Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Working on My Delightful Smile

Just to be clear, unlike the masses, we are not in Memphis for the King.

The most frequent question the two of us have been asked is if we're going to Graceland. We're not.

Elvis is omnipresent here - on billboards, in graffiti ("The King is dead!"), in store windows - but doesn't much interest either of us.

What did was a walk down to admire the mighty Mississippi, so after my partner in crime took a nap while I was reading Jacques Pepin's "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, we got cleaned up to go out again.

Her funniest line? "I'm not going to wear my sneakers so I don't look like your lesbian date this time." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

After surveying the river, we headed out Front Street to Gus's Fried Chicken, one of those places they practically require you to eat at while you're here, fortunately with good cause.

The little cinder block building had a charm all its own with two long benches along each wall with tables in front of them, lots of lighted beer signs on the wall and a blackboard that read, "Today's special - fried chicken." I love a shack with a sense of humor.

My companion doesn't eat fried chicken, so I ordered four wings for myself, a Coke for her and we sat down to admire the checked oilcloth-covered tables and mismatched chairs in the dining room while my wings were fried up.

They arrived in a brown paper bag with a stack of napkins and an admonishment to sit down and eat at Gus's next time I was there. Will do.

Walking back up Front Street, I ate through all four spicy wings, crossing streets while sucking bones, feeling a little guilty because my friend can't. She asked me to compare them to other wings but they were awfully tasty and it didn't seem right to rave when she couldn't taste.

I finished shortly before we reached the Peabody Hotel where we were headed to see the march of the resident ducks, a long-standing tradition that had been recommended to us as worth seeing.

To our naive surprise, the hotel's lobby was overflowing with people there for the same reason, so many that there was nowhere for us to sit or get a drink. We admired the ducks from the balcony but decided to forego waiting for the march.

Instead, we headed to the Peabody's history room to see a video about the hotel's history dating back to its creation in 1869, relocation in 1925, closing in 1970 and renovation and reopening in 1981. There were some amazing old photographs of events in the ballroom and even footage of the duck march from years ago.

So, while we didn't see the duck march live, we saw it.

Back at our own hotel, we took the elevator to the 17th floor Twilight Bar for a celebratory glass of Prosecco and a fabulous view of not only the river, a tug pushing a barge and two bridges, but Arkansas.

Not going to lie, that was a geography lesson for us both.

One group was gathered around a roaring fire pit and at the far end, a cocktail party was going on, but for us it was enough to listen to Memphis music ("Stagger Lee" and "Me and Mrs. Jones") and enjoy our bubbles. We could see for miles and miles.

We'd decided on Hog and Hominy for dinner despite its location ten miles from downtown because of all the raves we'd read about the southern and Italian hybrid. Of course we got lost on the way there but still managed to be only 10 minutes late for our reservation.

The decor was the ubiquitous subway tile and reclaimed wood motif everyone's doing these days and they had five TV screens, but the two open kitchens, one directly in front of us, were appealing and service was friendly.

We tried one dish from each section of the menu. Buffalo pork tails and pig ears from the "house favorites" section were appropriately spicy if absent the promised celery. My friend remains unimpressed with the texture.

Nice thick stalks of asparagus from the brand-new spring 2015 menu got richness from an over easy farm egg, pig and Parmesan.

But it was the Thunderbird! 40 Twice! pizza that stole our hearts with a beautifully balanced combination of Fontina, Mozzarella, calabrese, pepperoni and honey to tame the heat on a chewy crust.

Disappointing was the music: standard indie fare rather than vintage Memphis. It was the first place that hadn't delighted us with obscure oldies from Stax and Hit Studios. Even our hotel lobby is constantly blasting songs with the Memphis horns no matter what time of day or night we pass through there.

My date stayed strong but I succumbed to the dessert menu, curious about Carol's Delightful Smile, a malted chocolate mousse in an Oreo/cream cheese crust with a crushed Whoppers topping. What was up with the name?

Seems Carol was the former pastry chef, a quiet and immensely talented woman with a memorable smile. This dessert was a tribute to her unflappability no matter the situation.

Light in mouthfeel yet rich in taste, I only finished half, no doubt partially a factor of my Gus's snack. No complaining; we ll make choices in life.

We were glad to head back into downtown where streets and neighborhood looked familiar after a day of exploring. We're really not the suburban types, even for a few hours.

After ditching the car, we walked down to Beale Street in search of the Absinthe Room, a billiards bar and home to the green fairy in Memphis. Beale was lively with cops at regular intervals and loud music and karaoke blasting from almost every door.

A woman from the Southern Foodways Alliance had suggested the Absinthe Room to us and who were we to doubt a local's opinion? I was just pleased to see an absinthe drip sitting on the bar filled with ice water when we got up there.

The bartender did everything right, lighting the sugar cube, setting the drip and before long we were sprawled out on the comfiest of leather couches, each of the billiard rooms behind us filled with guys shooting pool.

It was a handsome bar with detailed wood trim and moldings and old music posters from shows a half century ago. Smoking was allowed and a cigarette machine hung on a nearby wall near the jukebox.

First song listed on the jukebox? Elvis' "Suspicious Minds."

Needless to say, these two chicks didn't play it. The green fairy can make me do many things, but not that.



  1. When in Rome do as the Romans do? I had a friend who lived in Europe for six years & toured all the great capitals but not Paris. Why? Memphis is probably pretty commercial these days. Probably not even Elvis would approve. To be in that iconic city without having seen Graceland makes no sense. Like you visiting Secco wine bar & saying no thankyou. [of course you love wine, but that's not the point]. Just do it. Pride or retenue is not a virtue here...fall into it. But whatever -- you'll do what you will. love U anyway --

    Hint: When in Paris please see the Eiffel Tower. Sure it's a tourist trap -- but so?


  2. note:

    I was engaged once to a woman from St. Lo. On my way out to visit I stopped in Memphis to dine...found out she didn't like chicken....what? That was was over.


  3. I found out on a first date that the guy didn't like strong flavored cheese and wasn't willing to try any. Seemed sort of close-minded to me so that was that. When I make it to Paris, you can be sure I will go to the Eiffel Tower, cw!