Trip Report: Hwy. 61 Memphis to New Orleans, Part 1
We have returned from our Memphis to New Orleans Road trip via Highway 61 (and 55 and 10) and can say without hesitation that we had a great time and ate some great food. Our goal was to explore a part of the U.S. that we hadn’t been to and sample the best food we could find. I will post city by city, starting with Memphis.
Memphis: Our B&B was very close to Blues City Café, so we ate there as soon as we got checked in. We obeyed the restaurant’s slogan to “Put Some South In Your Mouth” and ordered a fried catfish plate and a barbecue rib plate. The catfish was fantastic – piping hot, crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside. The ribs were very good – sort of dry-rub, very tasty and tender. The sides (slaw, fries, bbq beans) were fine but not memorable, although I loved the garlicky green beans that were $1 (?) extra. We ate there again on our way out of town, adding the fried apple pie to our menu. I thought it was sort of doughy and gross, but my partner loved it, and a little girl at the next table was convinced by her dad to behave herself on a promise of that pie as a reward.
We ate dinner (twice) at Gus’s, where I would argue we had the best food of the trip. The chicken was hot, crispy, spicy and perfect with icy beers. Our luggage had been delayed but that chicken was so good, I didn’t even care that I couldn’t change my clothes until the next day! The bbq beans were good, and the slaw was decent, as was the potato salad. But that chicken was the best. A chef in Clarksdale, MS told me they use spicy pancake batter on the chicken before they deep-fry it, which I can verify by the ribbons of batter that I remembered seeing dripping down the front of the fryer when I walked past the kitchen. Whatever they are doing, it is working and I am dreaming of that chicken still.
We ate breakfast at Arcade, Memphis’ oldest café (estab. 1919) where I had sweet potato pancakes, which were very much what I expected from sweet potato pancakes – they were orange and tasted sort of like pie; my partner had Eggs Redneck: biscuits and sausage covered with country gravy along with eggs and hash browns. He loved it. I had a taste and the gravy and biscuits were excellent. It’s an authentic-feeling vintage café and worth the short trolley ride from downtown. It would be a good stop on the way to or from the National Civil Rights Museum, which is within a block or two.
For Memphis barbecue we only found time for one place – Neely’s Interstate. I don’t count the Corky’s barbecue we had in the cafeteria at Graceland. At Neely’s I thought the meat was dry but my partner loved his extra large sandwich. The flavor was good, and the sides were decent but not memorable. I wish we could have tried a few more places such as Payne’s and Cozy Corner, which were recommended. Next time…
We ate dinner one night at a white tablecloth place downtown, Encore. It was a very nice dinner and very much like the sort of food we eat home: contemporary continental with an emphasis on seasonal produce. My partner had halibut on a bed of haricort vert, olives, edamame, tomatoes, capers and thin sliced potatoes tossed in a light olive oil dressing. I had the filet mignon with mashed potatoes and spinach. It was very good and reasonably priced: halibut was $22 and filet was $26. They had a good wine list, and I would eat there again.
We loved Memphis and would like to go back and get deeper into the barbecue. And eat wings as Gus's a couple more times.