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June 05, 2013

Memphis is My Fifth Major -- For Eats!

Posted at 12:34 PM by Joe Passov | Categories: Memphis

Mirimichi
The 441-yard, par-4 7th hole at Justin Timberlake's Mirimichi.

I'm not sure why the FedEx St. Jude Classic draws such second-tier fields.

Maybe it's the hilly TPC Southwind course that's usually smothered in high humidity. Perhaps it's the timing, seemingly always in front of, or sandwiched between, higher-priority events.

All I know is that if I were a PGA Tour player, I would make Memphis a must-stop on my schedule, for one reason: I'm partial to barbecue. Give me a hollowed out oil drum or a backyard open pit, slap the meats on the grates and let's smoke this joint out!

I'm pleased for Memphis fans this year. Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson are among the attractions. Always an attraction is Graceland, a pilgrimage for Elvis fans, and Beale Street, where rock, jazz and blues clubs, such as B.B. King's, stand side by side. A special, more sobering experience is the National Civil Rights Museum, on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Memphis even has quality public golf, starting with Mirimichi. Formerly known as Big Creek, this is the course where 5-handicap (and Ryder Cup motivational speaker) Justin Timberlake learned the game. It faced demolition a few years back, and Timberlake emptied his wallet that day to save it. Today, it's been transformed into 7,479 yards of serious golf, with water in play on 12 holes, memorably on Timberlake's favorite, the 181-yard, par-3 11th.

I'm also partial to Cherokee Valley, just across the border in Olive Branch, Mississippi. This enjoyable romp through forest and wetlands features first-rate zoysia fairways, where the ball sits up just begging to be hit, as well as uphill closing holes on each nine that lead to a handsome hilltop clubhouse.

Still, you better be walkin' in Memphis because you're going to have to burn off some calories. (Did you know that Marc Cohn, who wrote and performed the song, is married to ABC journalist Elizabeth Vargas, after being introduced by Andre Agassi at the 1999 U.S. Open? Now you do.)

You could warm up your taste buds at Graceland with Elvis' favorite, the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, or chase worthy upscale cuisine at the top hotels in town, the Peabody and the Madison. Still, the reason you booked a flight to Memphis is to sample the 'cue, so that's what we must do.

You'll always get serious arguments (though in this case, there are no losers), but my picks for the top three BBQ joints in Memphis are, in order, Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q, Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous and Corky's.

The original Interstate on 3rd Street is still supreme, and it's a perfect stop on the way to or from the airport. Interstate cooks its meats for five hours in specially-built pits that combine natural gas and hickory wood, then pairs them with some of the finest sweet-smoky sauce on the planet. Start with the chopped pork and beef platters or sandwiches, but save room for their one-of-a-kind barbecue spaghetti. I kid you not.

Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous has been packing them in since 1948 and it's easy to see why. It's the closest great barbecue restaurant to downtown and it occupies a funky, memorabilia-filled basement, giving you the sense that you have left the real world behind -- which you have, at least for an hour of drive-you-out-of-your-mind barbecue fragrance. Rendezvous is renowned for their dry-rub ribs that are so tender and spicy, there's no need for sauce.

Finally, there's Corky's in East Memphis, which spends little time or money on d├ęcor. Instead, they pour all their cash back into the product and it's worth waiting in line for, especially the ribs or pork platter. While it's true they've spread their barbecue gospel to supermarkets nationwide and even to QVC, there's nothing like chowing down at the original.

So here's to good golf -- and to exceptional barbecue -- in Memphis this week. I won't miss a minute on TV. It's tough to click the remote when your fingers are slathered in sauce.

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