A Memphis Rendezvous

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous

Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous

As I have mentioned before, the first thing you smell when you are coming out of your hotel door, in downtown Memphis, is the smell of BBQ. That may have been especially true for us as we were staying down the street from the world famous Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous.

After a long morning and part of the afternoon of seeing the sights in Memphis we, Neumans, were famished and ready for something to eat. BBQ, perhaps? So we headed down Monroe Street past 2nd Street and entered Charlie Vergo’s Alley. As we headed down the stairs to the hostess desk, I told her, “We followed the smoke!” She just smiled and sent us down between a log row of tables and past the bar. We got there, we saw that more dining rooms, sprouted from where we were. We took our seats at a table between some Rockabilly musicians and school kids on a class trip from Georgia.

Why? Because this is a place with a story…

Kevin had read about the Rendezvous or watched it on tv… The place started by specializing in grilled ham and cheese sandwiches in the basement of an office building. And then, Charlie Vergo found that they had a coal shute and began smoking his own hams and chicken. Eventually a meat salesman (which my Dad used to do for a living for years) brought Charlie a case of ribs. The rest? Was history.

AppetizersWe ordered the appetizer platter. Sausage, ham, salami, cheese, pickles, peppers and crackers all tossed with the Rendezvous’s signature dry rub. And to drink? Well, here is the thing… All the white shirt and black bow-tied waiters all wore a button that said, “We Have Wine!”. And they did. Nothing spectacular. The kind of wine you can buy at any grocery store in Chicago. And it would have been fine. I could have had it.

But I didn’t.

It seemed wrong. (I don’t always have to drink wine. It just seems that way.)

Dry Rubbed Goodness

Dry Rubbed Goodness

It struck me that the Rendezvous was a joint about tradition. And to me? That means what’s on tap. And that was Michelob. So, drinking pitchers of beer and (for the kids) pitchers of Coke, we ordered our lunch. Kevin and I? Ribs. Dry rubbed and hardwood charcoal smoked, served with mustard slaw and beans and rolls. The girls? Sophie had ribs and chicken. Celia? The Greek salad. I know. It seemed INSANE. Though she did steal ribs off of Soph, so she could finish. And actually, the salad rocked. It was full of olives and feta and onions and included a dolmade (which I ate and LOVED). Amazing food. Good prices. Great service. It seems so simple. It is. But it is also indescribable.

Charlie isn’t running, the place anymore. His family is. And they know how important family and tradition is… since a lot of their staff have been with them for years… and by that, I mean decades and then THEIR kids come and work for the joint.

So you know it must be good.

Wine isn't ALWAYS the best choice.

Wine isn't ALWAYS the best choice.

Oh. And if you want to taste the ribs and can’t make it to Memphis? You can order them online here.

A Memphis Encore

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Cinderella would be proud

Cinderella would be proud

It seemed strange that we had been on the road for 8 hours, been in 4 States and crossed the Mississippi twice to get to Memphis. When the clan finally pulled into town it was after 9:00pm. Everyone was tired. Everyone was hungry. That was the last thing that we all agreed upon. The girls wanted to stay at the hotel. Kevin and I wanted to go out. In the end, everyone got what they wanted. We stopped in the lobby of the hotel where there were frozen meals available and picked up microwaveable treats for the girls and Kevin and I headed out into the Memphian night.

Encore

Encore

The town was full of the smoky smell of BBQ and lively sounds of music. A horse drawn carriage that looked like it should come from Cinderella passed us by. Its LED lights of blues, greens and purples startled me. As we came out of our hotel we made our way to the corner and started down 2nd street. We walked down the street, passed open windowed bars with live music playing for the crowds and restaurants of all kinds. Sushi at Sekisui, Italian at Capriccio Grill, Seafood at Flying Fish, a Texas de Brazil churrascaria, even a Canadian themed place called The Kooky Canuck (I have NO idea what kind of food they served there, though I do assume they served beer. And lots of it.).

Silver Queen Corn Chowder

Silver Queen Corn Chowder

Kevin and I settled on Encore which was opened several years ago by the James Beard award winning Chef Jose Guitierrez. Still in our jeans and weary from the road, we (I) were (was) a bit concerned that we would be under dressed. But we appeared to be fine. Kevin ordered himself a Campari and Soda and me a Champagne cocktail that included Lillet Blanc (most excellent) and we began our meal.

Kevin started with the wild mushroom ravioli. It was served with a tomato fondu, basil and parmesean reggiano. The flavor of the mushroom filling was intense and included porcini. The pasta was delicate, clearly home made and the sauce a light accompiment. I started with the Silver Queen corn chowder with lobster and crab. It was rich with the flavor of the sweet white corn and topped with chunks of lobster and crab and crispy bacon.

Hopler Pinot Blanc

Hopler Pinot Blanc

With our main couses, we ordered a Hopler Pinot Blanc. This is an Austrian wine that was crisp and fresh with citrus and stood up to the sauces that dressed our meals. Kevin had the sea scallops that were stuffed with lobster claw meat and served over a bed of braised leeks, served with a lemongrass beurre blanc and garnished with chopped peanuts, cashews and ginger and a crispy wreath of shoestring potatoes. He loved it.

I had the grouper served over a warm lentil salad that included roasted mushrooms, potatoes, carrots as well as the puy lentils and dressed with a ginger citrus beurre blanc. The grouper was cooked perfectly. Crispy but tender and the salad included tiny bites of fresh ginger that surprised me every time I got a bit of them. The salad was so delicious that I could have skipped the fish entirely and still been happy.

Grouper with warm lentil salad

Grouper with warm lentil salad

For dessert, we split the bourbon vanilla ice cream which was delicious, while Kevin enjoyed a decaf irish coffee and I had the Grand Marnier flight which included one ounce pours of the regular, 100 year old and 150 year old versions of the liquer.

Ice Cream and Grand Marnier

Ice Cream and Grand Marnier

By the end of the meal we were a bit nervous that we had not heard from the usually nervous Sophie but glad that she and her sister had let us enjoy our meal. If you are ever in Memphis, it is well worth checking out.