Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Memphis Trip Part III...Amazing Food, Music History...and Sonesta Suites #WGTravel #memphis #foodietravel

Our home base for the final two nights of our Memphis trip was the newly remodeled Sonesta ES Suites Memphis, located on the city's east side. This extended stay property has been remodeled from top to bottom and offers guests large one- and two-bedroom suites. It's an ideal property for families or couples traveling together -- and the action of Beale Street is a short 20-minute drive away.

We stayed in a spacious 850 square foot two-bedroom loft suite. It featured a King bed and full bath downstairs...and a Queen loft with full bath upstairs. The downstairs common area included a living room with comfy couch...and a full kitchen with fridge, stove, microwave, and coffee maker. When we arrived, a welcome note, wine, and cheese & crackers was waiting for us on the bar -- such a nice touch! Other amenities offered by the Sonesta ES Suites Memphis include plenty of free on-site parking, complimentary high-speed Internet, and a large flat-screen television. Further, a breakfast buffet of hot and cold menu items is available to guests every morning...but that's not it! Tuesday through Thursday evenings, Sonesta ES Suites Memphis hosts Evening Socials that feature complimentary beverages and light appetizers. As this video shows, our stay at Sonesta ES Suites Memphis was fantastic!

Traveling with your four-legged friend? No problem...Sonesta ES Suites welcomes up to two pets per room! A mandatory non-refundable pet cleaning fee will be charged to your account at check in. For stays of 1-2 nights, the fee is $75. For stays of 3 or more nights, the fee is $150. However, if extensive cleaning/repairs are necessary, guests may be charged additional pet  fees.

Before long, it was time for us to leave for our dinner reservation at the Beauty Shop restaurant. This hip restaurant is located in Midtown Memphis' Cooper-Young neighborhood.  The restaurant is located at the former site of a 50's era beauty shop where Pricilla Presley was once a fun! Executive Chef/Owner Karen Carrier opened Beauty Shop in 2002. The menu is globally inspired and creative...with a Southern accent thanks to the use of locally sourced ingredients. We immediately noticed how the building's beauty shop origins were incorporated into the d├ęcor -- including seats featuring hooded Belvedere hair dryers!

We sipped fun cocktails from Beauty Shop's creative mixology menu while we anticipated the tasty menu items Chef Shay Widmer personally selected for us to try. We started with a quartet of appetizers and salads. First was Watermelon & French Feta Salad w/Mint, Shiso, Pickled Strawberry, and an Aleppo Mirin Lime Vinaigrette. Then came a Tennessee Heirloom Tomato Salad w/Tempura Fried Okra and Roquefort, Garlic Chips, Shiso, Radish, Red Onion, Petite Herbs, Honey, and a Jalapeno Cucumber Chive Crema. The third selection was a Peach, Arugula & Warm Burrata Salad w/Tempura Fried Long Beans, Petite Herbs, and a Sour Cherry Vinaigrette. We also sampled the Hawaiian Tuna Agua Chile w/Tomato, Lime, Kirby Cucumber, Cocoa Spice Dust, Toasted Sesame, Benton's "Proscuitto," Shiso, Cilantro, and Thai Basil. These menu items were light and refreshing, and bursting with fresh produce and bright flavors!After these starters, Chef Shay sent out a chilled charcuterie plate and two warm main dishes. The Asian-inspired Kobe Beef Lucky Pot w/Coconut Lemongrass Green Curry Broth, Kaffir Lime, Noodles, Watermelon, Avocado, Shiso, Thai Basil, Peanut, Black Garlic, and Bok Choy blew our minds -- so many interesting flavors and textures! We also shared Sugar-Spiced Crispy Duck w/Corn Butter, Muddled Blackberry, Root Vegetables, Toscano Kale & Pomegranate Salad, and an Almond Sherry Skordalia. Our final selection was chilled Benton's "Prosciutto" Style Country Ham served with Tennessee Peach, Petite Herbs, Baby Blue Cheese, and Double Dutch Toast with Papaya Lime Chile Butter and Blueberry Preserves. 
These items were beautifully plated and full of creative flavor combinations. We thoroughly enjoyed every menu item Chef Shay selected for us. The dishes featured familiar ingredients in unique combinations, as well as creative seasonings. We were quite full, but we couldn't resist sharing a slice of homey scratch made Strawberry Cake to end our meal

After dinner, we headed back to the Sonesta ES Suites to get some sleep ahead of our last full day in town. The next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotels and headed out for a day of exploring. Our first stop was the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. For music lovers, this museum is a definite must visit! This Smithsonian curated museum opened in 2001 and is located on Beale Street, as part of the FedEx Forum sports and entertainment complex. The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum tells the story of musical pioneers who created Memphis music that changed the music world. The museum’s self-guided digital audio tour guide contains more than 300 minutes of information -- including 100+ songs. Visitors explore the museum at their own pace through seven galleries. Included are audio visual programs, 30+ instruments, and dozens of costumes. 

The informative museum exhibits examine the entire range of Memphis music starting with the field hollers, work songs, blues, country, and gospel of sharecroppers in the 1930-40s. The exhibits then show how this music combined with blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, rhythm & blues, and soul music. 

The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul museum and gift shop are open daily from 9:30 AM to - 7:00 PM. Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $9.50 for guests ages 5-17. The museum also offers special discounts for AARP and AAA members, Smithsonian members, and members of the military.

After a morning exploring at the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, we were hungry! We hopped in our car and made our way to lunch at Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken in Downtown Memphis. As we discovered during the course of our meal, there's fried chicken...and there's Gus's fried chicken! Brined for 24 hours, it's spicy and juicy all the way to the bone...and fried perfectly golden crisp on the outside. Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken does one thing. They fry chicken...and they do it very well! Their original 1953 recipe belongs to the Bonner family of nearby Mason, Tennessee. The Memphis location of Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken opened in 2001. 
As this video shows, our visit to Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken was casual, fun, and delicious! Gus's is very popular, so try to arrive early to beat the lunchtime crowd. You'll be rewarded with perfectly fried chicken, comforting Southern side dishes, and homey desserts!

After our delicious fried chicken lunch, we made our way to the legendary Sun Studio for a guided tour. For rock music fans, a visit to Sun Studio -- also known as the Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll -- feels like a pilgrimage. Sun Studio is where the legendary Sam Phillips produced music in the 1950's by music legends like B.B. King, Ike Turner, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison...and more. To stand where these iconic music legends first recorded their music was such a surreal experience! 

We arrived at Sun Studio and signed up for the next tour, which began in 30 minutes. That gave us time to visit the gift shop to pick up a few souvenirs. Before we knew it, it was time for our small-group guided tour! Our tour guide was friendly, informative, and full of interesting anecdotes about the history of Sun Studio. The tour featured tons of memorabilia and photographs -- there was literally something cool around every corner! The tour ends in the Sun Studio recording studio -- where artists like Elvis and U2 recorded some of their biggest hits. Very cool!
The studio is open for guided tours every day from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Tours are $14 for adults -- with a $2 discount for Students, Military, and AAA members. Student tickets are $12 for students, and children ages 5 thru 11 are free. Did you know Sun Studio is still a working recording studio? After daytime operations end, Sun Studio has recording sessions!

After our tour of Sun Studio, we made our way back toward our home base at the Sonesta ES Suites to relax a bit before our final evening in town. However, we made a tasty pit stop at Muddy's Bake Shop for some of the city's most popular and delicious sweet treats! Muddy's offers a wide range of cookies and bars, pie slices, daily and seasonal cupcake flavors, and more. Muddy's literally has something for every sweet tooth...all served in a homey, friendly environment. 
Owner Kat Gordon opened Muddy's -- named after her baking grandmother -- in East Memphis in 2008. The bakery quickly became a hit! Muddy's has since expanded to include a second location in Midtown Memphis that includes a full-service espresso bar. We met Kat at the original Muddy's location for a tasting of some of her signature menu items. The display cases were filled with all kinds of sweet delights -- all baked fresh from scratch daily using traditional recipes and high-quality ingredients. Kat selected a sampling of items for my team to sample in store and take back to our hotel for a late-night snack. As this video shows...everything was AMAZING!

Let's take a closer look at that fabulous Blueberry personal favorite Muddy's Bake Shop item! Moist vanilla cake topped with blueberry cream cheese icing, fresh blueberries, and a lemon zest-infused sugar. The surprise was an ample amount of homemade sweet-tart blueberry compote in the middle. Swoon!!!

Photo provided by B.B. King's Blues Club Memphis
For our last evening in town, we visited the iconic B.B. King's Blues Club on Beale Street to hear some live blues music...and enjoy big-flavor food and cocktails! It was the perfect end to an amazing Memphis. It was a Thursday night when we visited, but the place was packed with people enjoying the live blues music playing on stage! We took our seats and looked over the menu, which featured Southern specialties like BBQ ribs and chicken, shrimp and grits, and burgers and po boys. While we looked over the menu, we ordered a trio of brightly colored cocktails.
B.B. King's Blues Club is a great place to spend an evening in Memphis. In one location, you can hear some of the best live blues music in the city...along with cocktails and a full menu of food! Rather than order four separate entrees, my team opted to order two appetizers and two entrees to enjoy family style. That was a great strategy! We selected creamy Rotel Dip with Chips, Skillet Shrimp in Lemon-Garlic Butter Sauce, spicy Yazoo Creole Catfish served blackened with shrimp and Creole sauce, and a slab of BB's Famous Lip Smacking Ribs. Every item was full of the big flavors my team loves! 
We had a great time sampling this quartet of tasty dishes while we enjoyed the amazing live blues music that was  playing on the stage. 

With that, our final evening in Memphis drew to a close. We slept great, then loaded our car for the drive back to Texas. As we pulled out of the Sonesta ES Suites, we made one final stop for freshly made donuts and coffee at Gibson's Donuts -- a Memphis tradition since 1967! Gibson's is open 24/7 every day except Christmas, so you can satisfy your donut cravings literally whenever the mood strikes. The morning we visited, the tables were filled with people enjoying a wide range of warm donuts, coffee...and even a bit of chocolate milk. Whether you prefer cake doughnuts, traditional glazed yeast donuts...or fun doughnut flavors...Gibson's has you covered!

There's something totally irresistible about a warm glazed donut. Gibson's glazed donuts are served fresh from the fryer with a generous coating of sweet glaze. The outside is slightly crispy....with a pillowy center. My strategy was to eat the donut slowly to savor every amazing bite!
Bellies full of donuts...and systems full of sugar and caffeine...we were officially ready to hit the highway home to Texas. If you love rock music history, delicious food, and friendly Southern hospitality...Memphis is a must visit. There's definitely plenty to see, do, and taste! 

Disclosure: The Sonesta ES Suites Memphis provided two nights' accommodations in a Two-Bedroom Loft Suite to facilitate inclusion in this article. The restaurants and attractions featured also provided complimentary admission and menu tastings to facilitate coverage. All opinions are solely my own.

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