Barbecue and blues: Exploring the soul of Memphis

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Barbecue and blues: Exploring the soul of Memphis

There are some cities that are overlooked and underrated. Cities that, although they are filled with history, vibrant culture and food to tantalize any taste bud, fall under the radar. For far too long, this has been the case with Memphis, one of the sprawling cities in Tennessee. Memphis is not only one of the cities where soul and blues music has origins, but is also a city where Southern barbecue took on a new meaning in its signature dry rubs. Take a journey through the soul of Memphis, through a slab of ribs at one of the many barbecue restaurants, by revisiting blues of yesteryear on Beale Street, at a museum or with a guided tour.

A barbecue institution in Memphis since 1948, the Vergos family has kept this eatery alive and well, the way Charlie Vergos imagined it in its infancy. Rendezvous began as a basement pit stop in the '40s, a pit stop that only served hot ham sandwiches and cold beers. Since then, the menu has expanded to include customer favorites — ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken smoked Memphis style with a savory dry rub. Signature sides to eat with a slab of ribs or finger licking chicken: red beans and rice, potato salad, coleslaw. Rendezvous. 52 S. Second St. 901-523-2746. hogsfly.com

Imagine a space filled with the artifacts and special treasures of soul's music origins and you've envisioned the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The museum is housed where the former Stax Records was located. Visitors will first step into the repository for soul music history in a reimagined Southern church, in homage to the ties and influence Southern churches had on this musical genre. Other notable exhibits in Stax — clips of soul hits, recording equipment, a hall of records from floor to ceiling and Issac Hayes' Cadillac Eldorado. Stax Museum of American Soul Music. 926 E. McLemore Ave. 901-942-7685. staxmuseum.com

An affable pig outfitted with a chef's hat is the image Corky's BBQ is known for in Memphis, a barbecue restaurant satisfying palates for more than three decades. Don Pelts is the brainchild behind Corky's. He had a vision, beginning in the 1950s, for what this restaurant — which has now franchised into other states aside from its birthplace in Memphis — has ultimately become. Memphis style barbecue wet style, with plenty of sauce, is served — ribs, shoulder, brisket, pulled pork. A barbecue spin on other dishes — nachos pilled high with jalapeños and smoky, cheddar cheese — can also be ordered. Corky's BBQ, 5259 Poplar Ave. 901-685-9744. corkysbbq.com/

There are walking tours to give you a glimpse into a city, and there are guided tours that allow you to see a city through new eyes. Tad Pierson's American Dream Safari is most certainly the latter. Pierson curates customized tours of Memphis (and also Mississippi) to fit the interests of his guests. The kicker? You might even be able to take a ride in his beautifully buffed 1950s cream colored Buick. American Dream Safari. 901-527-8870.

This restaurant's claim to fame are its pork sandwiches. The composition of a pork sandwich at Payne's — whether the pork is sliced, chopped or pulled — goes something like this: a bun, lots of pork, velvety barbecue sauce and a scoop of coleslaw to top it off. Payne's is open only five days per week. To get your pork fix, visit Tuesday through Saturday. Payne's BBQ. 1762 Lamar Ave. 901-272-1523.

Memphis style dry barbecue — rubbed with a savory blend of spices and herbs and smoked low and slow for at least 24 hours — is how Central BBQ serves up its barbecue, just like Rendezvous. The usual suspects are smoked and sold here: ribs, pork shoulder, turkey, beef brisket. Bologna is also smoked at Central. If you're a chicken person, you'll love the smoked hot wings. There are three of these restaurants in the Memphis area. Central BBQ. 147 E. Butler. 901-672-7760 cbqmemphis.com/

One of the few juke joints left in Memphis, stepping into Wild Bill's on the north side of the city is like revisiting the blues of days past. This juke joint is no frills. Simple decor with only plaques and pictures paying tribute to musical greats who visited before. It's truly all about the music here. To listen to great blues and get lost in the overall vibe, you'll have to visit this place when it's open Thursday through Saturday. Wild Bill's Juke Joint. 1580 Vollintine Ave. 901-207-3975.

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