16 hours in Memphis: What to see and eat when visiting

Like eating at home

We rolled into Memphis one frigid evening in the ending hours of 2010, the first stop on a cross country road trip to deliver my best friend to San Francisco. Her three birds chirped in the back seat, blissfully unknowing that their new home lay 3,000 miles away. Our goal for the trip – besides not killing each other — was to eat as well as possible, so I reached out to my Memphis native, foodie friend of many years, Ken, to hook us up. My musings…

First stop on the Magical Memphis Foodie Tour: The iconic Folk’s Folly for a taste of steak and fried pickles. Mid-rare ribeye soused in herbed butter…winner. Tempura-ish fried pickles? Didn’t love it. I felt my fingers bloating with salt. But Folk’s Folly knows how to slather on the charm. The private rooms and unique, borderline-kitsch atmosphere are what it takes to compete with the heady advertising cash of chains like Ruth’s Chris and Flemings. The big difference? It felt like eating at home. Ooh…and the Catfish Beignets. A deliciously clever marketing spin for fried trash fish. Well played. And they let you bring in your own wine? Most steakhouses enjoy their greedy four times marked up wine prices and bask in the profit. But I felt no resentful glances or daggers as the server poured the three stellar, older bottles Ken graciously shared from his cellar. Good choice of host, eh?

The tiny house behind me is Graceland

The frigid morning brought touristy activities. Can’t come to Memphis without at least seeing Graceland, whose manicured grandness seemed oddly out of place in the middle of a not-so-glitzy area. We didn’t go in (no time for rhinestones) but snapped the first of oh-so-many road trip photos. Then, we frantically raced downtown to witness the march of the adorable Peabody Ducks, since that’s the stuff of bird enthusiast dreams. We, however, mostly missed the festivities looking for a parking space. Gawking at the richly gorgeous Christmas decorations made up for the loss.

Shocked that we were ever hungry again after last night’s gorgefest, we headed to our final foodie destination, on Ken’s recommendation.

The reputation of Memphis barbecue reaches far beyond the Tennessee state line. It’s even listed in 1000 Places to See (or eat?) Before You Die. And, declaring a barbecue maker the Best in Memphis sparks quite a heated debate. I learned this after stating The B-B-Q Shop is the best I’ve ever had on my Facebook page. Dangerous territory, like calling someone’s Momma fat. But their pork barbeque sandwich was really, really good… drool down your chin and lick it off good. I even dipped my ribeye leftovers into the extra sauce the next day while speeding towards Dallas.

But one of the best things about Memphis wasn’t necessarily the food. It was hospitality. Everywhere we went, Memphians welcomed us and were as syrupy sweet as the sugar in my Southern-steeped tea. I loved it.

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