Story Time: A Rendezvous With BBQ

I grew up in a restaurant family. My parents weren’t in the business by the time I came of age, but many branches of our Greek family tree were still at it. That’s given me strong opinions about how a proper eatery is run. I’m not shy about sharing those opinions. Anyone surprised?

Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous in Memphis is a family owned and operated BBQ restaurant. It’s been located in an alley in downtown Memphis since 1948. The Rendezvous sits in the shadow of The Peabody Hotel of duck fame. I managed to make it through the duck show in the lobby without breaking into this song:

Repeat after me: There’s a Kinks song for every occasion.

Charlie Vergo was Greek. The family still has a Greek salad on the menu. I was tempted to try it, but had meat on my mind. My late mother-in-law Louise was famous for ordering unlikely items from a menu, but I stick with what the eatery is known for. In this case, slow smoked, dry rubbed meat. Mmm, BBQ.

I was mildly heretical and didn’t order the ribs, which are the specialty of the house. I tend to judge a BBQ restaurant by the sides. These sides were to die for as was the service.

The Rendezvous’ decor is best described as quirky and cluttered. We sat in the basement dining area surrounded by a hodge podge of stuff. There was stuff everywhere as I stuffed myself. It made me think of this Stax song:

That brings me to the meat of the story, the set-ups. There was a cloth napkin supplemented by large paper napkins. So far so good. Next to the bountiful cloth napkin was a pack of plastic utensils, which struck me as inadequate to the task of cutting smoked meat. It was. Dr. A went through several forks as she ate her yummy meal.

The Rendezvous had so much going for it that I nearly bit my tongue when the waiter asked how everything was. It’s a rhetorical question but I decided to get real with the Rendezvous.

Adrastos: “The food is great as is the service, but this bothers me.” I pointed to the sauce-stained cloth napkin and the bent plastic fork alongside it.

Waiter: “How so, sir?”

Adrastos: “I come from a restaurant family and a cloth napkin and plastic utensils don’t go together. It makes no sense. I’m surprised y’all didn’t drop the plastic after the pandemic eased.”

Waiter: “We’ve had those utensils for 20 years.”

I was gobsmacked.

Adrastos: “Really?”

Waiter: “Really. The utensils are biodegradable. The owner is liberal and believes in using biodegradable stuff.”

Adrastos: “I’m just as liberal but cloth napkins need to be cleaned by a linen service. How does that reduce the carbon footprint? And the utensils are hard to eat with. I watched a guy try and cut his ribs with that flimsy knife. It was funny for me, annoying for him. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The waiter smiled, shrugged and said: “That’s how the boss wants it.”

Adrastos: “Really? You still have to wash the plates and glasses. Paper napkins and real cutlery would serve her purposes just as well.”

The waiter smiled and shrugged again. He’d obviously heard it all before, so he knew how to walk the fine line between loyalty and rudeness. It didn’t make any sense to me but it’s not my BBQ joint.

I relented and circled back to the food and service, which were superb. The cloth napkin-plastic utensil thing still bugs me but what can you do? I had no idea there was such a thing as bio-degradable plastic utensils, so I googled it to verify the Rendezvous’ claim. You learn something new every day.

That concludes the tale of my Rendezvous with BBQ.

Since all roads lead to New Orleans for me, the last word goes to Louis Armstrong: