Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memphis Baby!

I can't believe Memphis was last week already!  Things have been crazy busy since (check back tomorrow for why) but thoughts of the Mississippi still linger.

Everything went off without a hitch - all my flights were on time, no socially awkward passengers, and lovely weather.  I do admit that I had a good case of nausea my first flight, but that settled down thereafter without any explanation.  Weird.  I swear I get altitude headaches, if those even exist.  Anywho ... 

Memphis isn't as big as I thought it would be.  They have a nice downtown, but it doesn't have a metro feel to it.  It's also northern Southern, so twangs are light but manners are heavy.  And just to emphasize their Southern charm, Memphisites will call you sug, babe, baby, hon, sweetie, and girl every chance they get.  

My hotel was a DoubleTree and right in the heart of downtown.  They even give you a warm cookie on arrival, how cool is that?!

I didn't have anything scheduled for the evening that I was there, so I went exploring.  I wandered down by the Mississippi to stretch the legs and see how the flooding was going.

The river at the highest it's been since the 30s.  Locals told me how surreal it is to see this level.

A riverfront street that had flooded.  None of downtown was damaged aside from this and some parks along the river
Memphis is a city of many identities.  The Elvis influence is huge, the river culture is unmistakable, and old school charm lingers such as horse-drawn carriages and trolleys.

I was not brave enough to ride because I didn't know where it went.  Next time though.

My final destination for the evening was Beale ST.  A much quieter cousin to Bourbon ST, Beale ST is famous for blues, barbeque, and beer.  It's about 4 blocks worth of restaurants with music stages and sound gardens.  

Apparently the area fell into ruin back in the 80s and had to be rescued.  Beautiful old facades were literally falling off of buildings.  Some are even propped up to preserve them.  My hotel salvaged one and made it the centerpiece of their lobby.

Note that I am taking this from the 5th floor balcony, just saying ...
My favorite part of Beale ST is all of the neon signs.

That last sign seriously cracked me up!  I was so tempted to eat there, but I had one thing in mind that night: CAJUN!

I know, I know, go to Memphis and not get barbeque?!  Here's the thing - you can find barbeque in Iowa.  Finding cajun, however, is a serious challenge. 

Prior to going, I scouted out restaurants online and settled on the King's Place Cafe.

Let me tell you, it's been some time since I dived into a bowl of pasta with abandon.  It was worth every scrumptious, artery-clogging calorie.  Their cajun blend was amazing!  It had heat to it, but didn't burn, had good flavor, but didn't overwhelm.  I regretfully (but sensibly) was unable to finish this ginormous dish, but my mood went from pleased-as-punch to carb heaven.  

The glass of Barefoot Moscato and a soulful live musician probably assisted :) 

Next morning, I headed across the street to the AutoZone Park, where the AAA team the Redbirds play and my meeting was held.

My presentation was super well received and they even let me go over 30 minutes because everyone was asking so many questions!  It is so weird to go from teaching grumpy 18 year olds to having adults fawn over you.  Definitely a good ego booster!

After that, we caught a Redbirds game.  I left my camera in my host's car so I unfortunately don't have pictures.  At any rate, I spent most of the game chatting with everyone.  They were all so flipping nice!  

We also had an amazing feast of ballpark food Memphis-style: hot dogs, nachos, baked beans, pulled pork, sliced beef, and chopped chicken.  I don't believe vegetarians exist in Memphis.  My plate was piled high of deliciousness.  If only veggies could be made so tasty with just bbq rub ...

Eventually, it was time to exchange business cards, say the goodbyes, and get me to the airport.

But not without one last round of awesome food.  First up, Dinsthul's candies, a parting gift from ServiceMaster.  This locally-owed company boasts some of the best candies in the city.  

I was so consumed by the goodies inside that I neglect to take a follow-up photo, but underneath the fancy wrapping was Cashew Crunch.  If you love peanut brittle and have a fondness for cashews, this stuff was like crack.  It's just like peanut brittle but with cashews and covered in shaved coconut!  Since Mike hates coconut, I literally had to take this in to work to save me from myself.  Insanely good!

At the airport, this interesting candy also caught my eye - GooGoos.

For the record, I ate this one immediately and resisted Dinstuhls until the following day.  I don't know if this is true, but this candy is advertised as a Southern/Memphis favorite.  It also comes in pecan and peanut butter varieties.  

This one reminded me of a free-form Baby Ruth - the marshmallow was much more nougat-y than I expected, but it was soft and delicious.  I was thankful I only bought one instead of a box.  This was $1.25 by itself.

Then there was dinner courtesy of Interstate Barbecue.  If I hadn't consumed enough meat already, I tipped my hat to the city by pigging out on this bad boy (sorry, couldn't resist the pun)

This $8 sandwich was worth every mouth-watering bite.  I should have had something next to it for comparison, but that's not a hamburger bun.  That's one of those monster buns that you need man hands for. 

I'm a lover of bbq.  I am always on the hunt for the best pulled pork and the right sauce.  And I like my meats wet.  I mean, slather it on baby and get me messy!

But after this sandwich, I realized I only use so much sauce because the meat itself isn't flavorful.  You've heard of Memphis rub for a reason.  They know how to season their meats so you only need a gentle touch of sauce.  This was all I needed.  

And a fork, a wet wipe, and some napkins ;)

All in all, Memphis was a great trip.  I made some awesome connections, got a breath of fresh air, and saw a part of the country I've never been to before.  And I even brought back a little of it with me so I can sprinkle it over my next bbq. 

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