In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I decided to feast on one of his favorite dishes. According to owner Willie Earl Bates, Dr. King loved fried catfish. I got it along with two of my favorite “sides,” macaroni & cheese and turnip greens. After placing my order, I passed the time by checking out the many pictures adorning the walls of The Four Way. In addition to Dr. King, many celebrities have dined at the restaurant. Luminaries ranging from Jesse Jackson to Elvis Presley have experienced good food served at the converted pool hall where Minnesota Fats once played. For me, it was a great way to get a glimpse of history while I waited for my meal.
It took a little over ten minutes for my food to arrive. I was anxious to dig in but unlike my last visit (which I will discuss later), I wasn’t in a hurry. My plate looked impressive, for the catfish filets were huge. In terms of taste, the catfish was as good as most places that serve it. The catfish had all the characteristics that most would expect, such as light breading, salty seasoning and firm texture. While it didn’t have anything that would set it apart from catfish served at other restaurants, it was textbook perfect and delicious.
The side items complemented the catfish well. The turnip greens were the usual fare, highlighted by typical pork and salt-based seasoning. In the spirit of racial harmony, I followed the advice of a white guy by sprinkling pepper sauce on my greens. Bruce’s Green Hot Pepper Sauce sweetened and spiced up my turnip greens. With the pepper sauce, the greens were pleasurable and satisfying. Again, I want to thank Craig of Memphis Que for introducing that wonderful condiment to me.
SIDE NOTE: Memphis Que is an example of the legacy of Dr. King’s pursuit for a colorblind society. For a white man to take the time to explore, learn about and promote the many wonderful dishes of African-Americans is testament of America’s progress on race relations. On a bigger level, the election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, shows that more Americans are willing to judge the content of a person’s character rather than skin color for the nation’s highest office. With regards to local politics, I’m proud that black Memphians recognized the worthiness of Steve Cohen, a white Jewish-American, for its representative in the U.S. Congress. He has done a great job of championing the interests of an entire city that has desperate needs. Also, African-American A.C. Wharton’s tenure as Shelby County Mayor shows that even suburban whites are overcoming racial prejudices that have afflicted the Mid-South. In mentioning these accomplishments, I’m not saying that America has gotten beyond racism. However, the efforts of Dr. King and other Civil Rights advocates have made my country a much better place. Because of their courageous efforts, I have opportunities that my ancestors could never imagine. I’m grateful for that, and I hope that I don’t squander it.
The Mac 'n Cheese was by far the best part of my meal. I liked it because it was creamy and sweet with a strong buttery flavor. In comparing it to versions that I've tried in the past, Four Way's mac 'n cheese is the best. I appreciate the simplicity of it, for it doesn't rely on fancy ingredients and bourgeois bullshit to make it a great dish. Although it's unlikely to get the gourmet food distinction or praise from blogs like I Love Memphis (who wrote a brief review of the diner), I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.
After finishing my catfish and sides, I indulged in dessert. Just like I did with the catfish, I chose another favorite of Dr. King. His choice of dessert was the lemon meringue pie. Other than its crispy crust, there wasn't much about the pie that I haven't experienced before. As expected, it had a sweet lemon flavor that made it tasty. I'll admit that I'm not a fan of it, but I respect Dr. King's choice of a dessert that likely pleased him.
In all, the meal that I had at The Four Way was good, but the overall experience was great. In addition to the friendly service, I loved talking to the owner about the history of the place and the famous who dined there. I hope more people will take the time to visit The Four Way, for it is an enlightening and memorable experience. As a bonus, one can eat like a "King."
A Historical Treasure
The following was posted on February 11, 2012
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a place that is a Memphis institution, The Four Way restaurant in South Memphis. Located in the Soulsville neighborhood, it is known as a place where many dignitaries come to dine (in fact, Myron Lowery was there on the day I visited). During the Sixties, it was Dr. Martin Luther King's favorite place to dine whenever he was in Memphis. According to the current owner, Willie Earl Bates, Dr. King's favorite meal was fried catfish and lemon pie. Because I didn't think to ask for that prior to ordering, I didn't get it but I will on my next visit. Instead, I ordered the fried chicken which was some of the best I've had in Memphis.
The fried chicken was lightly breaded so it wasn't too crunchy. It was also so hot that I burned my tongue while eating it. It was also spicy, but the heat made it hard to judge the degree of it. To be fair, I needed the order "rushed" because I was pressed for time. Compared to places like Uncle Lou's and Gus's, Four Way's fried chicken can hold it's own with them and many others in Memphis. The Mac 'n Cheese and green beans, although average in terms of taste, complemented the fried chicken well. In all, it was an enjoyable meal that I look forward to having again soon.
The Four Way restaurant really impressed me, not only in terms of food, but also as an historical landmark. In addition to Dr. King, other luminaries have visited there, including B.B. King, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin who spent part of her childhood not far from the restaurant. There are pictures displayed on most of the walls highlighting the history of the restaurant which opened in 1946 by Clint Cleaves and his wife Irene. From viewing the pictures, I sensed that this is a very special place that I hope will be around for a long time to come.