I Went To A Screening Of ‘Underground’ In Memphis And Here Is What I Ate » VSB

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I Went To A Screening Of ‘Underground’ In Memphis And Here Is What I Ate

Last week, I hopped in a time machine and moseyed on down to Memphis to partake in a screening of WGN’s upcoming series, Underground, on behalf of Terry Hines & Associates (who organized the screening) and Very Smart Brothas (who asked if I wanted to attend). The series stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell as “Rosalee” and the great-faced Aldis Hodge as “Noah,” who organized a group of fed-up enslaved folks off that dastardly White man’s plantation so they could live freely and perhaps maul chicken wings without the threat of violence or the burden of dealing with massa’s useless, hateful ass wife.

Whenever I’m visiting a new city, my first step is always locating the best food because I have my priorities in order. I reached out to the homies and Southerners and got all types of great recommendations for BBQ and delicious-but-unhealthy things. “Go to Gus’s!” “Anything on Beale Street!” One thing was for sure, though: I was not, under any circumstances, to moonwalk my Black ass into Rendezvous.

One sisterfriend put it best: “Don’t you take your Black ass to Rendezvous. That shit is for White people and tourists who don’t know any better.”

What’s the first place that this bemulleted gentleman recommended as he escorted me to my hotel?

mullet

Yup. Rendezvous.

While checking into the Madison, I told the chocolatey queen at the front desk where the driver directed me. Without missing a beat: “Boy, don’t you go to Rendezvous. That’s more for…um…tourists and…yeah. Naw.” We shared a knowing and Blackful cackle and I retreated to my quarters where I pretended to be productive for a few hours and slept like a log pon that wondrous bed.

The next afternoon, the writerly squad arrived to Blues City Café down on Beale Street in search of BBQ and elation. While seated in that booth sipping that sweet tea, my life changed. How, you ask, jealously? Through the gospel of gumbo cheese fries, which skeeted all over my soul in the most wonderful way.

Now, I adore fries. Curly fries. Sweet potato fries. Shoutout to the kimchi fries at Korilla BBQ in Manhattan and the buffalo chicken blue cheese waffle fry situation at The Waffle in Los Angeles. But gumbo cheese fries is a whole different level of splendor. Because skrimps.

shrimp

It was everything I needed in life at that moment. My only regret is that I had to share them with six hungry folks. And because I was just meeting all of these folks for the first time on this business lunch of sorts, I curtailed my eagerness and ate like a nice, ungluttonous person. I refrained from shoveling fries into my mouth. I had to pace myself. I didn’t lick the plate this time. It was torture. I don’t want to get myself worked up and aroused thinking too hard about smashing that plate by myself. Surely, that plate would have returned to the kitchen spotless.

When it came time to order our main dishes, someone at the table asked, “Are there any vegetables here?”

Waiter: “No. Well, salad, fries and new potatoes.”

Us: “What the hell is a new potato?”

Waiter: “It’s just a regular little boiled potato.”

We sucked our teeth collectively.

Me, internally: “No gravy? No bacon? No magic? What kind of joyless dungeon are we in?”

I ordered the ribs and catfish platter with fries, assuming that that kitchen full of big Black dudes couldn’t possibly let me down. The ribs? Muy succulent. Not enough sauce, but that was fixable. That catfish though? Gentrified and woefully under-seasoned.

The horror.

Later that afternoon, arriving to the screening at the National Civil Rights Museum, we hopped out the whip and walked into history. The newly renovated landmark is built into the side of the Lorraine Motel, where that scumbaggy White dude assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. We have all seen the photo of Jesse Jackson standing over Martin’s body, pointing across the street. But I wasn’t prepared for the sadness that overtook me as I walked under that balcony, past Room 306 and through the parking lot, all preserved to look like April 1968.

museum

Looking up inside Room 306, I watched a gaggle of Whitefolks snapping pictures of his personal effects, smiling, Whitefully. I sighed a lot in those few minutes.

national

Entering the museum’s reception area, I needed to shake off the weight of that arrival. What’s the quickest way to shake the murder-scene-as-a-tourist-attraction blues? By hitting up the lonely, underworked bartender, standing there guarding the spirits and an empty bar, beckoning me with a smile and a wave of the hand.

Hey best friend.

And so it began. As we waited for the start of the screening, I spent an hour working as the self-appointed Appetizer Master, ensuring all available foodthings were suitable for human consumption. I take my role as the Calorie Whisperer quite seriously. I don’t fuck around when it’s time to eat. I double-checked the jumbo shrimp cocktail situation and the delicious crab cakes because I wouldn’t have been able to live knowing I could have saved a colleague from treacherous culinary underwhelming. So I bravely wrecked one of each and offered my belly rub of approval. While we guzzled our third round of spiked peach sweet teas, I intercepted and inspected the briefcase full of yummy sliders, declaring myself responsible for trial, lest my cohorts be exposed to potential burger-borne disappointment. Because I’m a good person.

silders

Me, to server: “I’ll need to investigate one of these, please.” *smashes slider*

Colleagues: “How was it?” Me: “Good as fuck.”

And they went forth and burgered. Mission complete.

I didn’t know what to expect from a modern series about the Underground Railroad, aside from lots and lots of Harriet Tubman references. Hollywood clearly believes that Black American history begins with slavery and ends with the Civil Rights Movement. Thankfully, writers Misha Green and Joe Pokaski approached this project the right way and told a harrowing, oft-simplified tale with nuance, humanity and compassion. The story follows a squad of freedom-seeking slaves who fled the Macon plantation and made a 600-mile journey to liberty. The difference between this and so many other slave narratives we see on screen is that the folks here weren’t presented as victims. We only watched the pilot episode, but it was refreshing to see us portrayed as our striving, powerful and endlessly creative true selves, as whole damn laughing, crying, lusting people, and not the passive, predictable two-dimensional types who exist merely as accessories/foes/friends of the porcelain-skinned lead.

The screening was followed by a brief panel, hosted by the lovely Shaun Robinson. Surprisingly, Jurnee and her costar Alano Miller are fifty times finer in person than expected.

underground

This series, which showcases the brilliance and resilience of Black folks and the casual horrors of 19th century plantation life, is a breath of fresh air. I’ll be watching when it premieres next spring on WGN.

That night, I wound up at eighty3, the hotel’s restaurant, drinking whiskey with the gang. Thanks to a generous, talkative rocker at the bar beside us, I now know what moonshine tastes like: despair and Iggy Azalea’s deferred hopes and dreams.

When three people demanded I try the chicken and mac-n-cheese waffles, I was morally unable to refuse. Three of my favorite things on the same plate? Sign me the fuck up.

waffles

First of all, the waffle was made out of macaroni and cheese. Correction: well-seasoned macaroni and cheese. I wasn’t expecting that. The chicken, too, was well-seasoned and gloriously juicy. And I shall summarize the brilliance of the parmesan cheese sauce and that merciful pecan-bourbon sauce drizzle with two words: mouth party. I will definitely be attempting to recreate this.

If I had accepted friendly rocker’s offer for a second shot of life-wrecking moonshine, I would have probably offered the chef some head. It was that good.

Hours later, ‘round midnight, the spirit called unto me and said, “Alex, my chile…”

“Sí, papi.”

“Call up room service and see about that shrimp and grits,” the spirit directed.

And so, I did. And the French toast, too.

The sistergirl at the front desk has had the French toast and recommended it, but had only heard “nice stuff” about the shrimp & grits. What she was clueless of, sadly, was the gravy situation.

Me: “What’s the gravy situation like? How much sauce is involved?”

Her: “Hmm. Don’t get me lying on this phone. I’m not sure, but I can check.”

Me: “Nah. That’s okay. Based on what you heard, would you feed it to your mama?”

Her: “Yes.”

Me: “I’ll take it.”

The French toast was serviceable, thankfully. But let me talk to you about these grits. Primero, the yellow grits were fried into a sweet and delicious light-and-fluffy fried cake-of-magnificence. My soul ejaculated with glee. And the skrimps and the creole sauce set everything off perfectly. That sauce — sure to be the source of many a daydream or wet dream going forward — could probably fix Ben Carson. Along with some nice electroshock therapy. And voodoo. It was the most delightful thing I have eaten in ages. May the chef live long and may his dick never falter. Ashé.

Like a true glutton, I licked that plate, set the tray out in the hallway and stretched out pon the bed, offering my belly rub of approval yet again as I let sleep overtake me.

Alex Hardy

Alexander Hardy is the dance captain for Saint Damita Jo Jackson's Royal Army. He is a writer who escaped Hampton, Virginia and is now based in Panama City, Panama. There, he runs The Colored Boy, and consumes copious amounts of chicken. He has written for EBONY.com, CNN, Gawker, and Huffington Post among other outlets. Alexander can likely be found daydreaming about his next meal or Blacking It Up on someone's dance floor. He also doesn't believe in snow or Delaware. Read more from Alex at www.thecoloredboy.com

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Well Alex..congrats. You’ve ruined my life. Not only am I jealous of your trip, jealous of your experience, jealous of the cuisine you partook with, and jealous that you got to see Ms. Smollet’s face up close….BUT NOW you just reminded me I work in Long Island City, where there are no great restaurants for me to have lunch from.

    How can I have a regular a$$ salad after reading this s h i t man? You’re trying to kill me.

    • Be sure to report back with what you ate for lunch.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        I had the other half of my pancakes and turkey bacon. As much as I love pancakes, they pale in comparison to your Templeton like food fest.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Halal food and a BBQ pulled pork sandwich.

        I’m a fucking mess right now because you made me look at pictures of awesome food I cannot have right now.

        I’m shame eating right now. That’s all this is.

        • OMG HALAL FOOD!!! I WANT A SAMOSA NOWWWWWW!!!!! I MISS LIVING IN DC SO MUCH!!!! THERE IS NO HALAL FOOD IN THE SOUTH.

          • Val

            There must be Halal food in larger Southern cities.

            • Unfortunately I don’t live in a large southern city.

            • miss t-lee

              There is.
              I had a halal chicken plate from a spot here a couple weeks ago.
              En fuego.

              • GirlMelanie86

                Where did you go, if you don’t mind my asking? I’ve never had halal and I’ve wanted to try it. I know of one place on Lamar in a little strip mall looking situation but it looks a little sketchy.

                • miss t-lee

                  Halal Corner
                  51st/35 area
                  Bomb.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            No halal food down there?

            Oooooh no. I dunno if I can make a move like that.

            I’ll treat you when you come up though!

          • Monique Baha

            My condolences, queen…. I lived in the south early in life. But I am now in the DC area married to a Muslim man, I can’t remember life before halal… Which is almost synonymous with 24 Crystal City Kabobs

            • I need to find me a nice Muslim man so I can prosper like you.

    • Pinks

      Really, in LIC? I feel like I’ve eaten at some good places there before.

      But then again, it could’ve been Astoria. I always confuse the two lol

      • Val

        Yeah, you’re probably thinking of Astoria. Lol I don’t ever remember anyone saying lets go to LIC and get some food.

        • I’ve never heard that either.

        • Pinks

          LOL you right. I didn’t even know LIC was a place until like two years ago.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Yup, you’re thinking of Astoria. I mean, LIC is changing rapidly but I’m by La Guardia College and there’s nothing but warehouses for the first half a mile. I have to go to Sunnyside for the better stuff, and I’ve already eaten everything they could provide several times. I need a change.

        • LMNOP

          You could pack lunch.

        • ChrissyWithLove

          Have you been to Blend on the Water and Sage General Store? Sage is just walking distance from the C building over that little bridge. Blend is more upscale but my GOD the salmon over cilantro mashed potatoes with a pineapple reduction were to die for! Good eats :)

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            No I have not but damn, thanks for the suggestion. You just made me hungry. I need foodie buddies.

    • Ger Wil

      Cosign. Cosign, cosign, cosign, and cosign (insert: and where is Aldis Hodge?)…cosign (remove LIC, insert Tysons f u c king Corner, Virginia), cosign.

      Cosign? Cosign.

  • AlwaysCC

    welcome to memphis! lol if that impressed you, the next time you come back (because you should definitely return), make sure you venture into some of the other local eateries (especially the black owned ones). one thing we’re definitely known for is our food – hence why we are one of the fattest cities in the U.S.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      You want to be our VSB Memphis connect?

      • Jacqueline Brougher

        If she doesn’t, I do@

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          I’m down with that, I’d love to take a trip down there and meet some VSB folks

    • I definitely plan to return! If I had more time in town and fewer obligations, I would have absolutely hit up the Blackety Black parts of town, since I know that’s where the best food is. Any recommendations?

      • Reemo

        Makeda’s Cookies and Cozy Corner would be my recommendations. I can’t go home without bringing back some butter cookies.

        • I’m definitely going there next time.

      • AlwaysCC

        recommendations vary depending on where you would stay. there are soooooooo many absolutely fuqin awesome local places it’s easier to just try everything and welcome the food induced coma that is to follow lol

        cozy corner is a must. surprisingly, germantown commissary (out in the burbs) is a slept on bbq place. try lunchbox eats for a soul food twist on an ole skool lunch menu. cocoa van is a cupcake shop/bakery that will have you trade your soul with a kappa for more. sob (south of beale) is my favorite bar downtown. check out overton square – second line, lafayette’s music room, bosco’s…for a lot of local food and live music. so much food, so little time…

        • QuirlyGirly

          See my cousin did me dirty the last time I was in Memphis. Taking me to chain restaurants when she should have been taking me to these places. Asking me if I want to see Graceland *eye roll

          • Val

            Graceland? Oh my.

            • QuirlyGirly

              Huh! I don’t have anything against seeing it. I would rather eat good food and do something else. I am not a see the sights in the city type person. I like to just see the city- the good and the bad.

            • Jennifer

              Graceland was like HGTV for the cocaine set. I loved that trippy mess of a house. Of course, I hadn’t just wasted my months living in Memphis on any chain restaurants either. I had some good food.

              • Val

                Nope, couldn’t do it. From what I hear Elvis wasn’t exactly a friend, if you know what I mean.

                • Jennifer

                  I gotcha. :-)

                  But, if I made that the rule for doing anything in the South, I would hardly go anywhere. He OD’d on a toilet. I’ll call that some karmic comeuppance for his previous sins.

          • miss t-lee

            I don’t know your fam at all, but she’s so fired for this whole situation.

            • QuirlyGirly

              LOL! Yes- she has been terminated, let go, pink slipped and escorted out of the building

              • miss t-lee

                *thumbs up*

          • Reemo

            I live(d) down the street from Graceland and have never been and have no desire to. Your cousin is slaw.

            • QuirlyGirly

              Slaw?

              • Reemo

                Yes ma’am. It is a term used to denote that a person is substandard, suspect, or in need of improvement. If you tell your cousin that they’re “slaw as hell” and they don’t buck up, they might not really be from Memphis.

                • QuirlyGirly

                  “Substandard”- Now you can’t be slandering my cousin..fam is still fam even when you have to fire them from their post of because they didn’t take you to the good food spots.

                  You must be from Memphis cause- slaw threw me for real. Heck I thought you was calling my cousin food as in Cole Slaw- I didn’t know what to think..sheesh

                  • Val

                    *writes down “slaw” and definition for future use*

            • miss t-lee

              LOL!

            • AlwaysCC

              slaw lol you soooo memphis!

      • jamjam1

        The BBQ Shop owned by Eric Vernon and Payne’s BBQ. And yes forever on Makeda’s butter cookies!

  • Junegirl627

    While reading this I laughed, felt sad, got jealous and the pissed.Laughed cuz yooos a funny dude. Felt dad because brother Martin… sigh… Got jealous because no one makes Gumbo like my Auntie Alice in New Orleans she freezes it and over nights to family member across the country as birthday presents and trust no one who likes their life touches it. So now i’m mad that I never poured that over some waffle fries. Then I got pissed cuz after reading about foodgasm after foodgasm like a perv gorging on Hustler Magazine the burger I planned on eating from shake shack has left me hollow….

  • Sigma_Since 93

    The fact you called your round midnight spirit papi had me rolling.

    Me and my midnight spirit had to break up because the way my pants and my waistline are set up…………..

    • uNk

      Listen, my inner spirit is an overly mature 12 year old. I have to deflect his suggestions numerous times a day

  • Lol @ gentrified catfish. Those mac & cheese waffles sounded heavenly. I need to make a trip :-( I deserve excellent food too.

    • That catfish was so hateful. I’m still mad about it.

  • uNk

    Gumbo Fries and Mac & Cheese Waffles….I WILL be recreating those dishes. I think I was staring at pictures for like 5 minutes before i continued to read the next paragraph. You my good sir were eating good.

  • haute_coutoy

    Gumbo cheese fries? Chicken and mac-n-cheese waffles? …woo i think the “spirit” is calling for me to skip the corny quinoa salad i have for lunch…
    The pics alone got me adding Memphis to the list of places I thought I’d never want to visit but will now for “research purposes”… read food purposes.

  • Missus Maxwell

    Thanks, dude. Now I’m sitting at my desk, hungry as hell. Hmmmmm, Memphis is just 4hrs away… Oh, and I’ll definitely catch the show when it airs in the spring.

  • That is too much.

  • Julie Mango TheGladiator Staff

    I’m now going to be thinking of waffles made of macaroni and cheese.
    MAMA.NEEDS.THESE.IN.HER.LIFE!!!

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