Text by Andrea Cranford & Julia Fawal
In honor of Memphis in May this month, we are spotlighting some of the legendary BBQ destinations in the Bluff City, and also highlighting some newer classics when it comes to our favorite pork dish.
Neely’s Interstate (1978) The Neely name is synonymous with Memphis BBQ, and that is all thanks to the drive of owner Jim Neely. Neely’s Interstate started out as a grocery store in a low-income corner of Memphis. But Neely was persistent, and he built his small business from the ground up. Eventually, a barbecue restaurant was added to the grocery store, and Neely’s Interstate was born. A highly successful example of urban renewal that provides many jobs and turned a neighborhood around, ultimately it’s the quality of food, particularly the famous secret sauce, that keeps customers coming back to Neely’s Interstate and the awards rolling in year after year.
Rendezvous (1948) “Not since Adam has a rib been this famous.” That is the slogan for Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, the world-famous Memphis BBQ restaurant nestled in a back alley of downtown Memphis. Most notable for their dry rub seasoning, The Rendezvous has been a mainstay of Memphis dining since founder Charlie Vergos opened the restaurant in 1948. The famous seasoning is a blend of cultures, mixing in Southern BBQ flavor and Louisiana and Greek spices–a tribute to the Vergos family’s heritage. While the idea of leaving ribs sauceless might seem crazy, The Rendezvous sells 8,000 pounds of them every week. Clearly they’re doing something right.
Tops Bar-B-Q (1952) For over six decades, Tops Bar-B-Q has served the Mid South slow-cooked BBQ and freshly ground hamburgers at all of its 14 locations. Though its menu contains the traditional options (pork sandwiches, ribs, brisket, beans, slaw and more), Tops’ expansive history and army of regulars prove that it is anything but ordinary. Over half a century in business says it all.
The Germantown Commissary (1981) The Commissary was recently named one of the best BBQ restaurants in the country by playboy.com. This is barbeque for the epicurean—and for those who want a full plate. Check out The Commissary during all-you-can-eat-rib Mondays to indulge in their succulent, world-famous specialty.
Three Little Pigs (1989) Family-owned since 1989, the motto for Three Little Pigs is “We serve no swine before its time” and they mean it. The Memphis-style pork shoulder is hickory-smoked for over 20 hours to give it a smoky, lip-smacking flavor that goes well with the house-made cole slaw.
Corky’s Ribs & BBQ (1984) Premium Memphis BBQ in a 50’s environment: that was founder Don Pelts’ vision in the 1970s when he began plans for establishing Corky’s. His dream became a reality in 1984, and now, almost 30 years later, Corky’s has three Memphis locations and can be shipped all across the country. Stores such as Kroger and Wal-Mart even stock Corky’s Dry Rub and Sauce. By slow-cooking the meats the old-fashioned way – over hickory wood and charcoal – and hand-pulling the pork shoulder, Pelts has turned his dream into a bastion of Memphis barbecue.
NEWER KIDS ON THE BLOCK…
One & Only BBQ
On the corner of Perkins and Southern, across the railroad tracks, sits a building that can only be described as being painted barbecue sauce red. One and Only is a new player in Memphis barbecue, opening its first location on Kirby Parkway in 2007 and a second (aforementioned) last year. Unlike the usual pit-smoked pork famous in Memphis, One and Only smokes barbecue using stacked smoke boxes, creating a lighter smoke that highlights the natural flavor of the meat. Adored for its pulled pork, ribs and smoked chicken, Millie’s house-made banana pudding alone is worth a trip.
With its spring-break atmosphere and tie-died serving staff, Central BBQ is one of the newest barbeque restaurants on the Memphis scene. Founded in 2002, Central restaurant serves traditional Memphis-style dry-rubbed barbeque, but what sets it apart is its side dishes. Along with the traditional cole slaw and baked beans, the fresh, house-fried pork rinds are a perennial favorite.
Blues City Café
Opened in March 1991, this Beale Street café has made a name for itself at as a top business on one of the most famous streets in the nation. Its signature ribs and other dishes have been enjoyed by musical guests including B.B. King, Courtney Love and Queen Latifah.