Tuesday, July 31, 2012

“Let the Games Begin!”

Have you caught the Olympic spirit? As I write this, the U.S. men’s water polo team is playing and besting the team from Romania. Are those guys in shape, or what?

And today I write about our visit to Corky’s for the finals of the Memphis Pulled Pork Olympics featuring Central BBQ (my Memphis favorite) vs. Corky’s (Chuck’s Memphis favorite).

“Beginning in the early 1970's, Don Pelts began to visualize a Memphis-style BBQ ‘joint’ that made great premium BBQ in a fun 50's environment. After spending over a decade operating an existing Memphis BBQ restaurant…he finally set out to realize his dream. In 1984 Don found the perfect location and was ready to bring Corky's to reality. All he could think of was a small cozy place with old barn wood walls,
lots of neon, polished brass,
interior aged brick, ceiling fans, servers in bow ties and white shirts,
and, of course, piping in all the great music hits of the 50's and 60's. The rest is Memphis history!” (corkysmemphis.com).

“Corky's is good-natured and boisterous, with rock-'n'-roll tunes piped both indoors and out. Aromatic barbecue permeates the air. An argument over which is the best barbecue restaurant in Memphis persists, but this one pretty much leads the pack when it comes to pulled-pork-shoulder barbecue topped with tangy coleslaw. Photographs and letters from satisfied customers line the rough-paneled lobby, where you always have to wait for a table” (frommers.com).

While not as well known as Rendezvous and Interstate, Corky’s has managed to rack up its own share of honors. In 2011, Memphis Magazine awarded Corky’s Bronze Medal for Best Barbecue Ribs and the Silver Medal for Best Barbecue Sandwich.
“BBQ at this East Memphis eatery is cooked in the old fashioned southern tradition. Top choice meats are place in BBQ pits over hickory chips and charcoal and cooked low and slow. Corky's cooks its pork shoulders for 22 hours and its ribs for over 7 hours” (memphistravel.com).

Corky’s is a sit-down-and-be-waited-on restaurant. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait for a table and were quickly seated in air conditioned comfort, not far from where we sat four years ago. Corky’s menu is extensive, but we both knew what we wanted.
I wanted ribs. (I can’t come to Memphis and not have one meal of ribs.) Chuck wanted pulled pork. Then we saw the “Big Daddy” Combo with your choice of any three meats (ribs, pork shoulder, bar-b-q chicken, smoked sausage, smoked turkey, or catfish filet) with bar-b-q beans and cole slaw. Perfect. We can both get our wish plus some smoked sausage. And if this wouldn’t be enough, we added a side each of seasoned fries and the Ultimate Twice Baked Potato Salad.

Well, as you can see from the amount of meat on our plate, the extra sides really weren’t necessary. To start, the portion ribs was twice as large as I expected. I ordered them “dry” meaning no sauce—just rubbed with the house rubbing mixture.

I could have embellished the ribs with one of the three house sauces on the table (All of which I tasted and all of which I liked.) but these ribs could stand on their own. My only critique is that the two ribs at the narrow end of the rack were a bit dry but the remaining ribs were juicy and tender with all of the fat rendered during the long smoking process.

The pulled pork was moist and tender, but I would have liked a bit more smoke flavor; there was a definite absence of bark, which is my favorite part of pulled pork shoulder. Corky’s pulled pork remains Chuck’s Memphis favorite, but we both agree that 2Pauls (Lafayette, LA) and Phil’s (San Diego) are still our ultimate favorites.

The real surprise was the smoked sausage. This was delicious. Corky’s uses kielbasa rather than the more typical smoked beef and pork sausage and the taste difference was noticeable. Were I to return, I might just order the sausage and nothing else.

All of the sides were good. The hand-cut fries were nice and crisp and had been seasoned with the house rub.
I found the sweet baked beans similar to Central’s, but Chuck liked Central’s better. The slaw was delicious—a fairly large chop with shredded carrot in a creamy dressing. Corky’s had an interesting twist and added finely chopped green pepper to their slaw. I really liked this. The twice-baked potato salad was ultra rich and was made with sour cream, chives, and real bacon bits.

Wanting dessert, we took a portion of our meal home with us. This was a wise move on our part, since our dessert—Brandon’s Lemon Ice Box Pie (described on the menu as “Simply the best down home taste you'll ever eat.”)—was delicious.
I remember my mother making something similar, and all I can remember is that her recipe contained condensed milk and ReaLemon. Corky’s version was cold, light, and very tart and was the perfect end to our meal.

Any description of our lunch would be remiss if I omitted a reference to our server, Anita. She was bursting at the seams with personality and good humor and made this a memorable Memphis meal.

So who is the winner? The Memphis Pulled Pork Olympics ended in a draw. Both meals receive 4.5 Addies and both are worthy of return trips. But you can believe a return trip will not be in the middle of the summer!

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Monday, July 30, 2012

“I Don’t Think This is Going to Work!”

(NOTE: The break in our entries was unforseen and was filled with technological frustrations. I spent twelve hours over two days with software tech support personnel before receiving the conclusion: "corrupted system due to a virus." Fortunately, a second opinion concluded: "I can fix it." The computer repair service in Russellville, AR, had a young man, James, who backed up his promise. He saved all our files and photos and removed the virus. Our laptop is healthy and we're happy. Thank you, James.)

We had just completed Step One of our plan for the day in Collierville, TN, and were ready to embark on Step Two—lunch. (Step Three was locating the tiger statue at the Ford dealership [see July 25 entry].) I had identified a lovely Italian restaurant and noticed while we were walking past it that the dining room was set with white cloth table covers, cloth napkins, and wine glasses.
Then I looked at us. While I had left at home some of my more outrageous t-shirts (like the one that reads “Where in the hell is Roscoe?” on the back), we were still t-shirt clad, and I surmised that our attire was a bit too casual for this restaurant.

Lucky for us, just across the town square stood the Silver Caboose Restaurant and Soda Fountain.

(I am assuming that the name refers to the silver caboose that sits outside of the historic train station.

Or, could it refer to the caboose of the train that circled the dining room next door? Or,...?)

Since a small group of people was already congregating at the doors awaiting opening time, we sensed that this might be a local favorite. We were right.

“The Silver Caboose is about tradition. It is not about trendy restaurant dining. It has no superstar chefs, but relies on good old fashioned cooking using tried and true recipes from our mothers and grandmothers. It is a place you can go and know that things will never change.

“All of our menu items are prepared from scratch and cooked to order. Fast food is not in our genes—only wonderfully flavored dishes served with heartfelt attention and loving care.” (silvercaboose.com)

Bob and Mary Jean Smith opened the Silver Caboose in 1996, and the restaurant is run by three generations of that family. Their daughter Julie (center in the photo on the right) serves as General Manager and her three daughters work in various capacities. (We learned from one of the servers that the Smith family was one of the original families of Collierville with their arrival dating back to the 1850’s.)

“This building was constructed in 1890, but it is not known what business originally operated here. In 1920 it was known as Biggs and
Dudney Grocery Store. After the 1944 fire, it was rebuilt as an auto shop. You are invited inside to relive the past by having an old-fashioned soda or milkshake at the antique soda fountain” (mainstreetcollierville.com).

“The Silver Caboose's soda fountain is one of the few remaining original soda fountains in Tennessee. Dating from the 1800's, it has been in continuous use with its marble top and gleaming old soda pumps” (silvercaboose.com).

The menu could be described as Louisiana Plate Lunch House meets Ladies Tea Room. Southern comfort food items included the Lacy Special (two open-faced corn sticks with sliced white chicken and fluffy rice on the side, smothered in giblet gravy) and Turnip Greens and Pot Likker with hot ham or fried pork and spring onion. And then there is the daily Silver Plate Special that includes one meat and two vegetables with corn bread or rolls. On the day of our visit, the meats were chicken and dumplings, chicken fried steak, and meat loaf, and there was a list of at least eight sides.

But it was items like these that reminded me of a tea room: the frozen fruit plate served with pimento cheese, cream cheese, or olive and egg salad finger sandwiches; tomato aspic served with pimento cheese, cream cheese, or olive and egg salad finger sandwiches; and the mixed fruit plate with cottage cheese or sherbet. I ask you, when was the last time you saw tomato aspic on a menu?

To those of you who know him well, it should come as no surprise that Chuck ordered the chicken fried steak. (Although choosing the meat loaf wouldn’t have been a surprise either.) His plate contained a small but tasty piece of battered cubed steak along with real (not from a box) mashed potatoes and slow cooked (i.e., really soft) green beans. And instead of the expected white pepper gravy, this was served with brown gravy. The gravy was delicious. It just came as a surprise.

Electing to eat light, I ordered a small side salad and an appetizer. I could have chosen the jalapeno poppers, the cheese sticks, the “crispy hot wingers,” fried pickles, or the Caboose Sampler—which included all of these. But instead, I chose the toasted ravioli, which came with a small dish of warm marinara sauce.

When writing about Fino’s from the Hill (see July 20 entry), I mentioned that the American tradition of breading and deep fat frying ravioli is thought to have started in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis. This appetizer serving consisted of six meat-filled pasta squares that had been fried until the pasta became crunchy which was a nice
contrast with the softer filling. These were quite good. Not something I’d want all the time, but still good.

The salad contained crisp romaine, red cabbage, shredded carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and a tomato wedge and was served with a cup of blue cheese dressing (my favorite) that was full of huge chunks of blue cheese.

What’s the sense, I ask you, of being in a restaurant with one of the few remaining original soda fountains in Tennessee and not ordering a soda fountain confection? So under the careful supervision of Kitty Humbug, our server prepared a giant traditional banana split. All I can say is “yummo.”

Off now to find that tiger after a good 3.5 Addie lunch.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Collierville's Solution

As we've visited small towns around the country, we've often wondered: "What are the essential ingredients in the formula for restoring a town's historic downtown?"

The town of Collierville, Tennessee, may have some of the answers.

Located about 35 miles east of our campground in West Memphis, AR, Collierville has preserved the stagecoach stop, built in 1851. The log structure was restored in 1977 and relocated to its present site in Confederate Park.

Harrison Irby and Dr. Virginus Leake bought about 90 acres and divided the acreage into lots in 1870, establishing the Town Square.

At its center is Confederate Park. The sidewalks in the park are laid out in the form of the Confederate flag. In 1955 a tornado destroyed the two-story lattice bandstand in the park. A 1994 public improvements project replaced the bandstand.

In 1976 Southern Railroad gave the (third known) depot to the Town of Collierville and it was moved to its present location in 1977. This is now the office of Main Street Collierville, a non-profit organization that promotes, protects, and preserves the downtown historic district.

Main Street Collierville has printed the Walking Tour of Historic Collierville that was originally produced as an Eagle Scout project by Greg Baumgartner in 1992. The brochure was funded with a matching grant from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

A walk around the Town Square revealed the work that the present business owners have done to preserve the town's historical structure.

This building, McGinnis Hardware, was constructed in 1879 and originally was used as a lumber and hardware business.

Kelsey's facade (below) is a unique architectural style for the Collierville square.

The Hewlett and Dunn building, built in 1876, has operated under the name of Hewlett and Dunn for the last 40 years.

Shown below are the Brooks Collection (shown behind the street lamp), built in 1916, and later housed the local telephone exchange; law offices and an antiques shop located in the building (on the right) built in the late 1800s.

The Cafe Grill (left in the photo) was constructed as a drugstore around 1900. Built around 1890, Patricia's was originally a grocery store

C.J. Lilly, circa 1890, was originally a drugstore. The Silver Caboose will be visited tomorrow.

The Biblical Resource Center and Museum seems to be a newly-built building.

I believe the Town Hall Cheesecake (far left, photo below) was the original Town Hall, constructed in 1922 and moved in 1963. Patina Decor (far right), built ca. 1895-1900, was the original location of Fleming's Stable. In 1928, it became Kelsey Chevrolet Company.

The McGinnis family constructed this building in 1927 as a service station and is still in use today as a service station.

The Village Toymaker, a store name which fits the setting of the Town Square perfectly, was best known as The White CafĂ© in the late 1920’s.

In the end, the key to the restoration and preservation of a town's history is dedicated, motivated people. People who save historic
buildings, preserve and restore these structures, volunteer in the restoration, raise money for the preservation efforts, and value the works enough to maintain them.

Simple, yet amazingly difficult to consolidate. The people of Collierville seem to be enjoying their solution.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tigers Around Memphis

We were introduced to one of the Tigers Around Town in yesterday’s entry.

All I need to see are a couple of sculptures that a town has designated as representing the town’s history, “trademark,” or university and my curiosity jumps. Memphis has combined two of these characteristics in its gathering of these tigers.
1948 "Starry Night"
by Darla Linerode-Henson

“To celebrate the University's Centennial, the Alumni Association will place life-size Tiger statues all around town beginning January 2012. Each statue has been uniquely decorated with artwork by Mid-South artists, students and alumni. The Tiger statues are sponsored by local fans, alumni and businesses and will be on display at their chosen locations throughout the 2012 Centennial Year!
1951 "Sage"
by Lizi Beard-Ward

2011 "Britty"
by Betsy Bird

“It is our hope that Tigers Around Town will not only bring many alumni back to campus but that it will also help build awareness of the integral relationship between the University and the city of Memphis” (memphis.edu/ alumni/tigers aroundtown).

1988 "Rudy"
by Tim Gorski

And then I read: “All 100 statues are out on the prowl in Memphis.”
1987 "Pete"
by Clay Darrow

I don’t know why, but when I learn that there are 100, 50, or even 10 themed sculptures around a city, I feel compelled to find each one (to learn my way around town [at least that’s my rationalization]) and to photograph each one.
1979 "Basketball Tiger"
by Caitlyn and Sterling Lyons

1915 "Jan"
by Debbie Richmond

So, here are the results of my search before distance and the cost of gasoline prevailed to limit my quest. Each sculpture represented a year and a significant milestone for the University that occurred in that year. The artist and the title of his/her interpretation are noted. I have omitted the event of the specific year.

As you can see, the artists' conceptions ranged from the coloring and appearance of real tigers to canvasses for unique works of art.
1925 "Presentation of the Blues"
by Steven Harper

1932 "CampUS"
by Mary Larrick and Campus School Students

1976 "Blue Glass Tiger"
by Christopher A. Reed, assisted by Adam Silver

1927 "Dreamers"
by Joy Routt

2003 "Your Neighborhood, That's Where We Are"
by Steven Harper

2005 "Skyline in Memphis Blue"
by Tim Gorski

1990 "Tiger Lily"
by Bettye Brookfield

1923 "Blue on Blue"
by Livia Carboni

I thought that two of the most interesting presentations of the three dozen tiger sculptures that I saw are shown below. The first is the tiger covered with newspaper comic strips.
1964 "Super Kitty"
by Chuck Parr

The scenes show the adventures of super hereos.

To find the second of my two favorites, I had to stop at a large Ford dealership to ask where on their lot the sculpture was.

"It's right inside" was the answer. Opening the showroom door, I was "confronted" with a 400hp, V-8 Mustange Boss 302.
1919 "Tail of Two Cites"
by Bonnie Gravette

After a brief discussion about mid-life crises, the salesperson directed me to the sculpture shown in the two photos above.

But before ending the conversation, he asked, "Have you seen the horses of Germantown? It's their version of the Tigers Around Town. There are several just down the street."

As you can see, I could not resist the urge to begin a new search. Fortunately, this horse covered with small mirrors was unique. So unusual that I thought others could not compare.
Thus ended the search.