With a culture based as much on food (Barbecue anyone?) as music (The King of Rock ’n’ Roll), Memphis is a feast for the senses. In fact, music and food are so intrinsically intertwined in Bluff City, visitors often build complete itineraries focused on experiencing the best of both. One key intersection: Some of Elvis Presley’s favorite dishes — peanut butter and banana sandwich, Tupelo Tater Casserole — are staples on the menus at The Guest House at Graceland.
But that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to developing a taste for Memphis. Let’s take a stroll through some of the city’s most beloved dining traditions.
When it comes to barbecue, Memphians have strong opinions. That’s rightfully so in a city that hosts one of the world’s premier barbecue cooking contests. Celebrating its 40th anniversary May 17–20, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest was originally a component of the Memphis in May International Festival, an initiative developed by the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce to promote the city’s myriad interests. Four decades later, it’s a stand-alone $7 million non-profit, community-based organization with a mission to promote economic growth, foster civic pride and expand awareness of Memphis as a multi-cultural destination. A new addition for 2017, BBQ Alley brings three renowned Memphis-style barbecue restaurants — Memphis BBQ Co., B’s Cracklin’ BBQ and Grand Champion BBQ — together in one place, but some of the best barbecue in the world is produced by businesses right here in Memphis. Corky’s BBQ, Central BBQ and Marlowe’s get top ranking on TripAdvisor, but don’t take our word for it; grab a map and plot a course to sample the fare at BBQ joints from one end of the city to the other.
Fried chicken is on par with barbecue when it comes to Memphis’ top culinary delights and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken rules the roost with a secret family recipe passed through generations for more than 60 years. While not as deeply imbedded in Memphis history, Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken — opened in 2001 — and its fried chicken-plus menu including burgers and sandwiches is another local favorite.
Seeking a little something to satisfy a sweet tooth? We have two suggestions. Muddy’s Bake Shop, established in 2008 by brother-and-sister team Kat and Kit Gordon, is a dream-come-true for fans of creative baked goods. The extensive menu changes daily to showcase divine cakes, cookies, pies and puddings including
Chocolate Dream Pie, Toffee Puddin’, Raspberry Swirl Blondies, Mimosa Cupcakes,
Rhubarb Lemon Bundt Cake, and even an assortment of vegan goodies.
One of television chef/traveler Alton Brown’s favorite Memphis eateries, Gibson’s Donuts has a faithful following of fans who pledge allegiance to the heavenly pastries ranging from tried-and-true glazed to decadent concoctions of caramel, coconut and chocolate and everything in between.
New this year, Elvis Presley’s Memphis pays tribute to the life and times of The King of Rock ’n’ Roll. The state-of-the-art complex adjacent to Graceland comprises a series of exhibits showcasing the things Elvis loved and the city that inspired him, including two themed restaurants named for Elvis’ parents — Gladys’ Diner features classic American fare, including Elvis’ favorite grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Vernon’s Smokehouse serves up authentic Memphis BBQ smoked in-house.