Earnestine & Hazel's
531 S Main St, Memphis, TN, USA
Earnestine & Hazel's Memphis Reviews
Home of the Memphis Apr 23, 2011
It's about 1:00 AM and some kids in their mid-twenties have just dragged me into a horse-drawn carriage to travel for late-night eats. "Oh, you have to try a 'soul burger'! You have to! It's a Memphis thing--best burger ever!," Andrea repeats as our carriage rolls slowly from Beale Street down South Main. Five minutes later we come to a stop at one of the most decrepit and seedy looking intersections I've ever behold with mine own eyes. "Here we are," she says happily. I look up at the dark, crumbling structure in front of me--a sign hangs precariously from the second floor casting an ominous orange glow across the sidewalk; "Earnestine & Hazel's Sundry Store". "What?! ...In there? You're joking!," I exclaim, "And just what the heck is a 'sundry store' anyway?" My reaction is exactly what this inebriated trio expected as they burst into laughter. "Just c'mon!," they say.
Walking inside is a relief; there are people sitting at tables drinking beer, a couple of cooks at the grill, a waitress, and some folks playing pool... Everything's relatively normal and chill. Sure, it's seedy enough, but most bars in my hometown rival this level of derelict and the majority are much worse. I'm comfortable in places like this. Shane leans over the bar and orders three Coors with three soul burgers, paying the woman behind the counter upfront.
"We go upstairs," Andrea tells me. The stairs are crazy, all crooked and broken, we pass a notice painted on a blue fuse-box which reads, "No dope smoken, no cursin, no freeloaden. E.H." The upstairs corridor is pitch darkness with only a bulb in the bathroom to illuminate the way. The smell of must pervades the air. There's nobody else here. "This bar used to be a brothel," she explains to me, "Check out how spooky these rooms are--I don't think anything's changed since the 40s." On old pinball machine, jukebox, and table decorate one room. I take a flash photo so I can see what exactly is in there. My digital display shows holes are everywhere in the walls. As a desensitized horror movie fan, even I have to admit that there's something really creepy about this place. "C'mon," Andrea says, "...End of the hall."
At the far end of the corridor on the right is a small room, almost as dark as the rest of the floor, except for a small red lamp and light shining in through the window from the outside "sundry" sign. As my eyes adjust to the darkness I make out a bar, a cash register, a small stereo, and an elderly black gentleman with white hair wearing a vest and straw hat sitting behind the bar on a stool. For a moment I think I'm seeing some sort of ghostly apparition. Andrea says, "This is Nate! Nate, this is Ed from Canada." "Please to meet you," the man says with a smile and a cool gravelly voice echoing a million late-nights spent serving liquor in a smoky Southern juke joint. I order two Budweisers for Andrea and I and we take a seat at the end of the bar.
A few minutes later, Shane and Andrea's boyfriend, Jay, appear in the doorway with an old guy named "Garrett" in tow. Garrett has a cigarette dangling from his lip and makes Nate-the-bartender look like a strapping lad by comparison. Behind them is the waitress with our soul burgers and it appears as though she's forgotten the Coors we ordered with them.
It doesn't look like a big deal, this burger... Sort of thin and served with a bag of plain potato chips. I'll be able to eat it in about 15 seconds flat. At first bite it doesn't taste like much more than a chewy, budget-diner hamburger. On second bite a miraculous, multicolour flavour surge envelopes my palate--it's sour, peppery, sweet, spicy, rich, warm, slightly salty and comforting. "Wow," I mumble out loud. I can't put my finger on what exactly is in this--there's cheese, caramelized onions, green peppers (I think--it's too dark in here to tell), black pepper, pickles, and... Worcestershire sauce? Maybe Worcestershire? Pickle juice? Yeah, it could be pickle juice. Old Garrett leers at me from the other end of the bar, "Not too bad, huh?" All I can do with a mouthful is nod enthusiastically in response.
As we finish eating, seven more people in the same age range as my companions come through the door. A few of them are really beautiful girls, dressed up for an evening of dancing. Turns out Nate's little corner of the world--a dark, smoky, second-floor room no bigger than most people's kitchen, in a dilapidated building at the seedy end of downtown, is the hip place to be for the twenty-somethings at 2:00 in the morning after a Saturday night out. The prettiest girl among them smiles for my camera and waits patiently as it tries in vain to locate something to focus on through the darkness.
Sadly, Nate announces last call and the evening too swiftly comes to an end. Our gang reluctantly goes back downstairs and out the front doors into a warm Memphis breeze. I realize that we never did get our Coors beers that Shane paid for, but he's so drunk on alcohol and cloud nine right now he can hardly understand a word I'm saying.
I returned the next morning to take photos of the outside of the building and found out much later that Earnestine & Hazel's cleans its grills with pickle juice. So I was right with my initial guess, but that alone can't account for how scrumptious the soul burger was as a whole. I wish I never had that burger... What am I supposed to do when I get a craving? The South Main of Memphis, Tennessee is a hell of a long way to go from the wilds of Canada.
Part of the Memphis (2011) travel blog
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