In the Beginning: Great Moments in Memphis Barbecue

Back in 1967, when Memphis in May launched its first international festival, the city’s “exotic” restaurants were few and far between.

The May 1985 issue of Memphis magazine.

A lot can change in 37 years — as witnessed by the array of eateries serving everything from Middle Eastern gyros and Korean noodle dishes to Venezuelan nachos and Pan Asian fusion fare. As a nod to the festival’s international focus, as it salutes a different country each year, our food editor, Pam Denney, and staff writers highlight six restaurants that demonstrate how Memphians’ tastes have matured. We won’t give too many details here, but expect your mouths to water as you take a culinary trip to Ethiopia, Cuba, India, and beyond.

Closer to home, but far enough to feel you’re enjoying a real getaway, is the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. It’s scheduled for June 12-15, so if you’re still in the rockin’ mood after our own Beale Street Music Festival May 2-4, you might want to head east to what writer Shara Clark describes as the “modern-day embodiment of the 1960s peace and love vibe” — complete with a masked man in a cape and a woman whose outfit is constructed entirely of glowsticks. We can dig it.

We also dig heroes. But too often these days when kids talk of heroes, they refer to celebrities in sports, music, or movies. Perhaps Michael Finger’s story on page 37 about a real hero should be required reading in city schools. After all, on May 8, 1925, an African American named Tom Lee singlehandedly saved the lives of at least 30 people by pulling them from the Mississippi River and aboard his small wooden boat. While quite a few died in the disaster of the Norman, a vessel commissioned by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the toll would have been much higher had Lee — who never learned to swim — not put others’ safety ahead of his own. Now that’s a hero.

On a lighter note, you can read about the Dixon Gallery & Gardens’ current exhibit, “Memphis-Milano: 1980s Italian Design.” Not likely to grace your grandma’s parlor, these playful, punchy pieces represent a movement that lasted a few years in the 1980s, and whose reference to Memphis came from a Bob Dylan song. Read the story on page 48, then head to the Dixon and check out the art.

You’ll find lots more in this issue: tips on traveling with your dog (cats? — don’t even go there); a beautiful home in Eads; an interview with Melissa Cookston, who is a two-time Memphis in May grand champion in the barbecue cooking contest; and Vance Lauderdale’s discoveries about a one-armed Memphis baseball player who played in the big leagues.

Art, drama, history, sports, food, travel . . . it’s all here. Did we mention food?

Till next month, enjoy reading. And here’s to sunny skies and no mud baths during Memphis in May. Ever the cockeyed optimist . . . .

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