Having a Great Meal, Wish You Were Here!

Fifty years of dining in Memphis.

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Sometimes it’s nice to just pick out your own food, and Memphis has had plenty of fine cafeterias: Piccadilly, Britling’s, and Morrison’s come to mind. But none of them had the downhome charm, if you ask me, of the Mark Twain Cafeteria on Summer, easy to locate by the bright neon sign of Tom Sawyer pulling fish from a lazy river. Inside, diners would eat inside the pilothouse of a riverboat, or just admire the nice murals showing scenes from the books of Samuel Clemens. The restaurant is long gone, but the murals were saved and moved to Mud Island’s Mississippi River Museum.



Willie King was apparently quite a character. In the 1940s, he opened a busy liquor store at 597 Madison, and painted a sign outside reading, “Women — If you drive your husband to drink, drive them HERE.” He also opened popular eateries around town, such as Willie King’s Restaurant on South Bellevue, and the well-known Pitchfork on South Second. The postcard proclaimed that they offered “exclusively barbecue, chicken, and beans.” And look — even the china was made in Memphis. In later years, the Pitchfork became home to Erika’s German restaurant.



If you were shopping at “Memphis’ Greatest Store,” you didn’t have to leave when you got hungry. The downtown location offered a rather nice restaurant on the top floor. The postcard even proclaimed that the “beautiful restaurant is the ONE and ONLY eating place in any Memphis department store recommended by Duncan Hines.” Oh, and for the menfolk, the back of the postcard discreetly noted that “Goldsmith’s features a private Men’s Grill reserved for gentlemen only.” Ladies? Well, you’re on your own, I guess.



I wish I knew more about this place. Among other things, the name alone intrigues me, and I really love the huge signs. The only clues come from the old postcard, which shows it was located on “Bristol Highway No. 70,” otherwise known as Summer Avenue. Primarily a tourist court “with modern brick cabins and hot or cold showers,” the place also had a café, and a roadside sign urged travelers to “Stop, Eat, and Drink.” Squint closely at the card, and you’ll see that the Owl offered Clover Farms Ice Cream and Bottled Milk Chocolate. You could enjoy a Big Boy Cone for just 10 cents, and a malted milk for 20 cents.


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