Sunday, June 5, 2011

Corky's Versus Rendezvous: Who's Got the Best Ribs in Memphis?

First of all, I'm not a food critic. I am just a foodie that seeks out the best local cuisine wherever I am. That means when I'm in Chicago I'm eating deep dish pizza at Uno's, when I'm in the Pacific Northwest I'm eating fresh salmon from the fish market, in NYC I'm eating authentic Italian grub at Tony Di Napoli's, and so on... you get the picture.

So for years now I've dreamed about taking a road trip up to Memphis to pit their two best BBQ places against each other for a ribstravaganza like none other. And all I can say now is, "Wow" you kids need to pack up the car and try this one for yourselves! Growing up in Texas I thought I knew what real BBQ was, but trust me - in Memphis they take this BBQ stuff way more serious. 

A Brief History - The two places I picked to face off were Charles Vergo's Rendezvous and Corky's Ribs & BBQ. Now I'm sure there are people out there in Memphisland that have other BBQ places closer to heart, but the two I picked are the most well known. You can do the detailed homework about these two places for yourself, but here's the quick summary. 

Rendezvous has been around since 1948. Located in downtown Memphis they are said to have the best dry rub style pork ribs around. So good in fact that Elvis had their ribs flown to him when he was on tour. They've got multiple pitmasters that have worked there for decades. That's right, decades. All of that experience is the perfect equation for some damn good grub.

Corky's is much newer. Started in 1984 on the east side of Memphis they are said to have the best wet style pork ribs around. They have been voted the #1 BBQ place by readers in Memphis Magazine for 24 years straight. They have multiple locations around, but I had my heart set on only eating at the original location.  

So here's what I thought....

Best Ambiance: Rendezvous - Rendezvous is located in a downtown alleyway. The old smokestacks blow thick delicious smoke into the air. It felt almost like waiting to get into a speakeasy in the 1920s. Like everyone had discovered this little hidden alley and was anxiously awaiting to get into this BBQ hideaway. Inside the place just felt right. All of the old art and wood paneling - I could feel the ghosts of ribeaters past.

Corky's had a newer feel, but was still enjoyable. It had more of a country kitchen feel to it with lots of wood paneling. The walls were covered with pictures of celebrities that have been there like Bill Clinton. 

Best Service: Tie - Both places have about an hour long wait on the weekends, and both places were packed. The wait at both places was enjoyable because of all the free BBQ smoke pumped into the air. The wait staff at both places were very friendly, very well dressed, and a bit cocky. They knew that the food they were serving was some of the best around.   

Best Sides: Tie - The sides at both places were good. Rendezvous had an excellent slaw made with a hint of BBQ sauce, but their rolls were cold and not appetizing. On the other hand, Corky's rolls were hot and delicious, but the slaw was nothing spectacular.

Best Ribs: Corky's - 

After eating at Rendezvous before Corky's, I really didn't think Corky's had a chance at winning this competition. The ribs at Rendezvous were seasoned perfectly with a very mellow, smokey flavor. My only real complaint was there wasn't a lot of meat on the bones and you really had to work for every mouthful.

Then I ate Corky's. It changed my life, it made me want to get on the top of a mountain and scream, "Corky's" for the whole world to hear. The ribs were meatier, juicer, and more flavorful than Rendezvous. They were .... perfect. Perfect in every way, except for the fact that I seemed to hit a small section of ribs where the bones were broken up. Other than that, it was so good that from now on I will refer to all other BBQ places as "Not Corky's".

So there you have it - In my opinion Corky's has the best ribs in Memphis.