“Memphis has heart and makes you feel it with your own. Walking in Memphis, as the song goes, is walking through history, community, music, culture, and the crossroads of human struggle and freedom. That walk turns into a run of welcoming southern hospitality, filling your stomach and feeding your soul, that’s the pure goodness of Memphis. Bring your soul to Memphis like I have and you’ll leave with an even bigger soul than before.”- Me.
I wrote this quote for a Memphis travel commercial that is floating around somewhere in space, but I think it beautifully captures my time here in Memphis. (Editor’s note: I found the article).
Having landed a day early to explore the city before the blog award festivities began, I went to dinner at The Gray Canary. Chef/owners Andy Ticket and Michael Huffman actually run four other restaurants in Memphis, each with their own casual yet creative flair as showcased at The Gray Canary. As a Pacific Northwesterner in the South, the absolute absence of seafood (and rightly so because BBQ is king) is revived by the inventive and whimsical food here. Settled in the Old Dominick Distillery, a beautiful space, top notch drinks, and delicious food make it a triple threat. More specifically, order the octopus with pig ears and XO sauce which will make you want to xoxo the heck out of whoever created the dish —along with sounding creepy about a plate of food— so a double threat.
The next morning I went to the National Civil Rights Museum which completely blew me away. Before I even got through the front doors I was sobbing. On the site of MLK Jrs’ assassination, this museum takes you through the long history of civil and human rights movements. Especially in today’s climate, following the journey of a man dedicated to pursuing justice and freedom with nonviolence, prayer, and kindness, moved me to the deepest parts of my soul. Plan for a couple of hours here so that you can take the time this place deserves. Once finished, you are in the perfect position to walk up Main Street and explore downtown. Local art galleries, quaint coffee shops, and small restaurants line the trolley-lined streets. One of my favorite stores to check out is Stock & Belle, a coffee shop/kitchen supply/clothing boutique/local goods/art gallery store all in one.
Knowing full well that the next three days I would be eating every Southern food under the sun, I opted for lighter lunch fare at Bedrock Sweet and Eats, a local cafe focused on gluten-free, healthy comfort food (an oxymoron in itself). Rather skip the salad and get down and dirty? Head straight to Central BBQ where locals take pride in having the best BBQ in the city, and arguably the state. With a full belly, I hopped on my first Bird scooter and rode it down the riverside and across the River Crossings Bridge. On the bridge you can straddle the Arkansas/Tennessee border while snapping a fantastic shot of the Mississippi River. Asking some locals opinion, I chose to skip Graceland and check out the STAX Museum of American Soul Music. Tina Turner, B.B. King, and Ray Charles are just a few of the legends that had their start at STAX and it was cool to relive their music and lives.
After a long day, the real fun began. Many finalists stayed at the Peabody Hotel, Memphis’ historic luxury hotel originally built in 1869. Celebrities, tourists, business travelers and socialites have passed through the doors at this iconic hotel that merges the Home of Blues cherished past with classy present. While the hotel treats guests like royalty, the real kings and queens are the famed Peabody Ducks. These beloved residents live on the roof and waddle their way down the red carpet to the hotel lobby fountain at 11:00 am and back up again at 5:00 pm.
Of course SAVEUR showed us the best of the best with a packed itinerary, but just about everything we did can be done by anyone visiting Memphis! Cocktails and reception hour started out at Old Dominick Distillery. We kept the night going at Wiseacre Brewing Co. and The Liquor Store (biscuit beignets included).
Day two started off with breakfast feat. Jack Daniel-infused donuts and our own private showing of the Peabody Ducks. After morning panel, we went to lunch at Four Way Restaurant. Four Way Restaurant has been around since 1946 in the soul of Soulsville and has prominent status as one of the meeting places for many civil rights movements, including that of Dr. MLK Jr. The likes of Aretha Franklin, Jesse Jackson, Elvis Presley often called it lunch, serving up home style, straightforward Southern cooking. With walls adorned with photos of celebrities, you’ll see an even greater presence of family members and community leaders giving life to the oldest soul food restaurant in Memphis.
In a post lunch food coma, we were whisked away to Crosstown Concourse where the generous Church Health and Le Crueset hosted our own soup showdown of cooking, recipe developing, styling and photographing from start to finish. My team, featuring the ever talented Alexandra Cooks on the slicing and dicing, The Sweet Rebellion writing down the recipe so I can cherish it forever, The Little Plantation documenting all angles and sharing, umami master Cheese Science throwing a whole Parmesan rind into the soup and Dine x Design styling a masterpiece, I’m pretty sure it was the best chicken soup I’ve ever had, no bias whatsoever. Even better, Church Health donated our soup to the local community so a win win all around!
Tired from the day, a much needed nap pulled me through until the award ceremony at the famous Clayborn Temple, another civil rights movement monument and activist hub recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Movements like “I AM A MAN” during the Sanitation Worker’s Strike of 1968 were held here and after being transformed over the years, continues to be a special meeting space for organizations dedicated to preserving its symbol and legacy.
If you all didn’t know, I WON. Lots of grilled cheese sandwiches and drinks were flowing, and after a wonderful ceremony celebrating all of the amazing artists, everyone went out to celebrate in their own way. (I may or may not have gone home and may have ordered room service ice cream sundae to celebrate, but to each their own). For a night out on the town, head to Beale Street. No explanation needed. Tip from a local: go past midnight, when all the restaurant workers get off and the party is more local than tourist.
The next morning we had a celebratory breakfast at The Arcade, Memphis’ oldest cafe, whose nostalgic 1950’s diner and sweet potato pancakes transports you back to a time when the next booth over Elvis would be noshing on his regular. Movies like Elizabethtown, The Client, Great Balls of Fire, and Walk the Line have been filmed here and photographers keen on showing Memphis history flock to this popular brunch destination. Through Memphis’ best and worst times, this restaurant has stood the test of time and its now fourth-generation ownership upholds its originality and success.
I can’t stop saying how amazing this whole experience has been and everything I have learned, seen, and built up through my blogging experience thus far, and I am so excited for all the places for it to go ahead. My favorite quote from the week was from the owner Patrice Bates Thompson of the Four Way Restaurant I think explains exactly the way I feel about my blog and the impact Memphis has had on me, “If I’m not better than I was yesterday , I’m not ready to go yet.”