Two Iconic Eateries
By Hope S. Philbrick
When you’re a food writer, people tend to tell you about their favorite things to eat. For years before I visited Memphis, Tennessee, I’d heard rave reviews of the city’s ribs and fried chicken.
I’d smile and nod and politely agree that when I visited Memphis I’d have to give these dishes a try. But I live in the South where barbecue and fried chicken are ubiquitous. I’ve had some great renditions in multiple states. I’ve written countless articles on the topics.
I didn’t expect to be impressed.
It’s rare that a place lives up to the hype, especially if the expectations have had several years to climb.
But these two restaurants are worth their praise:
Charlie Vergos Rendezvous
52 S. Second St. (located in an alley across the street from The Peabody Memphis)
One of Memphis’ most famous barbecue joints is a staircase climb down from street level. This casual basement eatery keeps the tables clean enough to put your elbows up on ‘em—beneficial when eating the entrée generally requires using both your hands. Servers are helpful, friendly folks who will answer questions, make recommendations, and oblige a foreigner’s request to snap a tableside photo of lifted rib bones, all while swiftly whisking orders to hungry guests. Ribs are the star of this menu, but if charcoal-broiled pork ribs aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other options including chicken, lamb, shrimp, brisket and even ham and cheese sandwiches. Ribs arrive dry though other meats are drizzled in barbecue sauce, but there are bottles of mild and spicy on the table. Start with mild because it makes gums tingle. A large order of ribs is $18.75, small is $14.95—by that math we say get the large and take any leftovers to-go for some midnight snacking you won’t regret.
Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken
310 S. Front St.
“The best fried chicken in the South.” Take a bite and it’s hard to argue against that bold claim. The meat is juicy, the coating crispy and the spice levels just right. It certainly may be the best fried chicken deal in the South, as a plate of two breasts and a wing with baked beans, coleslaw and white bread is just $8.15. Upgrade to French fries and you’ll still pay less than $10. (Other combos are available, of course.) The quality of the food surpassed what the prices might suggest. Whether eaten piping hot at the restaurant or cold from a hotel ‘frig, this fried chicken is scrumptious. The fried skin didn’t get soggy overnight and was actually easier to eat when cold since when fresh it was almost too hot to hold…though certainly worth the tender fingers. Beer is served ice cold, the ambiance is super-casual, and servers are friendly in the slightly stand-offish way that can be best when you’re greedily stuffing yourself.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.