just stick with their ham & cheese plate.
Pig on Beale-Pork with an Attitude
From their website:
With the 1950s decor of checkerboard floors, formica tables and vintage movie posters mixes with live rockabilly, honky tonk or bluegrass music, a down-home happenin’ hoopla should come as no surprise. The Pig on Beale’s jukebox could easily be the best on Beale Street, with an eclectic mix of Memphis
music like the older Furry Lewis and Elvis to the Delta Blues of the Eric Hughes Band. The bar hosts live Blues and Americana music Thursday through Sunday from area Americana bands.
What they don’t tell you on their homepage (they do in the about section though) is that their food rocks. I mean rocks out like being at the best concert of your life with the love of your life.. For me sharing their food with some incredibly dear BBQ people was an event I will cherish.
The food is top notch. Once again I have found competition quality BBQ at a restaurant. There are only 3 BBQ joints (Pig on Beale, Bub-Ba-Q, Q Restaurant) I have been to that I would be happy to serve their food in a turn in box and be proud to call it my own. From the creaminess of their potato salad to the wickedly good onion rings to the hickory kissed ribs and pulled pork perfection, great wings and the tender chicken the Beale Street BBQ super feast is awesome. Even that description doesn’t seem good enough to me.
What impressed me even more is that we were there during the down times. Not even close to lunch or dinner but right in between. Having top quality food at an off time is impressive. It was quiet when we were there with only 1 or 2 other patrons. They have most obviously taken great care to ensure what they serve is their very best at all times. Our server was great too. Very polite to all of us making sure we were well attended to.
Later on at the convention I ran into John the owner. Now John stands heads above me and he is a solid young man. Think the Stone Cold Steve Austin version of BBQ and you have a good picture of what he looks like. John actually owns both Pig on Beale and natural Born Grillers. They compete as well. Actually they win a LOT too with many of their impressive trophies in the windows of Pig On Beale. Their website lists their many competition accolades. I was sorry we didn’t have the time to make it out to their Southaven location.
My advice to anyone would be that going to Memphis and not eating BBQ at Pig on Beale would be akin to missing your first Anniversary, your kids birth or your own wedding – it’s just something that should never ever be missed. It was that good.
Gus’s Fried Chicken
Now off to another joint we went just down a few blocks and around a corner. This was the second time in three days that I had eaten there. That should pretty much tell you something right there. I had extolled the virtues of Gus’s fried chicken to our group and we all decided to give it a go.
We had the deep fried pickled fried green tomatoes and a whole lotta chicken and fries. Once again it did not disappoint. Lip smacking finger licking can I get another piece even if I have just eaten at 3 other BBQQ joints chicken kind of food. I think to tell an outstanding place from a good one it is just this when you are so stuffed you can barely move but all you want to do is eat more you know you are in a place of greatness. I think that applies to both BBQ and chicken.
Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ
On the day I was leaving my friends Chris Jones and Tim Clendenning all headed to the airport together. As we wandered around waiting for our flight we decided to have breakfast. Well of course that would mean having more BBQ. You just can’t ever get enough. So we headed to Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que. This was about 830am.
Gotta love Memphis where you can get BBQ at any time of the day or night. We ordered up BBQ Nachos, Pulled pork and BBQ Bologna. It was all great. Just really good decent BBQ that had good flavour, good texture, and nice sauce. The BBQ Bologna had a great char on it as well that was yummy.
The Pulled Pork Sammie had to have at least a ½ lb of pork on it. Extremely generous. We did also get the BBQ spaghetti I will say this it’s not my thing. Just no. Just not going to ever order BBQ spaghetti again. Overall the food was really good. We even got to talk with Harold Neely. He wanted to pick up our check but Chris had already paid. Good people to talk with for sure. If you are in the Memphis airport stop by and eat. You will not be disappointed.
Well I could go on and tell you some really juicy stories about Myron ”Damn” Mixon, or some of the other folks fables and tall tales or even my own new associations with some fine folks but I think I will take a lot of those stores and keep them to myself. While in Memphis I walked by a poster and it said this: What happens in Vegas started in Memphis. I tend to agree with this sentiment. For the days I was there I was educated, libated and satiated with BBQ and food. We will leave it at that.
However as I end this rather long winded (and really if you have read the blog at any time you will know I tend to be a wee bit long winded) I have to tell you a story about our trip to Gus’s and this goes towards the kindness and the type of people I am real proud to associate with. As we were walking in Memphis within our tight knit little group a homeless man approached my friends and asked for money. He ended up being invited to eat with us. None of us would ever like to see anyone go hungry. None of us would have wanted for this man to go without something to eat. So we had our meal with this man who was quite articulate and certainly added a deeper meaning to our meal. That is the breaking of bread with your fellow man is always a good thing. That we should always look out for each other. That we should take care of each other. That food whether it be BBQ in Memphis a hot dog in New York or even poutine in Toronto has the capacity to bring us all together. That is my Memphis story.
** A note of thanks to Kelly & Roni Wertz from 4 Legs up BBQ for some of the excellent pictures of the Memphis adventure.