Apparently there are 2-3 restaurants debated to be the “best BBQ in Memphis“. We ate at Central BBQ last night, as that was the favorite of the friend we were dining with. However, we were shortly thereafter informed by another friend, who had previously lived in Memphis, that Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous is “infinity times better”. So we decided we had better check it out as well, to compare.
First, the location. Rendezvous is right in the heart of downtown Memphis, off a little alleyway, giving it a speakeasy kind of feel. Central BBQ is a few miles out of downtown on a relatively busy street, so it doesn’t have the same mystique. Fortunately there is free parking at Central; not sure where you would park at Rendezvous if you had to (we walked from our hotel, which was 2 blocks away).
Second, Rendezvous was packed. We had a 30-45 minute wait, and there was even a special overflow-bar area to allow people who are waiting to buy a drink, sit, and watch sports on TVs while waiting. (Beer and wine only, unfortunately, and the wine I had was not tasty.) Whereas, at Central BBQ we walked right in. It’s much smaller, and it was relatively full, but it wasn’t overflowing. Also, Central has an outdoor deck, if you want to brave the heat.
Third, the ambiance. Rendezvous is… fascinating. The decor is eclectic. Any type of wall decor you might select can be found on the walls at Rendezvous – from antique-y diner menu signs to UPS promotional posters to impressionist paintings. There’s also an entire display case full of various kinds of kitsch. There was even, in the room we dined in, a bronze bust of a young woman who could have been an antebellum debutante. In contrast, the decor at Central BBQ is more typical of a walk-up window BBQ place. That is to say, nondescript.
Lastly, before comparing the food, I should mention that Rendezvous has full table service. At Central, they’ll bring you your food after you order it at the window, but beyond that, you’re on your own.
Now for my controversial call regarding the food: Central BBQ has better pork ribs. I thought the beans at Rendezvous were much tastier (the ones at Central have too much pepper and are therefore unduly spicy). Central had better options for sides.
My recommendation? It depends what kind of experience you’re looking for. If your priority is tasty, falling-off-the-bone pork ribs and you don’t care about the rest of the experience, then go to Central. On the other hand, if you want to go out for a fun dinner, check out Rendezvous. There are other things besides ribs… I guess.