Charlie Vergos Rendezvous – Memphis, TN

Name: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
Date: 12/18/18
Address: 52 S 2nd St, Memphis, TN
Order: Pork ribs and brisket combination (link to menu)

Speedy: I’ve been spending a lot of time in Memphis lately for work, working mostly with a local team. When my co-workers learned of this blog, they started peppering me with recommendations, but not once did a local tell me to visit Rendezvous. Apparently it is considered more of a tourist destination, but it is 1) super famous and 2) two blocks from my client site, so a visit seemed in order.

Monk: My neighbor here in Charlotte who used to live in Memphis confirmed that it is a bit of a tourist destination but that he always found their ribs to be pretty good, actually.

Speedy: The sign on Rendezvous advertises “charcoal ribs,” and walking up, it’s easy to smell the charcoal smoker throughout Rendezvous alley. As I went with a co-worker on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was fairly empty and we didn’t have to wait for a table. Upon entering Rendezvous, you descend into a basement and come to an old dinner-esque place. It doesn’t look like the decor has been updated a whole lot since it’s 1948 opening, but still, it’s spacious and comfortable.

The menu at Rendezvous is pretty simple. I knew I was getting ribs, but the waiter also recommended brisket, so I took him up on it. Standard sides are beans and slaw, and there’s not much else in terms of sides, so I just went with what was given.

The food came out super fast. The waiter told us that there was both spicy and normal sauce on the table, but advised we try the ribs dry first, which I obliged. I’ll say this right off – Rendezvous is not the best barbecue meal I’ve had in Memphis, but I don’t understand why it’s so shunned. The ribs were meaty, cooked well (maybe slightly undercooked) and had a nice, smoky flavor. They were fine without the sauce, but I did enjoy the spicy sauce as well.

Monk: It’s looking likely that I will be back for Memphis in May next year so if I’m wandering around downtown is it worth a stop?

Speedy: Well, there’s a Central BBQ downtown as well, so I’d recommend that first, but I wouldn’t steer you away from Rendezvous.

I didn’t expect much from the brisket (I never do outside of Texas), but it was actually decent. It had good tug and nice flavor. I could’ve used a little more bark and ended up using the spicy sauce on this as well, but I would order it again. Overall, a solid effort.

The one thing that surprised me was the slaw. Rendezvous’ slaw is mustard/vinegar based, and really is quite enjoyable.

Monk: Having not tasted it, it sounds like the slaw at Bill Spoon’s here in Charlotte. I’m curious if there is a Memphis connection there.

Speedy: I thought of Bill Spoon’s as well – it’s very similar.

Overall, if you’re expecting the best barbecue meal of your life at Rendezvous, you might be disappointed. But if you go in with realistic expectations, you’ll find it to be just fine.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday Find: Hanging Out with Dan the Pig Man

Dan the Pig Man is a York, South Carolina-based caterer specializing in outdoor feasts (which just so happens to be the name of his catering company) such as whole hog barbecues, oyster roasts, and shrimp boils utilizing custom-welded grilling and smoking rigs. Check out this video from a recent trip to Tuscaloosa, AL from the Food and Stuff YouTube Channel.

The time we decided to drive to Tuscaloosa, #Alabama to hang out with Dan the Pig Man! We had a lot of fun and can’t wait to hangout again and grill some awesome eats!

Linkdown: 1/9/19

Kathleen Purvis is looking forward to Noble Smoke when it opens in a few months

Mac’s Speed Shop opening a store in Wilmington was the #2 food story for the Wilmington Business Journal in 2018

The Improper Pig opened a second store in Fort Mill just after the new year after unexpectedly finding a 100+ year original advertising mural during renovations

Daniel Vaughn’s best Texas barbecue bites from joints outside of the TMBBQ Top 50

Thrillist’s list of best barbecue joints in Kansas City

Speaking of Kansas City, I was recently pointed to a new-to-me barbecue blog by BBQ Tourist called Joe’s Barbecue Quest who recently published a review of Jones Bar-B-Que

More Sweet Lew’s coverage, this time from new alt-weekly upstart QC Nerve

Justin Timberlake joins the ranks of Obama, Hillary, and Bill Murray as patrons of Midwood Smokehouse while in Charlotte. His reported order was burnt ends, collards and beans

Pitmasters of Charlotte: Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ

While there is certainly good barbecue to be found in Charlotte, I wouldn’t quite say that it’s a barbecue city…yet. However, there are pitmasters out there doing great work, and I hope to spotlight that a little more in this series of posts called “Pitmasters of Charlotte.”

Our second profile (thus making it an actual series, woo hoo!) is Lewis Donald, who along with Laura Furman Grice opened up Sweet Lew’s BBQ in early December. Monk previewed them back in September as well as reviewed the restaurant, and is a big big fan.

How long have you lived in Charlotte and how did you get here?
I’ve been here 10 years. I came here to take a job at Charlotte Country Club, after I graduated the apprenticeship program at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.

How did you become a Pitmaster?
I don’t really use that term, not for myself. Those that came before me, those that learned the art through family generations, those that defined what we know as bbq today…they’re the pitmasters.

What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer? 
I like the staples, skin-on-shoulder, ribs, chicken, and brisket. It takes being able to cook all of them to offer a good bbq experience to family, friends, and customers. I prefer [smoking over] hickory and pecan.

What are your barbecue influences?
Simplicity, scratch cooking, consistency

What is your favorite barbecue joint or style?
I like them all, true bbq spot and styles. But I’m not a big sauce guy.

What is your earliest memory of barbecue?
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, it was a gas grill with burgers and dogs. In 2003 is when I was introduced to bbq.

What is the best thing about Charlotte barbecue?
I think it’s great that it’s served in restaurants.

What is a weakness or opportunity of Charlotte barbecue?
There’s not much of it, so there’s room to grow it!

Thanks to Lewis for his time. For more about Sweet Lew’s BBQ, check out their website, Instagram, Facebook page, or Lewis’ Instagram.

If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!

Linkdown: 12/19/18

Noble Smoke making progress:

View this post on Instagram

Yup

A post shared by Jim Noble (@chefjimnoble) on

The story behind the Barbecue Wife line of cocktail mixers from Catherine Stiles, the wife of Shane Stiles of Stiles Switch BBQ in Austin

Our State Magazine interviews Chase Webb, third generation pitmaster at Red Bridges Barbecue in Shelby

Meating Street Barbecue closed this past weekend, citing lack of parking in downtown Roswell, GA

Barbecue Center will be featured on “Man Fire Food” on the Cooking Channel tonight at 9pm

From this past summer, Rodney Scott shares some of his secrets:

Interesting turn of events:

Friday Find: Smoking on the Southside

Chicago barbecue is a less heralded style of barbecue that has origins in the American South but is only found in the southside of Chicago. Primarily rib tips (a remnants of a St. Louis cut rib) and sausage links, they are smoked in a steel and glass “aquarium” smoker that allows for year-round smoking in the harsh Chicago winters. I’ll link to another podcast next week with more on this style of barbecue but for now, here’s a short podcast from the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy podcast.

Barbecue purists from the Carolinas to Texas might balk at the notion that Chicago, Illinois, has a barbecue tradition all its own. But owing to the Great Migration, and to a special piece of equipment called the aquarium smoker, reporter-producer Ambriehl Crutchfield finds that Chicago barbecue has evolved into a style unto itself.

Link to episode

Linkdown: 12/12/18

RIP Allen & Son Barbecue in Chapel Hill

Here’s Our State’s last article on Allen & Son’s from 2017, where you can understand why Keith Allen is ready to retire:

In 1971, when Keith was 19, he quit his butchering job at the A&P, sold his landscaping equipment, and borrowed $3,000 to open a restaurant. He gave it the same name as the one his father owned in Chatham County, where Keith worked the barbecue pit from the age of 10. Ever since, he’s gotten to his Allen & Son at 2:30 a.m. five days a week — splitting every piece of hickory, roasting every shoulder, chopping and seasoning every serving. “Nobody’s hands but mine touch my barbecue,” he likes to boast, “until the customer’s do.”

A recipe for collard chowder from Matthew Register of Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland; his cookbook comes out in May but is available for preorder now

The latest from J.C. Reid explores the barbecue explosion in Houston from a geographic standpoint:

Sweet Lew’s gets some coverage in Charleston Eater for 4 new notable Charlotte openings

In memory of Dale Volberg Reed, who
was wife to John Shelton Reed and with him co-authored the best book on NC barbecue, Holy Smoke: The Big Book of NC Barbecue

I figured Dave Grohl would stop into Buxton Hall while in Asheville last weekend for Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam:

There’s some piggies in the hiway, some piggies in the snow, piggies going faster than they’ve ever gone before

Sweet Lew’s BBQ – Charlotte, NC

Name: Sweet Lew’s BBQ
Date: 12/5/18
Address: 923 Belmont Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
Order: NC smoked pork shoulder plate with red slaw, collards, and cornbread plus ¼ lb of brisket (link to menu)
Price: $$ (out of $$$)

Monk: With Jim Noble’s forthcoming barbecue venture Noble Smoke delayed until next Spring, the title of “most anticipated Charlotte barbecue opening for 2019” fell to Sweet Lew’s BBQ by default (though not without merit). I got a chance to sample some of Sweet Lew’s chopped pork a few months back and while they had hoped to open in October, construction delays and permitting being what it is they weren’t able to open until the first week in December. I showed up eagerly on opening day right before 12 noon,

Sweet Lew’s is located in the Belmont neighborhood in a converted service station with a brand new pit room built out back. There Lewis Donald, co-owner (along with Laura Furman Grice) and pitmaster, smokes the meat on a Myron Mixon smoker. As you walk in through the front door, guests are greeted by the welcome sound of chopping by Lewis himself. At Sweet Lew’s, the meat is sliced or chopped to order and the sides are served cafeteria-style similar to how a lot of Texas places do it (as did Midwood Smokeshack, RIP). They’ve got a small dining room and a patio that will come into play more when the weather warms back up in the Spring.

The coarsely chopped pork is described as Lexington-style pork on the menu and while it is very good, I don’t find that label to be completely accurate. The pork butts (sourced from Beeler’s Pure Pork in Iowa) are rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked over wood before being finished with a vinegar sauce. Mix it with some red slaw and Texas Pete and you’ve got a pretty good version of classic NC barbecue, just no quite true Lexington-style.

I was lucky enough to get a fresh brisket pulled out just before my order. Sweet Lew’s sources their briskets from Creekstone Farms in Kansas and are smoking them Central Texas style. There’s a lot of flavor in the bark of the lean slices, but I got a little bit of a sodium overload by the end of the meal. Still, this is one of the better briskets in Charlotte for sure.

To be a true Lexington red slaw, I found that it needs a little more ketchup for the sweetness to balance the vinegar tang. Each combo plate comes with a slide of cornbread and while I would have preferred hush puppies, I’ll take it. The collards were pretty standard but next time I’ll probably order the Virginia boiled peanuts instead. I’m excited for the daily specials, which start this week and consists of Turkey Tuesday, Hash Wednesday, Sausage Saturday, and Fried Chicken Sunday.

Sweet Lew’s BBQ has hit the ground running and sold out of meats on the couple of days, a feature they had been touting since the venture was announced that would set them apart from other Charlotte spots. I’m sure the smoking will ramp up in the comings weeks to meet demand but its comforting to know that the meat will always be fresh and not reheated from the previous day. For this among many other reasons, we should all be very excited that Sweet Lew’s has raised the stakes in the Charlotte barbecue scene and should only continue to get better.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew – High Point, NC

Name: Sweet Old Bill’s Burgers, Que & Brew
Date: 11/21/18
Address: 1232 North Main Street, High Point, North Carolina
Order: Three meat combo (pork, brisket, ribs) with hush puppies, corn pudding, and slaw
Price: $$ (out of $$$)

Monk: Well, what do you know? The Barbecue Bros’ hometown of High Point has grown to the where someone has opened up a yuppie cue spot (next to a brewery no less). High Point’s always had standard issue barbecue joints like Kepley’s, Carter Brothers, or Henry James but a full bar barbecue joint that serves not only pulled pork but brisket, ribs, chicken and more? Now that’s something new for the Home Furnishings Capital of the World.

Speedy: While this is exciting, I take great offense at calling Kepley’s a “standard issue barbecue joint.” Where’s the respect, Monk?

Monk: All respect given, Speedy. That was not a comment on the quality of the food – I only meant that none of those I mentioned above go the “International House of Barbecue” route and also don’t serve beer or alcohol like Sweet Old Bill’s.

SOB’s opened in early November on North Main Street and shares a wall with the well-received Brown Truck Brewery. At the back of the Sweet Old Bill’s side of the building is a wood-assisted gasser just off the kitchen. Inside, a large bar area occupies approximately half of the interior with a decor that I would probably best described as “industrial chic” with my limited interior decorator vocabulary.

The three meat combo plate was decently priced at $18 and I chose pork, brisket, and ribs. Not ordered but also available was chicken and turkey. The pork had hints of smoke but benefited from being eaten with the slaw and table vinegar sauce, a small batch sauce I didn’t recognize or snap a photo of. I will note that a red slaw was advertised on the menu but what came out was a mayo-based white slaw. I still ate it, but was really hoping to try their version of a Lexington red slaw. Regardless, not a bad start to the meal.

The brisket at SOB’s comes pre-sauced but underneath that sauce were lean slices with a decent pepper bark. This was definitely not a Central Texas style brisket, but for High Point it was not bad. Not great, mind you, but not awful.

Speedy: For NC brisket, “not awful” is high praise…  

Monk: The dry-rubbed ribs were well seasoned and not overcooked, giving a good tug with each chew. Of the three meats I ordered, the ribs were probably my favorite, and thankfully they weren’t drowning in sauce like the brisket.

I already mentioned the slaw but when it came to the rest of the sides the scratch-made hush puppies were more on the savory end of the spectrum but were nicely fried orbs of cornmeal goodness. The highlight of sides was definitely the corn pudding, which had some sweetness and also appeared to be scratch made.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that they had a nice selection of craft beers, many of which were local to NC. I ordered a Brown Truck porter, which was made not 10 feet on the other side of the wall from where we were sitting – pretty cool and not too many other barbecue restaurants could claim that I’d bet.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with my meal at Sweet Old Bill’s. Being a new restaurant, they could have easily cut corners in a few areas but thankfully did not. The meats are not all quite there but I appreciated the attention paid to the side dishes. Keep in mind that they were only a few weeks old for this meal so with time I think they will eventually get to a good spot. They are certainly off to a nice start.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Ribs – 3.5 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs