Saturday, September 15, 2018

Memphis Road Trip Part 1: Louisiana, Mississippi, Graceland...and More #TXtoMemphis2018 #WGTravel #roadtrip

Earlier this Summer, The Weekend Gourmet team embarked on a weeklong road trip from Texas to Memphis, Tennessee. We also visited Louisiana and Mississippi en route to Memphis. The drive from our social media team's home in the Golden Triangle area (near the TX-LA border) to Memphis took about 9 hours -- including stops in Louisiana for some authentic boudin sausage and Jackson, Mississippi, for lunch! Today, I'm sharing Part 1 of our journey. If you've never been to Memphis, it's a fabulous city to visit...especially if you love good music, good food, and history! We hit the road early Monday morning and headed east toward Louisiana. After a pit stop in Hammond for boudin, our route headed north toward Jackson -- and lunch at Pig & Pint.

Pig & Pint specializes in two things: BBQ and beer -- not a bad combination in my book! We loved their creative spin on traditional BBQ, and they offer one of the largest selections of craft beer in the entire state of Mississippi. We had a blast trying Pig & Pint signature menu items selected for us by co-owner Chris Clark -- including the uniquely delicious Pork Belly Corn Dogs. Let that sink in for a sec...a crispy cornbread exterior surrounding a center of silky pork belly. It goes without saying...but this appetizer was INSANELY delicious! We also tried two of Pig & Pint's specialty sandwiches: the Fried Baloney Sandwich and the surprising Bacon Melt. The Fried Baloney Sandwich is definitely a cut above the baloney sandwiches you ate as a kid! It features a brioche bun filled with a thick slice of spicy house-made bologna, an over-easy egg, American cheese, creamy-spicy comeback dressing, and house-made BBQ pickles. This is definitely next-level comfort food...a bit messy, but supremely delicious. 

What we weren't prepared for was the Bacon Melt. It's not something we'd typically order, but Chris assured us it was amazing. The sandwich features pork belly, brisket, Swiss cheese, collard greens, comeback dressing on Wheat Berry Bread. All it took was one bite for us to agree. Mind blown...this is easily the very best sandwich I've eaten this year!! The combination of rich pork belly, smoky brisket, slightly bitter greens, and earth Swiss cheese was a flavor bomb we won't soon forget.
We also had to try some of Pig & Pint's traditional BBQ, so we shared a slab of their Award-Winning Pepsi Cola-Glazed Baby Back Ribs. They were fall-off-the-bone tender, with a sweetly spicy sauce...Michael definitely found them "kiss worthy!" Before saying goodbye to Pig & Pint, we split an order of their deliciously rich bread pudding for dessert.
I can't recommend Pig & Pint highly enough! The next-level BBQ is delicious and creative...and the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. After our lunch, we piled back into our rental SUV for the last leg of our drive to Memphis.

Photograph provided by IHG
We arrived in Memphis in the early evening and headed straight for the Holiday Inn Memphis - Downtown (Beale St.), our home base for the first half of our stay. This recently renovated hotel features spacious rooms decorated in soothing tones of gray, convenient valet parking, and a location that truly can't be beat! Within an easy walk of the hotel are several iconic Memphis restaurants and entertainment  options -- including the legendary Beale St.! The check-in process was quick and simple -- I loved the modern, open lobby. During the day, it had a ton of natural light. The onsite Downtown Bar and Grille made it easy for us to start both mornings of our stay with breakfast -- offering both a buffet and menu options.
As this video montage clearly demonstrates, Holiday Inn Memphis - Downtown is an ideal home base for any extended stay in Memphis!

When we got to our room, we settled in and quickly discovered a fun package of goodies from Memphis Tourism waiting for us! Included were tickets to visit Sun Studio and the Stax Records Museum (more on those coming up soon!) -- along with some handy Memphis branded mementos. Memphis Tourism is a fabulous source for anyone planning a visit to Memphis! Their user-friendly website is a central location to learn about the city's best attractions, hotels, and restaurants. Instead of searching all over the web randomly, you'll find all of the information you need to plan a Memphis location in one convenient location. 

Speaking of convenient...Holiday Inn Memphis Downtown is located a few short steps from one of Memphis' iconic BBQ restaurants! Charlie Vergos Rendezvous is a Memphis legend, serving up its famous charcoal-cooked  ribs since 1948. All we had to do was walk outside of the hotel, take a left, and walk less than a block to reach Rendezvous for dinner. It doesn't get more convenient than that! For SEVEN DECADES, the Vergos family has served their signature dry rub ribs in a basement located in a Downtown alley -- eating at Rendezvous is a uniquely Memphis dining experience!

We arrived and were warmly greeted and showed to our table After looking over the menu, we quickly decided to try a sampler of Rendezvous BBQ chicken, brisket, and signature ribs...along with a few sides to round out our meal. While we waited for our food to arrive, we visited the kitchen to see how Rendezvous cooks their iconic ribs! We saw the chef remove cooked ribs from the grill and replace them with ribs ready to be cooked. 
You may wonder what makes the pork ribs at Rendezvous so iconic. Here's the scoop! Decades ago, Charlie Vergos devised a formula that's still used at the restaurant today.
Vergos placed racks of ribs exactly 18 inches from the fire, then grilled them for an hour and fifteen minutes to seal in the flavor. A vinegar wash keeps the ribs moist, and Vergos created a dry rub based on seasonings from his dad’s Greek chili recipe and Cajun spices he discovered on visits to New Orleans. People went nuts for his ribs...and the rest is history!
The ribs were tender and moist, and the unique dry rub has a definite Greek flavor that doesn't overpower the juicy pork. We also enjoyed the BBQ chicken, which was featured a crispy skin and juicy meat. We left full and made the short walk back to the Holiday Inn. Our first evening in Memphis was complete, and we fell into our comfortable King beds for some much-needed sleep.

The next morning, we woke up and met for breakfast downstairs at the Holiday Inn -- so convenient! We ordered breakfast sliders and custom omelets...and coffee. The food was hot, delicious, and delivered to our table in about 10 minutes. While we ate, we discussed our plans for the day. We were spending the first half of the day at Graceland, then having a late lunch at Arcade -- a favorite of Elvis back in the day. I've always been an Elvis fan who's wanted to visit Graceland. In fact, my first-ever concert was seeing Elvis perform at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in 1975 -- I was 10 years old, and I'll never forget the experience!

Elvis made his home in Memphis at Graceland, and the property became a museum dedicated to Elvis' life and career following his death in 1977. Each year, more than half million fans from around the world visit Graceland. If you choose an upgraded tour option, it also includes admission to Elvis Presley's Memphis at Graceland entertainment complex, which is located across the street from the Mansion site. This 200,000 square-foot entertainment complex includes separate exhibits showcasing Elvis' cars, clothing, and other memorabilia; restaurants; and gift shops. You're sure to see something that you Elvis' famous gold lame suit and all of his gold records!
The entire Graceland experience is amazing for any Elvis fan, but seeing the inside of the Graceland Mansion is truly special. The tour of the mansion where Elvis lived includes the living room, kitchen, TV room, pool room, the famous "Jungle Room", Vernon Presley’s office, and a newly enhanced Trophy Building. Also included is time to reflect in the Meditation Garden, where Elvis and his parents are buried. As this video shows, this tour is a must for all Elvis fans to experience at least once in their lives!

After the 1.5-hour tour of the Graceland Mansion, Michael and I took a picture together outside the house as a memento of our visit. Each shuttle bus allows its group a few minutes to snap photos like this before taking you to visit the Elvis Presley's Memphis exhibits. We spent a total of 3.5 hours visiting the Graceland complex...there's quite a bit of walking involved, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. I still use my walker for locations that require me to walk more than short distances and/or stand for long periods of time. I found the entire Graceland experience to be very easy to navigate with my walker. I'm able to navigate a few stairs, so I was able to see both levels of Graceland Mansion. Tickets to visit Graceland come in a variety of price levels and experiences. A tour of only Graceland Mansion is currently $39.75 for adults, and an upgraded experience that includes admission to the Elvis Experience exhibits is $59 for adults. For an additional $5, visitors can add the Elvis' Airplanes Tour -- including the famous Lisa Marie plane. For Elvis megafans, there are also two VIP experiences that cost up to $169 per adult. 

After our visit to Graceland, it was only fitting that we had lunch at one of Elvis' favorite Memphis restaurants during the early days of his career. The Arcade Restaurant has the distinction of being Memphis' oldest café, having opened in 1919! The Arcade is a popular destination for locals and tourists, serving comfort food and café classics. The Weekend Gourmet team was seated at the restaurant's most coveted location: the Elvis Presley booth! This booth, located by the restaurant's rear door was reserved for Elvis when he would come to eat at the Arcade. As this video shows, today the booth is decorated with Elvis memorabilia and features a plaque denoting its historical significance!

We enjoyed a range of tasty menu items during our visit -- including all-day breakfast and lunch items. French toast and huge blueberry pancakes were served with crispy hash browns, farm-fresh eggs, and bacon. I had a perfectly fried Catfish Sandwich, which was served with hot, crispy fries. However, the most unique item we tried was the fried Peanut Butter 'n Banana Sandwich...i.e., Elvis' favorite! We opted to include the optional bacon in the sandwich -- is bacon ever really just an option?!?!? No wonder this was Elvis' favorite sandwich -- it's totally delish!! Bottom line: Elvis fan or not, dining at the Arcade -- a National Register of Historic Places location -- is a must for anyone visiting Memphis!

There you have it...our the first part of our Memphis road trip! I can't wait to share the rest of our trip with was a fun, tasty, and educational be sure to come back and read more next week!

Disclosure: The restaurants featured in this article provided us with complimentary meals to facilitate inclusion. The Holiday Inn Memphis Downtown provided accommodations for two evenings, as well as breakfast each morning. Graceland also provided us with complimentary admission to the Mansion and Elvis Presley's Memphis exhibits. All opinions expressed are solely my own. Unless noted otherwise, photographs are copyrighted by Michael K. Garcia. They may not be copied or otherwise used without permission.

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