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Gladys may have taken the midnight train to Georgia, but I took a private jet to Memphis last week 🙂

For the first time, I actually got to spend some time on Main street, watching “Cinderella” carriages amble along the trolley tracks.

Trolleys along Main Street are picturesque ways to promote “mass transit” in Memphis.

I even walked along Beale Street.

Clubs like B.B. King’s were open during the day.

Clubs like this were open during the afternoon, but I’m sure the atmosphere at night was much livelier after dark.

Since I had already tried both Interstate BBQ and Corky’s BBQ on my last trip, this time I went to Central BBQ (based on a local’s recommendation). Central was voted by locals as the best BBQ place and the week-end I was in town, it was their anniversary, so a half rack of ribs was only $10 (normally $15.25)!

They are a “green” restaurant, so they compost and recycle. Products are biodegradable as much as possible and in keeping with this philosophy their sauces are all available from pumps. Vegetarians have the option of a Portobello sandwich here for $4.99, served like a pulled pork sandwich, but I would say 99% of the customers come here for the BBQ meat.

I ordered my ribs wet, but got some vinegar sauce on the side. The meat was tender, and the rub and sauce were both good, but my preference is Corky’s, although this comes in at a close second. Since everyone in Memphis has their favorite BBQ place, I’m still on my hunt for “the best”. Another local told me to try Tops, but I didn’t have time to get there this trip.

My fine dining experience was at Flight. If you’ve ever tried a flight of wine, the restaurant concept is the same, offering smaller bites of different dishes so you can sample and compare different variations side by side.

They offer wine flights and I could not resist the “Make Wine Not War” Bordeaux flight for $11.50. The St. Estephe was my favorite, but the other two complimented my meal very well.
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I began with the Salad flight for $10 which had a small serving of a grilled pear and Camembert salad, made with baby arugula, roasted walnuts and maple walnut vinaigrette (my favorite of all three); a mixed greens, roasted corn, dried cherries, crispy bacon, tomatoes, goat cheese, and cajun pecans topped with a white balsamic vinaigrette; and a baby iceberg salad topped with Maytag blue cheese, applewood smoked bacon and grape tomatoes (my least favorite because it was actually bland, especially compared to the outstanding version at Sixth and Pine in Los Angeles).

The special of the day was Jerk seasoned wild boar, so I chose the small plate for $12, the large portion was about $30 and if you want to try a flight, they offer flights of fish, fowl, meat, or seafood from $31. The wild boar had a very nice depth of flavor, but the jerk was not spicy at all, and the tziki like topping was a strange contrast to the robust cumin flavored medley of succotash. It was not noteworthy and not unpalatable. Perhaps I should have stuck to a meat the locals know well, but I so rarely see wild boar on any menu that I had to order it.

It was a memorable trip simply because it was my first trip in a private jet, but the beautiful dispositions of the people in Memphis reminded me that the most important part of any trip,  no matter where you go or how you get there, is the company you keep.

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The only part of my trip to Memphis that was pleasurable was that I would finally taste authentic Memphis BBQ. I saw Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ was at the airport, so this was an easy way to sample one of the top three BBQ places. All the most popular choices were on the menu for either dining in or as take out for flights. Wouldn’t you rather have a chopped shoulder of pork sandwich than whatever packaged plastic food the airline is serving?

I decided to eat in so I could eat the messy ribs at a table with plenty of napkins. There was no choice of wet or dry, so it was a good decision to eat in because the ribs came soaked in sauce. I chose two sides of coleslaw rather than baked beans. The cole slaw was finely chopped and a refreshing counterpoint to the rich BBQ pork ribs ($8.85). The ribs were tender and juicy, but I must say I was disappointed with the flavor of the sauce.

Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue on Urbanspoon

I asked everyone I met to tell me their favorite place for BBQ and unanimously the answer was Corky’s, so I knew I had to find the time and a way to get some Corky’s before leaving for Los Angeles. As I was checking out of my hotel I asked the receptionist where the closest branch of Corky’s was and whether I could walk to it. The wonderful rumor of Southern Hospitality is true as she said she would have the airport shuttle driver take me. I got to Corky’s as they opened at 10:45 am and got my order of two racks to go for less than $35. I got them dry with some packets of sauce because the shuttle driver recommended them that way and who am I to argue with a native?

They double wrapped the ribs in heavy duty foil when I told them I was going to fly out and they said there would be no problem taking them through security (there wasn’t). They even sell the rub and sauce in the airport, so you can pick some up after passing through security and before getting onto your flight. The smell of the ribs was magnificent, making everyone seated next to me salivate.

There is a reason everyone I asked said Corky’s was their favorite BBQ place in Memphis. The ribs were wonderfully tender and perfectly seasoned with a smoky rub that was equally good alone or with some of the fantastic BBQ sauce.

The wonderful thing about Corky’s is that they ship their ribs (and beef brisket or pork shoulder) nationwide and if you call them at 800-9-CORKYS before December 31, 2010 and mention offer code FR1 you will get a FREE SLAB of ribs with your order (with a minimum order of $69.99). The only thing better than great ribs, is a free rack of them, so maybe Christmas this year will include a package from Santa that comes from Memphis.

Corky's Bar-B-Q (East Memphis) on Urbanspoon

My work sometimes takes me to some strange cities, like Regina in Canada where it was -60 F. This week I went to Memphis, TN, and although to many people that is not a strange city, to this Northern city girl, it was like traveling to Mars. My one mission on my short trip was to taste as much Memphis BBQ as possible, and I did (see tomorrow’s post), but it is also nice to see how a chain hotel does in a popular region and I am happy to say that Southern hospitality is alive and well at the Doubletree on Sanderlin (there are three Doubletree hotels in Memphis, this one is in East Memphis). I was amazed to see a Whole Foods Market and a Bikrim Yoga studio adjacent to the hotel; maybe I was in the mid-South, but I could have been in Southern California. As in all Doubletree Hotels, I was handed a warm cookie upon checking in to this room.

The sheets and towels were soft, there was a flat screen 37″ tv in the room, and free Wifi, so all usual mid range ($100 average price per room per night) comforts were provided, including room service (so this did not qualify as camping in my book). It was a spacious room with a desk and sitting area.

A surprise was the small bar/kitchen area with a coffee maker (that was broken) and a fridge (that worked). There were packets of Wolfgang Puck Coffee and organic teas, so I was disappointed that the coffee maker was not functioning.

I was rushed to work nearly as soon as I arrived, so I tried the hotel restaurant, the Lynchburg Legends. I ordered the blackened catfish with Caesar salad ($10) and received this unusually composed dish. I must say it tasted far better than it looked, with a smoky spice to the fish and with real parmesan on the salad. It was a deal for the quality of ingredients and skill of preparation, especially in a chain hotel restaurant.

I was happy to have had a good option for late night dining in the hotel where I was staying, and that was even better than the Happy Hour the restaurant was offering.

Lynchburg Legends Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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