We leave Lynchburg with heavy hearts, for a long drive to Memphis via Alabama (a state we weren’t initially planning on visiting). We stop for lunch at Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken in Muscle Shoals (famous for other reasons of course!), where we quenched our thirst on sweet tea and ate fried chicken and our first hot tamales.
Traditionally Mexican, pasta-like dough is stuffed with minced meat (in this instance), wrapped in corn husks and steam cooked. We don’t care for them too much, but wonder if these are a good or bad version? We’ll taste some more along the way and find out!
The site of the original Muscle Shoals recording studio is just down the road, so we stop briefly for a touristy snap, before driving the remaining three hours.
We arrive in Memphis after dark and head to Bardog, a cool little bar with good craft beer on tap and a great selection on the jukebox. We stay here all evening and use up all our change playing our favourite songs.
Eleven o’clock the next morning, slightly bleary-eyed; we head over to see The Peabody Hotel’s daily tradition – its duck procession. Every day, this swanky hotel’s feathered residents march across the lobby, into the fountain and stay there until they are lead back at five o’clock. We’d been looking forward to seeing this fun ritual, but it ended up being rather underwhelming. The ‘Duckmaster’ warmed up the crowd during the half hour leading up to the procession, making a big deal about people not standing too close, but then to see just five ducks waddle along the red carpet and plop into the water feature was quite funny.
The Gibson Guitar Factory Tour was another weird activity; you get to see the shop floor; the guitars being made right in front of you, but it’s so loud that it’s difficult to hear what the tour guide is saying; even on the microphone. It’s cool being up close and personal to these works of art being made, but there’s dust flying about everywhere and hardly any of the workers were wearing safety goggles or masks – UK health and safety would have a field day in this place! We weren’t allowed to take photos in the factory, so the ones you see here are just of the lobby and shop.
Memphis has some great food to offer, and we tried our first cat fish po boys at BB King’s Blues Club. The fish had a delicate flavour and was fried in a tasty cornmeal batter. Piled into a sandwich with salad and a serving of ‘comeback sauce’; a delicious mayo/chilli combo that definitely has you going back for more!
You wouldn’t really know there was an impending election if you didn’t put the TV on; Memphis seems to be in its own bubble, the blues protecting the city from the outside world. We drink in The Flying Saucer as an excuse to further escape the politics. You can sign up for their members club, Beer Knurds, and once you reach the 200 beer mark, your name gets put on a plate (saucer), and fixed to the ceiling. We make it to three beers.
Blues City Cafe was recommended to us by a local guy we met at Bardog; we needed to check out their ribs and gumbo fries, which of course took little convincing. Our server suggested we try the fries to start, and share the ribs for main. The fries were massive; enough to fill the two of us really, or to share between four would have been ideal. The gumbo topping was delicious. The mix of flavours was incredible – the ‘holy trinity’ (onion, celery and bell pepper), okra, shrimp, and cheese was one of our favourite dishes of the whole trip.
Memphis isn’t just about blues and food – it’s steeped in history. For us, a visit to the Lorraine Motel will be a lingering memory of the city. The motel has been preserved almost exactly as it was that day, and is now part of the Civil Rights Museum. Witnessing the site where the great Martin Luther King was shot was a very humbling experience, made particularly poignant that day by the impending fate of the country’s voting.