The specialty of Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous is “dry ribs.” Although these ribs are must-eats on nearly everyone’s Memphis barbecue hit-list, they are technically NOT barbecue. They are charcoal broiled rather than pit smoked. There is no sauce at all on them. They are blanketed with massive amounts of a paprika-colored spice mixture that bakes onto the meat and forms a kind of pepper-flavored spice envelope around it, holding the juices in and flavoring it at the same time. They are beautiful crusty brown with a red halo, as lean as any rib we have ever eaten, and the meat inside the spice crust is stunningly tender. Even through the heavy veil of spice you taste charcoal smoke and the sweet goodness of the pork itself.
If you are really, really hungry, and if you need food to eat with your 48-ounce pitchers of beer (beer is a virtually essential part of a Vergos meal), there are vast sausage and cheese plates available, as well as charcoal-broiled lamb riblets as hors d’oeuvre. And if, for some strange reason, you don’t want to eat the signature pork ribs, you can order charcoal-cooked chicken or beef ribs or a plate of two slices of pork loin that are so ridiculously tender that they feel almost like baby-food versions of barbecue. Flimsy plastic utensils are provided, and they are all you’ll need. The loin comes dressed with sauce; and if you want more, each Rendezvous table is set with squeeze bottles of hot-tangy sauce and sweet sauce. If you happen to need a meatless meal, the Rendezvous offers a sausage-free red beans and rice plate; and if you plan ahead and order 24 hours in advance, you can have them prepare a meal of skillet shrimp.
It is a kick to eat at the Rendezvous. You’ll be bowled over by the smell of smoke as you walk down stairs into the cellar-level beer hall, where walls and ceiling are festooned with customers’ business cards, dusty old signs, antique firearms, vintage Victrolas, Hummel figurines and Memphis memorabilia. It is noisy, impolite, and heaps of fun, and it smells as much of beer as of smoke from the charcoal cookers.