story & photos by Chellie Bowman, Digital Media Manager, Focus Magazine
In 2012 Memphis native Cristina McCarter went on a food tour in Miami and absolutely loved it. She had been blogging about the local culinary scene here already and instantly knew Memphis really needed something like this.
A few years down the road she was able to follow her passion and began building her own food tour company, City Tasting Tours. When we asked why she thought there was something special about the food here in Memphis, McCarter exclaimed, “It’s the chefs. They have a real passion behind their food and you can see it. Also nobody can smoke meat like we can. We have the audacity to smoke meat and then season it so good you wanna smack somebody.”
City Tasting Tours is a unique take on the food tourism industry, priding itself on avoiding touristy places (think Rendezvous), instead focusing on taking people off the beaten path. In fact, most of McCarter’s clients are curious locals.
She stated, “Now of course I want everyone, but I absolutely love the fact that I have 70% Memphians on my tours every week. That lets me know that the EAT LOCAL MOVEMENT is working. I’m glad about it!”
McCarter has so far focused on walking food tours of downtown Memphis—in particular the South Main Arts district—which which also includes specialized “brunch so hard” and cocktail tours. It is also clear that her itinerary is a labor of love—she expressed that she “picked every single restaurant based solely on my love for that restaurant. I wanted to give people a sense of what locals eat on a daily basis all in one day. I want to go to the hidden gems and the spots where locals may cry if it ever closed. Those are the places I want to go. It’s all about helping them getting that exposure.
“There’s places like Rizzo’s Diner, Green Beetle, and The Vault with chefs in there, banging out some great and creative food and I want to be apart in helping spread the word. It’s literally what keeps me going when I want to just give up.”
We had to try and taste for ourselves so we booked an afternoon food tour earlier this month, and showed up with an
empty stomach and a camera. The tour started out at the Green Beetle—what I was to learn was the first operational bar in Memphis and where we began our gastronomic experience with some fried food (it is the South y’all). My tour guide, AK, brought us fried catfish and fried green tomatoes with chow chow, and I took the light but well seasoned batter covering them as a sign of more good things to come. I wasn’t disappointed.
Fried catfish and fried green tomatoes with chow chow at Green Beetle on South Main
Interestingly, the food doesn’t stand alone on the tours. As we walked to our next destinations I learned all about the social history of Memphis and the various establishments we visited. Food in context! Our second stop was at Scoops on G.E. Patterson where I enjoyed a barbecue chicken crepe and a delightful scoop of locally made honey pistachio gelato. Next we stopped by The Vault, which recently replaced Double J Smokehouse & Saloon, and had an intriguing sampling of chicken, crab cake, and fried manchego cheese. I also had the coldest beer I’ve ever had in my entire life thanks to the chill rail they have installed at the bar. That alone is worth a visit!
BBQ chicken crepe at Scoops Parlor on G.E. Patterson
Fried chicken, crab cake, and fried manchego at The Vault on G.E. Patterson
Even though I was completely stuffed at this point, I pressed on and tried the Jamaican jerk chicken wings from Central BBQ. Like us all, I had been to Central BBQ countless times—how had I never tried these before?! Game changer. Lastly, we turned the corner and ended up at Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies where I had a piece of sinfully delicious made-from-scratch lemon icebox pie and Makeda’s signature cookie. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end such an enjoyable and insightful tour!
BBQ nachos and Jamaican jerk chicken wings at Central BBQ on Butler
Lemon icebox pie and butter cookie at Makeda’s on South Second Street
For more information on City Tasting Tours or to book a tour, visit their website: citytastingtours.com/