Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chopped Shoulders and Ribs

It’s a beautiful day. While temperatures in Memphis are higher than normal for early October, the sky is blue with large white clouds and there is a breeze off the river. The Mississippi river rat in me (Kate) is in heaven.

We arrived in West Memphis on Thursday afternoon and, after an early night to bed, we were ready for the orgy of pork to begin. The Addie Reports will be different during our 13-day stay. Rather than assigning an Addie score after each restaurant, we’re going to give you our impressions every day or so but wait until the end of the visit to assign scores and rank order our preferences.

We began our porkathon with the two restaurants most familiar to viewers of the Food Channel and/or Travel Channel--Charles Vergos Rendezvous and Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Q.

Established in 1948 and known for their charcoal smoked ribs, Rendezvous is down an alley across from the Peabody Hotel.

When you enter the doors you are directed down a flight of stairs to the basement where you find two long and narrow dining rooms. Service here can best be described as low key and laconic, and our waiter would not win any Mr. Personality contests.

We split an order of chopped pork shoulder and a small slab of ribs. Both orders came with a side of slaw and a side of beans. The chopped shoulder was served with a standard hamburger bun and the ribs with two mass production rolls. The two best food items were the chopped shoulder and the beans. The pork came in a fairly generous size serving and was a mixture of larger chunks of meat along with smaller shreds. The meat was tender, juicy, and tasted faintly of hickory smoke. The beans were sweet/tangy from molasses and vinegar. But the serving size for the sides was small--there was probably less than one-third of a cup of each in the small paper serving containers. A small serving was probably best when it came to the slaw. It tasted like straight white vinegar mixed with either barbecue sauce or the rub. Both of us took one taste and set it aside.

The ribs at Rendezvous are of the dry (seasoned with a rub) as opposed to wet (basted with sauce) variety. But dry doesn’t mean that the ribs have to be dry. These were. Yes, an application of sauce (the sweet was better than the spicy) helped--but not much. And there was a lack of meat on these ribs. Not what I had hoped for.

But the aromas of the smoke coming from the chimneys added a wonderful component to the city's atmosphere.

Then we were off to Interstate. The Neely family has a number of restaurants in the Memphis area, and you may have seen two of the Neelys on the Food Network. Service here could best be described as brusque. Again, we ordered the chopped shoulder and ribs--Chuck’s with beans and slaw and mine with beans and potato salad. And we shared a large order of fries.

The potato salad is pure southern--with yellow mustard and pickle relish. But the relish and mustard were in total balance--the tang of the mustard offset by the sweetness of the relish and vice versa. One of the better southern potato salads I’ve had. The sweet beans included shreds of the smoked pork--yummy. And the hand-cut fries proved that these can be served crisp.

Chuck’s shoulder (bottom, photo on right) was lightly smoked and very moist. The sweet sauce that topped this very generous serving complemented the smoky taste of the pork. My ribs--while a little fatty--were of the wet style and were meaty, moist, and tender. I do have to remember to ask that they not cover these with additional sauce before serving--I would prefer to do this myself.

The Pork Fest continues.

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