The Bluff City is known for many things: Beale Street, The King, blues music and barbecue. Our missionwas to view all of Memphis’ glory from a pizza perspective. After strolling the streets of downtown andsavoring slices at the gates of Graceland, we found that Memphis has yet another draw—great pizza!
Memphis’ Peabody Hotel is home to some of the most pampered ducks in theuniverse: Each day, they’re escorted from their rooftop palace down the elevatorand across a red carpet to an awaiting fountain in the hotel’s grand lobby.After witnessing this must-see event, we headed to Peabody’s Capriccio Grill(www.peabodymemphis.com) and sampled a couple of individual gourmet-style pizzas—oneMargherita and one with goat cheese and fresh Roma tomatoes. Extreme attention to detail madefor a perfect first stop; even the pizza boxes sported an image of the Peabody’s ducks.
The South may have brought usthe blues, but New York gave usfirst-rate pizza, so we stopped tograb some New York-style slicesfrom father-and-son team Mike and AzemPapa at Little Italy Pizza, just down thestreet from Sun Studio, where rock-and-rollgreats suchas ElvisPresleyand JohnnyCash gottheir start.Standingunder theshadow of agiant Gibsonguitar, weinhaled hugethin-crustslices andpolished themoff with acouple of garlicknots beforeheading toGraceland.
You can’t go to Memphis without visitingthe home of The King. On our way toGraceland, we stopped at Exlines’ BestPizza, (www.exlinespizza.com) just a couple of blocks from thefamous gates. With 11 locations throughout the area, Exlines’ hasbeen in business since 1973, and proudly displays photos of theaccomplishments of its owners and employees throughout thepizzeria. Passersby honked their car horns in support of pizza as werelished the cheese-laden slices in front of Elvis’ former residence.
Our adventure continued with stops at some of themajor attractions of the city: the Mississippi River,Main Street Trolley and the neon lights of BealeStreet. After touring the sights, we arrived at ourfinal stop, Spindini (www.spindinimemphis.com),with renewed appetite. Owner-chef Judd Grisantigreeted us and personally made our two pies—onelobster, one white—in the restaurant’s wood-firedoven. Perfect presentation and unique ingredientskeep the reservation list full at this new Memphishot spot, located on the Main Street Trolley line.
Written and photographed by Greg Giblin.
Since we had limited time and a trunk fullof pizza boxes to contend with, our residentvideographer, Greg Giblin, volunteered to return toMemphis with video camera in hand for a tour ofsome of the more well-known pizzerias in thearea. Check out what he discovered and go towww.pizzatv.com to view the footage.Since opening in 1993, the Memphis PizzaCafe (www.memphispizzacafe.com) has notonly survived in the Memphis pizza scene, buthas grown to open five stores in the area andhas been voted Memphis’ Best Pizza every yearsince 1994. With a ‘no frills’ attitude, the pizzeriaprides itself on a simple yet effective menuwith classic thin crust pizzas, no delivery, andword-of-mouth advertising. Store manager JonMcNabb explains, “When it started, it just kindof took off.”
Coletta’s Restaurant (www.colettasrestaurant.com)lays claim to being the oldest restaurant in Memphis,getting its start in 1922 as an ice cream shop. JerryColetta, the current operator, says that his dad introducedpizza at Coletta’s in the ’50s—a time when pizza wasvirtually nonexistent in the Memphis area. But with theintroduction of the fi rst barbecue pizza, Southerners werequick to give it a try (the BBQ Pizza is still the top-sellingitem at Coletta’s). One BBQ Pizza fan was Elvis, who dinedat Colletta’s fairly frequently. Fans stop by regularly,requesting to eat in his old seat, now in the appropriatelynamed Elvis Room, decorated top tobottom with Elvis memorabilia.
The proximity of the Universityof Memphis helped owner MikeGaribaldi get Garibaldi’s Pizza(www.garibaldispizza.com) off theground and on the road to success morethan 30 years ago. Starting with noprospects and little money, Garibaldihas now been serving families and thearea’s student population for decades.Looking around the restaurant, it’seasy to see the connection—teammascots decorate the walls alongsidevarious knickknacks, pinballmachines and a jukebox. “We try tobe a ‘Cheers’-type pizzeria and familyrestaurant,” says Garibaldi. “We knowthe customers by name and theyknow us. They might get razzed ifthey’re wearing a funny-lookin’ shirtthat day,” he warns with a smile.