This is Part 2 of my #JenneAcrosstheUSA vegan road trip travel series: Vegan Memphis. My boyfriend and I are taking 3 weeks to drive from NYC to LA, and our route is taking us through the south! Make sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel and follow me on Instagram and Facebook for daily updates and healthy travel hacks!
After Nashville we drove to the blues capital. Nashville is hip and cool, but Memphis is the city to visit if you’re interested in American history, especially the civil rights era. It’s one of the cities most crucial to the fight for equality for black Americans, and the place where MLK was killed. We were only in town for 1 full day, but we squeezed in as much as we could.
Memphis isn’t nearly as vegan friendly as Nashville, but we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying good food. We went to Whole Foods the day we arrived and stocked up on salad ingredients: a big box of greens, canned beans, and sauerkraut. We’re traveling around with a cooler full of ingredients to make salad dressings, and nuts and seeds, so we topped our salads with that. For breakfast we ate toast with Sesame Kingdom tahini, Arrowhead Mills’ rice & quinoa porridge that can be made in the microwave, and fresh fruit.
The one restaurant we visited was Imagine Cafe, one of Memphis’s two vegan restaurants. We ordered the BBQ seitan sandwich with sweet potato fries, baked beans and cornbread, and their “Southern Plate”: a plate of rice, black beans, and collards topped with a garlic aioli.
Overall we weren’t all that impressed. The cornbread and baked beans were great, but the rest was underwhelming. Actually, we thought the Southern plate was pretty weird. I’m from the south, and I’ve never had anything like that (sometimes there’s a difference between black southern food or soul food, and white folk’s southern food, so maybe that has something to do with it…). The aioli or cream sauce really threw me off. But I love rice & beans, so it was fine. Overall it was quite bland and overpriced.
I would go back to Imagine and try their other menu options. Let me know if you have recommendations for me 🙂
The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The motel has long been closed, and it’s now the site of the National Civil Rights museum. This is a must visit when you’re in Memphis. The museum is full of photos, recreations, artifacts, film, and installations portraying the fight for civil rights. We planned to spend around 1.5 hours there, but ended up needing more like 3. There’s just so much to see and experience. I walked away with a better understanding of that time, and a greater appreciation for the people who risked their lives for equality and freedom.
National Civil Rights Museum Open Wednesday-Monday http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/
This place opened in 1950 and claims the prestigious titles of both the birthplace of rock & roll (although this is much contested) and the record label that discovered Elvis Presley. Blues legends like BB King and Howlin’ Wolf also recorded here, as did country legend Johnny Cash. The studio’s history is rich and fascinating.
Sun Studio is still a functioning music studio, and hasn’t been renovated since its early days. Visiting this place gives you a real feel for what it must have been like when the many music legends who recorded there passed through. Elvis is certainly the focus of the tour, but even if you aren’t a fan Sun Studio is still worth visiting.
Sun Studio Open daily 10-6pm
I’ve never been anywhere quite like Beale Street in Memphis. There are streets like this in New Orleans (Bourbon), and Nashville (Broadway), but nothing quite compares to Beale St. First off we had to go through a security line just to get onto the street. I’ve never quite experienced anything like that! If you’ve been to Bourbon Street, you’ll notice that Beale is much more pleasant to walk down. It’s wider, not as littered with trash and other nastiness, and much more family-friendly (despite—or maybe because of—the security checks). You can order a drink from any bar, and walk with it to enjoy the live music, retro neon signs, and people-watching.
Withers Collection Museum & Gallery
On Beale Street across from the New Daisy Theatre you’ll find the Withers Museum & Gallery. On display are hundreds of photographs taken by photojournalist Ernest Withers. Though his name is not well known (at least not to me!), he was behind the lens of some of the most iconic photos of the civil rights era. He also photographed many famous musicians, and local negro league sports.
Behind each photograph is a story and a look into a very important time in American history. Be sure to read the captions and gallery notes. We visited the same evening we walked on Beale St, and I learned so much more about the Civil Rights era and Memphis’s history than I expected I would.
Withers Collection Museum & Gallery Open Tuesday- Sunday http://thewitherscollection.com/
Knoxville’s Sanctuary Cafe
On our way from VA to Nashville we stopped in Knoxville for a late lunch at Sanctuary Cafe. Located in a typical suburban shopping center, this little cafe is a vegan gem! The owner, Leslie Naylor, welcomed us with a big ol’ helping of Southern Hospitality as soon as we walked in.
As per her suggestion we ordered the fabulous jerk seitan Philly with mango pineapple dressing. We also got a half order of loaded nachos, beet reuben sliders, and a big fat blueberry cupcake. All was super delicious, filling, and inexpensive. The chef really knows what he’s doing, and Knoxville is lucky to have Sanctuary as their first vegan restaurant.
The restaurant works closely with The Gentle Barn’s Tennessee farm sanctuary. If you’re in town, try to visit them too! http://www.gentlebarn.org/tennessee/