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The Heart of Memphis

The Heart of Memphis
Photography by Justin Fox Burks

When we asked Memphis residents Andria Lisle and Justin Fox Burks to write and photograph the “counter culture” (men and women behind the counters) of iconic Memphis eateries, they delivered in spades for Grit & Grind, so we asked Justin and Andria to share with us their personal connections to these spots.

The Arcade

JFB: When my wife and I got married ten years ago, we didn’t opt for a big white tent or some banquet hall. We had our rehearsal dinner at Arcade Restaurant: Greek salad, pizza, and banana pudding. Harry was perfect. I’d guess he’s never met a stranger, and we’ve been buds from then on.


AL: I’ve been living—and eating—in Memphis for nearly thirty years. I went to Coletta’s on a first date with Robert Freeland, who, despite our short relationship and his way-too-early death, has proven to be one of the most culturally influential people in my life. I can’t even contemplate a slice of barbecue pizza without hearing the soundtrack of his life (think Sun Ra, Junior Kimbrough, and Rev. Robert “Tootin'” Tilton).


AL: I walked through the door of Wiles-Smith for the first time since taking up Zumba and losing weight — and, as hard as it was, I took a pass on a chocolate “Joe.”

Earnestine & Hazel’s

TLP Note: Sadly, on September 9th, after our October issue had already gone to press, Russell George, who had been battling cancer, died. Community and friends are still reeling from the news.

JFB: So our wedding reception was at Earnestine & Hazel’s. Russell, being the generous soul that he was, didn’t charge us a penny. He closed down the bar on a Saturday night, then he asked me if I was gonna pay my bar tab. I said, “Yes, sir!” And he replied, “Well then, you’re off the hook. Consider it your wedding gift.” His death came as a complete surprise, and Memphis is worse off without him.

AL: I was present when Justin took the photographs of Russell George for Grit & Grind. Russell stayed on the move the entire time we were there. It was a Friday afternoon, and he bounced from the kitchen to the bar to the Five Spot, a tiny restaurant-within-the-bar, then back to the bar again, where he was helping a local artist mount her exhibition on Earnestine’s already cluttered walls. I keep thinking about the last time I crossed the threshold of Earnestine’s, seeing Russell holding court with a half-dozen people surrounding him. It’s hard, writing this, to know that he’s gone.


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