MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – Memphis is the home of blue suede shoes, blues, and barbecue.
“Cooking, it is like making love,” said Jim Neely, owner of Interstate Barbecue. “(It’s) got to be slow and easy.”
Neely, often called the patriarch of Memphis barbecue, has spent years perfecting his award-winning flavor that you expect at Interstate barbecue.
“I’m going to tell you when you eat that barbecue pork sandwich, and that slaw and that sauce you’d thought you die and went to hog heaven,” said Neely.
Ask someone what comes to mind when they think of Memphis, and chances are “barbecue” will make their top five list. After all, we are the home of the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest, and dozens of local restaurants that serve ribs and pulled pork.
Barbecue has come a long way. From mom-and-pop to the big-time, many famous faces have enjoyed what many of us were practically raised on; Presidents, Vice-Presidents, celebs, even the Royals.
“I know we were the first restaurant in Memphis, to the best of my knowledge, to serve ribs, because again, Memphis is a shoulder town,” says John Vergos from Rendezvous.
John Vergos’ father opened Rendezvous in downtown Memphis in 1948. The tavern sold ham and cheese sandwiches and odds and ends. Then ribs, with John’s father’s famous dry rub, helped it take off.
“So, he kind of came up with this dry rub seasoning, and those are the original dry rub in the original dry ribs,” says Vergos.
The Vergos family has been feeding it to the masses ever since. “We feed a lot of people and probably 50% is out of town.”
Neely’s Interstate Barbecue feeds many around town, at Memphis International, famous faces, and contest judges.
“Talk is dirt cheap. The proof is in the pudding,” says Neely.
Memphis’ food scene is more than chopped or pulled. It has evolved.
“We do have barbecue, but we also have all these other places where people are truly telling their own stories, about who they are, who their families are. Presenting people with stories on a plate,” said Chef Kelly English, Owner of Second Line.
English, the owner of Second Line and Restaurant Iris, says Memphis is a unique food town.
“People are really not following a textbook on, on what to cook, maybe how to cook, but not what to cook,” said English. “You go from restaurant to restaurant and the menus are so different.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Jennifer Biggs, a veteran food writer with the Daily Memphian. “I think that we have, we’re blessed to have the food that we have, from one part of town to the other part of town.”
“One thing that we have in Memphis for a city of our size, I think it’s remarkable the diversity of the food we have,” said Biggs.”
“There’s personality in every single place, just like Memphis,” said English.
So what does the future hold?
Biggs and English believe that diversity will continue to show up on menus and your plate.
“That is the food, that is the people, that is the way we do things that is the way we come together,” said English.
Biggs adds, Memphis’ food diversity rivals that of larger cities with the number of Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Columbian, Mexican, Caribbean restaurants, and everything in between.
“We have a lot of cultural differences right here that have played out well for us and food, maybe not always for everything else, but certainly has made our food very interesting,” said Biggs.
“Memphis is really well positioned to be on the cusp of what, what the next place that everyone talks about,” said English.
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