Category Archives: memphis

National Civil Rights Museum/Memphis, Memphis BBQ/not on Memphis, City grocery, Square Books and Snack bar in Oxford, MS

I went to the Lorraine Motel where MLK was murdered for the third time today and was amazed to see that a woman who was protesting a proposed civil rights museum on the site back in 1989 was still there with her protest signs. She apparently thinks it memorializes the murderer. I disagree. I was as impressed today as I was during my second visit to the site (when it was a museum) about 9 years ago with Noah. It does a powerful job of laying out what led to the Civil Rights Movement and eventually MLK’s murder, with a dramatic finale: the (now glass-enclosed) motel room where MLK was shot on the balcony.It was poignant to visit this place now, with so much racial unrest. Still.

 

The City Grocery, Oxford,MS

Tonight we are staying in another really cool Airbnb in the woods south of Oxford,MS.  It’s on the ground floor of a house in a rural area with an unlikely contemporary art gallery (the Tree House Gallery) on the edge of a two lane winding country road. We have our own apartment with not one boring piece of furniture, artwork or rug. Shabby chic, interesting art everywhere, antiques, rugs from foreign lands. It’s a treat. And there is a huge screened in porch above us that I hope to linger on tomorrow morning.

Our Airbnb in the woods outside Oxford

Not surprisingly, my stomach is rebelling from all the rich food we have been eating. We tried another BBQ place recommended by locals (Memphis BBQ in Horn Lake, MS) but didn’t like it as much as Central BBQ – atmosphere was too fast foody. In Oxford, we stopped to browse in  the charming and very Southern square at the famous Square Books and had a beer on the second floor balcony of  The City Grocery, a beloved second story old bar overlooking the square (which reminds us a bit of Franklin, TN) and ate rich food at Snackbar nearby (fried oysters in a creamy sauce for me and dirck and I split “Vietnamese coffee ice cream” which had thru-the-roof butterfat content. My stomach is starting bubble up again just thinking about it.)Locals were raving about new places — Saint Leo’s (for pizza) off Oxford’s Square and Grit in the tiny town of Taylor (famous for the Taylor Grocery, a southern restaurant in a building that barely looked open anymore (part of the charm, apparently). Sadly, it wasn’t open on a Monday.

Memphis airbnb

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central BBQ, Rum Boogie Cafe, Otherlands Cafe, Rev. Green’s Church, FourWay, Sun Studio, Southern Folklore center – Memphis!

Rum Boogie Cafe

Loving this town. This morning we spent over two hours in church, much of it listening to fantastic gospel music by not only Al Green (aka Rev. Green) but an assortment of church members, all with fantastic voices! The church, on a remote exurban road, was full of visitors from Brazil, Germany, Australia and Iowa….we bumped into a friend sitting in the pews who is from Des Moines.

Central BBQ

New friends, Judy and Brian from northwest Iowa (met them at Rum Boogie Cafe)

Affter church, we went with two friends we met for the first time last night at Rum Boogie Cafe, a fun juke joint on Beale Street, to Four Way, the famous soul food restaurant for lunch. Turns out the rest of the after church crowd was there so the place was packed. But it was worth the wait. Great people watching, especially the church women dressed so elegantly, with fabulous hats worthy of Ascot. The last time I saw such great hats was at Charles and Di’s wedding in 1981. The food was delicious too — fried chicken, with two sides (excellent cornmeal dressing). We sat next to a table of churchgoers who were really friendly and we enjoyed talking with them while our chicken was being fried (which took awhile).

Trying out Elvis’s mike at Sun Studio

We have been struck by how nice and welcoming people have been here. People smile and say hi when you pass them on the street or wait in line with them at a restaurant (“Where ya’all from?”) and everyone seems to have a story or favorite rib joint to share. (The man I was sitting next to at Four Way told me his favorite rib place is Memphis BBQ which is actually in Horn Lake Mississippi, which we have since tried. Too fast food  an atmosphere for us. We will stick with Central BBQ, where we enjoyed dry ribs yesterday in the “historically hip” Cooper Young neighborhood, where our lovely 1920s Craftsman style Airbnb is located. Our hosts have done a great job fixing up this house, as have many of their neighbors with similar bungalows. (We also saw some great shotgun shacks on Blythe Street, parallel to Cooper.)

Heavenly gospel music at Rev. Green’s church

After Four Way, we took a totally entertaining tour of Sun Studio— our guide was a lot of fun and the tour reminded me a bit of touring the Motown headquarters in Detroit. Then to the Southern Folklore Center, which happened to share space with a Jewish museum. The center’s co-founder, an outgoing filmmaker named Judy, gave us a guided tour of the center and pointed out several of her relatives in the historic photos of Jews in Memphis decades ago. Who knew? (Apparently Jews own the famous Peabody Hotel…) Also thoroughly enjoyed a light breakfast at Otherlands Cafe in our neighborhood, with mismatched tables and local art including a folk artist named Karen Capps who it turns out lives a block from where we are staying.

We went back to Beale Street tonight (Freeworld, 30-year -old cover band, at Blues City Cafe where we sat with a nice couple from Denmark. Swedes were at the table next to us.) At one point, a guest artist – an older woman – got on stage and played a mean harmonica and sang. Who knew?

A singer with the band

Beale Street was more fun than I expected. I was worried it would be full of drunks like New Orleans’ Bourbon  Street …but we got there relatively early, which may have helped. And the music was great. On Saturday night, we  wandered into Rum Boogie and encountered, as one guy put it “a smoking hot band” (Vince  Johnson  and the Plantation Allstars) followed by a slightly less smoking one but when I walked to the bathroom, I stumbled across  another great band in the next room and a dancing crowd. Just nice to see people having a good time. Some of the best music was on the street with various bands playing and at one point on a surprisingly warm night (it was 91 degrees at one point) I found myself line dancing in the street with a bunch of strangers. Why not?!

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Clarksdale Mississippi – again

Clarksdale Mississippi gets a nod from me for the second day in a row, oddly, after I read this morning that a restaurant there bankrolled by the actor Morgan Freeman, who is a Clarksdale native,   is closing after ten years in operation. My meal there was about seven years ago,come to think of it, while I was doing a writing project in the Mississippi Delta and it was clear that Madidi, the restaurant which specialized in “Americanized French cuisine” (I remember it as Southern fine dining, with prices to match) would never break even in such an impoverished place. It was clearly a labor of love. Guess the cast and crew of “The Help,” which filmed in Clarksdale, also couldn’t save it from extinction. Last I heard Freeman does have another restaurant there – a popular blues bar, pool hall and restaurant called Ground Zero (see photos above).  He opened another branch in Memphis, where my son and I listened to a very good female singer a few years ago.

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Where to eat in Memphis’ Germantown…

This comes courtesy of my friend Kathy who is on a road trip with her family from Des Moines to Houston via some of my favorite places, including most recently,   Memphis.  Before they left, Kathy’s family got some road food recommendations from a well-known BBQer in Des Moines who owns Woody’s.  Here’s the first restaurant they tried in Memphis’ Germantown area. Can’t go wrong with a place that offers complimentary deviled eggs!!

The Germantown Commissary, 2290 S. Germantown Road in the Germantown area of Memphis. According to the menu, a commissary is another term for a Southern general store. Interesting decor, with twinkle lights, and bleached animal skulls, movie posters and old tin signs on the wood-paneled walls. Great dry-rub ribs and tamales smothered in chili and cheese. Excellent coleslaw. Almost every dish comes with a deviled egg. Homemade lemonade and sweet tea. We didn’t have room for dessert, but they looked great: tall layer cakes and cream pies.

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Filed under Dining, memphis, Uncategorized

Lucky in Memphis

Word from my stepdaughter E that she visited Rev. Al Green’s church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, last Sunday morning – and the Reverend (the famous soul-singer/pastor) was in!  Which means that the music his church congregants perform each Sunday was all the more fantastic. My son and I visited the church almost two years ago and had a great time, listening to one terrific gospel singer and musician after another, but Rev. Al  was away on tour, promoting his latest album.  In addition to the sunday morning service, there’s a Thursday night choir rehearsal open to the public – from what I can gather from the church’s website. Good to know.

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Memphis: takemewithyou (cleaning up some loose ends)

More on Memphis – for E. and friends who are heading there.  With the help of my journal (#50) and the Internet, I jogged my memory on a few specifics, most having to do with food.

The BBQ place we went to near Graceland is Marlowe’s – kinda corny commercial decor with smiling pig in a pink limo as its mascot but ribs and service good.  On Beale Street, we did in fact eat ribs at The Blues City Cafe. Here’s some of my journal entry from that day to give you a little feel for the place….

June 28, 2008:

re Stax Museum “Really interesting and suitably scruffy around the edges (some of the museums here have been Disneyfied). One block away in front of a ramshackle store, some women in very skimpy bikinis were holding up signs that, upon closer scrutiny, read “Car Wash.”

re hotel/riverwalk/trolley: “Our hotel is right downtown on a pretty little pocket park and overlooking another park that faces the Mississippi. We walked along the riverfront with pretty parks and a promenade. Memphis has done a nice job of fixing up this area for tourists. Then we took an old wooden trolley along the river and  through town, getting off at Beale Street. A great deal for $1 and a great alternative to driving.

re Beale Street: “Beale Street started off quiet at 6:30 p.m. but by 9 p.m. was packed on a surprising breezy but not at all humid Saturday night. We started at Blues City Cafe, ate ribs in a  dark room with giant photos of Elvis and BB King and listened to an old-fashioned Doo Wop Group (The Masquerades) – three older men in black outfits and cowboy hats. We walked down Beale Street listening to bands here and there outside including a really good one of rough-looking characters in Handy Park.  Both Noah and I were asked to dance by some strange drunken street people. We went to a more sedate club – Ground Zero just off Beale Street where we saw our best band of the night – the Reba Russell Band. By the time we went back to Beale Street, it was cordoned off by police who set up checkpoints to check IDs.  (As a minor, Noah had to be off the street by 11 p.m.)”

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Memphis: takemewithyou (as promised)

Okay Emmylou, here’s what I’ve got for YOU – recommendations for Memphis based on our 2008 trip there!

We stayed at the Sleep Inn at Court Square  downtown – good location, clean, pleasant, reasonably priced ($125 for a double in 2008) right near the Mississippi and near the tracks for the funky old Main Street Trolley car that will take you to Beale Street and back for much less than the hassle of driving, parking, and returning possibly inebriated.

Things to do:

Walk or jog along the Mississippi Riverwalk.

Be sure to walk through the Peabody Hotel – this is the one where the ducks parade through the lavish lobby.

The Civil Rights Museum, located in the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. Give yourself plenty of time. (Oddly, when I was in Memphis with my dad in 1989, a woman was protesting outside the motel – she didn’t want it to become a museum. In 2008, a group was still out there protesting.)

We loved the STAX Museum of American Soul Music – complete with Isaac Haye’s real car (which, as I recall, had power blue fake fur upholstery).  This rough n’ tumble neighborhood reminded us of the one portrayed in “Hustle and Flow” – the very good movie filmed in Memphis (“It’s hard out here for a pimp” was its Oscar-winning song.) If you haven’t seen, do! There are several music museums in Memphis – this one struck us as the most interesting and authentic, located in the original STAX Record Co. building/neighborhood rather than glitzy downtown.

En route to the museum, we stopped for soul food at The Four Way (998 Mississippi Blvd.) an old neighborhood place. Great fried chicken, okra, lemon meringue pie etc.  Be careful with the hot sauce.

If you happen to be in Memphis on Sunday morning, DO NOT MISS   a visit to Rev. Al Green’s church (that would  be Gospel Legend Al Green.) He is often there singing – along with many other church members who are great singers and musicians. Alas, when we visited “Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle,” Al was off promoting his latest album but there was a several-piece band – horns, keyboard, drums, etc. – and one person after another got up to give wrenching testimony, some of it inevitably in the form of the most astonishing gospel singing. We were a little shy about entering at first but we were far from the only visitors – there were rows of us, mostly white folk, some from as far away as The Netherlands. Noah had to drag me out of the church after over an hour. I could have stayed all day.

Rev. Green’s church is not far from Graceland and if you haven’t been, you should go – it’s overpriced and tacky but truly an American experience. There’s a good BBQ joint across the street called  – i can’t remember the name. will look up.

Speaking of BBQ, we had some good ribs at  Blues City Cafe, I think,  on Beale Street. Beale Street is very touristy but it’s  fun and there’s as much free music outside in little pocket parks along the street as there is inside the clubs. Our choice of clubs was a bit skewed – since my priority was finding one that would  admit a 16-year-old kid  (which Noah was at the time…oddly the criteria wasn’t booze, it was smoking. If there was smoking, no kids allowed.)

Not all the Beale Street clubs are on Beale Street – we enjoyed local favorite Reba  Russellaround the block at Ground Zero, an offshoot of the club opened by Morgan Freeman (yes, that Morgan Freeman) in his hometown of Clarksdale, Ms, about two hours south of Memphis. (I’ll blog on that next!)

To find the best music, consider emailing this guy: wesley@rumboogie.com. Don’t know if  Wesley is still at the Rum Boogie club on Beale Street but  he was incredibly helpful, filling me in on all the musicians playing on Beale Street. (Unfortunately we couldn’t go to his club because…it had smoking.)

all this really makes me want to return to Memphis. takemewithyou!

Check out the 2005 NYTimes 36 hours memphis piece and the one last Sunday in NYT travel section on edgy Memphis….I was fine with touristy Memphis….

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