“Why Memphis?” Asked my husband when I expressed a desire to travel there. “I don’t know,” I said. “I miss the South, and Memphis is as good a place as any to experience more of it.”
So we headed to Memphis for a long weekend, and as always when visiting the South, I found it to be an intense experience. The South has so much character and charm, it’s like visiting a different country. From the “How are y’all doing today” to the inevitable (and friendly) “So… where are y’all from?” to the Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum curator exclaiming, “we’ve had so many foreigners here this morning! Someone from France, and an Italian family, and some Yankees too!”
Grits in each and every meal (even if you haven’t ordered it and haven’t seen it on the menu, a mound of grits is bound to appear *somewhere* on your plate), succulent fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs, battered-and-fried everything, and sweet pies; hot, humid summers that somehow add to the experience or at least to the feeling that “hey, it’s very different here!”
Of course, there’s also the rich history, the music, and social issues that persist, including poverty – with a poverty rate of 14%, the South is probably the most impoverished region in the country. Stax Museum of American Soul Music – fascinating and well worth a visit – is located in an inner city neighborhood where poverty and neglect are everywhere. We also saw poverty when we drove south along the Mississippi River Delta and visited the dusty, rundown downtown of Helena, Arkansas, where 40% of the population is below the poverty line.
This was in sharp contrast to some wealthy Memphis neighborhoods that we also drove through:
Although, the rural areas along the Mississippi Delta certainly do not lack beauty:
The Memphis Civil Rights Museum is an absolute must. It’s located at the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement.
The City of Memphis itself is colorful, with its gorgeous street art, the downtown trolley, carriage rides, and of course the famous Beale Street, lined with blues clubs, restaurants and bars.
When we realized there was a long security line to get into Beale Street and that you had to submit to a public pat-down in order to get in:
We decided to avoid what has basically become a tourist trap, and just took some photos -including this photo of the requisite doom-and-gloom prophet that you find in any sleazy venue, including Bourbon street in New Orleans and The Strip in Vegas.
No visit to the South is complete without sampling southern comfort food! So we did – everything you see in the picture and more. Barbecue ribs at The Majestic Grille, biscuits and gravy, followed by pecan pie at the trendy Flight Restaurant, fried catfish and spicy coleslaw followed by coconut cream pie at Interim Restaurant, and creamy grits to accompany our breakfast at the lovely River Inn Hotel.
We had an excellent barbecue pork sandwich at Abe’s Barbecue in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the menu is properly stained (with barbecue sauce, of course) and where the nice couple in the photo (Yankee transplants to the South) volunteered to take our picture and explained that the restaurant is located at the famous Crossroads, the intersection of Highways 61 and 49, the two main highways through the Delta, and that blues legend has it that Robert Johnson met the Devil at the Crossroads, and that’s how he got his guitar talent.
But our favorite restaurant this weekend was the Blue and White Restaurant in Tunica, Mississippi, where we ordered a plate of, well, fried everything, including fried catfish, cornmeal hush puppies, fried okra and even fried pickles! Everything was fried to perfection, meaning it was fried at the right temperature so was crispy and tasty rather than oily and soggy.
We did however avoid the very tempting signature dessert of “Two caramelized donuts, filled with whipped cream, topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup.” I think I gained five pounds just typing this description.
Of course, no visit to Memphis is complete without visiting Graceland. So we went. I had to smile at the oh-so-seventies decor of the house, was mesmerized by Elvis’ good looks when he was young, and impressed when we learned about his many charitable contributions and generous, down-to-earth personality. I had no idea.
The flight back was thankfully uneventful, with only these gorgeous views of clouds:
And Salt Lake:
To make it a bit more interesting.
On Monday morning, in honor of Elvis, I made grilled peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. It was my own version, made with multigrain bread, crunchy peanut butter, Nutella, definitely less butter than the King would have used, and no bananas which we were out of. Still, it was gooey and chewy and tasty and warm – a classic comfort food.