Editorial: Memphis Moves Way Beyond BBQ

Saturday, October 12, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 42

Memphis food is more than barbecue. Much more.

There – we’ve said it.

And moderation is not only possible but advisable because the burgeoning food scene in Memphis shows no signs of fading. It is growing as the dish crawl series of events demonstrate.

Crawls are a Memphis social tradition more identified with bars and the drinks served in those bars. Remember the St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl when it was in full crawl in the 1980s?

That probably won’t happen with the dish crawls, some of which have already sold out or look likely to sell out.

Not too far beneath the fun that these events are built on are some serious ways to redefine Memphis culture and point it toward a broader culinary base – one that has room for moderation and diversity and can sustain itself as an element in an overall culture that constantly changes.

If we accept that music and literature and architecture are all expressions of culture in the places where people from different places intersect, surely there is room in that mix for the food served at the places where those people meet.

Barbecue is part of the Memphis identity we show the world. And it is indeed part of the true Memphis identity. But we all know the face Memphis puts on for tourists isn’t the same face it wears away from the tourists. It has become a mask that we need to drop not just in the places we dine but on Beale Street and Graceland and any place else where we’ve built bubble worlds for our visitors that we think are the Memphis they can handle.

Increasingly those tourists come to our city, especially the repeat visitors who get us, looking for the real Memphis, the experimental Memphis, the modern Memphis.

That’s the Memphis known for barbecue where greenlines and hiking and bicycle trails are about to cross the Mississippi River and where the Shelby Farms Greenline is about to be thick with fall traffic as well as fall leaves.

It is also the Memphis where vegan items go with cupcakes and wine go with a rack of ribs – all done differently than any other place on the planet.

And in so many of those places where food is redefining Memphis culture, the Sun-Stax catalog that is part of our soundtrack gives way to new live entertainment that is as innovative in its own way as it is true to the experience of those making it and rightfully calling it Memphis music.

So bring on the dishcrawls and take them to every corner of the city where those with the formal training and the innate sense of innovation are doing their thing in a kitchen.

What is happening in those kitchens is an inseparable part of an everchanging culture that has never, ever tried to define itself by its parts or its borders.