Thursday, April 15, 2010

Slug burgers, ribs and hot springs

Chris and I headed out of Murfreesboro bound for Memphis, Little Rock and Hot Springs on Wednesday morning, April 14. Since last year's adventures, his Fat Boy had added a rear rack, sissy bad and -- in honor of our road trip -- a new, grand, multi-compartmented, sissy-bar mounted tail bag. We followed much the same route as last year through Franklin, Tenn. and down the Natchez Trace -- but this time we peeled off at US 64 and headed west toward Memphis.

I noticed the sign "Catfish Capital of the Universe," when we reached Savannah, Tenn. But I wasn't quite ready for the sign in front of Pop's Cafe 64. "Slug Burgers" it announced.

We hit the brakes and made a U-turn to park in front of Pop's. After some discussion and a photo, we decided to go inside and check it out.

A sign designed to stop traffic.

Inside, we met Pop. The waitress said his last name is Haddock. "Like the fish?" we asked.

"Is Haddock a fish?" she said.

Are slug burgers for real?

Slug burgers go for $1.29 -- $2.29 with fries.

Well, they were right there on the menu. We talked to Pop himself, a beaming, red-cheeked, cue-ball of a Tennessee Volunteer. Said he gets the slugs out of his garden, grinds them up and deep fat fries them. We said we'd try one. Split it.

Would you eat a slug burger cooked by this man?

The other patrons in the dining room joined the fun. I asked, are slugs fast food? Nobody laughed, but there was considerable discussion about how many restaurants in the Savannah area served slug burgers. The consensus was three.

Then conversation drifted off onto catfish of epic sizes and stories about how they were landed. "I wouldn't eat a catfish," allowed one diner. "The only good ones are farmed -- don't taste fishy."

The slug burger arrived. Moment of truth.

I took a bite. Tasted like chicken. Well, maybe chicken mixed with garden burger. Chris ate his half, too, and the fries were excellent.

Pop and our waitress 'fess up.

After we'd eaten the damn burger, the fun was over and Pop told us the history of the slug burger. "Slug" refers not to the slimy garden snail relative but the nickel five-cent coin, which people used to call a slug.

"Back in the day when nobody had anything, they couldn't afford meat around here. So, they used to mix corn meal with pork fat or whatever, fry it up and sell it for a nickel. Called them "slug burgers."

Eventually, we made it to Memphis and camped south of the city at T.O. Fuller State Park near Graceland. John, the camp host, was a laconic sort but happy to answer questions about places to go for food and entertainment. We paid John $11, pitched our tents and rode into the city at sunset.

Memphis folks enjoy the sunset at a riverfront park.

Memphis' bridges and pyramid are the backdrop for a sunset romp.

We found the Rendezvous, a rib restaurant John recommended, down an alley in a basement off Second Street. The place was packed, but we found seats at the bar next to a couple of guys from Birmingham, Ala. They recommended the full slab of ribs. We each got one -- then Chris ordered an extras half slab. They cook them dry with plenty of spices and serve them up with cole slaw, beans and sweet and hot sauces in squeeze bottles. Pig heaven.

After dinner, we walked down to Beale Street and discovered Wednesday nights are Bike Nights. Hundreds of motorcycles were parked tightly together along both curbs down three blocks of the famous street where the blues were born. Music poured out of the bars as more bikes arrived: Harley's, sport bikes, metric cruisers, dozens of customized Gold Wings -- you name it.

Chris' tent-cleaning method: Pick it up and shake it.

Back in the campground, the night passed quietly, except for the sounds of passing trains and the sounds of two Flanagan brothers snoring. In the morning, we packed up and rode over to Graceland. Chris thought we should go directly to Waffle House, but I said as long as we were in Memphis we ought to see the shrine.

Elvis fans have left their marks.

We didn't plan to take a tour -- just drive by and look over the fence. Across the highway, Presley's airplanes, Cadillac El Dorado and other artifacts were on display and a huge parking lot awaited the day's pilgrims. We crossed the road and drew up to the 200-yard, six-foot high fence in front of the hallowed mansion. It was covered with messages, names and sentiments.

Chris meets the Elvis phenomenon.

Born in 1961, Chris was only 16 when Elvis died and never paid attention to the clamor over his life, career and passing. We left Graceland, rode over the Mississippi to West Memphis and found a Waffle House for breakfast. He wanted to talk about Elvis. I told him what I knew, that he was sort of a male Madonna and the first major, cross-over, R&B singer -- a sexy white kid who sang black music.

Chris decided he wanted to head back home but he wanted to stop at Graceland again. "All those names on that fence," he said. "I want to find out more about what that's all about.

Eastern Arkansas is flat, flat, flat.

We said goodbye. He headed east and I continued west toward Little Rock and Hot Springs National Park.

In Paradise, Ark., where I stopped for fuel, a gaunt older man wearing a Razorback red cap filled the tank of his pickup behind me. "You rode all the way from Maine?" he asked, having spotted my license plate.

"I got out of the service after Vietnam with a little money saved up," he said. "I had this girl friend and I bought a motorcycle and we were going to ride around the country together. She was from Seattle and only 16 years old. She had to be at least 18 to leave the state without a chaperon. So, I came down here and I met a couple of other gals. Never did go ridin'."

I asked him how the Arkansas football team would do this fall. He didn't know -- his son-in-law, who coaches high school football, gave him the cap. "My grand daughters and him are wild about football," he said.

He was wearing suspenders to hold up his jeans and I was wearing them with my riding pants, too. I said, "I like your braces."

He said, "Yep. I have to wear 'em. My butt's not big enough to keep my pants up otherwise." In fact, he was also wearing a belt.

I allowed as how that wasn't my problem -- I just feel more comfortable on the bike with a loose waistline.

The Hot Springs Mountain observation tower.

Hot Springs was the first National Park and remains probably the strangest. The city is proud to be the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. The park is a campground and a few streets with old spas and hotels where presidents, celebrities, sports figures and gangsters used to come to take the waters.

The observation deck atop the tower.

I rode up the many hair-pin turns to the observation tower, paid $6 and rode the elevator to the top. The view is nice, but there's not much to see, besides the roller coaster at nearby Magic Springs.

The Magic Springs roller coaster is a local magnet.

I could keep an eye on the KLR from the tower.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a great Tax Day! Happy BD Jeannie! j