Friday, March 25, 2011

HELP ME CLEAN A LOT OF PLATES IN MEMPHIS: Look at me, my first post in 10 months or so and now I am asking for a favor. We're pointing the family truckster south next week for spring break, hitting up Springfield, Ill.; Memphis; and St. Louis. I'm looking for any tips, especially when it comes to the dizzing array of BBQ restaurants in Memphis. But really anything you think my family (boy 11 and girl 9, plus wife--were leaving behind the little one with my in-laws) might enjoy in those three cities or spots in between. I thank you with a list of 1,074 songs about The River City.

By the way, the trip was in part inspired by Hampton Sides fascinating look at the assasination of Martin Luther King and the subsequent manhunt for James Earl Ray, Hellhound on His Trail. It's a great read, really riveting, and well worth your time.


  1. Joseph J. Finn11:15 PM

    What...the?  You're the second person on sites I frequent a lot ( being the other in this instance) to mention Hellhound in the last two days. Just odd.

  2. the city museum in downtown st. louis is awesome for kids.  very cool climbing/running/jumping structures made out of recycled materials.  perfect place to stretch your legs after a long car ride.

  3. For Memphis, the big divide is between wet ribs (marinated in sauce) and dry ribs (given a spicy crust from the dry spice rub used on them).  Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous (downtown) is the king for wet, and Corky's (out East) the king for dry.  An easy way to get your BBQ fix if you're going down south is Sam's Town, which offers an all-you-can-eat Corky's buffet in the casino.  A few other suggestions for Memphis:

    1.  Local chain Huey's serves excellent burgers, and don't forget to try to shoot your toothpick into the ceiling using your straw.
    2.  Mud Island is perfect for kids of that age (particularly the river replica), but it looks like it's not opening till the 9th.
    3.  The Memphis Zoo has one of the very few sets of panda bears in America, and is situated in Overton Park, one of the nation's biggest urban parks.  (My alma mater (shared with a few other regulars around here), which is lovely, is just north of the Park.)
    4.  Given the reading inspiration, I would assume National Civil Rights Museum is already on the list, but if not, it should be--a solid exhibition to begin with made more powerful by its location (in the Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated).
    5.  The Ducks at the Peabody Hotel.  (Both the parade and the "duck house" are worthwhile.)

  4. GoldnI12:51 AM

    Absolutely second on City Museum.  I'm finishing up law school in St. Louis right now, and it's fun whether you're a kid, an adult, or a law student trying to forget about law school for an hour.  Lots of things to climb on, exhibits to explore, ball pits, and a seven-story slide.  If you pay a little extra for a ticket to the roof, there's a Ferris Wheel up there that has really nice views of downtown.

  5. GoldnI1:02 AM

    In Memphis, definitely go to Rendezvous for ribs and for mustard cole slaw.  And obviously, you have to see Graceland.  I guess you'd probably have to save Beale Street for another trip though :/

    In St. Louis, definitely go to City Museum as mentioned above. Going up the Gateway Arch is nice to be able to say you did it, but it's not what I'd call a "must-see."  Honestly, the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour is fun for kids--obviously, they can't partake in the free samples at the end, but kids love it because they get to see the Clydesdales up close.  The St. Louis Zoo in Forest Park is really nice as well, and all attractions in Forest Park are free.

    If you want barbecue here, I'd recommend Pappy's Smokehouse.  If you want really unique pizza, go to Pi.  And for dessert, you have to go to Ted Drewes for frozen custard.  Really, if you've never been to St. Louis before, Ted Drewes should be a priority.

  6. Fred App8:16 AM

    A couple of commenters beat me to it, but the Rendezvous is the place in Memphis for ribs. (Spurred by Matt's explanation of the difference between wet ribs and dry ribs, I thought briefly about expostulating on the difference between Texas bbq and Carolina bbq, but figured I'd save that for another post.)

    I'd also recommend a trip down Beale Street. It's a bit too touristy nowadays, but it is where (some) blues was born, and even the touristy clubs have good music. Best to go some night in the middle of the week.

    As for Graceland? Yeah, go, just to say you did. But don't expect to spend much time there, or to be very impressed.

  7. janet8:20 AM

    This is backwards -- Rendezvous for DRY, Corky's for WET.

    The city is in bloom right now, so just plan to drive around and enjoy our few best-looking days.

  8. The Civil Rights museum is second in its power only to the Holocost museum, IMO.  It's a don't miss.  Sun Studios is fun too, if a quick visit.  South Main in Memphis is a nice area of funky shops, etc. 

  9. It's a small house, and you don't get to see the upstairs. Still, Graceland's worth seeing esp. if you give the kids some context beforehand.

  10. I second Ted Drewes and the St. Louiis Zoo (admission is free). Good times. I liked the Arch, although it's a whole lot of lead up for a view you could probably get from a really tall building. But if you're going to St. Louis and you have a few hours I think it's worth it. Maybe a visit to a riverboat as well? My friends and I went and gambled on one, but there must be ones where you can just go for a short cruise/have lunch, etc. 

    Also, Hellhound on His Trail really was excellent. 

  11. The ribs I had at Corky's many years ago were the best I've ever had in my life.  (Didn't have a chance to get to Rendezvous so don't know how it compares.)

  12. Not sure if it would appeal to kids at all, but I really enjoyed the Stax records museum in Memphis.

  13. My family and I did a similar trip last summer, and you absolutely must hit the 17th St. Bar and Grill in Murphysboro, Ill. It was our first stop from Chicago to Memphis, and the bbq was fabulous. Also, check out the Backbeat Tours in Memphis. It's a music and history tour through Memphis with a guide who sings songs by the million dollar quartet, as well as Stax hits and some gospel thrown in for good measure. Everyone gets shakers or tambourines and joins along. The nephews were 10 and 13 last year, and it was the one tour I forced them to go on that they enjoyed. They became the Johnny Cash experts afterward and wouldn't stop singing the songs they heard.

  14. 3rd on the City Museum.  They'll love it so much.

    As a bonus for law geeks, the City Museum is in the building that housed International Shoe Co.  Yes, that International Shoe Co.

    Also take them to Ted Drewes for frozen custard.  It's delicious.

  15. I failed to note--between St. Louis and Memphis, make sure to stop at Lambert's in Sikeston, but come hungry.  Those rolls.  Mmmmm.  Those rolls.

  16. Joseph J. Finn12:04 PM

    Is the Sun Records Studio at all worth visiting, or is that just a quick stop?

  17. Sun Studio was absolutely a must for me, but I'm a huge Elvis and Johnny Cash fan. The tour is really interesting, and the highlight was getting to roam around the actual studio where all the hits were created.

  18. Heather K12:25 PM

    THE CITY MUSEUM IS AWESOME!!!  For the grown ups too.  I heartily second it.  The roof is super awesome with the ferris wheel and a school bus hanging off of the side of the building.

  19. Heather K12:29 PM

    I hear that the Lincoln Library Museum in Springfield is a good visit.  And I heartily second the St. Louis Zoo.

  20. GoldnI2:27 PM

    Yes, it's the other way around.  Rendezvous is dry, Corky's is wet.  I prefer Rendezvous since a) we had an outpost of Corky's in Nashville when I was growing up, and b) the dry rub is really unique.

  21. My own views on Texas v. Carolina is that Texas BBQ is spectacular, and Carolina BBQ is an abomination unto mankind.

  22. Alex Gordon4:44 PM

    Some great suggestions! Keep them coming. I really appreciate the input.

  23. KCosmo4:47 PM

    Memphis:  Another vote for Corky's and, of course, Graceland.  The Peabody Hotel is a must-visit as well, when the ducks are either heading to or from the lobby. 

    St. Louis - I haven't seen anyone mention the Magic House yet.  Ted Drewe's is a must-do.  Riding the little car up the Arch is quite cool.  The view isn't such a big deal, but the ride up is neat.

  24. Watts5:09 PM

    My family and I enjoyed poking around in A Schwab General Store on
    Beale Street. It reminded me of when we lived in Alabama and the hardware store sold all kinds of things because we didn't have a Wal-Mart.

  25. lauri6:25 PM

    we love the magic house as well, but i didn't mention it as i think it skews too young for alexg's kids.  

  26. Laura5:18 PM

    Definitely City Museum, the Brewery and the Arch. Magic House is great but may be too young for the kids. Laumeir Sculpture Garden, Grant's Farm or the Science Museum might be worth considering.

    Food-wise, Ted Drewes is a must. The best cupcakes ever (and I don't say this lightly) are at The Cupcakery in the Central West End, which has other good restaurants and is not far from Forest Park/Zoo. Also, you should have toasted ravioli which is something STL is known for. Many places make it, but Cunetto's on the Hill is quite good. Also find some gooey butter cake. Delicious!

    Now I am homesick and hungry!!