With Northwest Arkansas in the grip of an early winter blast of arctic weather, thoughts of travel might be on the back burner for the moment, but the Arkansas Razorbacks will soon be playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, and no doubt some of you will be heading to the Bluff City to enjoy the Hogs’ 4:30 p.m. Dec. 28 matchup against the Kansas Jayhawks.
Though I’ve lived in Northwest Arkansas for more than 30 years, I was born and reared in the Memphis area, and I still think of Memphis as my home away from home.
As my Christmas present to you, I thought I would offer up a few suggestions of favorite restaurants and holiday happenings in Memphis if you are going to be in town for the game for a day or two.
Most everyone knows that Memphis is a hotbed for barbecue, and when you say barbecue in Memphis you’re talking about pork ribs and pulled pork. Head to Texas if you’re looking for brisket.
Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que – 2265 S 3rd St., Memphis, TN
The Rendezvous is the classic Memphis rib joint, and it’s good, especially if you are served fresh ribs rather than the ones that are warmed over on the pit, but if you want a real treat, try Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Que at 2265 S 3rd St. I’d suggest going there during the day rather than at night. Their pork sandwiches are big and luscious. Don’t be a novice, go ahead and get the coleslaw on the bun and enjoy. They have great onion rings and their baked beans are top-notch, too.
Central BBQ – 147 E Butler Ave., Memphis, TN
My second choice for “Q” in Memphis would be Central BBQ Downtown, at 147 E. Butler Ave. I like their dry-rub ribs. They are fresher and meatier than the similar type ribs served at the Rendezvous. Also if you like peanut butter pie, save room for a slice. It’s great. Central BBQ is also just a short walk to the National Civil Rights Museum as well as other Beale Street area attractions.
McEwen’s – 120 Monroe Ave., Memphis, TN
If fine dining is on your on your itinerary, may I suggest McEwen’s at 120 Monroe Ave. Reservations are necessary. Their seafood is excellent, particularly the pan-seared Chilean sea bass. I also like the sweet-potato crusted catfish. Their duck and steak options are also standouts.
Dino’s Grill – 645 N. McLean, Blvd., Memphis, TN
Many don’t think of Italian food when they think of Memphis. Well, you might think again. Dino’s Grill is a terrific little Italian joint at 645 N. McLean, Blvd. I’ve never had an average meal there. Their Fettuccini Alfredo with chicken or shrimp is to die for. They also have a great red gravy.
Coletta’s – 1063 S. Parkway E., Memphis, TN
Coletta’s is another scrumptious Italian place, and is Memphis’ oldest restaurant, operating since 1923. The original location is at 1063 S. Parkway E., and a newer location is at 2850 Appling Road.
Coletta’s was Elvis Presley’s favorite pizza joint. The King would rent it out after hours to entertain his crew, known as the Memphis Mafia. His favorite table is enshrined at the Parkway location. I would suggest visiting the Parkway restaurant during the day.
All the food at Coletta’s is great, but their specialty is a barbecue pizza that is to die for. There is mounds of pulled pork on the pie. You could literally take pork off the pizza and make a sandwich, and still have plenty of meat on the pizza. The sauce on the pizza is a cross between barbecue sauce and a traditional pizza sauce that is amazing.
As an appetizer try their toasted ravioli. The ravioli is light and crispy, but bursting with Italian sausage and cheese. The best I’ve ever had.
Broadway Pizza – 2581 Broad Ave., Memphis, TN
Broadway Pizza is another great pizza joint that would remind you of a cross between Cable Car Pizza and Tim’s. Excellent pizza and located near the Broad Avenue shopping and entertainment district, which I’ve not visited, but is said to be the “happening” entertainment and party area in Mid-town.
Soul Fish Cafe – 862 S. Cooper St., Memphis, TN
Soul Fish Cafe has three Memphis locations, but the one at 862 S. Cooper St. is near the Liberty Bowl. The restaurant has an excellent selection of po’ boy sandwiches, great hamburgers, succulent catfish as well as other seafood dishes. For my money, they have the best Cuban sandwich this side of Miami. Their side items range from collard greens and black-eyed peas to French fries and Mac and Cheese. Their wide-ranging menu includes tacos of all sorts as well as blackened catfish, salmon, chicken, and shrimp.
Holiday fun in Memphis
While in town, a trip to The Peabody Memphis hotel, at 149 Union Ave., is worth the inconvenience. The holiday decorations are magnificent. If you’ve never seen the ducks walk from the fountain, it’s a fun event that occurs at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. You need to arrive at least 30 minutes early for a viewing.
A tour of the Memphis Zoo Christmas lights is a fun-filled excursion that’s well worth seeing during the holiday season. It’s a Mid-town attraction that isn’t too far from the Liberty Bowl if you’d like to burn off some steam after the game.
The Memphis Museum of Science and History, formerly known as the Pink Palace, at 3050 Central Ave., now houses the Enchanted Forest of Christmas Tree display, which was an animated, puppet-type display depicting a trip to the North Pole that line the walkway for the line to visit Santa Claus at Goldsmith’s Department Store’s downtown location from the 1940s into the early 1980s. The display has been expanded at the museum, but it still holds all the magic of the attraction that was a highlight Christmas-time destination for kids of the Mid-South for decades.
The Memphis Children’s Museum at 2525 Central Ave., is another great destination for a fun-filled morning or afternoon for families.
Craig Bros Cafe – 15 W. Walnut St., De Valls Bluff, AR
If you don’t get your fill of barbecue in Memphis, I’d suggest making a detour off I-40 to De Valls Bluff on your way home for a stop by Craig Bros Cafe at 15 W. Walnut St. The restaurant isn’t much more than a shack, but that sliced pork sandwich with that wonderfully sweet apple coleslaw is an Arkansas masterpiece. I’d suggest saving room for a slice of whatever pie they are serving that day.