Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Great American Road Trip Part VI: Memphis, TN

After our stay with family in La Follette, we headed west to Memphis for a quick overnight stay. The true intent behind this stop: to break up the drive and keep the kids from melting down  on our way to Arkansas, the next big destination in our trip. But since we were there, I figured we might as well make it a fun stop!

We left La Follette in the morning and decided to stop in Nashville for lunch and some sightseeing along the way. As we pulled into Nashville, a bathroom emergency on Aiden's part necessitated a quick detour behind a church, but then we headed into downtown to "see what we could see." Brad, who usually teases me that I have our vacations planned down to the five-minute window he has to use the bathroom each day, was quite surprised when I pointed to a bunch of new, modern, high-rise condos that I could see in downtown and said, "Let's check out there. Where people live downtown, there are usually restaurants." After a few turns, we ended up on Broadway, a.k.a. "Tourist Trap Central." Streets lined with neon signs announcing country bars and western wear stores and restaurants. Tourists milling about in newly-purchased cowboy hats in crazy colors, often paired with fanny packs, flip flops and bermuda shorts. My inner Texan was screaming in revolt, so I tried to avoid staring directly at the fashion faux pas. 

Since we were surrounded by cheesy tourists, we decided to just join in on the fun. We ate in a taco stand that played up its country roots, and although it wasn't like home, it was pretty good. We walked the block with the kids, stopping to pose with Elvis statues and saddles and bopping to the country music blaring out the open doors. We stopped for ice cream, surrounded by a sea of pink cowboy hats, then headed back to the van and onto the highway to continue west to Memphis. 

Daddy's little cowgirl.

 "Mom, did you see that? Fanny packs with cowboy hats! What are they thinking?!"

 Aiden being moody for the camera.

 Posing with the King. 
Aubrey is too busy trying to figure out why a guy is wearing rhinestones to smile for the camera.

We arrived in Memphis in the afternoon and headed straight to our hotel. After unloading the necessities and setting up Aubrey's travel crib (which, I can do in about 12 seconds these days), we jumped back into the van in search of the best Memphis barbecue we could find. Before this trip, I had spent days researching the topic, checking out the establishments that had been featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and the Food Network's "Barbecue Tour." I had singled-out a restaurant that had featured prominently on the TV shows and was beloved by locals as well: Cozy Corner. I plugged in the address into our GPS and away we went.

Well, after a short detour, thanks to user error (we accidentally added a via point while searching the map), we arrived at Cozy Corner. We could smell the smoke from a block away, but it turns out that although the smoker was going, the restaurant wasn't! They were closed Mondays!! So, I quickly pulled up the address of my second-choice, Corky's Barbecue, and off we went. Well, that GPS...it sent us directly through the 'hood. I watched in dismay as the car in front of us slowed, several young black men running up to the windows, where money and something else was exchanged. "Look kids, a drug deal!" We kept on driving, and the kids even got to see members of the oldest profession in the world on our 'scenic' tour of Memphis. When we arrived at the destination, we discovered a boarded up old shack, so I quickly double-checked the address online, and wouldn't you know it...the address in the GPS for the restaurant was for their OLD location. I pulled up the new address, plugged it in manually, and off we went again, this time passing through beautiful, historic districts of Memphis, with gorgeous mansions and tree-lined boulevards that had seen many generations pass by. When we finally arrived at the restaurant, Brad and I realized that we were about 2 miles from our hotel, on the exact same street! We had made a huge loop for nothing! (By the way, our GPS is fired.)

Although it was about 9:00 by the time we arrived, on a Monday night, Corky's was a happening place--there was a line out the door! The wait was an hour long, and Aubrey was in melt-down mode by this point, so we ordered ribs to-go and took them back to our hotel to enjoy.

And boy, did we enjoy them! The dry ribs were amazing! Tender and salty and deliciously smokey. Brad and I stuffed our faces, devouring the ribs and the delicious loaded potato salad. After stuffing our bellies, we ushered the kids into bed.

The next morning, we loaded up, scarfed down another free breakfast (by the way, if I see another "make-your-own-waffle" station, I might scream) and then headed to the grocery store to stock up for our next adventure: staying in a cabin in Devil's Den State Park, a remote get-away in the Ozark mountains.  It was quite a shopping adventure, with Aiden and Aubrey testing every limit and driving us crazy. At the end of the shopping trip, a frazzled Brad looked over at me and asked, "Is that how it is every time you go to the grocery store?" I responded: "Actually, that wasn't bad. There were 2 of us, I had a very short list, and we got out of there pretty quick. When I go with both of them by myself, it usually takes me almost 2 hours to get it done, and my list is twice as long." He looked at me for a long minute and just said, "Thank you. I don't know how you do it." Boy, was that nice to hear--guess I need to drag him out for stuff like this more often!

Once we packed everything into the travel cooler, we headed downtown to grab some lunch on our way out of town. This time, I had picked "The Little Tea Shop," another restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Oh. My. Gosh. The food was amazing! The restaurant specializes in southern-style food--but it is owned by a middle eastern family. Accordingly, there is no pork on the menu or used in any of the food. Sounds like a complete oxymoron, doesn't it? But let me tell you, the turnip greens were to die for, the fried chicken was heavenly, and I could have made myself sick eating the corn sticks, they were so good!  We all enjoyed a fantastic meal, then hit the road to travel on to West Fork, AR, home of Devil's Den. 

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