A Very Memphis Meal 

Sometimes dining out is more about the conversation about food than the food.

I had one of those Very Memphis Moments last week. First of all, it was hot, and it was raining. It was that kind of wet, hot mess we get here this time of year. It's like when you take a towel out of the dryer, only it really needs about 10 more minutes. That's what it felt like we were walking into. We were going with some friends to a relatively famous barbecue place that's known more for its really good food than for being famous.

We settled in to do some people watching. One of the things I dearly love about Memphis is people watching, especially in a good restaurant. I think the better the restaurant, the better the people watching, because good food will generally bring in a diverse group of people.

The family next to us was young and hip. Hip in that way of being hip that would look homeless if one's jeans weren't a brand that can only be bought in boutiques that swath one's purchases in tissue paper and matte black shopping bags. The child was, I believe, named either Carol or Chlamydia. I couldn't tell. Either is a possibility, as one is ironic and one is just stupid. Anyway, I held out a soft spot for them because they were sucking back pork ribs like their name was Flintstone, and had I seen them on the street, I'd have pegged them as the parents of the kid who doesn't get invited to birthday parties anymore because there is literally nothing she can eat but kale and lentil non-dairy ice cream.

click to enlarge CATHERINE LAURIN | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Catherine Laurin | Dreamstime.com

They were discussing the best place to get a hamburger. The consensus was they liked old-school diner burgers rather than anything containing the words "Angus" or "jam" in the description. I get it. I recently chose a hotel specifically because there was a Whataburger across the street. I've also been known to suck back a Tennessee Grass Fed farms burger with Bonnie Blue Farm goat cheese and pickled green Ripley tomato jam on a brioche bun. The point was that when you want a burger, you want a burger. Not an experience. They named several places in town they liked, talked about some that weren't what they used to be, and all agreed that stuffed burgers always promise and never deliver.

There was a party of about 10 on the other side. The table was multi-generational, with the youngest not yet walking and the oldest not still walking. It was hard to catch up with what was being said because there were several conversations going on. I kept my eye on the lady who I'd put money down was called Nona. She didn't talk. I don't think she was hard of hearing or disinterested. I think she was just amazingly focused on her ribs. Although, now I think on it, maybe she was deaf because there was some discussion about tomato gravy in which she did not participate, and I've not known any grandmother not to put her two cents in about a tomato gravy.

As we were served our food, a middle-aged couple came in. They were clearly tourists. The first clue was they wore those matching sandals I think are like German comfort shoes. The second was the lady wanted white wine, but was good natured when told such a beast did not exist. The waitress walked them through the menu, pointing out the difference between pulled and chopped meat and the pros and cons of dry vs. wet rub. I watched the couple excitedly tuck into their meals, request boxes for leftovers, and have another discussion about how they'd found out about the place from a Food Network show. They were in and gone before we'd ordered our third round of drafts.

That was when I realized that every conversation in that room was about food — including ours. Not just what we were eating that night or what we almost ordered. It was about how a waitress told us the other day she loved that my husband and I shared our plates with each other. It was about charcoal or hickory. It was about the best gas station meal in town. It was about a certain restaurant we love that recently redecorated and painted over Guy Fieri's signature on its wall from when he'd done a segment there. We had a very involved conversation with our waitress about the best ways to season cast iron skillets and if you should bake biscuits close together or two inches apart. It was one of those Memphis nights that made me remember why after 16 years here, I still choose it every day.

I hope when people ask that couple how Memphis was, they say they loved it, but geez! All they do is talk about food.

Susan Wilson also writes for yeahandanotherthing.com and likethedew.com. She and her husband Chuck have lived here long enough to know that Midtown does not start at Highland.

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