Riblets without the pork | Rock Candy

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Riblets without the pork

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 4:04 PM

PORKLESS RIBS:  Lamb riblets at Rendezvous
  • Kat Robinson
  • PORKLESS RIBS: Lamb riblets at Rendezvous
Let’s talk about allergies for a little bit. Couple of things have triggered my thoughts on this of late. I noticed that one of my Facebook friends had a recent contamination issue… where she was served something she was allergic to. There’s a soapbox of mine — folks, if someone says they’re allergic to something, don’t serve that item to them. We aren’t kidding.

So, you’re probably wondering why someone like me who’s allergic to pork would willingly have dinner at a place that’s not only renown for its pork but where 80 percent of the menu is pork. Well, I did have 20 percent to work with. And I was curious about something. Besides, who can pass up Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous.

Yeah, I’m in Memphis for a few days, and while I’ve told you about a lot of the little holes-in-the-wall here and there that I like just across the river, I haven’t talked about the big boys. And frankly, it’s been nearly 20 years since I stepped foot in the place. But what the heck, eh? I’m not doing my job if I don’t tell you about everywhere I go.

  • Kat Robinson
  • Kat Robinson
So I go with a group down into the basement that is the Rendezvous. I’m curious to see if anything’s slowed down since the ‘cue master passed away. There’s a line, of course. The place seats 750 and it’s packed. They serve up charcoal-smoked barbecue to 4000 people a day. There are no empty seats.

There’s sweet tea but no unsweet tea — they just don’t serve it. But that’s okay, because the scent of smoke and spice in the air just cries out “drink beer.” Our waiter suggested a local microbrew, Ghost River, and we order a pitcher to share.

  • Kat Robinson
A starter goes around… the Cheese and Sausage plate ($8.50). I can’t do the sausage (which the waiter reminds me — and if you have an allergy, I always suggest letting your server know) but the cheese is interesting, slabs of Cheddarish cheese topped with a cayenne and paprika blend. It’s a nice way to start, all smoky and tangy and it prepares us for what’s to come.

SMALL ORDER:  Half slab at Rendezvous
  • Kat Robinson
  • SMALL ORDER: Half slab at Rendezvous
My companions, for the most part, choose what everyone chooses when they come to the Rendezvous — pork ribs, covered in that thick dry rub that the restaurant is famous for. The beans are pork smoked, too, and the slaw is hot and mustardy. Small slabs ($14.25) are just four bones, but they look healthy and thick, and I momentarily grow jealous over their plates. Mine hasn’t arrived yet, and while Van Morrison rattles out “Brown Eyed Girl” on the overhead music system I drown my supposed sorrows in a little more beer.

HEAVENLY:  Smoked lamb riblets, Rendezvous-style
  • Kat Robinson
  • HEAVENLY: Smoked lamb riblets, Rendezvous-style
But then, here it comes — my glory and joy, a full platter of Lamb Riblets ($17.50), three-rib sections that make up in plentitude what they lack in meat. My waiter even substituted out the beans with some of the house’s famous Meatless Red Beans and Rice. Those beans, strange to me because of the vinegar in the base, are irresistible. The slaw’s hot mustardy bite is strong but it goes well with everything else. Vinegar is king here.

And even in the lamb riblets you can taste it. Crusted with that magnificent paprika and cayenne rub with that vinegar undertone, they’re smoky and savory. I go bone after bone through the pile before me. Sometimes I dip a rib in the sauce, which is tangy and vinegary too, with a hit of spice that takes you late. There’s a lot of spice, and it builds up quick, and you need some more beer to wash it all down.

Bone after bone after bone. Long after my friends are done with their slabs I’m still working on mine, listening to the conversations and furiously wiping my hands as clean as possible between sets. I can’t get enough of these. They’re incredible.

Then I look up, and I realize I’ve gone through the whole plate.

  • Kat Robinson
Now, thing is, there are no desserts at the Rendezvous. There just aren’t, so if you’re going to go get you some, you gotta go elsewhere. After another half-hours worth of talking at each other (in which time I also consumed a roll with that divine vinegary sauce along with the bare remnants of my slaw and red beans) we just paid and got up and left. There was a line waiting to take our spots.

I kinda regret not getting back to the Rendezvous sooner; I’d been making an assumption all these years that I couldn’t have ribs there and I was wrong. I will be dragging folks back across the river to get there, too. But if there’s something else I can impress upon you, it’s that if you have a dietary need — food allergy, diabetic, Celiac, whatever it might be — do your waiter a good deed and let him know. Those poor folks have no clue where you come from and don’t harbor ESP. If you let them know in advance, they will do you right.

Now, you want to get to the Rendezvous? It’s north of the Peabody Hotel in an alleyway, looks like hell from the outside, but it’s okay. The official address is 52 South Second Street… heck, you’ll find your way there. Check out the website or call (901) 523-2746 for more information. They’re not open on Monday.

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