Blues City Cafe (Memphis, TN)
Mrs. Barbecue Fiend and I were staying at The Peabody hotel for one night of Memphis-style R&R, and of course Beale Street was on our itinerary. If I had been flying solo I probably would have picked Rendezvous for dinner, but at least with Blues City Cafe there would be some tasty non-barbecue options for my wife to enjoy.
This place has a very laid back diner feel to it that's right on par with the general Beale Street motif: plastic cups and paper towels. There wasn't much ambiance at all, with the exception of a halved pink Cadillac in one of the dining areas. I hoped this meant they were simply focused on the food.
Our waiter was running on Memphis time (like glacial), so don't come here if you're in a rush. At least they have some good live blues playing every night. These guys were rocking pretty hard and made up for the service somewhat, but not completely.
We had a fairly early lunch, so an appetizer was definitely in order tonight. BBQ Pork Fries sounded like a great option. These are their normal cheese fries topped with pulled pork, as if you couldn't have guessed that without the additional description. I actually had my eye on the Gumbo Cheese Fries, but my wife has an intense aversion to mixing seafood and cheese. Pork was an acceptable compromise.
I can honestly say that this was by far one of the largest appetizers I've ever received. We could have shared this as our meal and still had leftovers. The fries were crisp, though certainly of the frozen store-bought variety. Some parts of the pork were a little dry, but the majority was decently tender. The sweet barbecue sauce gave this dish most of its flavors, and the diced jalapenos really kicked things up a notch. There wasn't any noticeable smoke, though that's likely due to the potent sauce and peppers, at least partially. I liked the gooey cheddar, but it didn't really add much.
For my entree, I couldn't resist their "The Best Meal on Beale Combination Platter," which comes with a half-rack of ribs, a catfish filet, baked beans, coleslaw, and your choice of new potatoes or steak fries. The waiter didn't ask for my preference of spuds before he turned and scampered off, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for steak fries. Our appetizer hadn't been on the table more than a few minutes before our entrees arrived: mine first, then my wife's about five minutes later. The server gave me the option of holding off for a little bit, but since my food would inevitably be sitting out whether it was in the kitchen or on our table, I told him to just go ahead and give me the entree.
The slaw wasn't that great. It had a good crunch, but it also had an odd aftertaste that I couldn't exactly pinpoint. The beans were pleasantly sweet and cooked well. I also liked the onion mixed in. My entree came with steak fries after all, but sadly they ended up being the exact same pre-frozen ones that came with our cheese fries. Oh well.
Catfish is usually either really spectacular or really awful. Interestingly, this filet was right in the middle. The crisp cornmeal batter was great, and the fish tasted fresh. It definitely could have used more seasoning though. The accompanying tartar sauce (I'm guessing) was at least 98% mayonnaise and had less flavor than the packets of tartar sauce you get with a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich.
Blues City's ribs are supposedly rubbed with their secret seasoning and then slathered with a maple barbecue sauce. I like a combination of wet and dry ribs when I'm in Memphis, but here they only come wet. There was a good crust, or so it appeared. The only flavor I could really taste was the barbecue sauce, with the smallest hint of smoke. Sadly, the ribs were overcooked to the point that the meat was crumbling (not falling) off the bone. Somehow they were also extremely difficult to cut and some bites were tough to chew. After struggling to get through three ribs, I discarded the rest and pretended to be full.
My wife had their Southern Fried Chicken Chopped Salad, which was mostly junk lettuce with some tomatoes and croutons tossed in. The chicken came in tender form and there wasn't very much of it to go around. Much like my catfish, her chicken was in dire need of salt. She took a cue from me and left most of her food on the plate as well.
At the end of our meal we waited nearly twenty-five minutes to pay the bill. In a fit of delirious exhaustion, Mrs. Barbecue Fiend started singing her own blues songs about the flavorless food and how slow our waiter was, which was hilarious and quite apt. I gave up on the waiter ever coming back and fortunately had enough cash on me to throw down and just walk out. I should have given them one measly star considering the crappy service, but I won't. How this place has a four-star rating on Yelp is beyond me. As my wife succinctly put it, "The music is better than the food." I couldn't agree more. Blues City Cafe will continue to make good profits simply because of its Beale Street location, but it doesn't deserve the business.
Backbeat Tours, Memphis: Mojo Tour
Because it was incredible.
We were in Memphis for a girlfriends getaway this summer and decided we needed a tour of the city before we spent time at Graceland, an evening at Beale Street and then a substantial amount of time stuffing ourselves with Memphis barbecue. A substantial amount of time and a substantial amount of barbecue.
It was when we climbed on the bus and saw the guy with a guitar perched on a stool at the front of the bus that we knew that was going to be a truly unique tour. And it was. Unique, funny, interesting – all this and more, thanks to our great tour guide, Memphis Jones.
If you take a Mojo Tour with Backbeat Tours you should try as hard as you can to get him as your tour guide. He was seriously great. We drove all over Memphis visiting different historic locations and the whole time he had the bus either laughing, listening to his songs or singing along. I have taken a lot of tours in a lot of places and this was one of the best I have ever taken. Before the tour even started, he handed out tambourines and shakers so the crowd could get involved in the music and you would have though we were a bus full of kindergarten students instead of adults the way we got into those instruments.
We learned all about the colorful musical history of Memphis in an easygoing way that made learning fun. Backbeat Tours offers a variety of musical tours -which seemed appropriate for Memphis – and were very conveniently located on Beale Street, which we had already visited the day before until the incredible, oven-like heat of Memphis had driven us back to our hotel. Luckily, the next day was substantially cooler or we might have never left the hotel again. If you go to Beale Street, there’s plenty of places to park within easy walking distance. We even found one that had valet parking for the same price; we just gave him a small tip when he brought us the car.
Here’s a schedule of all the tours and the prices. You can buy tickets online or at the Blues City Cafe on Beale Street, where the tour bus will pick you up. The ticket office is right on the street at the Blues City Cafe – you can’t miss it.
Backbeat Tours has several interesting tours, including walking tours, all of which are led by professional guides who use music, comedy, and song to create a one-of-a-kind touring experience. But I really recommend the Mojo Tour.
“The Memphis Mojo Tour is our most popular tour and has been ranked as the best tour in Memphis by Tripadvisor.com. The tour offers 2 hours of high energy fun on this musical journey through Memphis greatest attractions. Visit Beale Street, the Peabody Hotel, the Overton Park Shell, the Lorraine Motel , Civil War sights and movie locations while listening to toe-tappin’ renditions of the hits of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Robert Johnson, and Otis Redding, just to name a few. For the complete Memphis experience, try our Big Mojo Tour, which offers everything in our Memphis Mojo Tour, plus a one-hour guided tour of Sun Studio.”
And after your fabulous tour, get off the bus at Beale Street and walk right into the Blues City Cafe.
They have a fabulous menu of choices, including a very spicy and delicious Gulf Coast Cajun-style shrimp appetizer that might very well take the top of your head of with it’s spiciness. So be prepared. Just make sure you order barbecue at the Blues City Cafe because it is their specialty. I have never had barbecued ribs with meat so tender it was actually slipping off the bones until I ate here.
Seriously. Falling off the bone.
And then, just about the time we thought we might be able to get up and waddle out of the place, they encouraged us to order the Apple Dumpling with ice cream, which is their specialty dessert.
Honestly. Could you pass this up? Baked apple wrapped in pastry seared with butter in an iron skillet. Drizzled with cinnamon sauce and served with vanilla ice cream.
With ice cream. OF COURSE.
So. Go to Memphis. Take the Backbeat Tours Mojo Tour. Eat barbecue and apple pastries until you can barely walk.
Full disclosure: Backbeat Tours provided me with a tour and Blues City Cafe provided me with a meal, but my companions paid their own way and were pleased to do so for such great experiences. As always, I will share my honest opinion about any travel experiences I have.