Friday, October 28, 2011

He Was A Man - The Four Way Restaurant

This afternoon I had a lunch of neck bones, pickled tomatoes and black-eyed peas at the legendary Four Way restaurant at the corner of Mississippi and Walker in South Memphis. The soul food restaurant is currently celebrating it’s 65th year in business. It’s a couple blocks north of the Stax Museum, a couple blocks west of the historically-black LeMoyne-Owen College and eight blocks east of the infamously rowdy corner of Fourth and Walker that gets name dropped in songs by South Memphis artists ranging from Booker T. (who grew up three blocks south of the Four Way) to Zed Zilla. And it was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite place to eat on visits to Memphis.

The menu selections at the Four Way rotate from day-to-day the same way they do at most Southern meat-and-veggie-combo-plate restaurants. Neck bones are a classic staple of soul food, which is based around making delicious food out of the cheaper, less desirable selections of meat and vegetables that were once commonly reserved for slaves and sharecroppers. What makes people consider neck bones a less desirable cut of meat is the high ratio of bone to meat, which can make eating them a messy and time-consuming process. But it’s worth the effort, since the meat on a pork neck bone is some of the most tender and flavorful you’re going to find. 

Reading accounts of Dr. King’s visits to the restaurant that are posted on the walls provides a thought-provokingly human element to someone who is such a revered icon that it is easy to lose sight of the man himself. Memphis had its name forever tarnished when Dr. King was murdered here by a man from Illinois who became involved with the white power movement while living in Los Angeles. James Earl Ray traveled to from L.A. to Atlanta to assassinate King, but he arrived there to read in the Atlanta newspaper that King was in Memphis.

Since April 4, 1968, Memphis has been associated with the violent death of Dr. King. It’s easy to forget that he was brought here on that final trip by love for our city’s people. King came to Memphis to stand with the striking sanitation workers of the AFSCME Local 1733 and was murdered by an outsider whose name is now forever linked to our home. The problem with turning people into heroes is that we rob them of some of their humanity. In fact, it almost seems somehow wrong to talk about Dr. King in a blog about eating neck bones at a soul food restaurant. He was a black man who was born in Georgia at the beginning of the depression. He didn’t grow up eating foie gras. It’s stunning to sit in the Four Way and reflect on him as a man who loved sitting in the same room and who could never resist ordering the peach cobbler.

The Four Way on Urbanspoon


  1. May I PLEASE use the photo of the restaurant? I am in the process of making a documentary about Memphis and I need a photo. I will give you FULL credit.

    1. Send me a message through the blog's Facebook page. You can use this one as long as you credit it, but I could also get you a much better one. The two here were taken with an old cell phone camera.