Lisa’s Travels: Memphis, Tennessee, USA

There's more to Memphis, Tennessee that its reputation as the murder capital of the USA. Way more.


Please note, I travelled with two of my kids, Jessie and Sam, as well as my sister Esther and her son Michael. This post is not endorsed by the Monday Morning Cooking Club, they have just allowed me to post my travels through this platform. Lisa x


Memphis Time: Elvis, Ribs and Fried Chicken.

Things you might want to know:

It’s the murder capital of the USA.

It was the home of Elvis Presley and his estate, Graceland, is well worth a visit. Just don’t expect anything other than a sugar coated tour.

You can #GetRiverFit along the Mississippi River, under the watchful gaze of comforting (or not) blue light video cameras provided by the Memphis Police Force.

Along that same path, you can walk all the way to the biggest (we imagine) hunting, fishing and camping store in the world: Bass Pro in the Pyramid. Camouflage gear, rifles and hand guns and much much more. Definitely worth a look.

You will most probably eat biscuits and gravy, cheesy grits, dry rub chicken wings, smoky succulent pork ribs (dry or wet i.e. spice or sauce), mac n cheese, slaw and one of the best fried chickens on the planet.

There’s the brilliant Civil Rights Museum which charts the U.S civil rights movement from the beginning of slavery to the current day, located at the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr was gunned down.

The museum is conveniently right next door to Central BBQ, our number #1 place for wet ribs.

There is a street called Dr M L King Jr Boulevard. Try saying that with a mouthful of ribs.

You don’t need to go to the Peabody Hotel to see the parade of the ducks. Trust me.

You will find one of the best brunches around at Hog and Hominy, including the almost perfect ‘John T’ burger.

You can enjoy some of the finest cupcakes around at Muddy’s.

It is only a 3.5 hour drive to Nashville, and it is wonderful.

[box]If you have 24 hours in Memphis, I would ask for 36. And be prepared to be full and busy.

Breakfast at Bryant’s, a Graceland Tour, lunch at Central BBQ and the afternoon at the Civil Rights Museum followed by dinner at Gus’s Fried Chicken. Overnight at the Peabody and avoid the duck show. The next morning, walk along the Mississippi River for a gawk at Bass Pro and then head to Hog and Hominy for brunch. Pop in at Muddy’s for a cupcake for the road. [/box]


[box]More details:[/box]

We stayed at the Peabody Hotel. Great location, inner city hotel. Good gym and indoor pool, nice lobby bar (definitely avoid during the duck parade) and large, lovely rooms (which were much nicer than the not-so-lovely bathrooms).

Best Breakfast at Bryant’s . Line up, help yourself to drinks and enjoy that food. I’m still dreaming about the cinnamon roll and those biscuits. And we loved the pecan pancakes, blueberry pancakes and the sampler pate with eggs any way, bacon, ham, sausage, pork chop, biscuits, grits and gravy.

Best Fried Chicken at Gus’s Fried Chicken . You’ll line up and wait, but it is really worth it. Chicken is soaked in buttermilk before being coated and fried, and has a not-too-thick-but-perfectly-crisp crusty skin. Folks like to (but I don’t) eat the white bread sitting underneath it, but I did have a cold cider which was fabulous with the chicken. Our favourite sides were baked beans, mac n cheese and a really good slaw reminiscent of KFC.

Best Brunch at Hog and Hominy. We started with the really good and seriously spicy Bloody Mary and followed it with The Gut Bomb – scrambled egg, pepper jack cheese, bacon and grits on a rustic and delicious biscuit. Or try the simple and good beef and cheddar dog on a pretzel bun with yellow mustard, an excellent ‘Shrooms Pizza and the John T burger (for Southern food writer John T Edge) is burger perfection. Skip dessert and head somewhere else.

Best Cupcakes in town are apparently at Muddy’s Bake Shop – and we might just agree (not that we tried many). How about vanilla with vanilla buttercream, prozac (chocolate on chocolate), red velvet with cream cheese, carrot cake with cream cheese or mocha? Sounding like your type of place?  

 Most Famous Donuts in town are at Gibson’s Donuts – we went for the buttermilk drops (which I might suggest were overcooked but potentially yum) and stayed for the maple glazed bacon, red velvet and glazed cinnamon twist donuts.

Central BBQ

Try the BBQ nachos with jalapenos, the wet and dry chicken wings, slaw, mac n cheese. The highlight was the whole slab (wet) of ribs with slaw and mac n cheese. You might want to visit a couple of times for those.

Farmers Market

Memphis Farmers Market – small but nice. We loved the cheddar flavoured Wolf River popcorn (which we snacked on all the way to Nashville), a fabulous pumpkin scone and the jars of home made chow chow.

We would go back to these for another round, for sure:

Interstate BBQ – Known for its BBQ spaghetti (spaghetti with BBQ sauce, go figure and it tastes exactly like spaghetti with BBQ sauce). The wet ribs were great, the slaw just like KFC and a nice potato salad. And a reasonable sweet potato pie. Really nice all rounder. Great service and family restaurant vibe. We liked.

Payne’s BBQ – Supposedly the best chopped pork sandwich in Memphis with a unique slaw made with mustard and green cabbage. We really enjoyed the sandwich – although it was definitely chopped and not pulled – and the slaw was just too mustardy and bright yellow for us, great bbq sauce. The ribs (wet, pre-cut) were different to the others. They were not served in the slab but cut into individual ribs and piled up and the meat was more juicy and succulent than some of the others. Delicious but not our absolute best. Perhaps we were put off by the slightly dodgy area and the shop’s front window pane smashing mid-sandwich.

Cozy Corner – We went for the Cornish hens and stayed for the rib tips. This is a room with two service counter (one for Cozy Corner and one for an ice cream shop I think) and a few tables on the side of a large highway about 45 minutes walk from town. Sadly they had run out of Cornish hens (tip: get in early) but the rib tips smothered in sweet wet bbq sauce were just so delicious. The area was dodgy (AF!) but worth going if you want to try out different styles of sauces for ribs. And the Cornish hens are supposed to be the best.

And if we go back, we would skip the following:

Automatic Slims for Martinis – great selection but average martinis. Forgot the vodka?

Majestic Grille – biscuits, bloody Mary, reasonable french toast. bad service. SKIP IT.

The Arcade – sweet potato pancakes, beignets, fried pb and banana sandwich, biscuits. DO NOT GO.


The books that helped me make some big decisions about what and where to eat were:

Southern Belly: A Food Lover’s Companion (John T Edge), Barbecue Lover’s Memphis and Tennessee Styles (Stephanie Stewart-Howard) and Food Lovers’ Guide to Memphis (Pamela Denney).

If you’re also going to Nashville, you can read my post here.



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Now for Something Sweet

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This is a wonderful and easy-to-bake and even easier-to-eat Romanian cheesecake loaf made with white cheese (farm or ricotta) and golden polenta. You just have to try it straight out of the oven with a dollop of sour cream - beyond delicious! Find the full recipe for our Romanian Malai from the kitchen of Debbie @delen_catering (which also appears in Now for Something Sweet) below.

3 eggs
230 g (1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
60 ml (1/4 cup) oil, plus extra for greasing
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) farm (or dry cottage) cheese, chopped
125 g (scant 3/4 cup) polenta
finely grated zest of 1/2 an orange or lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
sour cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a loaf tin generously.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and creamy.

With the mixer on low, pour in the oil and beat until combined. Add the cheese and beat well then add the polenta, lemon zest and salt.

Continue to beat until well combined. Don’t be concerned if you can still see lumps of cheese.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes .

Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of sour cream.

Makes 1 loaf.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge..
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Date and Nut Loaf. This outstanding Date and Nut Loaf comes from Jacqui's beloved nanna. As the winter chill creeps closer to us here in Australia, we can't think of any better thing to enjoy for afternoon tea than a generously buttered slice of nut loaf and a good strong cuppa. You can find the full recipe in our third book It's Always About the Food and our quick video right here
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