Best of Memphis 2011: Staff Picks 

Little Italy Pizza

Little Italy Pizza

Best Sports Radio Callers

A man named Cope and a man named Demarcus are the two best regular callers on Memphis sports radio. Cope is the ultimate in traditional sports-talk listener participation. The Arkansas Razorbacks superfan will call in many times throughout the day, weighing in on his Hogs and related matters. He must have a written schedule of topics, because he doesn't repeat himself. One call will be about the offensive line, another call about the secondary. Virtually every day he does this.

Demarcus is a regular voice on The Chris Vernon Show. He's the opposite of Cope: Though there's sometimes a sports pretense for calling, his bits frequently veer into unprecedented talk-show territory. During the Grizzlies playoff run this year, Demarcus sang refurbed Tom Petty songs to cheer on the team ("Free Fallin'" became "Freakin' Baller"). Sometimes you can hear Demarcus toking in between monologues.
Love Cope. Love Demarcus. — Greg Akers

Best/Worst "Memphis Beat" Moment

Memphis Beat, the Jason Lee TV show set but not filmed in the Bluff City, is not very good. And what it gets wrong about the city is sometimes unintentionally quite funny. The best/worst example of this in the show's second season was when a key clue to wrapping up the mystery was the sound of a drawbridge warning in the background of a phone call the Lee character gets. He recognizes the sound as coming from a drawbridge and notes that there are "only two in town." — GA

Best New Memphis Culture Hero

Memphis has seen far more than its share of cultural color and craziness over the years, but after only one season with the Memphis Grizzlies, Tony Allen has shown signs of being a classic character on par with Sputnik Monroe or Rufus Thomas.

Last September, Allen was a minor free agent the Grizzlies had signed away from the Boston Celtics, expected to be a bit player on a team that had high hopes but had never won anything. A year later, we know Allen as a man who:

• Emerges as a transformative on-court force, beloved teammate, and fan fetish object after beating up a teammate in a minor gambling dispute;

• Turns playing basketball — and, more so, cheering from the bench — into a form of expressive, lunatic performance art;

• Delivers ridiculous, inspirational post-game interviews that evolve into citywide rallying cries ("It's all heart. Grit. Grind.");

• Shuts down the NBA's best scorer (Kevin Durant) to help win a crucial playoff game;

• Live-tweets (via @aa000G9) fender-benders with middle-aged white ladies ("She called her goons. Lol"), channel-surfing confusion, and other moments ripe for his own Curb Your Enthusiasm-style sitcom;

• And generally approaches everything in life with a loopy joie de vivre that reminds us why we enjoy this stuff so much;

Tony Allen is happiness. End the lockout. — Chris Herrington

Best Exploitation of a Non-Disaster

The great flood of May 2011 lured numerous national news organizations to Memphis. Chief among them was ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, who braved the Mighty Mississippi in waders at the foot of Beale Street, boated around various local creeks with emergency personnel, suggested that poisonous snakes could be invading our homes, told the nation that "all Memphis could do was wait and pray," and single-handedly killed the tourism business around here for a couple of weeks.
Bruce VanWyngarden

Best Place for a Meatless Meal

Chicken drumsticks, flank steak, Buffalo wings, and even mahi-mahi grace the massive menu at Imagine Vegan Cafe in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. But no chickens, cows, or fish were harmed in the making of those meals. The all-vegan cafe specializes in meat-free versions of comfort-food classics using only the best vegan meat substitutes on the market. Stick around for dessert, because you won't miss the milk or eggs in a slice of Imagine's rich chocolate ganache layer cake. — Bianca Phillips

Best Place To Talk About Best Place for Meatless Meal

Just after the court appearance that freed the West Memphis Three after 18 years in prison, reporters milled about waiting for the subsequent press conference. Within that media scrum, which could be heard over a live stream, a voice stood out. It was Flyer staffer Bianca Phillips waxing rhapsodic about Imagine Vegan Cafe. (See above.) She went on and on and on. So what does Phillips have to say about this oddly timed endorsement? "I was starving," she says. — Susan Ellis

Best Slice of New York on Union

If you're a Northeasterner living in Memphis, chances are you're longing for some authentic pizza. Being a long-ago New Yorker myself, I've got just the place. It's the Little Italy Pizza restaurant on Union at Kimbrough in Midtown. Seating is limited and smoke tends to waft in from the smoke shop next door, but this place will transport you. — Lindsay Jones

Best Big Empty

Not only is it home to this year's Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis party (sorry, invitees only), this 1.4-million-square-foot building has seen more life in the past year than it has since Sears closed its operations more than 15 years ago. The nonprofit Crosstown Arts helped raise the funds for artist Robin Salant's "Crosstown Lights" project, in which multiple windows are lit up each night with flashing colored lights. The nonprofit also hopes to someday convert the facility into a community arts center with residential and commercial space. — BP

Best Misinformed "Expert" on National Television

In January, NBC's Today show did a segment on Memphis' teen pregnancy problem. It was highlighted by one of the most ignorant statements ever made on network television. Dr. Janet Taylor said that there are no ob/gyn physicians in Shelby County. That's right, on a national news show, an "expert" was heard to say without contradiction that a major American urban area of nearly a million people had no ob/gyn doctors. That's New York provincialism of a high order. Not to mention, really stupid. — BV

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