I spent the past four days in Memphis, at a terrific dance weekend dubbed Bluesalicious. Awesome dancers, sizzlin' music, intriguing conversations, nifty city ... and mounds of fried food.
Here's a glimpse of the tastiness. On Saturday, we had lunch at The Cupboard, a diner in downtown Memphis. I ordered a side of the crispiest fried green tomatoes I've ever had. They were like little saucer chips, a bit greasy with thick cornmeal breading and sweet warm tomato inside. Mmmm!
The other side pictured is a cucumber salad, that classic Southern bit of veggies with a good pour of vinegar. It was light without being soggy or saccharine.
The funniest moment was when one dancer ordered, verbatim from the menu: "Freshly squeezed orange juice, please." The waitress looked at him in half-befuddlement, half-hopelessness. "It's not really freshly squeezed," she whispered.
My other highly nutritious meals included plenty of pig.
Pork is everywhere in Memphis. (Also, everything is "famous" or "world famous"!) All the barbecue joints I saw boasted grinning pigs, often with chef's hats. Sometimes, they are even dancing.
On Friday, Jeff and I had a late lunch at the Three Little Pigs, which had a catering truck parked outside and decorated with fat, pink, grinning pigs doing chorus line kicks. (The restaurant's motto: "We serve no swine before its time!" Yes, I kept wondering if there should be an apostrophe in "its." I guess not, but really, then it seems inaccurate. I mean, the pigs were killed before they would have naturally died, right? I hope so! Er, right. Sorry, moving on ...)
Inside, the misty blue cinderblock walls were lined with shelves of piggy knickknacks. You order at the counter on one end, trying not to hold up the line nearly out the door, and pick up your order a few feet down at the other end. Most of the diners were in the senior-citizen range, which leads me to believe that eating pork is clearly a factor in living a long life.
I had a barbecue sandwich for just a few bucks. It was tasty but not dazzlingly divine. I'm used to either vinegary, succulent Carolina barbecue or shredded pork smothered in gobs of sauce. This was neither. The pork was decent, but the sauce was minimal and the coleslaw on top seemed to add an odd tasteless crunch to it. (I'm not so keen on the coleslaw. Maybe if it was deep-fried...)
On Saturday, a crew of us went to Corky's for dinner. The place was jammin', and for good reason. I split a dry-rubbed rib dinner (the "Ribs & Beef Killer Combo" for $16.99). I was curious about the fuss over dry vs. wet. Next time, I think I'd order a dripping, gooey, lick-my-fingers wet ribs, but the dry ones had a great coating of spice that was delectable. The potato chips were handmade — thick, crunchy and golden brown. Soooo good.
And the hushpuppies definitely had their time in the fryer, too. I think the crunchy fried outside probably out-massed the soft cornmeal inside. I'd go back in a second. Oh! And we had pecan pie ($3.79) for dessert, which a heaping of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream overwhelmed the pie goodness a bit, but that really shouldn't be a complaint.
On Sunday, the dancing moved to Beale Street. Think Bourbon Street, but tamer and shorter. (At least, that was my impression. I didn't measure.) It's blocked off to traffic in one section, and people wander from bar to bar rather aimlessly. We lucked out with a hot band at one bar, then another across the street, and then DJ-ing until 4 or so in the a.m.
For dinner, I split fried catfish ($11.95 with french fries) and tamales ($3.75 for 5 and "world famous"!! ) at the Blues City Cafe. The tamales were sort of mealy and bland, but the catfish was decently fried and spiced. And it's always fork-tender. Gotta love catfish.
The beer list was above average — Anchor Steam and the like — and the prices for alcohol were far more reasonable than other joints. It was pretty empty when we went, but it's also nice to find an oasis for conversation on Beale Street.
(Bonus tip: Check the tamales to make sure that's not, oh, say, paper they're wrapped in. Because that would be rather unpleasant to chew and also mildly embarrassing. I mean, I would imagine, anyway.)
I left Memphis on Monday, and now I'm outside of New Orleans, ready for Cajun food. And it's crawfish season! I got a salad with crawfish for dinner tonight, and I'm sure there are more in my future.