The Taste of Chicago was fortunate to host three of Memphis’ premiere rib restaurants on Thursday. Joining Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Memphis Mayor, Willie Herenton, were Corky’s, Neely’s and The Rendezvous from Memphis and Robinson’s #1 Ribs, Sweet Baby Ray’s and the Fireplace Inn.

Judges included Chicago food critics Pat Bruno and Phil Vettel and noted actor/director, Harold Ramis. The judges in a tight vote selected the Chicago entrants as the winners. We look forward to the rematch in Memphis with their judges and thank these fine Memphis restaurants for coming to Chicago and offering their barbecue at the Taste.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton thanking Mayor Daley and the participants from Chicago and Memphis.

Charlie Robinson, the High Priest of Chicago Barbecue, with Harold Ramis, known for writing Ghost Busters, directing Ground Hog Day and appearing on SCTV.

Jim Law, the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, can take pride in the success and continued growth of the Taste of Chicago as well as well as summer long programming like “Stirring It Up Chicago” and the international success of Millennium Park.

The winning Chicago team featured Robinson’s, Fire Place Inn and Sweet Baby Ray.

Commercial Appeal

Editorial 07/04: A pig in a poke

July 4, 2005

 

TALK ABOUT HOME COOKING.

 

Last week, three of the best barbecue joints in Memphis — Corky’s, Neely’s and The Rendezvous — sent representatives to Chicago to compete against three of that city’s local restaurants in a cooking showdown.

 

According to the judges, Memphis lost. To Chicago. In a barbecue contest.

 

Has the whole world gone mad?

 

Not that we’re bad sports or anything, but we’ve got our suspicions about this one. Rumor has it that Memphis was leading in the competition until some judges from Chicago’s city cemetery cast their ballots.

 

OK, maybe that didn’t happen, but it’s worth noting that all of the judges were indeed from Chicago.

 

Al Capone couldn’t have rigged the jury any better.

 

Mayor Willie Herenton was on hand to witness this swine-eating charade. Since our mayor has never been the shy and retiring type, we’re wondering why he didn’t raise a protest.

 

Seriously, the only fair way to settle this is to invite the Chicagoans down to Memphis in May next year for a rematch. Heck, on our home turf, we’re guessing we could even outdo their chefs in making “Chicago style” pizza.

 

Meanwhile, today being the Fourth of July, many people in and around Memphis will be enjoying our great local barbecue.

 

Some may be entertaining visitors from Chicago. If so, we encourage those visitors to take a few leftovers home.

 

We know that, deep down, Chicagoans know our barbecue is better.

 

 

 

Chicago has the better BBQ? Ha, in a pig’s eye

With friendly ribbing, Memphis comes up short

 

By Leslie Kelly

Contact

July 1, 2005

 

CHICAGO — Nobody was going to suggest the contest was rigged, but when the biggest names in Memphis barbecue were bested by their Chicago counterparts in a “friendly” competition Thursday afternoon in the Windy City, there was some good-natured grumbling.

 

“They definitely had the home team advantage,” said Patrick Neely, of Neely’s Bar-B-Que. “We never really expected to win. Not with all the judges being from Chicago.”

 

Nick Vergos from The Rendezvous suggested next time around “we’ll just have to get them to come to Memphis and kick their butts.”

 

The first Memphis vs. Chicago barbecue contest, billed as a “showdown at high noon,” was a featured event at the 25th annual Taste of Chicago, one of the nation’s largest food festivals. The idea was cooked up by the mayors of the two cities, pitting Corky’s, Neely’s and The Rendezvous against Chicago’s top spots including Robinson’s #1 Ribs, Sweet Baby Ray’s and the Fireplace Inn.

 

“I was in Chicago on business and Mayor (Richard M.) Daley invited me to his office,” said Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, at Thursday’s competition. “He asked if I had heard of Taste of Chicago and suggested that with all the great traditions our cities share in music and good barbecue, that we might want to come and let the people of this great city enjoy some Memphis barbecue.”

 

The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Memphis Restaurant Association teamed up to help plan and pay for the trip, which involved transporting thousands of pounds of pork, gallons of sauce and dozens of bags of charcoal and hickory chips in a truck, donated by U.S. Food Service, and driving to Chicago.

 

The day dawned dramatically when an early morning thunderstorm dumped rain on the city. “Shades of Memphis in May,” joked Vergos.

 

But by 6:45 a.m., when the Memphis pitmasters arrived at the sprawling Grant Park, along the shore of Lake Michigan, the sun was shining.

 

By 7:30, the crews were busy getting organized and had started lighting the fires, though much of the cooking had been done in advance.

 

“We’re finishing off our product here,” said longtime Corky’s pitmaster Robert Boyd.

 

Vergos and his brother John Vergos cooked their ribs for the contest from start to finish on the grills set up behind a large tent.

 

“Hey, Nick, anything you need, help yourself,” said Neely, offering up a container of charcoal shovels, mops and tongs.

 

Neely couldn’t help out on one count. “Somehow, our slaw didn’t make it on the truck,” said John Vergos. “We’re FedEx-ing 100 pounds of it. It should be here this morning.”

 

By 11, the slaw was delivered and the contest ribs were ready. The judges, a pair of Chicago newspaper food critics, a renowned Chicago blues singer and filmmaker Harold Ramis, started gnawing on plates of bones in a blind tasting.

 

The judges were directed to score the ribs on a scale of 1 to 10, based on sauce, tenderness and overall taste. “I’ve been eating ribs all my life, whenever I can,” said Ramis, who starred in the movie “Ghostbusters” with Bill Murray.

 

After judges filled their plates on several trips through the lineup of ribs, ballots were turned in and scores tabulated.

 

Before the results were announced, the mayors made short speeches and mugged for photos.

 

“I’m always watching the Food Network to see what you’re doing down there in Memphis,” said Daley.

 

Herenton thanked his Memphis team and Mayor Daley for his “appreciation of good Southern cuisine.”

 

Shortly after Chicago was named champ, the mayors went back to the judges’ tent to taste for themselves. And what did they ask to sample?

 

“They’re asking for Memphis barbecue,” said Neely.