Staff Picks 

The Flyer staff chooses their Best of Memphis 2008.

Best Crab Leg Feast: I love crab legs. There's something slightly barbaric about cracking open the spiky shells and really working for slivers of that delightfully juicy meat. I've found that a short drive to the Hollywood Casino in Tunica on a Friday evening can really satisfy my crab-leg craving. They offer an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, which includes my personal favorite, king crab legs. At under $20 per person, you can't beat it. Get 'em while they're hot, think about bringing a bib, and maybe sit by an empty table, so you'll have somewhere to put all the cleaned-out shells. — Shara Clark

Best Rehab Job: The Levitt Shell at Overton Park. Saved from oblivion by local activists and the Los Angeles-based Levitt Foundation, this WPA-era jewel looks mighty nice after a $1.3 million renovation. With its old wooden benches jettisoned for a lake of gleaming grass, the rechristened Levitt Shell probably won't be dependent on the name recognition of its bookings to attract a crowd. Like AutoZone Park, the venue itself will be the draw. Early returns have seen a diverse, friendly cross-section of Memphians coming together to enjoy fresh air, live music, and civic fellowship. — Chris Herrington

Best Legit Way To Drink in Public: Combine artwork with great hangouts, wine and beer street vendors, and a designated driver (the trolley), and "ding, ding, ding" goes the bell at the South Main Trolley Art Tour held the last Friday of every month. It's a place to run into friends, particularly since you can grab a bite at the Cheesecake Corner. But the best part may be admiring artwork in a slightly tipsy state, which allows you to make comments you would never make otherwise, like, "What? I can make that!" — Alicia Buxton

Best Yard Art: The giant concrete Buddha in the front yard of the house at South Mendenhall and Dargen. The family who lives there is actually Buddhist, and the statue is a serious religious shrine, but the bright spotlights that keep the figure illuminated really make it something special. — Michael Finger

Best Yard Art #2: The bomb planted in the front yard of 1082 Colonial. Actually, it's an old river bouy, erected by the home's owner, who was a self-described "river rat." But since it was placed in the ground upside down, with the fins showing, it certainly has an ominous look to it. It's a wonder the family gets any mail delivered there. — MF

click to enlarge ALEX HARRISON

Best Homegrown Theater: Voices of the South is a multitalented collective that's as comfortable adapting classics of Southern literature as they are developing original theatrical experiments. Steve Swift's larger-than-life creation Sister Myotis has deservingly attracted a cult following and VOTS' annual Children's Festival has become a springtime tradition at Rhodes College. — Chris Davis

Best Tease: We've never seen such joy, such jubilation, such sheer emotion, as when Mayor Willie Herenton announced he was going to retire. It was like the Rapture or the Tigers making it to the Final Four.

Phone lines were jammed. People were getting out of their cars and thanking their higher power. Former council members Brent Taylor and Carol Chumney both did cartwheels.

click to enlarge Best Yard Art - BY MICHAEL FINGER

And what happened? Herenton didn't resign, he's still mayor, and that is that. — Mary Cashiola

Best Tease, Honorable Mention: March Madness became March sadness as the Tigers were defeated in the national championships against the Kansas Jayhawks.

And yeah, we're proud of them for making it to the Final Four. But we were so close — so close! — to the national championship and then it slipped away. — MC

Best Place To Feel Like a Turn-of-the-Century Socialite: With its ornate crown molding, raised damask wallpaper, and antique furnishings, it's hard not to imagine yourself a part of the 19th-century bourgeoisie at Mollie Fontaine Lounge in Victorian Village. But you can leave the hoop skirts and calling cards at home. Instead, bring plenty of friends and raise a toast to the ghost of Mollie Fontaine, the wealthy daughter of the cotton businessman Noland Fontaine. — Bianca Phillips

Best Website: If you're like me, you have a couple dozen bookmarked websites on your browser. Mine are mostly politics, music, news, journalism, travel, and a few aggregator sites. I "check my traps" daily, sometimes more often. But there are also times when I'm tired of the usual fare, when I crave something fresh and stimulating. That's when I click on the little icon on my browser that says "Stumble." And away I go, exploring new and amazing worlds. aggregates millions of other people's favorite sites — and believe me, it's a big, wide, weird Internet out there. You can download the Stumbleupon software onto your browser in seconds, then you simply choose a few favorite categories (mine include humor, art, travel, and photography, to name a few), and click away. Each new website will be in one of your categories but extremely unlikely to be familiar. I've been amazed at things I've discovered and learned. It's an instant cure for Internet boredom.

Bruce VanWyngarden

Best Obscure Local Band: This award lovingly goes to a local avant-garde group, A Funeral Walkaway Parade. The group's self-produced album, Colours and Of Tones, came out under the radar earlier this year. These six musicians are doing something completely different — something you surely won't hear on any mainstream radio station and something meant for open, indiscriminate ears. It's a near impossibility to pin down exactly what style their music is. In trying, I might say classical/experimental/modern folk. But what they really create is a feeling through sound. With ambient electronics and guitar effects, piano, organ, Autoharp, Theremin, percussion, and emotive, almost vulnerable vocals, their music tends to be transcendental. During a live AFWP performance, I've been known to hold back tears. There's an alluring intensity at their shows. If you haven't heard them yet, you're in luck: They've got two shows this week: Saturday, September 27th, at South Park Bar on Highland, and Monday, September 29th, at Murphy's. — SC

Best Company Mascot: The giant mouse atop Atomic Pest Control on Elvis Presley Boulevard. He's been nibbling on that cheese since 1978, and we still think he's pretty cool. — MF

Best-Kept Grocery Store Secret: Yes, you can keep your Schnucks, your Krogers, your Piggly Wigglys.

We love us some Superlo. What do we like in particular? The prices are right; the workers are Supernice (hi, Nancy!). — MC

click to enlarge Best Yard Art #2 - BY MICHAEL FINGER

Best Buffet: You may not win big at the casino, but you won't leave hungry, thanks to the new Paula Deen Buffet in Tunica. Boasting six stations of deep-fried and slow-simmered goodness, the newest addition to Harrah's Casino offers some of the Queen of Southern Cooking's most cherished recipes. Don't miss the famous smoky collard greens, the fried hoe cakes, or Uncle Bubba's char-grilled oysters. — BP

Best Overlooked Natural Gem: Shelby Forest offers a quick getaway from our omnipresent flat Delta terrain and harried urban lifestyle. Twenty miles of hiking trails line steep river bluffs, swampy bottomlands, and Mississippi River banks. There is great fishing and boating at Piersol and Poplar Tree lakes. (You can rent a boat at Poplar Tree; Piersol is BYOBoat.) A disc golf course offers another diversion. The park even has a beach (unofficial) you can walk to, if the river is low. But all this and the more than 40 cabins and dozens of campgrounds in the woods don't overpower the natural feel of this huge 13,000-acre forest. It's a true escape, less than a half-hour away. — BV

Best Food Porn: Does anybody else blush when the hyper-flirty Pat and Gina Neely make vaguely suggestive comments on their Food Network show, Down Home With the Neelys? All that stuffing and dry rubbing! — CD

Best Regional Sickness: College football fandom — a chronic condition in which grown men obsess and agonize over the extracurricular activities of college students (and "students") to whom they aren't related. — CH

click to enlarge Best Buffet
  • Best Buffet

Best Local Music Breakout: Jay Reatard. The onetime enfant terrible of local rock is having the best year ever, signing a deal with indie-rock heavyweight Matador Records, polishing his growing reputation on the road, and releasing a series of sharp, anticipation-building singles for the label. The former punk provocateur continues to evolve into a versatile, melodic, but forever agitated music maker. His Singles 06-07 collection, released earlier this year as a farewell to his former label, In the Red, doesn't just chart the progress: It might be the best collection of made-in-Memphis music released this year. — CH

Best Enduring Myth: That the big stone in the park across from the downtown MATA station was a slave trading block. Nothing supports this claim, and in fact, old newspaper articles from the 1920s specifically say the giant chunk of granite was brought to what was then called Colonial Park by a group called the Colonial Dames of America. They mounted a nice shield-shaped plaque on it — since stolen — to mark the site where (they thought) Hernando de Soto may have first seen the Mississippi River. That claim, it turns out, is just as bogus as the one about the stone being an auction block. — MF

Best Fast Fingers: First of all, get your mind out of the gutter. Second of all, speaking of produce, have you ever seen the checkers at Easy Way blanch as they ring up assorted fruits and vegetables?

They know the difference between an English cucumber and a zucchini (you might be surprised). They never seem to have to look up a code. And they type those codes into their cash registers faster than a secretarial pool on speed. — MC

Best Place To Get Pets Spayed or Neutered: Two dogs can produce 12,288 puppies in five years, and two cats can make 11,801 kittens in the same amount of time, which is all the more reason to follow Bob Barker's advice to spay and neuter your pets. You can't even use the financial excuse anymore. The Animal Protection Association only charges $25 to $35 to spay or neuter a cat and $45 to $65 for a dog. That's far cheaper than what most vets charge. You can also throw in a rabies or distemper shot for $5. — BP

Best Thing About the Energy Crunch: It makes the downtown trolley look at least a little less anti-visionary. — CD

Best Block: If you stroll unawares onto Carr Avenue in Midtown, between Diana and Cooper, you may find yourself thinking you've entered another dimension — or at least another city. The houses on this shady and intimate block are almost all small shotgun-type domiciles, painted in fanciful colors, with odd and delightful additions poking up from behind or on the side. Porches are filled with flowers and ferns. Odd sculptures adorn some of the tiny front "lawns." The block is a testament to the creative and wonderful things that can be done in small spaces. — BV

Best New Name: Ovinton J'Anthony "O.J." Mayo. The Grizzlies' much-heralded rookie — nationally known since junior high — rivals Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and Stromile Swift for most memorably monikered Memphis baller. The Grizzlies just hope he plays more like the former and can pair with emerging star Rudy Gay to give the franchise some much needed, um, juice. — CH

Best Thing About Flying into Memphis: The smell of barbecue that hits you as soon as you step off the plane. — CD

Best Local Radio Lunatic: Mike Fleming. The 600-AM afternoon host's jabbering and provincial invective about the candidacy of "Barry Hussein Obama" would be excellent unintentional comedy if only Fleming's small-minded belligerence didn't attract so many fellow travelers. — CH

Biggest Outrage of the Year: That members of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church would have the gall to drive to Memphis to picket Isaac Hayes' funeral because they thought his songs were somehow anti-Christian and — oh, it's too stupid to get into here. The ceremony, held at Hope Presbyterian Church, had already attracted far too much controversy because of the singer/songwriter's ties with Scientology. Hayes was a pillar in our community and an inspiration to thousands of kids here. He deserved to be treated with far more respect than that. — MF

Best Thing To Do with that Overstuffed Chair You Bought at the Platinum Plus Auction: Burn it! Burn it now! Quick, before the long gestation period is over and it gives birth to half-human/half-chair monsters bent on global insemination. Or domination. — CD

Best Art Show To Anticipate: Look, despite what you may think, there's not much money in publishing. Prestige, yes. Wine, wanton women, yes. Money, no.

Which is one reason why we like David Lusk Gallery's annual Price Is Right show, where all the art is priced under $1,000.

And who doesn't want to get the work of a young up-and-comer at a steal? — MC

click to enlarge Best Local Music Breakout
  • Best Local Music Breakout

Best Free Music Festival: You can see Jason D. Williams, Bobby Rush, Joyce Cobb, and the Klezmer All Stars all for no money down? At the Center for Southern Folklore's annual Heritage Festival, yes you can. — CD

click to enlarge Best Free Music Festival, Pictured: Joyce Cobb - BY CHANGZHI YU
  • by Changzhi Yu
  • Best Free Music Festival, Pictured: Joyce Cobb

Best Place To Find Exotic Produce: Looking to try the infamously stinky durian fruit? What about cactus? Or daikon? The massive Winchester Farmers Market (which isn't actually a farmers market at all) on Winchester Avenue has the largest selection of exotic fruits and veggies in town. The store, which caters to the city's Hispanic and Asian populations, also carries a large variety of ethnic specialty foods, such as Pocky Biscuit Sticks, pure Mexican cane sugar, and sweet red-bean sticky buns. — BP

Best Bubble Tea: Whoever decided to toss cute little tapioca pearls into a cup of flavored, sweetened tea was a genius. There's just something magical about sucking that chewy "bubble" up an extra-thick straw. At Chang's in Cordova, diners can ask for tapioca pearls in fruit smoothie teas or classic milkshakes, such as the popular almond milk tea or raspberry chai. For something totally different, try the green-bean tea or mix-and-match with coconut and taro root teas. — BP

Best Plan for the Pyramid: Develop it as the Boondoggle Hall of Fame. — CD

Best of Food & Drink
Best of Nightlife
Best of Arts & Entertainment
Best of Media
Best of Goods & Services
& The Rest

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