live blog: at the arcade

Founded in 1919, the atmospheric Arcade is the oldest continually operating cafe in Memphis. Born of Greek immigrants – of course – the diner has weathered the precipitous decline of downtown and lived to see its rebirth, becoming an identifiable location in a dozen or so films as well as a magnet for tourists drawn by the mix of comfort food and retro 1950’s design. The Arcade serves through lunch but to be honest, it’s breakfast that’s the star attraction – unless you’re looking for a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich in the back booth once frequented by Elvis. (in which case, prepare to wait.) Redneck Eggs achieved infamy in a Travel Channel program where the host scarfed down the plate of three biscuits and sausage patties smothered in gravy and topped with hash browns and scrambled eggs with a beer. I opt for the more demure sweet potato pancakes instead – which come with grits, bacon, and two fried eggs – and am not disappointed. What is it about the south and what they are able to do with the sweet potato? This is my second day here and my second sweet potato discovery. Keep ’em coming.

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stone street scandanavian

Who even knew there was a Stone Street down in the Financial District? I sure didn’t. In fact, the short thoroughfare connecting Pearl and William Streets is the oldest cobblestone paved street in New York City. It’s also home to a good dozen or so bars and restaurants that spill out onto the cobbles, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a European biergarten. Smorgas Chef, an unassuming Scandinavian restaurant, is one of them. Tucked into a table in the window with a friend in the from the UK I had the odd sensation that it was I visiting him – and not the other way around. Glasses of caraway and anise flavored aquavit warmed our cockles. Yet it was the food that possessed all the comfort of a raging fireplace and fuzzy slippers on a snowy night: Icelandic cod in a potato crust on a bed of forest mushrooms, Swedish meatballs and lingonberries with chive mashed potatoes, gravlaks croquettes of house-cured salmon and horseradish creme fraiche. Bundled up against the winter winds, I anticipate returning to Stone Street again and again.

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half-gassed

 

Why anyone – when both the beach and mountains are literally just minutes away – would choose to find their fun in a rundown half-abandoned chunk of downtown is beyond logic to me. Nevertheless San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is being touted as a revitalized historic district despite the overwhelming presence of hobos and the waft of urine. Call me cynical but I think the term “historic heart” has more to do with the waterfront convention center which draws in some 1.3 million people a year in search of a Hard Rock Cafe and less to do with there being anything particularly interesting to see or do here. Or at least that’s my experience of wandering the Gaslamp today – allow me some wiggle room to contradict myself on this tomorrow.

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