Adam and I just got back from our babymoon trip to Tennessee in August. It was pretty fun and I wanted to document it.
I know a lot of people babymoon by the ocean, but that didn’t make a lot of sense for us. Adam can’t swim and I can’t drink right now. What’s the point of tropical weather without a tropical cocktail? Instead, we chose to knock on our “BBQ to-do list” and eat our way through the south.
Our adventure began after work last Wednesday and ended on Tuesday night. We really missed our dogs, but lucky a friend was able to house sit for us and text us some photo pupdates (as we call them) so we knew they were happy and in good hands.
Minneapolis, Minnesota > Cedar Rapids, Iowa
WHAT WE DID: Adam went to work and I took a photography class (for work). I just bought myself a new Canon T6i and this class was very helpful in learning to use the equipment before going on our trip. I got a lot of use of it and definitely felt more comfortable troubleshooting issues as they came up. Still not a master photographer, but it really did help. I definitely don’t think I’ll embarrass myself next time I’m asked to photograph something for my job. YAY.
We share a car, so between dropping Adam off for work and the start of my class, I had a little time to drive north to the Sven clog outlet (my first visit) and get myself some new shoes for the trip. A delayed birthday present for me!
WHERE WE ATE: On the way, we stopped at a place called Dugan’s in Floyd, Iowa. Their welcoming “EAT” sign greeted traffic coming from the south, but they were a little hard to find coming off the road from the north. They had a soup and salad bar and a pretty traditional menu. I had been craving shrimp, so I got fried shrimp, and I think Adam got a patty melt. Our server might have worked there for 40 years and she was really sweet. She asked where we were headed and when we said Tennessee she got excited and told us about a horse video her granddaughter had just sent her from Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. Unfortunately we weren’t headed for Dollywood, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for next time.
WHERE WE STAYED: We figured we could drive as far as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and slept for cheap at a Motel 6 that was kind of scary. Adam taught me how to check the mattress for bed bugs and I continued to check every mattress we slept in for the rest of our trip, just to be safe.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa > St. Louis, Missouri > Nashville, Tennessee
WHAT WE DID: We barely spent any time in Cedar Rapids and only had a few hours to kill in St. Louis so we went to Laclede’s Landing, a historic part of town. We checked out a costume shop and the wax museum — which had two floors of horror stuff, some religious stuff, some celebrity stuff, and some science fiction stuff. It was a little low rent and kind of creepy. Glad we went. We also ate at Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis and kind of peeked at the arch from afar. I also read a lot on Wikipedia about John Hamm and the other celebrities who had trained in St. Louis while we tried to find our destinations. I didn’t get a great sense for the city since we saw so little of it, but I imagined it must not be that great if actors are just kind of passing through. I know Minneapolis’ theater scene is a bit harder to leave, because quality of life is pretty nice in Minnesota. We did see a bunch of signs for the St. Louis Bread Company (AKA Panera Bread) and I told Adam about Mother Bread, the eternal lump of sourdough that goes into every Panera product, but Adam didn’t believe me, so I googled it, and couldn’t find any information. Maybe it’s just hearsay after all.
When we got into Nashville we checked into our hotel and headed straight for the honky-tonks on Broadway. It was a Thursday night and there were a surprising number of bachelorette parties. A lot of bars weren’t playing music we’d be into, so we just went into the shops and only sat in a few bars. Robert’s Western World was best of the bunch and they had a real hillbilly band playing.
We found another bar with rockabilly music but the rest fell into that “Blueshammer” category of rock/country/pop that isn’t really anything special. We payed $25 for parking and I think we’ll always regret that. Then we drove around the neighborhood just to see what was there. By the next day, we knew the area pretty well. There was a lot of stuff worth seeing in one place, and many more pockets of interesting shops all over town.
WHERE WE ATE: Heading out of Cedar Rapids we stopped at a local coffee shop that seemed to be just opening at 9am. They didn’t have a lot of their food out, but I ordered a croissant and asked for jelly and that seemed to be a big ordeal. Adam sensed her confusion early on and decided not to order anything even though he was hungry. Then we went across the street for gas and got snacks for the road. I have family in town and it would have been fun to see them, but we didn’t really have time to set something up since we were getting in so late and our time was limited. Never did run into anyone by chance.
Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis was our first BBQ of the trip — Adam would go on to say it was his favorite. I got sliced brisket, chopped pork, sweet potato fries, and beans. All great. He got ribs, brisket, pork, sweet potato fries, and their famous corn. It was all pretty outstanding and it was the only BBQ place on the trip that 1) offered sweet potato fries (MY FAVORITE) 2) had several sauces to choose from. We also got bottled sodas and his root beer was a helluva lot better than my blackberry soda, which was gross.
We got into Nashville too late for dinner but we did share a fried bologna sandwich at Robert’s Western World in Nashville and it was amazing.
WHERE WE STAYED: We stayed two nights at a Country Inn & Suites in Nashville and that was just fine. We never took advantage of the free breakfast, but I did snag a free cookie after checking in.
WHAT WE DID: After breakfast we went to the Parthenon. Because evidently in 1890, whoever ran Nashville thought it needed a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. We weren’t sure what to expect, so we just went there and walked around. Then we found out it’s a museum. Didn’t feel like paying for admission so we left. It’s surrounded by a pretty park and it’s kind of impressive to have that sort of structure in town, it was fun to explore from the outside. They also had some nice swing/benches that we enjoyed and just kind of looked at the trees and the building and the little people going into and out of the building. Kind of a nice way to start out our first full non-travel day of the trip.
Next we went to Jack White’s label/shop Third Man Records and I had the BEST time. I got to make a recording straight to vinyl and we got to hear limited edition presses in their listening booth. We bought a Neil Hamburger record and an Elvira single. Excited to hear it all on our record player at home. Haven’t done that yet.
Then we went to Grimey’s Records and tried to eat at Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish. Which we couldn’t finish, and after that had to go back to the hotel to recover, where we took a nap.
We got up for a dinner/drink adventure out of town at Nashville’s only known “tiki bar” — but then we didn’t know what to do and decided to check out Michael Ian Black playing at Zanies comedy club. I love watching comedy in other cities and I’m glad we did it. I’m so used to Acme but I love seeing how other clubs look and who they book. The first two comedians were from the south and then Michael Ian Black was just totally his own thing, mostly telling absurd stories. Before comedy, we killed a little time at Two Old Hippies, which was not a vintage store as I assumed, it was a pretty upscale boutique. I bought us a candle to remember Nashville by and then we poked around the Urban Outfitters next door.
There were so many interesting pockets in Nashville, we discovered. Before we found this Uptown-like section of Nashville looking for Two Old Hippies, I would have never guessed we’d find anything like it in town. Broadway was totally its own thing, with lots of touristy bars and live music in one spot, and The Garage (another venue that was recommended to us) was just in the basement of Grimey’s, not far from Third Man, which wasn’t that far from Bolton’s Hot Chicken and Las Paletas. It was just interesting.
WHAT WE ATE: We got in line for breakfast at Pancake Pantry and waited at least an hour to get in. Adam ran across the street and got us coffees for the wait. A guy was playing cover songs on a banjo at the front of the line and his string broke just as soon as we turned the corner so we didn’t have to hear too many repeats of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Two-Headed Boy.” The pancakes ruled. I got the orange walnut pancakes and Adam got the banana bread pancakes with cinnamon cream sauce. We shared some Tennessee country ham. It was pretty great.
We snacked as Las Paletas (WHICH WAS AMAZING). I got the pineapple blueberry fruit paleta and Adam got a Mexican caramel cream paleta. I could have eaten 8 in a row. It was so good. I would like to eat there every day. In fact, I have been looking for locally made paletas in Minneapolis since we got home and I can’t find anything even remotely like it and it’s the saddest thing. Nashville has a real treasure with Las Paletas. I am jealous of them!
For lunch we tried to eat at Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish. They do a dry rub type of hot chicken and when Adam went to order his spice level the nice old man working there went to the back, brought back a toothpick with shmear of hot spice on it, and it basically wiped Adam out. He ordered a lower level of heat on his chicken, but never quite got over it. I got my chicken with no spice and it was still spicy. They only had a few bottles of soda left that we could buy, but after that, we had to go next door for bottles of water. We went through two huge bottles. Mostly Adam alone, poor guy. They had spaghetti as a side option, which Adam said was a southern BBQ thing, and he got it and some mac and cheese with his quarter chicken. I thought spaghetti sounded gross so I got fries and mac and cheese with my tenders. We couldn’t finish and had to go back to the hotel to rest/recover. It was bananas. Food should not destroy you like that.
We didn’t have dinner plans and weren’t really that hungry, so I looked online to see if there was a tiki bar nearby. Usually there’s a non-alcoholic fruity drink I can drink and I love the atmosphere.
We found something ~25 minutes out of town called Omni Hut, which was described as a polyasian restaurant with some kitsch. They didn’t serve liquor but the did have an amazing non-alcoholic drink served in a beautiful tiki glass that they refilled like soda. It had a blend of tropical fruit juices mixed with decaf tea. (A pregnant girl’s dream!) I loved it. We also ordered the pu pu platter, which included some meats, fried wontons, bacon-wrapped pineapple, and eggrolls. We split that and an order of chicken fried rice. It wasn’t *very* good, but it was fun for sure. And the women wore mumus and the decor was low rent kitsch and I’m into that.
WHERE WE STAYED: Same old Country Inn and Suites.
Nashville, Tennessee > misc. roadside attractions > Memphis, Tennessee
WHERE WE ATE: Before heading out of town, we went to Hot & Cold for coffee and…more Las Paletas! I got the honeydew fruit paleta and Adam got the banana cream paleta. Would love to live on paletas.
Between Nashville and Memphis, we stopped at Loveless Cafe. They’re known for their biscuits, which makes a lot of sense. You sit down, they bring you biscuits. You run out of biscuits, they offer you more biscuits. Served with blackberry, strawberry, and apricot jam. I ate most of the biscuits… The breakfast was great too. Adam had the pit cooked BBQ and two eggs (which came with a surprise corn pancake) and I got the Loveless country ham with two eggs and red eye gravy. We each got the hashbrown casserole for our side. So good! At first we were told the wait would be almost two hours, but there’s stuff to do on the property and we filled up our car with gas and sat around on our phones for awhile when all of a sudden the beeper went off. We only had to wait about 45 minutes, which felt like magic. I was starving, there were no other options nearby — plus I really wanted those biscuits. I’m so glad everything worked out. And our server and the manager gave us great tips on what to do once we got to Memphis, which was really nice. Glad to have tried red eye gravy too, it was pretty incredible (served decaf, here) and I saw it on a few menus in the south later on so I’m glad I knew what it was.
When we got to Memphis we rushed to Payne’s BBQ, but it closed at least 40 minutes earlier than their posted hours, so we went to Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous downtown instead. On the way there we stopped for more paletas at La Michoacana and I got a pistachio cream paleta dipped in chocolate and coconut. Adam got a butter pecan cream paleta and we split a grape cream paleta — it had a cream core with grape on the outside, like a dreamsicle. It was a lot of richness at that point, for me, but so so good. WOULD EAT PALETAS EVERY DAY. HAVE I SAID THAT?
There was a slight wait at Rendezvous so we had drinks (I had a NA beer, la-dee-dah) and waited in their huge waiting room, which was as big as most restaurants. When we got to our table, I ordered brisket and he got ribs. Their sauce was pretty good, but their beans were maybe the best I’ve ever had and their coleslaw was incredible. We ordered some potato salad (good, I liked it more than Adam), a side of pickles (dill spears, just fine), and bread (basic rolls). Adam loved his ribs. They use a dry rub here and the ribs are charcoal-smoked.
WHAT WE DID: Before leaving Nashville we stopped at a fabric store, which was having a moving sale. I bought a child’s coat pattern and lovely burnt orange corduroy so that someday I can remember this trip when I make it for our daughter. Then we made a few stops between Nashville and Memphis. Starting with the Loveless Cafe, where we checked out their shop (totally cute) and mostly sat around on our phones and ate free samples of popcorn.
Our next stop was a detour through Jackson, Tennessee, to visit the TV and Movie Car Museum. It was SO AWESOME! Highlights include the car from Deathproof, the Wayne’s World Car, the Mystery Machine, a few cars from Fast and the Furious, the Dukes of Hazard car, and a bunch of others. The owner gave us a short tour before we went loose on our own, and he says he has way more cars in storage that he’s working on at all times, too. It was definitely worth the stop. They were very nice there and it was such a trip to see that stuff.
On our way out of town we saw a fabric shop that looked promising, so we stopped (just upholstery fabric though, so no good for me), and we also checked out a shop called Nerdvana. They had used games and new board games, plus snacks, and a few tables for people to play games in-store. It’s always fun seeing nerds in other states, glad we stopped there. I even bought Epic Mickey for Wii for like $6.
Next we drove through Brownsville, Tennessee, to see Billy Tripp’s Mindfield. Not really worth it, in hindsight. You couldn’t walk around the base of it and just had to look at it from your car. Very cool if you just stumbled onto it, but if you go out of your way to spend a little time there, it kind of disappoints.
When we got to Memphis we mostly ate, but driving around to all the different places was really eye-opening. I saw probably one open building to every ten that were boarded up or totally lifeless. Even then, I’d see a house I was sure must be vacant with someone just sitting on the porch. Everything seemed destitute. No grocery stores, no businesses. Very few restaurants or bars or even corner stores. It was just depressed through and through. I got the sense people had just stopped caring and it was so widespread over so many areas we drove, it was incredibly surprising and really weighed on us. I didn’t expect to see that, so widespread, in a major American city.
After dinner we went to Beale Street, which is where most of the nightlife seems to be. It was a Saturday night so they were checking IDs and even wanding people before they could walk down the street. I overheard someone say there’d been an incident awhile ago and now they just do this on Friday and Saturday nights for safety.
We went to a shop called Tater Red’s which was partly a head shop partly a tourist shop, but was kind of a let down. We went to the Coyote Ugly bar and it was kind of empty and depressing so we decided to come back later. They had yards of slush alcohol, which we love, but since I couldn’t have any Adam didn’t feel right getting one. He did eventually when we got to Silky O’Sullivan’s (I had to beg him). I got a NA beer and he got his weird slush drink and we sat by the goats. It was cute watching Adam get drunk, he’s been sober with me through the whole pregnancy, but he had a few drinks that night, and was letting me know all about how cities should be ranked. Tiers of cities across America, based on population and hub-bub. I think he put Memphis at a tier 2 and Minneapolis at a tier 3. Anyway, it was fun.
Beale Street was definitely a party center, and maybe that’s why it seemed kind of sad — just because it didn’t feel natural somehow. Kind of like Broadway in Nashville, but skanky, with less people, and more stuff you’d find at a fairground.
WHERE WE STAYED: We spent one night at a motel-style Super 8. After checking in, the girl working chased us down and had to switch us to another room. She forgot they were doing work in the room where she had originally put us. (We assumed blood stains on the carpet and hoped for the best in our new space.) The new room was fine, and overlooked the pool, which was comfortingly full of families, and yet creepily overlooking a huge abandoned military facility and what might have been a metal museum at one time.
WHAT WE ATE: We started the day with reservations at the Beauty Shop, a cute little restaurant built into an old beauty parlor. The decor was really nice. I liked the creamy gold color palette. The food was pretty great too. I loved our order of bread with ricotta, peaches, honey, and mint, but my meal was a little disappointing. I got the egg pizette — which said it came with black beans but barely had a visible schmear of black bean paste and the eggs were really overwhelming. It was mostly eggs, actually (probably my least favorite breakfast item at a restaurant). Adam got the chilequiles-migas which were very good though.
It was just nice at that point in our visit to Nashville to go somewhere that had taken one of those old buildings and done something interesting with it, where people seemed to enjoy visiting. I was starting to feel very sad about Memphis, and my opinion started to perk up after this brunch thankfully.
We got ice cream at Graceland after we toured the house and saw the cars. They didn’t have great options for ice cream, but I tried Superman flavor for the first time and it was kind of nice.
We made it to Interstate BBQ for lunch and that was probably my least favorite of the trip. The waitress was super nice and they had strawberry soda (a favorite of mine) but I didn’t care for the sauce. I thought it was too sweet, and it was kind of all over everything. I had chopped pork with potato salad and fries and Adam got an assorted meat plate with pork and beef ribs and I forget what else. He also had coleslaw, fries, and BBQ spaghetti. He didn’t have anything bad to say about it, but I had that sauce taste in my mouth for at least a day and wasn’t liking it.
We weren’t very hungry for dinner so we skipped our plans to eat at Gus’ and just ate a snack at the hotel. Weirdly, I really wanted cake, and they had a ton of it in the Peabody’s deli and desserts cafe.
I also ordered room service and ate a whole tray of jellies and rolls while we watched TV. #noregrets
WHAT WE DID: After brunch we went to Graceland! The tour was guided via iPad narrated by John Stamos and it was all really interesting. I loved Elvis’ old house. He made a lot of interesting choices, and the layout of the home was nice. Not very airy, but lots of conveniences all around.
My favorite room was the jungle room — which had green carpet on the floor and ceiling and staircase — but really they were all pretty amazing. The blue TV room and bar was great, and the billiards room with the fabric walls and ceiling was pretty amazing too. The kind of textures and details you really need an expert cleaning crew to manage so I will never have it.
We dipped out of part of the tour and just did Graceland and the cars and checked out the shops.
Then we went to the Stax Museum which was pretty great. I didn’t know anything about this label beforehand and the museum was really modern and professional, which I wasn’t expecting. It started with a video and then a self-guided tour that started with the gospel tradition and got into the evolution of the kind of funk and soul that was made here. I thought it was really weird that one of my favorite albums was put out by Stax, Big Star’s Number 1 Record. It didn’t seem to be in line with the rest of their stuff — but they were a Memphis band so this is where they recorded to start. Just kind of weird learning about this recording studio as a magnet for the area — in some ways, that being more important than the type of sound they were creating. I still don’t really understand how the music business works, I guess.
All the music stories we heard in Memphis were so sad: Elvis, Stax, Sun Records. Big talent, coming from a place of real sadness and poverty, that wasn’t always managed well. I feel like that really summarized the city for me.
Then we checked into the Peabody and pretty much didn’t leave. We checked in just as the ducks were heading back to their rooftop home and seeing that was pretty special. I convinced Adam to head to the pool with me and he used the hot tub and I swam around. It’s a gorgeous dimly-lit pool in the basement and it was so incredibly relaxing to float around. We got it mostly to ourselves for awhile too, before families showed up and we left. Just really pretty and serene.
We had a nice break in the lobby — I really wanted cake, but it was late. Adam remembered a cafe downstairs and we had a bit of time yet to get there and order something. They had a variety of delicious looking cakes and ice creams, so I got a little cup of something hazelnut and some decaf coffee and I forget what Adam ate. And we just sat in the lobby eating while a pianist played old standards and it was very relaxing.
We did head out that evening for a short while. There was an Elvis tribute show happening down the street and when we paid our admission we were assured it was going on for at least another hour. We only got to see a few performers and seating was awful (and the people were rude) and the drinks were expensive and it was kind of just a weird experience. Even with that, I’m glad we did it. Would have been a wasted opportunity to come during Elvis week and *not* get to see some impersonators.
WHERE WE STAYED: We slept modestly for a few nights on the road so we could splurge here at the Peabody Hotel AND IT WAS WORTH IT. They were running some kind of summer special, so our room was about $200 (no idea if that’s typical) and we decided to make the most of it. We spent basically all night at the Peabody and only strayed out for a few hours to investigate a false rumor of a tiki bar across the street (now under new management and the theme changed years ago) and spend a semi-lousy hour at the Elvis tribute show down the street. The Peabody was lovely though. A nice lobby to hang out in and lots of amenities on-site. Really loved the pool.
Memphis, Tennessee > Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri
WHAT WE DID: After breakfast in Memphis we watched the Peabody ducks descend down the elevator to jump in the fountain. It was magical even though the music wasn’t working.
We had very little time to spare so we ran to Sun Studio for the tour and that was great. It’s a really small space and the studio itself is pretty bare bones. Really cool to think about all the people who made important music at that time having a place to come together and record. Adam bought a patch.
Most of the day was spent driving but when we got to Kansas City we had just enough time to stop at our hotel before driving to the Alamo Drafthouse to watch the latest Mission Impossible movie. While we were waiting for our seating to start, a special screening let out for something really nerdy and a bunch of nerds piled out of the theater and stuck around in the lobby to talk about it and it was nice — kind of like Fantastic Fest. It made us nostalgic.
WHERE WE STAYED: We stayed at a Super 8 in Kansas City, on the Missouri side. It was totally fine but a little outside the city. We worried it might be a bit far to drive there and into the city during our visit, but everything was about 20 minutes apart anywhere so it hardly mattered.
WHAT WE ATE: Before leaving Memphis we decided to get chicken and waffles nearby. Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe on Beale Street which was recommended by the Internet. I thought the waffles were on par with what you’d make yourself at a free breakfast buffet — kind of crusty, thin, and flavorless — and the eggs were pretty greasy and gross. The chicken was sort of dry and the biscuits were fine. The potatoes were also fine. It was just sub-par greasy diner food in a restaurant that felt really un-cared for with a slightly sticky residue on everything.
We stopped for lunch at Steak and Shake in Springfield and it gave me a bit of a tummy ache. I had better memories of Steak and Shake and was a little disappointed. I got a Nutella milkshake, cheeseburger, and fries. It all tasted pretty alright, though greasy, but it definitely made me feel a little sick afterwards. Adam got some hot dogs and I forget what milkshake. Probably something with bananas and chocolate.
I got dinner at the Alamo Drafthouse — a pizza with goat cheese and onions. It was not great, but I got to eat it at the Drafthouse, my happy place, so I still loved it.
Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri > Minneapolis, Minnesota
WHAT WE DID: After breakfast at Kolache Factory we visited some stores and coffee shops that sounded interesting. We went to Thou Mayest for coffee and sat outside. It had a real Sioux Falls vibe to it and everyone there seemed very smug. I didn’t like their coffee — it reminded me of Dogwood which is always to silty for me.
Then we went to Retro Inferno and pet a poodle who hangs out at the store. We just came to stare, but everything was really awesome.
We tried going to some vintage shops but we ended up in a warehouse district full of antique stores that only open once a month. It was bizarre. Who can afford to be open once a month? LOTS OF BUSINESSES APPARENTLY. This really captivated me about Kansas City. They seem to have a lot of hidden treasure there.
We ate the best BBQ of the trip (now 2nd in my mind to Franklin) before driving all the way home. Keep reading!
WHAT WE ATE: We ate at the Kolache Factory for breakfast and it was AMAZING. Wish we had one of these in the Twin Cities, I would eat there all the time.
We had our first kolaches a few years back in Texas and loved them. I found one recipe online and have made them for us a few times, but at the Kolache Factory we really got schooled on what a kolache can be. I had the ham, egg, and cheese kolache and it was outstanding. Super cheap too.
We had coffee at Thou Mayest and I didn’t love it but Adam thought it was fine.
We went to LC’s for lunch and it was AMAZING. Delicious smokey smell from outside the small restaurant. You can see the big smoker behind the cashier as you enter and when they opened it to put in a brisket it was magical.
I got pulled pork and brisket and Adam got rib tips (which he loved). They put a normal, manageable amount of BBQ sauce on their meat and it was great. We also ordered bread, fried okra (THE BEST, not too greasy but crunchy and so good) and thick cut fries which I cut and ate with a fork. They also had strawberry soda, self-served. The staff was super nice and everyone who ate there was nice too. Adam ended up offering some of his leftovers to a construction worker who was waiting for his friends on our way out and he said this place is the best and he tries to come here often.
Thankfully no lines, even though we went for lunch, and the food was just outstanding. Great flavor, loved the atmosphere, and everything was cooked to perfection. TEN STARS!
WHERE WE STAYED: Home! With our dogs, who were missed. xo
***T H E E N D***