Dinner, Jazz and Dessert in Nashville

The South Central Chapter meeting of the American Musicological Society was held in March at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, and the trip gave me an opportunity to spend a Friday evening in Nashville, as I was not scheduled to give a presentation until Saturday.

So after checking into my hotel in Murfreesboro, I drove up to Nashville to go to my favorite pizza place, Emmy Squared, which specializes in Detroit style pizza. But as I arrived in The Gulch district where it is located, it began raining, and I had to walk through showers to make my way to the restaurant. The place was crowded, and I had to wait nearly an hour, but the pizza was just as good as I had remembered from my first visit several years ago.

After dinner, I decided to go to Rudy’s Jazz Room, which is the new jazz club in the Nashville area, after the venerable F. Scott’s closed some years ago. I had not heard of the jazz pianist who was playing, but he was quite good, and I enjoyed the entire experience. Rudy’s Jazz Room is in fact a room for listening, and despite the place being crowded indeed, I was able to be seated comfortably and to hear the music. Low lighting and the ambiance of a living room characterized the club.

Afterwards, I wanted to grab a dessert, and fortunately Nashville has a branch of Atlanta’s great Cafe Intermezzo. Although it closes earlier than the original location in Atlanta, I was able to get in and to enjoy a piece of chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and a Viennese coffee. It was a great way to end a fun night in Nashville before driving back to Murfreesboro and to bed.

Great Coffee in Little Rock’s East Village at Fidel & Company

Say “East Village” and most people probably think of New York City, but since the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library and the nearby headquarters of the Heifer Project International, a hip, trendy new district called the East Village has been developing in Little Rock, Arkansas east of I-30 and downtown. Perhaps the centerpiece of this district is a new coffee bar and roasters called Fidel and Company.

Fidel is a warm and welcoming spot; it’s sleek and modernistic, with plenty of glass, lighting and outdoor sunlight streaming in. There are varieties of Fidel roasted coffees, as well as Onyx coffees from Fayetteville, and plenty of inviting baked goods, both sweet and savory. There is also a lovely outdoor patio area, although it was too cold for people to make much use of it on the December day I was there.

I bought a bag of Fidel whole bean coffee to make at home, and it was great. Unfortunately, the website seems peculiarly geared to local orders for pick-up, so it does not currently seem possible to order bags of beans for mail order delivery. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.

Fidel & Company

500-B Shall Street

Little Rock, AR 72202

(501) 712-6891

Coffee, Books and More in Little Rock’s River Market District

Little Rock’s River Market District lies along President Clinton Avenue, and is the city’s premiere entertainment district, equivalent to Beale Street in Memphis, except for the fact that the River Market has a far better selection of shopping options as well as the clubs and restaurants. On a cold December Saturday, just down from the diner where I had eaten breakfast, I encountered a coffee bar called Nexus Coffee and Creative, and, on the theory that you cannot have too much coffee on a cold day, I headed inside. The inside was in fact warm and cheery, and the place has their own roastery where they roast their coffees. There is also a sort of local art/antique market inside, which had some interesting items, including cigar-box and coffee-can guitars. The intent of the place seems to be to function as a community hub, sort of the “third place” between home and work that Starbucks often talks about. But locally-owned entities like Nexus are better equipped to do this successfully than large corporate chains. And Nexus’ coffee was very good.

Down the block, I found the large Central Arkansas Library, but what attracted me inside of there was a used book store. Our library in Memphis has a good store of that sort, and the one in Little Rock was as well., There weren’t as many old books in Little Rock’s store, and the prices seemed a bit higher, but I left with four books, Unlike a lot of other entertainment districts, the River Market has something for day and night.

Nexus Coffee and Creative

301B President Clinton Avenue

Little Rock, AR 72201

(501) 295-7515

An Upbeat Breakfast in Little Rock At The Corner Diner

I was in Little Rock on a Saturday morning for a gig with Hill Country bluesman Garry Burnside, and it was downright chilly after my previous weekend in New Orleans. I am the kind of person that cannot start the day without breakfast and coffee, so I had scouted out a place online called At The Corner Diner, which is located right at the entrance to the President Clinton Avenue/River Market area downtown, but I feared it would be outrageously crowded. It did prove to be somewhat crowded, and yet, I was able to get a table fairly quickly, and I was impressed with the modern, stylized decor, the cheerful touches of red throughout the interior, and the general festive atmosphere.

At The Corner calls itself a “modern” diner, and I am not sure what that entails, but like a similar establishment called the 24-Hour Cafe in Austin, it seems to mean diner food with a bit of a gourmet accent. Prices are not as cheap as an old-fashioned traditional diner, but they are fairly reasonable, and there are plenty of familiar comfort foods on the menu. I chose an Arkansas Breakfast Sampler, which is a typical bacon and eggs and biscuit breakfast, but even here there was a neat gourmet twist, a cup of fresh fruit; I’m not always the biggest fan of fruit but the fruit in the cup was so fresh and so sweet that it made a pleasant addition to the meal. As any breakfast establishment should, The Corner had several coffee options as well, and as cold as it was, people were definitely taking advantage of it.

For those not in the mood for breakfast, At The Corner also has a fairly diverse selection of hamburgers, other sandwiches, and salads. When in Little Rock, it is definitely worth a visit.

At The Corner Modern Diner

201 E Markham St

Little Rock, AR 72201

(501) 400-8458

Coffee and Books Go Great Together at Jackson’s Coffee Prose

En route to my birthday weekend in New Orleans, I decided to stop off at the natural halfway point in Jackson, Mississippi for a rest, and my phone showed me a new coffee place in Highland Village called Coffee Prose, which I had not seen on previous visits to Jackson. Incredible as it may seem, on all my various visits to Jackson since my childhood, I have never had occasion to visit Highland Village shopping center, although it is one of the oldest shopping areas in the city. I found it beautifully decked out for Christmas, and the weather was pleasant enough that people were sitting outside in the courtyard.

Coffee Prose is not easy to find from the parking lot, but it is on the courtyard, and as the name suggests, it features an array of hot and cold coffee drinks, some baked goods, and a small selection of used books. The coffee was quite good and the prices were reasonable. I didn’t find anything amongst the books that I absolutely had to have, but the concept of combining books and coffee makes sense. Fueled with caffeine, I was able to get back on my way to the Big Easy. There is a second Coffee Prose in Jackson’s Midtown neighborhood as well.

Coffee Prose

4500 N I-55

Jackson, MS 39211

(769) 237-6153

Coffee Prose

1619 N West St.

Jackson, MS 39202

(769) 208-0230

Crazy Gander: An Oasis of Calm in Busy Downtown Memphis

Memphis once was challenged with regard to espresso-based drinks, but now the situation is reversed, with a seemingly-endless array of coffee options across the city. However, few of these were in the downtown area. The recent opening of Crazy Gander Coffee Company on Monroe Avenue fills that much-needed gap. At a time when a well-known national coffee chain has talked about being a “third place” between home and work, the Crazy Gander delivers on that concept, providing a bright, cheerful, welcoming and serene island from the noise and bustle of downtown Memphis. Bold gold and turquoise chairs contrast with the black-and-white maps of downtown Memphis on the walls, and the atmosphere is perfect for laptop work or just a lunch-break decompression from the stress of the workday. And the coffee drinks are absolutely delicious as well. Of course like everything downtown, there is a bit of a parking challenge, and the Crazy Gander closes fairly early, at 4 PM each day. But it is worth the effort to visit, and is within walking distance of most downtown hotels.

Crazy Gander Coffee Company

150 Monroe Avenue

Memphis, TN 38103

(901) 552-3852

A Big, Good Breakfast at Memphis’ Big Bad Breakfast

Oxford restauranteur John Currence opened the first Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, Mississippi in 2008. A few years later a second location opened in Birmingham, Alabama, but more recently the chain has expanded rapidly, with locations opening in the Florida panhandle, elsewhere in Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee. Although Memphis was once a fairly challenging city to find outstanding breakfast in, that situation has changed over the last decade or so, and the city is now virtually saturated with breakfast spots, most of them quite good. How will Big Bad Breakfast compete?

Compared to many other breakfast spots, BBB is fairly upscale. The restaurant regionally sources its coffee, grits and pork, and prices are not particularly cheap. But the food is good, and unlike some fancy breakfast places, there are plenty of traditional breakfast items on the menu, including omelets. There is also a lunch menu which includes burgers, but the lunch menu can be ordered at breakfast, and the breakfast menu can be ordered at lunch. There is no dinner, as BBB closes at 2:30 PM.

As for the surroundings, the dining area is pleasant and bright, with plenty of glass windows open to the outside, and although the place seemed crowded, I was immediately shown to a table, and food was delivered fairly quickly after my order was placed. As for the food, it stacked up well against other local options; of course, it’s hard to mess up breakfast. But BBB has another nice twist. Many of its pork products are available to be purchased and cooked at home. Although Memphis has a lot of breakfast options, Big Bad Breakfast does not disappoint.

Big Bad Breakfast

6450 Poplar Avenue, #119

Memphis, TN 38119

(901) 881-3346

Fabulous Brunch In A Pleasant Setting at Bartlett’s Biscuits and Jams

When a longtime Bartlett Mexican restaurant closed, I was curious what kind of restaurant would go into the space. I was quite surprised when a breakfast restaurant called Biscuits and Jams opened in the spot, and when I first attempted to try it, I found it quite crowded and open to those with reservations only.

My second attempt on a Saturday morning proved more successful, and I was quite pleased. Biscuits and Jams is a Black-owned breakfast and brunch restaurant, with live music on weekends, and quite delicious food. I ordered scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, hash browns and biscuits; all came out in reasonable time, and were quite delicious. If biscuits is part of the name of a place, the biscuits call for higher scrutiny, and those at Biscuits and Jams measure up to the standard—they are light and airy, almost reminiscent of Parker House rolls, and quite irresistible. On Saturdays and Sundays, there is also entertainment (the “Jams” part of the name) and on the particularly morning I was there, it was merely a female singer with a guitar. Whether larger bands ever play is unclear, but I did notice a beautiful outdoor sheltered patio space that would be perfect for such a band in nice weather. Biscuits and Jams is definitely worth a visit, but it can get extremely crowded, and when it does, the restaurant occasionally restricts business to those with reservations. Reservations are taken on the website, or it might be a good idea to call ahead, particularly on weekends.

Biscuits and Jams

5806 Stage Rd

Bartlett, TN 38134

(901) 672-7905

Great Coffee in Jackson, Tennessee-From a Truck

Trouble with my car caused me to miss a day of work, but fortunately, my mechanic had my car back working by 11 AM. I decided to drive up to Jackson, Tennessee to have lunch with a friend, and we went to Perkins. But afterward, I decided to stop by a coffee bar and pick up some whole beans to take home to Memphis. Although I had seen J-Town Coffee listed in Yelp, I had never been able to try it out, because it closes at 4 PM, and I am usually in Jackson much later. Today, however, was a rare exception, so I headed over to J-Town, which is actually a coffee truck in a parking lot along Vann Drive.

While some might be skeptical about coffee from a truck, I immediately noticed that they had bags of coffee from Guatemala, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that the date of roasting was noted on the bag, all signs of people who take coffee seriously. I ordered a latte for myself and my friend, and bought two bags of beans. Unfortunately, I noticed that the sky was darkening as we sat in my car pulled up to the coffee truck. As we got on I-40 heading back west, the skies opened up with heavy downpours. Since my drivers’ side window would not close, I got fairly wet, at least as far as Brownsville.

J-Town Coffee

1050 Vann Drive

Jackson, TN 38305

(731) 267-2357

Duwayne Burnside Live at the W. C. Handy Music Festival in Henderson, Kentucky

Early on Saturday morning, June 19th, I headed to a restaurant called the Merry-Go-Round on North Fares Avenue in Evansville, Indiana. Fares was once Highway 41, and the restaurant was located in an area of several sketchy motels, but the number of cars around the building convinced me I was in the right place. Inside, the restaurant was a combination of antiques and Trump posters. I was not happy about that, but Evansville has few breakfast choices, and I saw that the customer base seemed relatively diverse, so I stayed.

The Merry-Go-Round goes back to at least World War II, and has a definite old-school vibe; the places sells burgers and ice cream, even if breakfast is the main reason people go. And a good breakfast it proved to be. Although the place was fairly crowded, the restaurant is large, and I had no problem getting a table.

My next step was to find a local coffee bar for a latte, so I drove over to the Honey Moon Coffee Company on Weibach Avenue, but as I arrived there, Duwayne Burnside called me and said that he wanted us all to soundcheck at 10 AM at the W. C. Handy Festival stage in Henderson, Kentucky, rather than at 11 AM as I had supposed. So I had to get my latte to go, and head south on Highway 41 across the bridge into Henderson. Fortunately, there was a blocked-off lot where we were allowed to park as performers.

The weather was extremely hot, and there were not a lot of people in the seats when I arrived, but then we were the first act to perform, and we did not go on stage until noon. To my amazement, they had a beautiful Nord keyboard on stage, and we had access to the food tent until it was time to soundcheck with Pinkie Pulliam, Charles Gage and Duwayne.

By the time we performed, there was a much larger crowd in the seats than when we arrived. The view from the stage over the crowd and out to the Ohio River was quite beautiful, and the show was fun to play. There were even some boats out on the river enjoying the show from the water. One of the things I was pleased with is that Duwayne Burnside gave the crowd authentic blues when so many of the other acts seemed more rock oriented.

Afterwards, I got my car and headed back across to Evansville. I grabbed a late afternoon lunch at Blu Burger Bar, the Evansville branch of an Indianapolis chain, located in the city’s old bus depot. The building has been lovingly and beautifully restored, and the food was outstanding.

My last stop before checking out of my hotel and leaving Evansville was at a store I had never seen before called Meijer. I vaguely remembered the name from trips to Cincinnati, but I had never been inside one. To my amazement, Meijer seems like a cross between Wal-Mart, target, Costco and Sam’s Club, all in one. The building was bright, mostly glass and chrome, and impeccably clean. I had intended to take some Double Cola back to Memphis, but Meijer didn’t have any in stock; however, they did have some Tchibo Coffee imported from Germany, and I bought that to take home.

Unfortunately, my car which had performed so well going up to Henderson and Evansville did not do as well going back. It started hesitating at times, and by the time I reached Dyersburg, the check engine light had come on. I stopped at a O’Reilly Auto Parts there, and learned that the fuel rail pressure sensor was going out. Despite difficulty, I managed to make it to the house.