Author Justin Goldman Photography Dave Anderson
DAY THREE | In need of a kick start, I hop in the car and drive out to Porcellino’s, a café and artisanal butcher shop that’s owned by the Hog & Hominy duo Hudman and Ticer (the two eateries share a parking lot). This may be the city’s premier purveyor of meat, but I’m more interested in the nitro-pumped, cold-brew coffee, which ahas the texture of a creamy stout. I’m joined by Felicia Suzanne Willett, an Arkansas native and New Orleans–trained chef who owns Felicia Suzanne’s, a restaurant she opened in the city’s then-blighted downtown 13 years ago. Since then, she’s become both a mainstay of and evangelist for the Memphis food scene. As I dig into a kimchi-brined-chicken biscuit topped with spicy honey and Sriracha, she tells me about the local food scene.
“[Hudman and Ticer] are the ‘it’ guys right now, and I love what they’re doing,” she says. “As far as the restaurant community goes, it’s like, the more the merrier. We go to dinner together. We go to each other’s restaurants. We send people to each other’s restaurants. We love each other.” Willett then proceeds to take me on an impromptu culinary tour of east Memphis. Summer Avenue, an unglamorous stretch of strip malls between downtown and the freeway, doesn’t seem like the sort of place a gourmand would gravitate to, but Willett has a favorite spot on seemingly every block: Lotus, Bryant’s Breakfast, Taqueria Los Picosos. “It’s not celebrity chefs,” she says. “It’s mom-and-pops. It’s real life.” We stop at Elwood’s Shack, where Willett orders me a brisket sandwich. “Not a lot of the barbecue places do beef,” she says. “Wait ’til you taste it.”
Are we done eating yet? No! Our next stop is Muddy’s Bake Shop, because if I’m in the South, I’m having as much pie as possible. “I love her pecan pie,” Willett says of owner Kat Gordon. “I think we should have a piece of the pecan. And the chocolate chess. You should have one of each.” Who am I to argue?
I could use something to wash down all this food, so we head for the city center, stopping at the Wiseacre Brewing Co., a converted warehouse next to the railroad tracks on a revitalized stretch of Broad Avenue. The space is packed, the crowd spilling onto the sunny deck. At the bar, I strike up a conversation with a young Memphian named Ellen. I tell her I like her accent, and she replies, “You have an accent too.” What do I sound like? “A Yankee.” With a sigh, I take my amazingly named beer, the Gotta Get Up to Get Down coffee milk stout, back out to the patio.
From here, Willett steers me past Overton Park—“Everyone loves to go to the zoo and see the pandas”—and back downtown, where I drop her off with a promise to meet later for dinner. I consider going back to see those pandas, but decide instead to walk off my multistop brunch along the river. It’s just a short stroll down the hill to the Mississippi, the east bank of which is lined with pretty parks, each filled with people enjoying the late afternoon sun. I pause briefly before a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis—another ghost of Memphis’ past—then turn my attention once more to the perfect, cloudless blue sky.
The Delta humidity has done its job, so I head back to the Peabody for a quick shower, then stroll up the Main Street pedestrian mall to Felicia Suzanne’s, where Willett, seeing that her first attempt to kill me with culinary kindness was unsuccessful, tries again. I work through a smoked salmon deviled egg; a bite-size BLFGT (bacon, lettuce and fried green tomato) sandwich; fried gulf oysters over grits with Louisiana barbecue sauce; short ribs with gnocchi and bourbon cream sauce; and a white chocolate coconut bread pudding with buttermilk brown sugar ice cream. If I gotta go, I’d be hard-pressed to do better for a last meal.
After dinner, I pop around the corner to the Madison Hotel and take an elevator up to the rooftop bar, the Twilight Sky Terrace, where a young and chatty crowd takes in the sweeping view of the Mighty Mississip. As the sun sinks in the west, the M-shaped arches of the Hernando de Soto Bridge light up, and I head out into the night, the words of the Tom T. Hall classic in my head: “You go where your heart wants to go. That’s how I got to Memphis.”
Hemispheres managing editor and house guitarist Justin Goldman has only one Memphis regret: He didn’t have time to take the Gibson factory tour.