Chef Ray Gage stands behind his restaurant’s white-tiled counter, clutching his CB radio microphone like some barbecue chefs might clutch their tongs. The radio is just as crucial to his roadside barbecue business as the slabs of meat roasting in the smoker out back. That’s because Ray advertises to passing truckers via CB channel 16, jotting down orders and delivering them to surrounding truck stops or demolition derbies.
Rays knows his meals must be hearty enough to fuel the bellies of truckers barreling down I-55. To that end, he smokes thick slabs of beef and pork on beds of hickory in the small shack behind his restaurant, and slathers them in sweet, tangy sauce. He then serves hunks of meat with dollops of traditional southern sides, such as baked beans and potato salad.
So far, Dr. Bretta King and her sister Belinda have managed to dodge all of their family's hereditary illnesses. They don't consider this luck—according to the sisters, they have a raw vegan diet to thank for their health. They pay tribute to this lifestyle at Two Vegan Sistas, where they introduce people of all dietary persuasions to the art of vegan cuisine. Eschewing soy, sugars, and genetically modified foods, they've created an 80% raw menu focused on dishes cooked at below 105 degrees. They blend walnuts and almonds with vegetables and spices to make their vegan meats, top sandwiches in vegan barbecue sauce and mayo, and craft entrees such as mediterranean couscous and stir-fried quinoa with vegetables. To further a mission of environmental preservation, they also deliver their food to Memphis-area homes.
To reach their table at Spaghetti Warehouse, guests commonly have to step through two doors: the front door of the restaurant and the door of the antique trolley parked inside. Since its inception in 1972, the Italian eatery has merged the functions of kitchen and museum. Artifacts such as grandfather clocks, factory flywheels, and circus billboards surround diners as they delve into signature plates of 15-Layer Lasagna or hand-rolled meatballs. Apart from the items they've amassed, each of the buildings also has a particular history, from the one-time ice-manufacturing plant in Columbus to Memphis's Civil War munitions depot. Given their storied pasts, it's no surprise that several of these venues house their own ghosts—at Houston's warehouse, for example, elevator lights have been known to flicker, objects are mysteriously found in new locations, and a lady in a white gown is said to roam the restaurant.
Yet the main attraction of the place is the delicious food. Like any great Italian meal, made-from-scratch dishes are created from family recipes passed down for generations via email. Guests devour the perfectly al dente pasta, crispy calamari, bottomless soups, and 12-layer chocolate cakes while dining with family and friends. It’s that feeling of togetherness that people love about Spaghetti Warehouse, a feeling that is only enhanced when the drinks start flowing and the air is punctuated by the sounds of laughter as kids play retro games, such as The Claw prize-grabbing machine.
Chef Geroy Rachel honed his skills at L'École culinaire in Memphis before opening Royal Flavors, a food truck specializing in smoky barbecued meats. Inside the mobile kitchen, he wraps bacon around chicken legs, flavors pork riblets with a dry rub, and smokes beef burgers to serve on butter buns with provolone cheese and pickles. Smoked cabbage salad or turnip greens with smoked pork round out meals, and slices of caramel cake or strawberry shortcake provide a sweet finish. Diners can take their food to go or eat beside the food truck, where picnic chairs surround a flat screen television.
Don your nicest of men’s or women’s patterned vests and settle in for a night of elegant dining at your own pace; Safari’s dim lighting, cracked-plaster walls, and ornate molding create an Old World atmosphere perfect for discussing German expressionist film noir or the correctly patterned vests for sophisticated dogs. While thinking of the next thing to say, you can fill your mouth with a menu featuring a variety of tapas ($6 to $9) such as Creole crab cakes served with tri-colored peppers and shallot ($9); southern fried chicken skewers with three-cheese macaroni ($7); and Moroccan beef skewers with button mushrooms, onion, and cous cous ($8). Vegetarians can join in the plate-passing pageantry with a little falafel with roasted-garlic hummus and tempura-battered seasonal vegetables with Asian dipping sauce; while those craving a comfort food can savor the simple delights of pita pizzas such as the three-cheese pizza with cheddar, mozzarella, and fontina. Safari also offers a selection of fresh salads and wraps, including the fried tilapia wrap ($7).
Grawemeyer's in downtown Memphis offers an authentic taste of Germany by way of its loaded menu, lined with traditional favorites. Start off with a giant bavarian pretzel before choosing between the sauerbraten sandwich, made with pot roast and mashed potatoes on toasted german rye, or the gruyère spaetzle casserole. There’s also a deli counter in the back for fresh cuts of meats and cheeses. The restaurant’s custom-built bar has an extensive collection of wines and imported German beers to complement the menu. And on select evenings, piano music and trivia night spice up meals.