Based on some dart throwing and the pursuit of Operation See All States, Lisa and I met in Memphis, TN last weekend. It’s a six hour drive from Charleston, door to door. I found an apartment on HomeAway in East Memphis, a short drive from downtown and a mere $99 a night.
It started to rain by the time I picked up Lisa from the airport and we detoured to a local Kroger for some basics. By the time we got home it was 7 p.m. and it seemed like everywhere we wanted to go was closed. Turns out many places are Lunch Only – we just happened to find them all at the same time and while starving. We drove to Corky’s BBQ*, recommended to me by several people. They were so right. From our singing waitress who called me every pet name in the book (sugar, honey, baby) to the perfect pile of BBQ nachos and huge rack of ribs we consumed, Corky’s is ok by me.
*all restaurant / venue contact info can be found at the bottom of the post
On Saturday under cloudy skies, we made our way to Sun Studio for the first tour of the day. We took advantage of free parking AND a free shuttle that travels between Sun Studio, Graceland and Beale Street every hour. Admission is $13, and the still-active recording studio is a great first step in Memphis music history. It’s the place where Elvis was “discovered” – by a secretary, not Sam Phillips – and where greats from Johnny Cash to U2 have recorded and jammed. Kudos to the bodacious chalk art behind the bar, and the outrageously affordable beverages.
The next obvious step was the postcard palace: Graceland. If you are a card-carrying AAA member, you can save $4 on admission, which is a whopping $32 for the basic tour. We opted out of the upstairs, the jets, and the top secret expensive stuff that other people apparently go in for. Approaching the grounds we had to wait for a wedding party to finish their photographs on the front steps of this modest mansion. No, the groom was not dressed as Elvis, and yes, I was disappointed. We toured the ground floor and basement, and wow, that is some serious decoration. From taxidermy to carpeted walls, there’s a lot going on. A worthwhile audio tour with some interesting facts comes with the price of admission. Stop in the gift shop(s) for postcards, mugs, Elvis Barbie, Elvis Potato Head and Elvis bobblehead .. to name a few.
All that crooning made us hungry so we took the free ride to the infamous Beale Street, which is supposed to be the city’s answer to NOLA’s Bourbon Street. By day it was lined with Corvettes, and still a sight cleaner and less abused than Bourbon Street (my memories of Bourbon smell like .. bourbon). We wandered out onto the patio of King’s Palace Cafe and chowed down on po’boys (shrimp or catfish) and listened to a local artist singing the blues. He did everything from Elvis to Tracy Chapman, and in the sunshine with a full stomach, everything sounds beautiful.
We drove back toward the apartment and swung into YoLo Frozen Yogurt, a local favorite and a delicious ice cream alternative. I was briefly distracted by the cupcakes but eventually made my way to Caramel and Espresso soft serve with about 43 toppings. By virtue of our most excellent metabolism, we managed to have dinner just a few hours later. Our website searching led us to Huey’s – a well known burger joint with numerous locations. We drove to Huey’s Midtown on Madison and enjoyed the toothpick ceiling art while sipping on Ghost River, the local brew. The onion rings we ordered as appetizers were approximately the size of my face and unbelievably delicious. My burger showed up shortly afterward, which was equally divine. Like a crazy person, I also took lemon ice box pie to go. Through tweets with @HueysRestaurant I learned that a waiter once dared a diner to eat a burger AND a whole order of onion rings. The prize was a high five and bragging rights .. I don’t think I could do it.
If you’re wondering how I managed to go somewhere without courting a breakfast place or two, don’t panic. We visited two very different places, which received equally high ratings from our stomachs & wallets. First up: Brother Juniper’s, labeled the best breakfast in Memphis by everyone and their mother. Those folks were also all in line on Sunday morning when we rolled up, but we got seated at the counter within 20 minutes (as opposed to the 40 mins we were originally quoted). Let me just say this to you: sit at the counter. As with any busy restaurant, that’s where the action is. Lisa and I barely spoke because we were so entranced by the reality TV show going on around us. Oh, and the food was delicious. Rachel Ray has given her stamp of approval to their open faced omelet concept – and I’m right there with her. The Florentine boasted two eggs, turkey sausage, tomatoes, mozzarella, spinach, sunshine and happiness with a side of cheesy grits and a biscuit.
The second breakfast joint is a schlep from downtown but worth the haul. Be advised you need to pay in cash at Bryant’s – and you can take your food to go (in tidy brown paper bags) or you can sit in the seating area and watch the parade. There are businessmen, painters, salesmen, laborers and housewives all lining up for the same good stuff. They are known for their biscuits, so I sidled up to a smoked sausage (read: kielbasa), egg and cheese. Lisa landed three biscuits on the side of her everything omelet, so those very awesome biscuits were car snacks for my ride home.
To round out the eating spree, we added another local restaurant and an expertly themed lunch joint to our final sweep through the city. For our last dinner in Memphis, we drove out to Interstate BBQ only to discover they were closed. I feared Sunday Night Syndrome and we hopped online to research closing times for other local eats. Gus’s Fried Chicken was open AND poppin’. We walked in and were seated immediately, in a perfect corner to enjoy the madness that is a Sunday night at the fried chicken place. Down home cooking is the name of the game – you pull up to a picnic table and figure out your chicken situation (2 piece white for me) and your sides (potato salad, slaw, fries). Gus’s was SO loud that once again, we hardly said anything. I was too busy watching the idiot moms with their tots, celebrating a birthday by ignoring their children post salon / high fashion / too much blush and Franzia. You know I had to take my chess pie to go to avoid freaking out entirely.
Lisa found a livingsocial deal for Lunchbox Eats – a hella cute place by the FedEx Forum (home of the Memphis Grizzlies). As the name suggests, these gourmet meals are fit for a lunchbox. Served on bright red cafeteria trays (compartments and all), you select your meal from a notebook paper menu, scratch your order on a slip of paper, and roll around in your old school wheely chair. I had the Third Period Smoking Birds sandwich (duck, turkey, chicken) and waddled away a very stuffed little bird myself. I’m still thinking about their mac and cheese … maybe next time.
Other notables include: riding the Riverfront Trolley (parked for free at bus terminal, rode for $1); Mud Island River Park has an excellent museum (tour a steamboat), scale model of the Mississippi River and beautiful river / bridge views; and yes, the Duck March at the historic Peabody Hotel. Seriously.
Corky’s BBQ – 5259 Poplar Ave – http://www.corkysbbq.com/
Gus’s Fried Chicken – 310 S Front St – http://www.gussofms.com/
Huey’s Midtown – 1927 Madison – http://hueyburger.com/
YoLo Frozen Yogurt – 6 S Cooper – http://www.yolofroyo.com/
King’s Palace Cafe – Beale St – http://kingspalacecafe.com/
Brother Juniper’s – 3519 Walker Ave – http://brotherjunipers.com/
Bryant’s – 3965 Summer Ave – http://www.bryantsmemphis.com/ – *cash only