|The Thrill Is Never Gone in Memphis|
If you are expecting an Airstream related post, you can stop reading now. Despite the title, this post is not about an Airstream visit. I just returned from a week in Memphis for work. While much of the week was dedicated to work related activities, I had the opportunity to explore some of the restaurants and sites in this unique city. This post is will read a little like the Memphis version of Supersize Me with a little tourism and campground scouting mixed in.
First of all, the campground situation in Memphis leaves a little to be desired. Since my family will be swinging by Memphis on a Mississippi Delta Tour in the Airstream later this year, I took the opportunity to review the campground options. Armed with my All Stays app, I looked at four contenders. The challenge is to find something close to downtown. Such a place does not exist.
First I checked out two parks near Graceland. If you have not had the pleasure, the area surrounding Graceland has the charm of the American side of Niagara Falls mixed with the culture of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Not my cup of tea or most people that read this blog for that matter I suppose. But people do love them some Elvis so Graceland is a big attraction. I have visited before and did not want to spend the time or money on a solo visit.
The Elvis Presley Boulevard RV Park is the kind of place that almost kept me from buying an RV. This place is not delightfully tacky. It is just trashy, hilly and surrounded by run down businesses. It is close to Graceland but there is no good reason to stay near Graceland. You can just drive to Graceland from a nicer area if you must. My recommenation would be to stay just about anywhere else in Memphis. After spending a week in Memphis, which can be gritty in some areas, the Graceland area was particularly appalling.
If you insist on staying in the area, the best camping option is the Graceland RV Park and Campground. It is behind the Heartbreak Hotel. It looks like a standard private park with tight spacing and full hookups. The sites looked level but I just did a drive-by and will probably never return. Memphis is so charming everywhere but Graceland.
I did check out T.O. Fuller State Park on the south side of Memphis. It is about fifteen minutes from Graceland and far away from anything else I was interested in. The campground itself was decent with nice bathrooms and wooded sites. The park is just located adjacent to a commercial industrial looking area. My biggest gripe is that there is nothing here that screams Memphis. How about something on the Mississippi River?
Which leads me to me last campground scouting location, the Tom Sawyer Mississippi River RV Park in Arkansas. It is right on the river and about ten or so minutes to downtown Memphis without traffic. This is about as good as it is going to get. They have riverfront sites. Classy and charming are not words I would use to describe this place but it is serviceable for a launching pad and you can watch the barges roll by on the big river. This might be a winner unless I give in to the charms of Yogi Bear. In the final analysis, Memphis is a great destination for a variety of reasons but has few good campground options. If anyone has a better recommendation, I am all ears.
|I did meet one Airstream owner while scouting the park. He had a nice Mississippi River view.|
The food of Memphis is justifiably famous. Memphis style southern cuisine is not food for the health conscious. I had to run a good bit to mitigate the effects. It seems every place I visit in the south claims they have the best fried chicken from Nashville to Savannah. I am of the opinion that most fried chicken is good. Even the Colonel a.k.a. Norm McDonald can produce a decent bird. Having said that, I do have to admit that Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken is the winner for me. It is crispy on the outside with some heat. Beneath that crunchy exterior is a tender and juicy meet just waiting to clog those arteries. It is like eating proper croissant in Paris. First you get that crunch and then the tender softness inside. What a great start for my first meal in Memphis on this trip.
|Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!|
Oh and what have we here across the street? Why it is the Memphis institution know as Gibson's Donuts. They have everything from the classics like glazed and old fashioned crullers to more modern trends like s'mores and bacon topped maple donuts. Gibson's is worth a visit if you are in the area.
There is a sizable Mexican population in Memphis. I had the carne asada fries and a shrimp taco that was divine at Elena's Taco Shop in East Memphis. This place is just what I like. It is next to a gas station in a no frills location and the line is out the door.
If you ask a local about the best barbecue joint in Memphis, a lengthy debate will follow. Memphis barbecue is all about the ribs. Many locals recommend skipping Rendezvous but I disagree. Go for the experience. It is an institution in a downtown Memphis alley steps from the Peabody Hotel and the famous ducks. They claim to have invented the dry rub. With a soundtrack playing Ray Charles, Patsy Cline and Al Green, I loved every minute of it. I've been there before and I will definitely take the kids on my Airstream trip.
|The ribs at Rendezvous|
There are so many great barbecue joints in Memphis that I had to pace myself. I would say the best ribs is a toss up between the BBQ Shop or Central BBQ. They both just fell off the bone. You must try another Memphis health food called BBQ Nachos. Central BBQ's version was delicious but make sure you get a half order. It can feed my entire family. The locals also recommend the burger at Top's Barbecue. I agree and who would have thought to order a burger at a barbecue joint?
The two best restaurants I tried outside of the places mentioned above were a Louisiana style restaurant called Second Line and Hog and Hominy. Both places were perfect for cocktails, beer and sophisticated southern dining in a casual setting. The Besh BBQ shrimp and Oyster Po'Boy at Second Line are just things I cannot get at home. Everything and Hog and Hominy looked good. I opted for the Naples style pizzas which they are justifiably famous for.
One more note on the food front. While visiting the National Civil Rights Museum, I saw that I was near Rizzo's Diner. Go there and order the Lobster Pronto Pup. Put it in your mouth. It is basically a gourmet lobster corn dog. I do not enjoy corn dogs but this is among the best things I have ever eaten.
|The Lobster Pronto Pup|
There are a number of must do attractions in Memphis including Graceland. I had a short window and visited the Lorraine Motel where Doctor Martin Luther King was assassinated outside room 306. I was moved to tears reading the famous words from his prophetic Mountaintop speech.
On a lighter note, you should take a stroll through the grand Peabody Hotel. I picked up a couple of rubber duckies for Lucy although I missed the famous ducks in the fountain. They had retired for the evening.
|The fountain in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel|
Memphis loves neon and bright lights. There are cool signs wherever you look.
They have plenty of neon in the mammoth Bass Pro Shop compound inside the pyramid.
I wouldn't kiss the microphone like many die hard Elvis fans do. I was more impressed that a failed appliance salesman named Johnny Cash recorded Walk the Line here in addition to so many other hits.
|The famous Million Dollar Quartet consisting of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins|