More good food from the Blues Capitol of the World:
--Elfo's: This swanky restaurant sits out in Germantown, having recently moved east from parts closer to Memphis-proper. Everything about the place is chic. Understated white exterior, understated white interior with most black accents. Our table had a black-and-white photo of the old Elfo's liquor store hanging over it. The bar was well-lit; the actual restaurant had the usual soft-light-with-a-candle-on-the-table thing going on.
The food was great. Elfo's specializes in Italian cuisine, much more than your average spaghetti and meatballs. I chose the Mezzo, a combo plate featuring spaghetti in their fancy meat marinara (I think they called it "Tuscan gravy") and ravioli stuffed with various goodies (including meat, cheese, and spinach). It was delicious. Rachel went with the Elfo's version of chicken Parmesan, which, judging by the one bite I had, was also quite good. My favorite part, as usual, was the tiramisu. Simply to die for. Very light, semi-sweet, well balanced on the flavors. A+. On the night: 2 entrees, 1 basket of bread, 1 glass of wine, 1 tiramisu= $70.
--Blue Plate Cafe: The quintessential small American restaurant. The dimensions were roughly that of a small 50's starter home that had been freshened up with a coat of bright yellow paint and (you guessed it) blue plates everywhere. Judging by the menu, the place is apparently known for its pancakes. Half of us at the table had pancakes. I chose the Swiss chocolate chip. Good choice. The place is certainly not fancy, but it has a refreshing down-home feel (especially in a bigger city), and the food is good quality. There was also a line the entire time we were there. B+/A-. I couldn't tell you the cost of the meal; I love it when other people pick up the tab.
That's pretty much everywhere we went that's worth reviewing.
Driving/walking through Memphis is both an art and a skill. The art comes from enjoying the nicer parts of the city. What we saw of downtown was mostly clean and well-planned. Beale Street carried with it the odor of urine, but that's familiar to just about any famous street in America (Bourbon Street, anyone?). Travelling east through Bartlett-Collierville-Germantown, the streets are well-maintained, the neighborhoods are at least nice, at most utterly luxurious (even if the million-dollar homes only have about 5 feet between them). Something I really love about the drive: they allow the trees to grow which (a) makes for a scenic drive and (b) provides some extra shade on the road. The Mud Island community, of course, had the beautiful river scenery. Memphis has done a pretty good job of utilizing its riverfront property (not quite the level of Chattanooga, on par with Nashville, much better than Clarksville or Knoxville).
The skill comes from carefully staying within a certain corridor as you travel east-west. DO NOT TRAVEL NORTH-SOUTH!!! We found that out as we were trying to get on the interstate. We were told when we first go to Memphis that this was the routine. The middle section of the entire county had been developed and improved for the new professional class in town. However, both to the north and to the south still have the "ghetto problem." This is were project housing is still predominate, the crime rate spikes, and people with common sense just don't go. The good news is that, with all the development, these areas are pretty much self-contained and isolated from the rest of the city, and most people have no reason to venture through there. If only someone had told that to my Garmin...
Still to come: why Memphis is better than Knoxville.