“What to Do in Memphis” according to the New York Times

The New York Times published a travel article via their 36 Hours series, “What to Do in Memphis,”  by Colleen Creamer that highlights some of the favorite hot-spots around town. And locals would agree with their picks.

It features culinary favorites like the Beauty Shop, the Bar-B-Q Shop, and the only antidote to the Delta-summer heat: Jerry’s Sno Cones. There are also landmarks and attractions like Overton Park, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the quirkiest illuminated dance club: Paula & Raiford’s Disco. (Or as my friend Jasmine dubbed it, “Rai-Rai’s.”)

The article and its accompanying video squeeze in a convincing reel of content that portrays Memphis as a desirable and soulful destination. (Which of course is delightfully flattering to us Memphians.)

Yet, Paula Raiford summed it up best when people asked her about opening up another club elsewhere: “I’m not gonna move the experience. The experience is in Memphis, Tennessee.”

Amen, Paula. Amen.

The New York Times' "What to Do in Memphis"

MemphisMaverick’s Blog in Review

“The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.” Mostly metrics about audience reach.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A City Ignited.

A sold-out Ignite Memphis was held Nov. 18 at Bridges in downtown Memphis. The program was comprised of five-minute, swiftly-paced speeches that acquainted the 350-person crowd with topics from eradicating homelessness to the tribulations of owning a food truck.

Ignite Memphis is one installment of a world-wide movement that encourages cities to share inspiring and zany ideas in a format that’s reminiscent of TED Talks on speed. This was the eighth iteration of Memphis’ production that’s presented biannually by Undercurrent, the city’s monthly meet-up for young professionals.

“We always want Ignite to inspire people,” said Dan Price, a co-founder of Undercurrent and a producer of Ignite Memphis. “We work hard to pick talks and speakers from the submissions that are not only diverse and unique, but interesting, culturally relevant, and backed by passion,” Price added.

Wannabe speakers must apply and be selected to present. Presentations tend to highlight acquired hobbies, lessons learned, or experiences that are deeply personal.

“My heart got so much bigger, and I ended up loving people so much more,” said Joseph Miner while presenting ‘Everything You Aren’t Told About Grief.’ His story recounted the roller-coaster of emotions he experienced after his mother’s death. “As a culture, we don’t talk about grief that much, so talk about grief candidly and be open to share,” Miner said.

Because of the casual format, guests easily conversed with the speakers before or after the presentations while dining on hors d’oeuvres, wine, and craft beer. Some cherished the opportunity to connect with others through broad and meaningful dialogue.

“We live in a world that is so driven by connectivity and all things digital, so it was refreshing to do something that was, at least, a slight deviation from the norm,” said Jasmine Boyd, an Ignite guest. “Imagine, people actually talking about ideas instead of hiding behind Instagram posts and Twitter rants,” she said.

While the Ignite format has been replicated elsewhere, the Bluff City adds a distinct dimension, according to Dan Price. “It speaks volumes to the culture of change, creativity, and encouragement in Memphis right now.”

Here was the fall 2014 lineup. Follow Undercurrent or like them to stay afloat of ongoing events and next spring’s Ignite!

No-Holds-Bari

Bari Ristorante e Enoteca celebrated its 12th anniversary with a seafood-filled four-course dinner and wine pairing this past Veterans Day. The sold-out event, hosted by owners Jason and Rebecca Severs, delighted restaurant regulars and newbies (like myself) with an expertly-curated Mediterranean meal.

Located in Overton Square, Bari could be considered a fixture given its decade-long tenure in the revived arts, dining, and entertainment district. Typically known for skillfully crafted cocktails (Hey, Brad Pitts!) and artisanal cheese plates, Bari also offers noteworthy wines and high-brow fare.

The vino selection was moderated by Tiffany Werne of Frederick Wildman & Sons. Tiffany prefaced each course with a botanical and geographic description of authentically Italian wines. “Tonight is about giving and rewarding experiences…these types of dinners expose people to new things they won’t always get,” Tiffany said. “You end up learning about a new recipe and are able to be at eclectic and fun places.”

Her favorite pick? The pairing of the Le Ragose Amarone, Veneto with the pan-roasted barramundi and monkfish. A 1,200-foot elevated Ragose vineyard produced this bold, yet supple, red wine that complemented the pescetarian dish due to the owners’ “out-of-the-box thinking,” Tiffany said.

“They served red wine with two fish courses,” said Lee Eilbott, an event guest. “I was pleasantly surprised. I got to experience and taste things that you would never order on a menu,” she added.

The evening ended three hours later when Chef Jason Severs and his wife and co-owner Rebecca thanked the attendees for their support of the restaurant over the last several years. “I love it when the restaurant is full,” Rebecca said. “We host these dinners about twice a year. It’s always nice for others to get what you’re doing.”

While this was a special occasion, several items including the wines can be ordered on your next visit. But if you have a penchant for the connoisseur’s tour, be on the lookout for future wine dinners at Bari. This one cost $75 and was certainly worth it for the quality of rare ingredients, impeccably paired wine, and the familial ambience.

Special thanks to Lauren Edmonds for the food photography and Lisa A. and Catherine H. for this spontaneous house-warming gift.

Guest Post: “Summer Canning” by Caroline Carrico

It’s summer time in Memphis, which means that my house has seen us buying the air, grabbing a beer, and getting the water bath canner boiling. Four years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make dill pickles. My Mema has always made what I consider to be the gold standard of pickles–salty with a hint of garlic and so vinegary they make your eyes squint. She passed her recipe down to me, and after a few early mistakes, I have at least come close to her perfect pickle. I will also be making dilly beans, pickled jalapeños and rosemary pickled cherry tomatoes.

Lest you think our house has only smelt like vinegar this summer, we’ve also been peeling, hulling, chopping and crushing our way to jam. The half pints of strawberry jam are finished, paving the way for peaches, blueberries and blackberries. With the help of a friend with a raised burner stove, we’ve bust out the pressure canner and put up tomatoes to use this winter.

Living in the Mississippi Delta provides a home food preserver and aspiring gardener with an astounding variety of produce with which to work. My mom, husband, and I grow some of the vegetables that we’ve used at our plot at the Shelby Farms community gardens. I will pick up the fruit from Jones Orchard and Nesbit Blueberry Plantation. There is no shortage of farmers at the local markets who can supply anything I want that I have not grown myself.

Whenever I tell people that I can food, I get asked why I bother. It’s simple really. I like having jam that actually tastes like fruit and pickles that make my eyes water. But most importantly, I like sharing a skill with my grandmother and being able to ask her for advice. It made us closer. The good food is just a bonus.

Thanks to Caroline for this reflection on Southern cooking culture. For more harvesting ideas, subscribe to her blog, “Ideas and Thinks.” 

Thousands Take the Ice-bucket Challenge for Good

While some like Brian Carney have written dissents regarding the forced altruism behind the viral “Ice-bucket Challenge,” one has to admit that this frenzied fad has made waves.

The ALS Association’s Ice-bucket Challenge has reached millions of viewers as thousands have participated, uploaded videos, and made donations to charity. Celebrities, presidents, school teachers, and even billionaires have been peer pressured into being silly for what will hopefully make a make long-term impact against a debilitating disease.

It’s no doubt that the ALS Association has benefited with a record-breaking $51.3 million raised, largely due to this campaign, in addition to the aided awareness.

What’s personally fascinating is the vast reach of young to old, rich to poor, popular to unknown…this social media tactic ignited a visible movement. People have openly expressed their support, financially contributed, had fun, and involved others. That’s exactly what nonprofits and many businesses strive for when engaging audiences.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (my employer) had a viral success earlier this year thanks to Ellen DeGeneres’ star-studded selfie that was retweeted by millions. The children’s hospital received more than $1 million along with millions of mentions because of a charitable social media push.

Although many folks challenged themselves and others for sport, I am glad to see strangers cheerfully uniting online for good causes. It sure beats the daily vitriol and mindless BuzzFeed posts that typically fill my newsfeed.

With that being said, bottom’s up:

Night-trippin’ to Tunica…for Steak!

Jack Binion’s steakhouse held its grand opening July 16 at Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Miss. The addition is part of a multi-million dollar renovation by Caesars Entertainment to make Horseshoe a destination for the region and (of course), to attract gamblers old and new. I was invited to attend a media preview for the occasion. Here’s my review:

Atmosphere: I’ll admit that when I first heard of a Tunica steakhouse, I had visions of peanuts, rawhide, and Texas hold ’em. It couldn’t be further from the truth. While the restaurant is located on the whistling casino floor, one quickly feels transported to a wine bar in downtown SoHo. There’s “floor seating” for those who like to watch gamblers wince as they shoot craps, and then there’s the bar that’s downright classy. They didn’t just mask old trappings. They gutted the place and pulled out all the stops to create a relaxing and sophisticated experience.

The wine was fresh. “Barrel-fresh!” I ordered and stayed with the Mark West Pinot Noir. It was silky smooth and a few degrees below room temperature (Exactly how reds should be served!) Binion’s is the first establishment in the state of Mississippi to offer a selection of wines straight from the aging barrel. The distributor places the wine in kegs and so you drink straight from the tap, which keeps the wine fresher longer. Bacchus would be thrilled.

The menu offers hefty seafood and steak options, yet its tapas are diverse and intricately assembled. For example, the smoked duck with blackberries and three-onion marmalade (photo below) boasted a sweet and savory finish to warm up the palate.

The executive chef, Bruce Ford, spent months writing Jack Binion’s menu. Chef Ford, a coastal native from Savannah, has injected flair into the steakhouse that he hopes will strongly appeal to women. “A steakhouse is typically male dominated. I’ve added lighter food options primarily for women. They’re still flavorful and nice, and they can feel comfortable ordering,” Ford said.

And to prove his commitment to going against the grain of a traditional steakhouse, Ford told us that an adjacent party included a vegan. Now that’s a new joke to tell! ‘So a vegan walks into a steakhouse…’ (Post punchlines below.)

Did the chef cop out and safely serve a salad? No, he got creative and empathetic. “They usually only get served steamed vegetables. They still want to taste food,” Ford said. The result? Sautéed mushrooms and leeks inside of a roasted heirloom, Ripley tomato. Improv cooking on an opening night.

For the main course, I chose the filet mignon that was butterflied to medium-well. I’ve never gone wrong with this cut of steak. And it was a satisfying choice. The corn pudding was my favorite side, which is like eating a sweet cornbread casserole. I wasn’t a fan of the creamed spinach because of its soupy, soft texture. (I suppose I prefer it a bit more firm.)

Now for dessert. I have a massive sweet tooth and Chef Bruce told our table that dessert was not optional but mandatory. Bless him. Like good Southern citizens, we ordered four and shared. The key lime pie, chocolate torte, bread pudding, and the crème brûlée taster. Thank God the others weren’t as interested in the brûlées because I devoured every spoonful (photo below). Each flavor – coconut, chocolate, mocha, and saffron – was congealed and slightly torched to perfection. Whatever saffron is, I’m a believer.

The prices for steak entrees begin in the $40 range. One could get by with two drinks and a couple of appetizers for $50, but if you’re trekking from the Bluff City, you might as well be a Grizzly. In my opinion, Jack Binion’s attention to detail, charming service, diverse offerings, and fresh quality put it on par with other “special-occasion” restaurants. Thus, I wasn’t surprised by the cost to dine.

Whether or not you’re feeling lucky enough for Blackjack, give the new Binion’s a whirl.

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P.S. Here are more Jack Binion’s reviews from others who attended the preview:

Take 5: Caroline Carrico

Meet a millennial mom who’s into urban gardening, museums, and ethnographing Memphis’ past and present.

Canning Caroline

With baby in tow, Caroline can can!

Stage name: Caroline Mitchell Carrico

Starring roles: Pink Palace Museum Project Coordinator; Adjunct Professor; and Mother to Noah

Daily script: Caroline researches, plans, and helps launch exhibits at the Pink Palace. “I have a lot of very different interests and I get to explore all of them at work….be it aquifers, dinosaurs, basket weaving, chocolate, and even beer.”

Behind the Scenes? “I’ve been working on the redesign of the permanent Pink Palace exhibit. People can now walk up the grand staircase.” Visitors can learn about the mansion’s former owner, Clarence Saunders, as well as various accounts dating back to 1926.

Favorite part? “I love the people that I work with. You have anthropologists, historians, scientists, and educators all working together. There’s nowhere like it in the city…it embodies the spirit and history of Memphis.”

Canning? “I started three years ago but I was always intimidated by it – afraid I would blow up my kitchen. Canning is something I can share with the ladies in my life. My grandmother was always canning, it gives us something really great in common like trying out her dill pickle recipe.”

Where do you get your vegetables? “The Shelby Farms community garden. Greg and I have a plot next to my mom’s. We plant different things on them and help each other out. We’ve got so many green tomatoes on them just waiting to turn.”

Hobby or hard work? “I love going out there in the morning at 5:30; it’s invigorating. I’m using my body to do something. It’s very productive and we get a lot of food out of the garden.”

And bartering? “We trade with our neighbors. They have chickens so we never buy eggs in exchange for bread.”

Thanks, Caroline! For more on mommying, slow food, and historical tidbits, peruse her writings at “Ideas and Thinks.”

It’s your turn to Judge our Judges

I was summoned last August and served jury duty in Shelby County. It was a criminal case that involved aggravated robbery and the process took nearly a week. TV court show myths were debunked, debates were waged in the courtroom (and in the jury chambers), and lots of clarification was provided by our presiding judge: James Beasley, Jr.

The incident that the case recounted happened in 2011, two years prior to the trial. It was evident that hours upon hours of preparation went into the trial on behalf of the prosecution, the defense, and the head jurist.

If there’s one thing that I took away from the experience, it’s the appreciation and faith I have in our local judicial system. In order to have a safe and effective city, citizens are forced to rely on the expertise of elected officials who must adeptly understand the Tennessee Code.

This leads into my “Be Prepared to Vote” public service announcement for Thursday, August 7, 2014. This election will feature Federal and State Primaries and the FINAL Shelby County General Election.

What might surprise you in addition to voting for Shelby County mayor and commissioners will be the 40 judicial races on the ballot. That’s a LOT of lawyers to parse through (81 to be exact). As you may be aware, judges are restricted from campaigning on platforms in Tennessee, so there’s less public information about them.

Since I’m not an attorney, I’ve sought out help from the Memphis Bar Association who has taken the time (and has the expertise) to rate each candidate.

The MBA tasked 1,383 active Shelby County attorneys to rate each candidate’s experience and qualifications. The resulting Judicial Qualification Poll has been immensely helpful to me as a layman.

I read the document and noticed that some candidates received less than a 10% vote of confidence. How ALARMING! I also read that some have little to no trial experience. One is campaigning to be the “Youngest Elected in History.” (Despite being a millennial, this race should be based on wisdom and experience.)

I have no connection to the courts or bar association but as a citizen of Shelby County, I have a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of our local justice system. Further, these judges are elected to 8-year terms. It’s one thing to elect a silly legislator for two years but entrusting someone to oversee dockets of civil/criminal cases for nearly a decade is a decision worth debating.

Please take the time to at least consider and read up on the candidates. I’m more than likely going to go with the convenient “cheat-sheet” provided by the MBA, which I’ll print and take to the voting booth.

Yes, there are always exceptions to lists and ratings – for instance, I’ve heard great recommendations about Danny Kail. Yet for the most part, the comprehensive picks seem sound.

Consider this a friendly and nonpartisan heads up.

You be the judge...of our judges!

You be the judge…of our judges!

Resources:
  • Judge James Beasley, Jr. of the Shelby County Criminal Court published this article in the Memphis Flyer about the importance of selecting experienced judges in the August 2014 Shelby County election.

Guest Post: “Hope in the Bricks” by Adam J. Maldonado

Last Sunday marked the close of the TN Brewery Untapped, and while there may have been many a tear shed at the unknown fate of the historic building, I hold more hope than ever for those bricks and my city. If you have a phone or computer you have no doubt been to, heard about, read about, or seen many pictures and status updates regarding the TN Brewery Untapped and all the wonderful happenings there.

From live music, food trucks, drunken debauchery, and a general warmth and goodtime feeling provided by the patrons and staff alike. Yes, the Brewery provided an ephemeral beauty and atmosphere near impossible to capture in the glow of silicon screens or in the pages of newspapers. Still, we all have tried, and still are trying to do so.

The Brewery is and was more than a bar, more than a party. What took place at 495 Tennessee Street was surely remarkable and will not be soon forgot as the ripples of this event will continue spreading through our community. Of all those souls I spoke with over the weeks in the Beer Garden of Eden, they each had some story to tell with the building, followed by heaps of praise and kind words in regard to the Untapped project.

Some spoke of sneaking in as teenagers, others taking award winning photographs, and others how they contributed to the doodles and spray painted art all across the framework. These memories, combined with the feelings attributed to what others may look at as a heap of cement, or a soon to be cheap apartment complex, gave way to the thought that maybe, maybe, there is no such thing as an inanimate object.

I remember one couple in particular, tears in eyes, speaking of how they met and fell in love at the roof of the old building. For all those Type A suit wearers out there, an even more interesting aspect appeared. More than the sentimental attachments and tender memories flowing forth, was the ease in which the project produced a profit.

Yes, that is correct, this preservation project, made money. For a relatively small investment, the result from the staunch efforts of a few people created joy for thousands while earning a sweet rainy day fund for themselves. These creatives working together showed the worth of working hard for what you believe in, while remaining flexible and open to other opportunities.

Their business model was simple: produce an idea, say yes, take action, go with the flow and get things done. A lesson plan that could save thousands in tuition costs for a higher education came on a silver platter from these men and women. Please, could someone give them a medal?

This place, above all, provided something desperately needed to the community: a place to gather, converse, and simlply be a community. Just by creating a place for people to be, endless possiblities arise. Artists, businessmen and business women, political officials, farmers, and engineers alike, all mixing and mind melding, conversing on varying projects and how to work together.

The result? We will have to wait and see. The ramifications of this wonderful place will need some time to ferment in the weeks and months to come. Indeed, the buzz in the air was more than that provided by the alcohol. It was pure energy. Electricity in the mouths and minds of all that partook in the event of the year.

If you missed it, do yourself a favor and reach out to those tagged in this note and hear more for yourself. Better yet, find someone with deep pockets and a creative mind, and tell them about it. Point them my way and I will give them an earful. Any of us would. These bricks brought us together. Here we stand, waiting.

Thanks to the Poet Adam for this reflection on the briefly revived biergarten. He was dubbed the “Poet Laureate of the Brewery” for regularly inspiring passerby through his writings.