It happens every time I tell someone I'm traveling to Memphis for work.
'Memphis? Why Memphis?' my friends all ask. Often there is a follow-up question with further incredulity. 'Didn't you just go there last year?' They are almost always surprised when I tell them how much I love Memphis, and urge them to go visit (and skip Graceland).
I first fell for Memphis when fresh out of college, I put all my possessions in a truck and drove from North Carolina to San Francisco with a friend. We spent a night in the most gorgeous youth hostel in an antebellum mansion, and without a dime to spare, kicked around Beale Street listening to sidewalk musicians and just chatting with the most easygoing, friendly people you could imagine.
When I first returned some fifteen years later with the winery, my first impressions were confirmed. Memphis is a city full of independent, creative, and uncomparably friendly people. The place has soul. And it has great food! I am not just talking BBQ or Gus' Chicken here people (much as I love me some fried pickles. really). I am talking about dozens of restaurants serving creative, inspired fine cuisine made by passionate chef-owners and shared in an unpretentious, welcoming, and, for a San Francisco girl, relatively inexpensive fashion.
One of my favorite places in Memphis is run by two of my favorite people in town: Deni & Patrick Reilly, owners of The Majestic Grille. A gorgeous beaux-art building in the heart of downtown, the Majestic was originally a silent-picture house, and Deni & Patrick have restored it to a stunning restaurant that reflects their passion for food, art and hospitality. Deni is an unstoppable force of nature, with a huge heart, an even bigger smile, and a curatorial eye that inspired her to turn a private dining room into a revolving art gallery. Patrick is a charming Irishman with an obsessive creativity and culinary talent that has resulted in some of the most inspired food & wine pairings I've tasted.
Last Tuesday night, I headed to the Majestic with little clue of what Deni & Patrick had cooked up for the evening's event, a public wine tasting of Gundlach Bundschu to celebrate the opening of a new show of work by Memphis artist Betsy Bird.
Inside, there were four tables set up, each with a single wine and appetizer plate. Upon closer inspection, I saw the signs.
A Gun. A Lock. A Bun. A Shoe.
They had taken the images we use to teach people to pronounce Gundlach Bundschu and turned it into a food pairing.
The Gun Table?
Smoked Moularde Duck pizza, with fig relish, carmelized onions & maytag blue cheese. Paired with pinot noir, perfectly.
The Lock table?
House cured Gravlax. With Belgian endive and dill mustard. With Gewurztraminer, of course.
The Bun table?
Korean pork belly buns & Mountain Cuvee. Yum.
But oh the Shoe table!
Chocolate-dipped Choux pastry with bourbon & brown sugar creme. With spun sugar! Tossed back the Cabernet Sauvignon before diving into these beauties.
I was amazed by the level of cleverness and the committment to doing something special. (And apparent fearlessness too - Patrick admitted he'd never made a pork bun before. Having eaten many in my day, I can tell you that was hard for me to believe, it was so good.) And it wasn't just concept, the pairings were incredible. The guests in the room absolutely raved about the food and the pairings - apparently the duck and pinot was the winner, that positively disappeared.
When they weren't raving about the food, I enjoyed hearing the guests' stories - how they came to live in Memphis, and to know and love the Majestic Grille, how they knew local artist Betsy Bird and in some cases, how they first discovered Gundlach Bundschu.
This was just one night of a trip full of great experiences, and once again, I left Memphis convinced it is full of some of the most delightful people I've ever met. Huge thanks to Deni & Patrick for a special night, to Michael of Joe's Wines for bringing our wines to the people of Memphis, to Betsy for her delightful artwork, which I hope to soon have hanging in my home, and to the team at United Liquors who have flown the Gun Bun flag high over Memphis for about twenty years and always take good care of me. Looking forward to coming back to see you all again soon.