Daily Archives: August 14, 2007

Memphis Ribs: Dry vs. Wet

Anyone who’s been there can tell you that there are two very distinct schools of thought when it comes to smoky, down-home Memphis BBQ.

Those who like their ribs “wet” — slathered with BBQ sauce BEFORE they are smoked for hours at a time — and those who like their ribs “dry” — rubbed down with a spicy dry rub before they too are smoked for hours at a time.

Being the good tourists that we were, we decided to try them both. So, after soaking up the Elvis love on Beale Street we made our way to the epicenter of the “dry” rib revolution: the world-famous Rendezvous restaurant in downtown Memphis.

RENDEZVOUS in downtown, Memphis

Located halfway down a dark alley off of Union St., Rendezvous has been serving their secret recipe dry rub ribs to Presidents (Carter, Clinton, both Bushes, even presidential hopeful, Barack Obama) world-leaders (the Premier of Japan was a recent guest!) and celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise and Tina Sinatra are just a few of their Hollywood regulars) in the smoky halls of their basement locale since 1948.

The walls are covered with old pictures and newspaper clippings and the place has this kind of speakeasy vibe that is really cool. Stepping inside, you move down a long flight of stairs into the main dining room where almost immediately you begin drooling like a madman as you are practically knocked to the ground by the aroma of smoked pork ribs.

Seriously, I thought my brother-in-law Rob’s smoker smelled good, but this place…wow…if they made a cologne of that scent, I’d wear it daily!

We put our name on the list, had a pitcher of beer at the bar (Bud, which is all they serve) and before we knew it, we were being ushered to our table where we promptly ordered the specialty of the house, a full-rack of dry rub pork ribs with two sides (red beans & rice and spicy cole slaw, shown below).

“Dry” ribs @ Rendezvous, Memphis!

As you can see, it was nothing fancy — just good old paper plates and plastic cups — but once you poured some of their patented Rendezvous BBQ sauce on top (they have spicy and mild, both of which were fantastic!) and bit into those ribs…whoa! D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!

Maybe it was the pitcher of beer talking or maybe it was the majesty of the meat, but Christine and Courtney went positively bonkers over these ribs, moaning and groaning louder than I usually do at the table! I’m not kidding, I’m surprised they didn’t lick their paper plates clean. They were on a dry rib hight and almost instantly Christine’s pulled pork sandwich (from South Street in Nashville) dropped from first to a distant second in her favorite-meal-of-our-trip ranking.

I understood their enthusiasm, and I did really like the ribs a lot, but being a fan of wetter, juicier food groups, I had a feeling I might like “wet” ribs better.

Christine, Mom & Courtney outside Blues City Cafe, Memphis

So, the next night, after braving the crowds at Graceland, we headed to the premiere destination for “wet” ribs in all of Memphis, the Blues City Cafe. A sprawling diner located in the heart of bustling Beale Street, the Blues City Cafe is also home to a super cool honky-tonk where a kick-ass Johnny Cash impersonator was rocking the house with a fervor that put poor old Joaquin Phoenix to shame.

And here in the glow of the neon sign out front ordering all who enter to “Put some South in your mouth”, my rib lust was finally satiated. These were, hands down, the best ribs that have ever graced these lips (and that is really saying something as a lot of ribs have graced these fine lips, baby!) and probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Yes, they were that good.

Wet, delicious, dripping with Blues City Cafe’s world-renowned spicy BBQ sauce and best of all, paired with big, delicious sides — steak fries, cole slaw, baked beans to kill for AND bread! — wow! Now that’s eating!

“Wet” ribs @ Blues City Cafe, Memphis

Not surprisingly, Courtney and Christine — who did not order the ribs at Blues City, but tried mine…yes, I shared — announced that thought they were tasty, they preferred the dry variety at Rendezvous.

Mom was kind of on the fence, claiming to love both styles of rib artistry, but there on Beale Street, with Johnny Cash tunes booming in my ears, I found the perfect smoked meat on a bone and God as my witness, swore that one day I would return to this place and try them again. Amen!

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Arriving in Memphis!

From the minute we exited the freeway and caught our first glimpse of the moonlit Mississippi River, the sultry Memphis night literally tingled with the magic of Elvis Week 2007.

Now, I know that sounds crazy, but it’s totally true. Everywhere we went there was an energy in the air that made it clear that something very fun and uniquely Memphis was taking place all around us.

Welcome Elvis Fans!

It’s kinda like being at Comic Con or a Star Wars convention. No matter where you went, there was this communal spirit of super geek fandom that just swept you up in its giddy wake. I’m not kidding, it was actually kind of thrilling.

Crowds on Beale Street, Memphis

The streets of Memphis (not to mention our hotel, which hosted the Belgian fan contingent: “Elvis Matters”) were clogged with Elvis fans from all over the world. Seriously, English-speaking fans were the EXCEPTION here.

Elvis Matters poster in our hotel elevator!

And almost right off the bat you knew that this was a place where it was OK to wear matching Elvis t-shirts, proudly tote shiny Elvis backpacks, hats, fanny packs (yep, they still make them) and even guitar-shaped purses.

Courtney & the Kiwi Elvis!

On this Tuesday night in Memphis, at the height of the city-wide Elvis Week celebration (marking the 30th anniversary of his death on August 16th, 1977) you were out of place if you DIDN’T have a permanent “Elvis Lives” decal on the rear window of your minivan!

Elvis Lives!

These were some serious fans here for some serious fun. And even though our true and total embrace of Elvis super fandom would come later, we had an absolute blast our first night in town.

The ladies with creepy Rob Schneider-Elvis!

Even slogging through the crowded stores on Beale Street looking for our own set of matching Elvis t-shirts (a cause which Courtney and Christine valiantly spearheaded, but ultimately was not meant to be — I mean, hello, we’re talking about a pretty wide size range between the four of us!) was fun.

Yes, it was crowded, crazy crowded, Disneyland-on-a-summer-day crowded, but man alive, we loved every crazy minute of it! A really amazing welcome to a really amazing city…and we hadn’t even eaten yet!

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Loretta Lynn’s Ranch

Situated on a lush, sprawling 3,5oo acre site about 75 miles outside of Nashville, Loretta Lynn’s town (yes, she owns the whole town!) of Hurricane Mills has it all.

Loretta Lynn’s Plantation Home

There’s a slew of restaurants, a campground, horse trails, an outdoor concert arena, a flea market (which, sadly, was closed) and even a fully-operational US post office. Wow! If I’d known about that, I would have mailed my postcards from there just for the postmark!

But we weren’t here for stamps, camping (in that heat? Yikes!) or even the Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum, which is a very cool place stuffed with memorabilia from the Oscar-winning movie.

The main reason for our stop in Hurricane Mills was to tour the haunted plantation home where Loretta and her late-husband “Doolittle” Mooney lived with their children for 30-plus years and to step inside the scale replica of the home where Ms. Lynn was born and raised in Butcher Holler, Kentucky (below).

Replica of Loretta’s Butcher Holler Home!

The tour begins, where Loretta’s story did, in the replica of her ramshackle childhood home. As you can imagine, it was blazing hot in there but everything inside was so cool that you hardly noticed.

Huge fans of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” we were stunned by how accurately the home was depicted in the movie, right down to the enormous radio in the corner (that ran on batteries!) and the walls papered with the torn pages of a 1940’s Sears & Roebuck catalog. It was like stepping back in time…seriously, you could almost smell the moonshine wafting in from outside.

Coal Mine @ Loretta’s ranch!

But perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that Loretta’s parents raised eight children in this place. Amazing! Our tour guide (a bra-less Alabama gal with an accent as thick as the heat that day) then lead us out the back door and into a replica of an actual coal mine.

Though pictures were not allowed inside, I think I can best sum up the experience by saying that that place was straight-up creepy. Very interesting, and surprisingly cool temperature-wise, but the mannequins (dressed like coal-smudged miners) were more than a little frightening.

Coal Miner’s Daughter Tour Bus!

Squinting as we emerged from the depths of the coal mine, we hopped on the super cool tour bus (shown above, could that logo be any cooler?!) and headed back across the river to the plantation home. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the main house (or the replica home, coal mine, etc.) but the place was pretty darn cool.

Very 1970’s, lots of orange and brown in the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom was all done in lime green right down to the sink and toilet! Whoa.

Courtney & Me outside the plantation home!

Another highlight was the main entry hall which is covered floor to ceiling with framed copies of Loretta’s album covers. It was pretty impressive, but not nearly as cool (or weird, depending on your taste) as Loretta’s collection of 1970’s-era Avon perfume bottles in her pink-on-pink downstairs bedroom. So ugly and kitschy they were kind of cool.

Then, finally, the tour guide told us about the ghosts! Apparently, the house is haunted not only by the spirits of the infamous Anderson clan (current residents of the graveyard pictured below) who built the plantation, but also by the ghosts of their slaves as well, many of whom were starved and beaten to death in the “slave pit” in the front yard (not on the tour, by the way).

Anderson Family Graveyard!

But the ghost that Loretta and her family encountered most often was that of a forlorn, weeping young woman who lost her beau in the Civil War. Spooky!

Much to Courtney’s disappointment, we didn’t see or hear anything remotely ghostly, but wow, what a tour. The house was really cool and if you looked out the back window from the kitchen you could catch a glimpse of Loretta’s tour bus parked out front of the more modern house she lives in today.

The tour guide said Loretta was home, but we didn’t smell fresh-baked cornbread (Loretta’s favorite), so you never know.

Leaving Loretta’s Ranch…

Anyway, after loading up on goodies at the gift store (they weren’t all opened, but there were a whopping five gift shops!) and corndogs and country lemonade at Loretta’s Snack Shop, we hopped back on the Music Highway with Memphis on our minds…

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The Music Highway

Snaking through the rolling green hills between Nashville and Memphis is Interstate 40, which we were delighted to discover is also known as “The Music Highway”.

Named in honor of the iconic musicians born and bred along its 210 mile stretch — Tina Turner, Chet Atkins, Carl “Blue Suede Shoes” Perkins, Bessie Smith, you name it — the Music Highway even has its own impossibly hip signage!

Super cool Music Highway sign!

And the signs are just the beginning, the rest areas are even cooler!

For some reason rest stops out here are a billion times nicer than anything we have on the West Coast and most of them even have an attendant, on-site, 24/7. Crazy! And aside from being super clean, well-lit and enclosed, every rest area we’ve ever visited in the South (and between Courtney and myself, there have been MANY) has also been completely air conditioned. Yeah!

Coolest rest stop ever!!

And as if all that weren’t enough, the rest stops along the Music Highway are also named after the musicians from the area!

We stopped at the amazing Isaac Hayes, Tina Turner and Booker T. & The MG’s rest area (pictured above) which is also home to the aptly-named Rufus Thomas “Walking The Dog” dog trail. I swear, all that was missing was piped in music, this place seriously rocked!

“Walking The Dog” with Christine @ the rest area!

Makes you wonder why we don’t name our rest stops in California. I mean, hello, we name our airports after Bob Hope and John Wayne. Why not a Marlon Brando crapper? Could be cool!

Anyway, aside from being named after them, the rest area also had tastefully framed photos of the musicians hanging outside the attendant’s office in the lobby, pictured below. Yes, they had a lobby! Que fancy!

Rest area art!

If we had more time we probably would have stopped at every rest area along the route just to see who they were named after, but, sadly, we did not. So, we kept moving, but man, what a trip these places were…

Tina Turner @ her self-titled rest stop!

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Nashville’s Parthenon

Our last stop in Nashville was the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which, ironically, is the first thing we saw from the road when we drove into town a couple nights back.

The Parthenon, Nashville

Originally built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897, this scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens (yep, SCALE, it’s gigantic!) was the centerpiece of the exposition and though it was meant to be temporary, the building soon became something of a Nashville landmark and was left standing.

However, by 1921, the Parthenon was crumbling so it was rebuilt to last in the 1930’s and aside from a couple of minor touch-ups over the years (they recently added air conditioning, which I’m sure was welcome) the building remains as it was in 1897, the perfect architectural tribute to the “Athens of the South”.

Christine, Courtney & Me @ The Parthenon, Nashville

We didn’t get to go inside — where they house a gilded, 42-foot-tall statue of the Goddess Athena that is the tallest indoor sculpture in the United States! — but that was fine with me, because the outside was why I was here in the first place.

For the Parthenon is a key locale in one of my all-time favorite movies, director Robert Altman’s 1975 masterpiece, “Nashville”.

The 3 Graces @ The Parthenon!

I won’t give anything away for those of you who haven’t seen the film, but the last 20 to 30 minutes of the movie take place at a huge free concert at the Parthenon and what happens at the end will literally blow you away!

A shocking ending to a lush, rambling, beautiful film that truly captures the multifaceted nature of this amazing city…wow. If you haven’t seen it, rush out and rent “Nashville” today! The movie is long and slow in parts, but the music is awesome and trust me, that ending will really knock your socks off!

Robert Altman’s POV shot of The Parthenon!

Just walking past those towering columns where the late, great Robert Altman shot one of the coolest endings ever, wow, I was in film geek heaven.

But after taking dozens of pictures while the ladies wilted in the withering heat, it was time to say goodbye to Nashville. The ghosts at Loretta Lynn’s plantation home were calling us…

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Opryland & Cooter’s Place

Since we were so blown away by our experience at the Ryman, we kinda knew visiting the “real’ Opry in the Disney-fied Music Valley area would be a disappointment, so we saved it for the end of our visit. And that was probably a good idea, since it kind of blew.

Grand Ole Opry, Nashville

Of course, had we managed to see an actual show here perhaps we would have enjoyed Opryland more, but because of our tight schedule, we managed to be there on days when the Opry was dark.

Which sucked, because the day before we arrived Loretta Lynn was there and the day after we left, Porter Wagoner was due to hit the stage with Marty Stuart and Kellie Pickler. I know…suckage! We should have stayed longer, but there was just no time as Memphis and Elvis Week were beckoning…

Me & Courtney whistling Dixie @ The Opry!

Anyway, these pictures will give you an idea of what the place was like, really kind of ordinary, with none of the history or soul you felt at the Ryman.

There was a giant mall (Opry Mills) nearby and a huge hotel complex behind that, but I swear if you squinted your eyes, it felt like you were at Universal Citywalk or Downtown Disney. You know, totally sanitized and totally theme-park-ish…and not in a fun, Dollywood way either. VERY disappointing.

Bland Ole Opry signs, Nashville

The one saving grace was a small “Dukes Of Hazzard” museum we stopped at on the way out called “Cooter’s Place”.

Owned and operated by the actor who played Cooter on the show, Ben “Cooter” Jones — who I hear legally added the “Cooter” to his name a few years back — the place was so strange and so rinky-dink that it was actually kind of charming.

The General Lee outside Cooter’s Place, Nashville

And though my tour was brief — the ladies gave me ten minutes to check it out while they waited in the car with the AC blasting — I did manage to get some cool pics. Oh yeah, and the tour was free too. Even better!

As you can see, the kid’s room was the spookiest. That mannequin in the pajamas, yikes! But the thing that really would have given me the willies as a kid are those freakishly-lifelike Halloween costumes on the back wall.

Kid’s room @ Cooter’s Place, Nashville

Terrifying Hazzard Halloween masks!

Hell, even know, that Boss Hogg mask haunts my dreams…who would wear that? Scary! And yes, those are Catherine Bach’s original Daisy Dukes hanging on that old clothesline. Or at least that’s what the sign said.

The original Daisy Dukes!

And speaking of signs, you can see by the one near the door (pictured below) that we missed seeing Cooter by a few days too…yikes, Loretta, Porter and now Cooter?! Who planned this trip?

An event not to be missed! Go, Cooter!

Luckily for us, our next and final stop in Nashville turned out to be one of the best!

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The Pancake Pantry

After checking out of our hotel we ate breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, a beloved Nashville institution with seemingly a different type of pancake for every person waiting in the snaking lines outside. Seriously, if you could dream up a batter, they could make it.

Best Pancakes in the South!

Cool pancake art @ The Pancake Pantry, Nashville

I had the buckwheat pancakes, which were black as night and fantastic and Christine had some amazing sweet potato pancakes, the remains of which are pictured below. Gross picture, I know, but first rate stuff!

The remains of Christine’s sweet potato pancakes @ The Pancake Pantry

And when we told our super friendly waitress that we were heading to Loretta Lynn’s compound that afternoon, she said not only had she been to the mansion, but that she was a bridesmaid there recently at the wedding of one of Loretta’s granddaughters. Whoa…small world.

She also said that the mansion where Loretta lived was haunted by the abused slaves of the former owner and that she herself had heard strange noises there while visiting. Courtney got goose bumps just hearing that, and — her “Ghostbuster” senses tingling — was halfway out the door before our waitress finished talking. She couldn’t get there fast enough!!

But first, there were a couple more stops we needed to make in Nashville.

 

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