VOL. 126 | NO. 137 | Friday, July 15, 2011
Turnip Greens, Peanuts And Personality
LOCAL FLAVOR, AGED AND SEASONED. My friend in the snappy bowtie is eating pea soup, drinking buttermilk and telling me a story. He thinks he’s told me this story before and he’s right. He also thinks he’s not very good at telling stories and he’s wrong. He’s interrupted several times as people wander over to speak to him. A judge here, a legislator there, lawyers everywhere.
Roane Waring Jr., is 94 years old, as sharp as the aged cheddar on my salad, as refreshingly frank as the pepper sauce on our table and as old-school flavorful as that glass of buttermilk.
He’d been practicing law for decades when today’s senior partners were still practicing how to tie their shoes. Having lunch with Roane is like breaking bread with the 20th century.
Roane has personality.
It’s only appropriate that we were having lunch Downtown in The Little Tea Shop, a place that’s been around as long as Roane and, like Roane, it’s been serving up honest, straightforward fare for all that time.
I think it’s fair to say that if something was going to happen in Memphis, needed to happen or needed to never happen again, the people responsible discussed it at one of these tables, even planned it using a corn stick as a pointer and a napkin as a notepad.
Today, a federal judge is settling in over a mess of greens, a former state attorney general is laughing about something with a scion of rib royalty, the head of MLGW is adding to the power buzz and the state senate majority leader is dealing with his bill down front.
For the last 29 years, Suhair and James have owned The Little Tea Shop, and Suhair might just be our biggest cheerleader. She operates the front counter more like a welcoming center and sports information desk than a cash register, and if she doesn’t know you, you’d never know it. True to her beliefs, she produces mouth-watering, down-home-good Southern cooking without using a bit of pork fat. That, my friends, is close to a miracle.
The Little Tea Shop has personality.
Up on Main, a half-block away but still in the family, Suhair’s sister and brother-in-law – Amira and Rida – operate a salty-sweet little sliver of local flavor called the Peanut Shoppe. The place is about two mammoth pecans wide, but there is no wider appeal to what they offer anywhere in town. Try finding Alltree Mix or salted and unsalted filberts in Kroger. They’re fresh roasting nuts from everywhere every day, popping popcorn and making caramel corn right in front of you, and don’t get me started on the candy selection. Really. We don’t have time.
The Peanut Shoppe has personality.
People and places like this don’t take up much room, but their footprint is enormous. They have very little economic impact, but their worth is beyond measure. They represent what we have that no other city has – our personality.
I’m a Memphian, and I’ll take a pound of Spanish salted.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at email@example.com.