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.
Category Archives: memphis
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.
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.
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.)”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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….
My stepdaughter is heading to Memphis and beyond this spring on a road trip and I’m full of suggestions for what to do, where to eat and stay – thanks to a great road trip my son and I took in 2008 that I dubbed the “baseball, blues, and BBQ tour” based on my son’s interests, which helped determine our stops in St Louis, Memphis and Clarksdale, Mississippi.
So stay tuned Emma and all…..I’m going to dig out my journal and get you some specifics!