It all started in a basement off an alley in Downtown Memphis
Memphis is the pork barbecue mecca of the world, and there are great joints in every nook and cranny of this town. We know how to eat right. And while everyone has a favorite, few can question that the Rendezvous is a quintessential Memphis experience. For over 60 years, the Vergos family has been serving their signature dry rub ribs in a basement through a downtown alley across from the Peabody Hotel. And while the world outside has changed considerably, very little has changed in that magical basement.
It all started in 1948. At the time, Charlie Vergos co-owned a meat and three restaurant called Wimpy’s with his brother-in-law. But they didn’t see eye to eye on everything and Charlie decided he’d move into the basement and sell ham sandwiches and beer in a snack joint he called The Rendezvous. He turned an old coal chute into a smoker to give the meat some flavor. Business was good enough, but by the late 50s, he realized he had a problem. He needed to diversify the menu.
At that time, ribs were scrap meat. But Vergos’s right hand man in the kitchen, Little John, knew how to cook them. Ribs had been a staple of backyard barbecues in his neighborhood for years. So together they came up with the formula: they threw the racks in 18 inches from the fire, and grilled them for an hour and fifteen minutes to seal in the flavor. A vinegar wash kept them moist. And Vergos created a rub based on the seasoning from his father’s unique Greek chili recipe. He added paprika to give it a more traditional barbecue color. And that’s it. People went nuts for them. The standard for “Memphis style” barbecue ribs was set over half a century ago in a basement restaurant in Downtown Memphis.
Not much has changed today. While the meat is the calling card, a big part of what makes The Rendezvous special is the experience. The smoky aroma is grilled meat and barbecue shake. The sounds of Memphis soul and delta blues, cut with clinking beer mugs and laughter. The taste is perfectly seasoned southern heaven. It’s a meal that turns into a party you think about for the rest of the year. It’s a great time with friends old and new. And it only happens at The Rendezvous.
Mr. Charlie’s kids – John, Nick and Tina, along with their extended family (the restaurant staff) – still serve those signature ribs the same way.
Locals, tourists, dignitaries and celebrities all come down through the alley and down those steps to experience The Rendezvous. And if ribs aren’t your thing, you’ve got options. Salads, brisket, chopped chicken, red beans and rice are all on the menu too. If you aren’t in town, we are sorry about that. Memphis is a heck of a place. But you can still have our world-famous ribs delivered to your door or you can buy our dry rub at your neighborhood grocery store. Seriously though, if you come through town, make time for The Rendezvous. You’ll be glad you did.