Anyone who’s been there can tell you that there are two very distinct schools of thought when it comes to smoky, down-home Memphis BBQ.
Those who like their ribs “wet” — slathered with BBQ sauce BEFORE they are smoked for hours at a time — and those who like their ribs “dry” — rubbed down with a spicy dry rub before they too are smoked for hours at a time.
Being the good tourists that we were, we decided to try them both. So, after soaking up the Elvis love on Beale Street we made our way to the epicenter of the “dry” rib revolution: the world-famous Rendezvous restaurant in downtown Memphis.
Located halfway down a dark alley off of Union St., Rendezvous has been serving their secret recipe dry rub ribs to Presidents (Carter, Clinton, both Bushes, even presidential hopeful, Barack Obama) world-leaders (the Premier of Japan was a recent guest!) and celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and Tina Sinatra are just a few of their Hollywood regulars) in the smoky halls of their basement locale since 1948.
The walls are covered with old pictures and newspaper clippings and the place has this kind of speakeasy vibe that is really cool. Stepping inside, you move down a long flight of stairs into the main dining room where almost immediately you begin drooling like a madman as you are practically knocked to the ground by the aroma of smoked pork ribs.
Seriously, I thought my brother-in-law Rob’s smoker smelled good, but this place…wow…if they made a cologne of that scent, I’d wear it daily!
We put our name on the list, had a pitcher of beer at the bar (Bud, which is all they serve) and before we knew it, we were being ushered to our table where we promptly ordered the specialty of the house, a full-rack of dry rub pork ribs with two sides (red beans & rice and spicy cole slaw, shown below).
As you can see, it was nothing fancy — just good old paper plates and plastic cups — but once you poured some of their patented Rendezvous BBQ sauce on top (they have spicy and mild, both of which were fantastic!) and bit into those ribs…whoa! D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!
Maybe it was the pitcher of beer talking or maybe it was the majesty of the meat, but Christine and Courtney went positively bonkers over these ribs, moaning and groaning louder than I usually do at the table! I’m not kidding, I’m surprised they didn’t lick their paper plates clean. They were on a dry rib hight and almost instantly Christine’s pulled pork sandwich (from South Street in Nashville) dropped from first to a distant second in her favorite-meal-of-our-trip ranking.
I understood their enthusiasm, and I did really like the ribs a lot, but being a fan of wetter, juicier food groups, I had a feeling I might like “wet” ribs better.
So, the next night, after braving the crowds at Graceland, we headed to the premiere destination for “wet” ribs in all of Memphis, the Blues City Cafe. A sprawling diner located in the heart of bustling Beale Street, the Blues City Cafe is also home to a super cool honky-tonk where a kick-ass Johnny Cash impersonator was rocking the house with a fervor that put poor old Joaquin Phoenix to shame.
And here in the glow of the neon sign out front ordering all who enter to “Put some South in your mouth”, my rib lust was finally satiated. These were, hands down, the best ribs that have ever graced these lips (and that is really saying something as a lot of ribs have graced these fine lips, baby!) and probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Yes, they were that good.
Wet, delicious, dripping with Blues City Cafe’s world-renowned spicy BBQ sauce and best of all, paired with big, delicious sides — steak fries, cole slaw, baked beans to kill for AND bread! — wow! Now that’s eating!
Not surprisingly, Courtney and Christine — who did not order the ribs at Blues City, but tried mine…yes, I shared — announced that thought they were tasty, they preferred the dry variety at Rendezvous.
Mom was kind of on the fence, claiming to love both styles of rib artistry, but there on Beale Street, with Johnny Cash tunes booming in my ears, I found the perfect smoked meat on a bone and God as my witness, swore that one day I would return to this place and try them again. Amen!