The first time I did it in Memphis: a story about barbecue and walking distance

January 13, 2007 | By | 6 Replies More

How many of you remember the first time you did it?  Eat barbecue in Memphis, that is.

In cities where barbecue is taken seriously, you can easily become embroiled in vigorous debates about where one must go to can eat the best barbecue.

Memphis is famous for its barbecue restaurants.  I am currently attending the National Conference on Media Reform at the downtown Marriott.  While at the conference, I asked a Memphis native for the name of the best barbecue restaurant within walking distance.  After some serious painful-looking consideration, she told me that the answer was Neely’s Barbecue at 670 Jefferson Ave.  She warned me, however, that it was not “walking distance.”  I would have to take a car.

The previous night, I had asked a different woman where I could buy some cereal and milk.  She told me that I would have to take the trolley to a store that was two blocks away.  I found it hard to believe that someone could consider two blocks to be greater than walking distance.  Granted, they turned out to be two long blocks, but they were only two blocks.  The store was, indeed, walking distance; it only took five minutes to walk there. 

A bit later last night, I was ready to venture out again.  I indicated to a hotel receptionist that I needed to find my way to the Gibson guitar factory for a net neutrality party.  This woman told me that it was 10 blocks away and that I would have to take the trolley because it was “not walking distance.”  I asked if she was sure that it wasn’t walking distance.  She stated that she was sure; that it was not walking distance.  Therefore, I waited for the Main Street trolley, which eventually arrived.  It is a beautiful old wooden trolley system and it was fun to ride.  But it was very slow.  After attending the party at the Gibson guitar factory, I walked home.  It took 15 minutes. I started walking home at the same time a trolley car started back to the hotel.  We arrived at the hotel at the same time.

With that as the backdrop, I started walking to Neely’s tonight.  It was not a short walk.  I had to go two blocks to Jefferson before making my left turn and walking six long blocks.  It took 15 minutes, and it required me to cross of Danny Thomas Avenue.  Once again, it was definitely walking distance. So what is it about people’s reluctance to walk?

I’ll admit that it was a lonely walk.  I passed many gated buildings, as well as one building surrounded by barbed wire.  Maybe that hotel receptionist was trying to suggest to me that it was not a safe walk.  That would not actually make much sense, however, based upon my experience with people who live in Memphis. I’m going to engage in a stereotype here.  Memphis residents are all extremely friendly.  Even the homeless people or incredibly friendly.  I cannot imagine a place with more cordiality.

When I arrived at Neely’s, I followed an elderly man through the door into the restaurant.  As we walked in, I asked him whether Neely’s was, indeed, one of the better barbecue restaurants in Memphis.  He agreed.  He told me they had very good ribs.  He insisted that I should order first, so I stood up to the counter and ordered a barbecue pork sandwich (you have to decide whether you want it to be chopped or pulled pork), coleslaw and a small order of fries.  I’d looked at the elderly customer facetiously and asked him whether I did a good job.  He shook his head no.  He looked disappointed. 


The man then stood up to the counter himself and ordered a “rib sandwich.”  I had never heard of such a thing.  I couldn’t imagine how you could eat a sandwich made a ribs.  He insisted, however, asking the woman behind the counter how many bones they include on their rib sandwiches.  She told him that they do not have such a thing as a rib sandwich.  He then ordered ribs without a sandwich.

I sat down to eat my barbecue at a small wooden table.  The sandwich was delicious.  It included a generous helping of barbecued pork as well as a layer of coal law on top of the pork.  The french fries were, well, french fries.  But the surprisingly exciting item was the coleslaw.  It was extremely spicy.  It had a really serious kick to it.  It had so much spice that eating that coleslaw probably took several months off my life.  Nonetheless, I ate it all.

As I finished up my meal, I looked up at the wall and saw the autographed photos of many famous people who preceded me to Neely’s, people like Boys II Men and Jay Leno.  I’m not really in a position to evaluate whether Neely’s is the best barbecue restaurant in Memphis, but it served up exactly what I expected.  It was non-pretentious and reasonably priced and and the food was delicious.

After I finished my meal, I started walking back to the hotel. It took 15 minutes. It was still walking distance. 


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Category: Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Pesky unecological habits | Dangerous Intersection | April 14, 2010
  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    I usually find that a walk is as fast as waiting for and taking a bus or trolley for distances under a mile (20 minutes walk). I'm also of that that minority who would walk a mile for a {pretty much anything}. Walking time is thinking time. Is wondering time. Is observing time.

    I've also learned through experience that your average local is generally not the best reference for dining recommendations. On average, people have limited exposure outside their own neighborhood. Find a well-traveled local, and you have a better bet. Generally, "foreign" travelers who know the local area are better references if you, a traveler, want to find the best {whatever}.

  2. hogiemo says:

    Didya get to Corky's yet? How about BB King's place? Tell us all so we may live vicariously! What about the Civil Rights Museum?

  3. Erika Price says:

    I've noticed the same perception of "walking distance" here in Columbus. Granted, I live on one of the largest college campuses in the country, but that still places most buildings within a mile, or ten to fifteen minutes on foot. People frequently seem astounded to find that I have opted to walk from one end of campus to the other, rather than wait five to ten minutes to catch a bus that then would take an additional fifteen to get me there. It makes sense, I guess, given that the changing city layouts away from urban, pedestrian-friendly towns to isolated, SUV-dominated suburbs has made most people more lazy and obese. I guess you could see it as a bit of a tragedy; these people don't realize that they could do their bodies a great favor by taking a stroll. (See here :

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    I'm currently visiting Chattanooga, TN. A great little city, and perfect for walking. But people still stand around waiting for the little free trolley than promenades up & down Broad Street.

    My hotel is less than a mile from the riverfront, and most of the people I meet in my hotel are working or visiting in that direction… but I see them at the trolley stand as I walk past towards my client.

    I have to admit – prior to my sojourn to Switzerland a few years back, I had become one of the lazy ones.. Why walk fifteen minutes, when you can ride in comfort? Why not spend ten minutes exiting the hotel parking lot, five more navigating the one way system, then another ten at the destination looking for the elusive golden space (within a few meters of the doorway!)

    Thanks Europe! You reminded me what my legs were for!

    p.s. I agree fully with Dan – walking gives me some of my best 'quality time'. So much so, I am in a quandary when people want to join me on my walk!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tony – I agree with you about the quandary. Walking alone is a great time to think or to clear the mind-the shaking of the head is good for moving thoughts, apparently. It's also a good time to talk with a friend. Regardless, walking is also a terrific form of transportation. For people in good health, walking a mile can be done in 15 minutes. Perhaps the problem for many people is that they don't walk briskly. They shuffle along ponderously, making for 30 minute miles. I can see how one would stop thinking of walking as transportation at that pace.

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