Sunday, June 26, 2016

Memphis TN Vacation– 3rd Day – 6/13/2016 (Mr. Kim’s comments in italics)



This was a very full day.  Started out with a minor disappointment.  A large part of the reason I insisted on driving to Memphis instead of flying was this crazy Wizard of Oz themepark.  It is now closed to the public, but for a decade or more it was a fully operational park with rides and attractions, all built around Dorothy and her journey through Oz.  It was located in the middle of nowhere – Beech Mountain, NC.  The park is so remote that the website to this day warns the traveler to ignore GPS directions (as some of the roads in the world’s maps of the area no longer exist, apparently) and instead to rely only on the posted directions on the website.  And once one gets there, one has to visit a vendor who is not associated with the park but instead operates a ski resort in the winter to get lift tickets to get up to the park.  Yep, the public can only get there in a lift chair. Beech MOUNTAIN indeed.  As I said, the park is and has been closed….. except for four Fridays in June and a weekend or two in October, when they open the park for walk throughs only so the public can see what used to was there.  In June, the tours are led by a fully gingham clad Dorothy who apparently weaves the tour between the realities of the park’s former life and her own true account of life in Oz.  This seemed like a perfect way to spend a vacation day with my resident Oz fanatic.
Anyway, tickets for each Friday’s tours are advertised to go on sale at precisely 9 AM  EDT on the Monday of that week.  So I got up early (for a vacation day) and sat at the computer, refreshing the screen every few seconds until at last the tickets were on sale.  I swear I completed the sign up as fast as my fingers could type, and still, no matter the effort, all tour groups were sold out in less than 90 seconds.  Irritated?  Moi?  You betcha. 

After this beginning to our day, we got dressed and headed for the free breakfast at our hotel.  We didn’t make that mistake again.  Remember the good gravy at the crappy Quality Inn in Dickson?  This stuff was born in a bag somewhere.  Ick. 

We started the day by going to the state’s Arkansas Welcome Center just across the interstate.  We got lots of brochures and a few postcards, and more than an earful from the cheery hostess who apparently had orders to stress the fun and meals to be had at that casino we mentioned yesterday.  We thanked her and began the day in earnest just driving around downtown and the riverfront area to get our bearings a bit.  View of the river and bridge just getting to the riverfront:

This is part of what is called ‘Mud Island’.  I guess because it’s in the middle of a famously muddy river:
We didn’t get a chance to get over there and I’m really sorry, because it sounds interesting.  There is a scale model (including water) of the lower Mississippi River, pedal boat rentals with great views of the skyline and what looks like a wonderful museum (we are museum geeks).  But, I have to say that it doesn’t look very attractive from a distance.  When I first saw it from the bridge, I said it looked like WWII bunkers! 

We dropped in on the Visitor Center:
...said ‘Hey’ to Elvis, BB King and for whatever reason a giant Welcome Egg:


…then went off to a neighborhood we’d discovered the day before.  Peabody Avenue and the environs had some of the most beautiful houses:







This was my favorite:

I took lots of pictures of this one.


She made me walk around this neighborhood.  A LOT.  I enjoyed the view, but that delta humidity was tough.  By the time we returned to the car I felt I had been in a sauna.

Lunch was this:

We had to do this.  Leonard’s is THE Memphis BBQ place for my mother and grandmother and I’ve heard about it my entire life.  My dear friend, Rachel, also wanted me to go.  Now, we probably didn’t get their best BBQ because we chose the buffet, rather than ordering a sandwich or ribs.   I liked it better than Mr. Kim did – he was not at all partial to the sauce.  But what we both thought was amazing were the BBQ chicken and the side dishes.  The dry rub they used on the pork and chicken was extraordinary.  Here is a sampling:




These were all my plates.  I didn’t finish it all, but I tasted everything.  The butterbeans and the soup beans were incredible, as were the collards and baked beans.  If I lived in Memphis, I’d be here every week for the vegetables ALONE!  Waiting to order:

Next stop was Muddy’s Bake Shop.  We weren’t hungry yet, but knew it was only a matter of time:

Mr. Kim was too full to even contemplate cupcakes, but I picked out an assortment.  I limited myself to four cupcakes and four cookies. 


Around the corner from Muddy’s was Lucchesi’s Ravioli & Pasta Company, a really amazing little Italian Deli/CafĂ©.  They had an amazing assortment of pastas, cheeses, salads, sandwiches and Italian ingredients.  They even had this:
Benton’s is OUR bacon.  We order it out of Madisonville TN by the boxful. 

Then it was back to the hotel for a quick rest and swim:
…before heading out to Beale Street:
That’s me in the white pants and checked blouse.  This was so much fun.  Just looking at all the cool signs and hearing music pouring out of all of the joints:




We also saw WC Handy’s home and musicians tucked down a little courtyard:


This is the Daisy Theatre:

It opened in 1936 and is still in operation.  That red arch is gorgeous:

We had dinner at Dyer’s:
Famous for frying their burgers in 100 year old grease.  The grease is filtered daily (and added to), but never changed out.  The burgers are actually submerged in the grease.  They don’t turn out to be greasy, really – but they are juicy and incredibly good:
We each ordered double doubles – double meat and double cheese, with fries.  I cannot say that it was uniquely the best burger ever, but it was darned tasty!  The interior was 50’s neon and vinyl booths, with photos spanning the years then and now.  We tried to get good pics but the neon messed with the camera’s focus a bit.

Walking Beale’s two or three blocks, it had a bit of a Bourbon Street vibe to it.  There were “yard drinks” and open carry drinks and a store front selling those alcohol Slurpie things that are so ubiquitous in New Orleans.  More than once I was glad we were there on a Monday with sparser crowds than would have been there on weekend nights.

I had spent some time before we came to Beale online trying to find info on which clubs had the best music.  I had found some music calendars naming groups I didn’t know or course, but also news articles about automatic weapons fire and a teenage death just a week before, just a block away from Beale.  As a result, the police were in obvious presence, and the news articles told of new admissions charges to get on Beale on the weekend to keep undesirables away.  I thought back to the shopkeeper near Graceland and her near apology about Memphis and Beale.

Signs around Beale informed us of another side of the area that I hadn’t known.  The streets we were walking were the site of African American stagings during civil rights marches.  Dr. King walked here, and Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young and thousands of names never recorded.  After Dr. King was assassinated a few blocks away, the whole neighborhood was torched.  It took years to bring it back to the tourist area it has become. 

We wandered over to the Peabody Hotel – home of the famous ducks.  It is gorgeous!  We planned to go back during the day sometime to have afternoon tea and take pictures.  We never made it back, so the only picture I got was one of these weird dogs:
I can’t find any information online about them.  They are quite unsettling.

We stopped here for a drink and a little music:
We would have kept wandering but the rain was coming fast and hard and the streets were clearing into the clubs.  We were lucky to get a nice table in Club 152.  The house band was playing, a three man group called Mercury Blvd.  And while the blues they played was a bit more southern rock than BB King, it was a true thrill to know that we were sitting on Beale Street listening to music and just absorbing the local feel.  All too soon they stopped for the night around 10 PM.  Way too early for me – I could have sat there for hours more!

Nighty-night, Beale:





















Friday, June 24, 2016

Memphis TN Vacation– 2nd Day – 6/12/2016 (Mr. Kim’s comments in italics)

Internet picture

Well, the motel was pretty crappy, but the free breakfast was ok – the sausage gravy tasted like an actual person made it!  We are glad to be back on the road:
One thing that not getting a room in Nashville did for us was to put us an hour closer to Memphis, so the drive was a breeze.  As we drove down the interstate, we couldn’t help but notice that every single interstate exit had signs advertising a state park.  More accurately, most exits proclaimed TWO state parks.  Per exit.  That seemed inordinate, as I knew the states to be roughly the same size.  (Hey, numbers is my thing – TN is 3% larger than VA in square miles.)  Virginia has 36 state parks, all of a pretty good size.  As it turns out, Tennessee has 58.  And apparently nearly all of them are just off of I-40.

Geography is not my strong point.  I’m pretty good about my own state and places I’ve spent a lot of time in, but totally ignorant of most of the world.  So the geography of Tennessee could have been Outer Mongolia to me.  I know it is west of NC and that Bristol TN is on the VA border because of the whole Bristol TN/Bristol VA thing, but that’s really it.  Before it was drawn to my attention, I had no idea that Memphis was as far west and south as you can go in the state and that Arkansas is smack up against it.  When I was checking the printout of the hotel reservation, I was aghast to realize that Mr. Kim had reserved a room in West Memphis ARKANSAS!  I assumed he’d just typed in ‘Memphis’ and thought West Memphis meant TN.  Well, of course, I looked on a map and West Memphis AK is just across the Mississippi River from Memphis.  Our hotel was about 5 minutes from downtown Memphis.  In my defense, Mr. Kim hadn’t actually noticed that it was in Arkansas and freaked out a little when I told him.  Driving into our hotel (a Ramada), we were a little unsettled by the neighborhood behind it.  Lots of boarded up houses and derelict buildings.  To say nothing of the seedy casino just across the interstate from the front door.  But the hotel was very nice – swimming pool and a big, clean room.  The first thing that we did was find my Aunt Mildred’s house:
It turns out that her neighborhood is in an up-and-coming, newly trendy area called Cooper-Young.  The houses are adorable and there are lots of cool little shops and restaurants in the area.  Some of the houses:



Down at the end of Aunt Mildred’s street was the Fairgrounds.  This was a fantastic place at one time.  Here’s a link to a wonderful website with all the details:

I remember the amusement park best.  And my Granddaddy had a wonderful story about my mom when she was a little girl.  It seems that he took her down there a lot when she would come to Memphis from Washington DC to visit him.  He taught Momma how to swim in the public pool there one summer.  One time, she wanted to ride one particular horse on the carousel.  He told her “no” because it was too tall for a little girl.  He put her on a smaller one and got off to watch.  Now, stubbornness is a strong trait in that family.  Granddaddy had it, Momma has it and it is rampant in The Child.  As soon as the carousel got going, Momma climbed down from her little horse and got on the one that she’d originally wanted to ride.  Granddaddy, scared out of his mind, jumped on the twirling ride, grabbed her off her stallion and jumped off.  Then she got a spanking.  Probably one little swat (my Granddaddy talked tough, but was a softie).  She was highly insulted and wouldn’t talk to him all day.  But later that night, when they’d gone to bed, she slipped her little hand into his giant one and said, “I do love you, Daddy”.  When my Granddaddy told this story, he always had to take his handkerchief out and wipe his face (told you he was a softie).  The fairgrounds are gone, but the area is still open land and home to the Liberty Bowl:

We ended up NOT eating 3 meals a day.  I’d picked out about 13 restaurants and a half dozen bakery/doughnut/snack-type places for our five day trip, but our aging stomachs couldn’t take it all.  Especially not with all the cookies and goodies we kept buying and squirreling away in the hotel room.  So today, we opted for late lunch/early dinner at The Cupboard:
 

Just beyond it was some enormous George Rodrigue Blue Dog murals:

I’ll be posting a food-centric post at eGullet.org soon and so I won’t be putting all the food on here, but here’s a taste:
That would be chicken and cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, field peas and in the separate bowl – the best fried green tomatoes I’ve ever had.  Mr. Kim chose catfish:
Again, the best we’ve ever had.  Agreed – I have never tasted catfish this good.  Corn meal coat, not a speck of flour, and light and fresh fish.  If I was a regular it’s about all I’d ever need to order.  This was a regular family restaurant, but there was one thing I’d never seen before in a place of that type – produce for sale in the lobby:

If we hadn’t been breaking our trip in NC, I’d have gotten some on our last day!  Leaving the restaurant, we passed a couple of interesting looking buildings.  The first was this all white place that looked like it was empty:
I’d love to know what it was used for originally.  The next surprised my grandmother when we showed it to her.  She said there wasn’t anything like it in Memphis when she lived there:
I bet not!  This temple was on a side road near The Cupboard.  Next door was an old apartment house with chickens in the yard.  The old couple that was sitting in the yard waved and called hello and said “take a look!”  The grounds and statuary were amazing:


Here, I have a confession to make.  I know that we committed heresy, but we went to Memphis and didn’t tour Graceland.  I know, I know.  But we had so little time and there was so much we wanted to see (and EAT).  Graceland can take a long time, depending on the crowds and I just didn’t see spending two hours looking at a tacky mansion with a bunch of crazy people.  Besides, Elvis wasn’t even home.  I know that lots of people will be shocked, but we are the same people who went to Paris and didn’t see the Louvre or Versailles, so we can take the heat. 

We did, however, go TO Graceland.  It’s odd – the road the Graceland is actually is really rundown.  And I’m not talking about all the Elvis-oriented shops and sites.  It’s just a lot of empty lots, junky stores and businesses and closed places.  Insert a mental image of a commercial area where even the pawn shops, title loan shysters, and check cashing stores have given up and boarded the windows.  But the neighborhood just behind Graceland is really nice, well-kept homes.  Anyway we got to see his plane:
MUCH bigger than we expected.  The gates:

All along the front of the property is a beautiful fieldstone wall (Mr. Kim in front of said wall):
the entirety of which is COVERED in crazy-fan graffiti.  Even from France:

This was the best picture we could get of the house. It is actually a lovely looking house (at least on the outside) and the setting is beautiful:

We walked from the gates back to our car by way of a gift shop.  Needless to say it had all things Elvis.  But it also had a surprising array of Wizard of Oz items, which thrilled Mrs. Kim to no end.  The shop owner chatted me up as we paid for the post cards (after we spent 30 minutes looking at everything she had) and all was cordial and calm until we walked away from the counter.  She asked casually “Where are you staying?”  And Kim replied that we were in West Memphis Arkansas.  Well, the next few minutes can only be described as a tourism intervention.  The lady bolted from around the counter and stepped between us and the door, her face expressing genuine alarm and concern.  She needed to know how we had come to be staying in such a place, and Kim told her with a laugh about me using a travel site and not noticing the state, etc.  The lady suggested with a little force that I should consider calling the travel site and asking for a refund and moving ourselves across the Mississippi into Memphis.  We were cordial but what do you say to that?  Anyway, she began telling us all the great things to do in Memphis, like Stax and Sun records and of course Beale Street.  When she got to this last bit, her voice got quiet, and she told us that Beale Street wasn’t really as dangerous as its reputation suggested, that it is probably one of the safest places in the whole city to be.  Her tone was apologetic, like she had to justify the city’s existence or culture to us.  It seemed mildly strange (I hadn’t heard anything about crime on Beale to this point) but we thanked her and left.

We were ready for a snack and, thanks to our dear neighbor, Courtney, we knew where to go:
She texted me to let me know that Alton Brown said that their glazed doughnuts were one of the best he’s ever had.  So we had to try a couple:
What do you mean, that’s not a couple?  I meant a couple of the plain glazed!!  Fat boys do NOT order just two doughnuts.  The other four are filled with various things.  Here’s the glazed:
It was good.  Really good.  But you know what?  Country Style doughnuts – within walking distance of my house is every bit as good – maybe better (certainly bigger).  Nice to know, huh?