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Memphis takes its Barbecue Seriously

Barbecue meets the blues in Memphis.

By Phyllis Steinberg

Memphis residents proudly call their city the Pork BBQ capital of the world, but don’t expect any of the proprietors of the more than 100 BBQ restaurants to give you even a hint on what ingredients are contained in their specialty sauces.

In fact, the owner of Neely’s Bar-B-Que Restaurant said his chefs don’t even have the complete recipe for his special sauce which he proudly says has more than 48 ingredients. Neely’s which started out with a little cash borrowed from friends has grown into a nationwide industry with franchise restaurants at airports and an on-line sale of products. The restaurant has an extensive menu of barbecue and is worth a visit if you are in Memphis.

But you really can’t talk about ribs in Memphis without mentioning Rendezvous, in the alley, downstairs in downtown Memphis. In 1948, Charlie Vergos cleaned out a basement below his diner, discovered a coal chute, and started a legend. The coal chute gave him a vent for his talent over a grill, and allowed him to expand from ham and cheese sandwiches to ribs. Today, his son runs the business and the place is always packed so you may have to wait, but if you want to try these world famous ribs, this is the place.

All of the restaurants in Memphis serve their distinct types of ribs, but my all time favorite in Memphis are those served at the Blues City Café located right on Beale Street, in the heart of the entertainment district. Chef Bonnie Mac is getting on in years but he still comes in to supervise the staff and guard his special recipe. These melt-in-your-mouth ribs fall off the bone and are a rib lover’s delight.

But there’s more to Memphis than just eating ribs. The city is chocked full of things to do and see. Memphis is the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock and roll as well a superstar Elvis Presley. There are tours to Graceland, Presley’s 14-acre estate which includes a tour of his home, trophy building and Meditation garden where he is buried. There are also tours of Elvis’s two custom airplanes and the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum and a memorabilia museum called Sincerely Elvis.

If you would like to explore how Memphis became the birthplace of the blues and rock and roll, start your musical journey at the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, where there is a complete history and plenty of music by legends, such as Otis Redding and B.B. King. There is an audio tour with juke boxes located throughout the museum. Just push and play your favorite tune as you explore the music that began in Memphis and was heard around the world.

There are also tours to Sun Studio, Stax Museum of American Soul Music which further explore the history of music in the region, but you have to walk along Beale Street and visit the numerous musical hot spots to feel the beat of this Memphis sound.

The best place to stay in Memphis is downtown because most of the area attractions are in this area. I stayed at the Peabody Hotel, which is elegant and in the heart of the downtown area and walked to the Beale Street entertainment district, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, as well as a shopping center, which is adjacent to the hotel. The Peabody is the social and business hub of Memphis. Its grand lobby is the living room of Memphis. This is the place to spot famous faces, enjoy afternoon tea, watch the famous Peabody ducks, who arrive at 11 a.m., marching to their fanfare on a red carpet to the fountain. At 5 p.m. they return to their penthouse palace, via the red carpet.

Food lovers will also want to dine at Chez Philippe, the Mobil 4-Star French restaurant at The Peabody. When you want a meal that you can savor in style, this classic French restaurant is the best. Master Chef Jose Gutierrez combines Southern cuisine with the South of France. Every taste from my starter to dessert was a tasting sensation.

No trip to Memphis would be complete without a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. This historical significant museum depicts the history of the civil rights movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, the museum is housed in the Lorraine Hotel, the place where Dr. King gave his last speech before his assassination. Across the street in the boarding house where his assassin fired the gun, is part of the museum and the murder scene has been reconstructed.

There is a downtown trolley system that makes stops along many of the major attractions in Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum is one of its stops.

Photos by Phyllis Steinberg

For more information about Memphis, call 800-873-6282 or log on to

* Peabody Hotel, 149 Union Avenue, 901-529-4000, 800 42 DUCKS or
* For tickets to Graceland, call 800-238-2010 or order online at
* Blues City Café, 138 Beale Street, 901-526-1724
* Rendezvous, 52 S. Second Street, 901-523-2746, 800-827-7427 or
* Pig on Beale, 167 Beale Street, 901-529-1544
* Neely’s Bar-B-Que Restaurant, 670 Jefferson Ave., 901-521-9798 or
* Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Fed-Ex Forum, 901-205-2533,
* National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry Street, 901-521-9699 or
* Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore, 888-942-SOUL,

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