I am deliriously happy living in Seattle. The mountains, the Puget Sound, the oysters! What's not to love?
Still, I do often miss Memphis, the city where I lived for three years before returning to the Pacific Northwest. Fortunately, there's a sure cure for my blues: a shipment of Rendezvous Barbecue.
Barbecue at the Source
Now, nothing can replace the experience of eating at this Memphis landmark. The sassiest smelling smoke billows out of the restaurant's cavernous ovens, beckoning diners into an alley named November 6, 1934—so named for the election day when voters passed the bond to fund the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Walk down a set of stairs at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous and take a peek around the corner: You'll see the source of that fragrant smoke. Those world famous ribs are cooked fairly quickly over hot charcoal, the opposite of the low-and-slow credo of the barbecue pit.
Every inch of wall space in the rambling dining rooms is covered in clippings, photos, and vintage bric-a-brac. If there were a guest book, it would contain some of the biggest names in show biz. Of course, native son Justin Timberlake eats there. Mick and Keith have busted out in song after Rolling Stones concerts. John Daly loves the Rendezvous.
But it's the regulars who are like family to the Vergos clan. Most repeat customers have staked out their favorite table and their favorite waiter. When The Commercial Appeal's party columnist Michael Donahue comes in for his usual—the pork loin—he always sits in Jack's section. Jack Dyson has worked at the restaurant for nearly 50 years and is, without a doubt, the sweetest server I've ever met.
Barbecue by Mail
Jack's picture is emblazoned on the box of barbecue that arrived on my doorstep in Seattle. The contents—packed in dry ice—travel remarkably well. Last week, I got a full rack of ribs, pulled pork, mustard slaw, baked beans, sauce and seasoning, also known as the original dry rub. Easily enough for at least two meals.
I reheated the ribs under the broiler for a few minutes and they were so good. Not only does this vibrantly seasoned meat have great flavor, it's got a fine, snappy texture. This is not falling-off-the-bones tender, which is what a lot of people think of when they think of barbecue. In my opinion, the meat on barbecued ribs should require a gentle tug of the teeth. That's what I've always liked about the Rendezvous ribs.
The pulled pork was the star ingredient in my signature dish I'm making in my quest to become a contestant on Master Chef. I made a home movie showing me in my kitchen making Memphis Won Tons, a true East-meets-South fusion. Every time I bring these pulled pork-stuffed won tons to a party, they are a hit. How can you go wrong with deep-fried pork?
Rendezvous ships all over the U.S., even Alaska and Hawaii (for a surcharge). The prices are steeper than if you dined in—count on spending $100 for a combo package, and FedEx shipping's included if you order weekdays—but it's still cheaper than a plane ticket to Memphis.
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been working in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com and is working on a story-telling project for Northstar Winery following one wine from the vine to the table.