Thursday, February 9, 2012

Frayser is Memphis - More Tops

Today I continued working my way through my sidequest of eating at every Tops Bar-B-Q  location with a double cheeseburger at the Frayser Boulevard location in Frayser. I’ve now been to six of the 14 locations.

The burger was everything I expect from a Tops double cheeseburger. In fact, I think that the burgers always seem a little better at older Tops locations thanks to decades worth of grease and seasoning soaking into the grills. Almost every customer who came in while I was there ordered a burger. I only saw a couple of people get barbecue combos. I was curious to see what impact the jumbo hamburger bun would have on my blood sugar and was unhappy but not really surprised to see that it was 149 an hour after my meal. It did drop to a healthy 105 after another 30 minutes and was at 99 after two hours, so all that wonderfully fatty meat did seem to blunt the effects some. The unhealthy effects would definitely be intensified with a single patty burger or, even worse, adding fries and/or a soft drink to the meal.

Frayser is a working class neighborhood that was once a suburb of Memphis. It is north of what people normally refer to as North Memphis, much like Whitehaven is south of what people refer to as South Memphis, since references for older sections of the city stuck around after later annexations made them confusing. The Wolf River divides Frayser from North Memphis, and the area around the river is home to more lakes than anywhere else in the Memphis area. It is amazing to drive through the southern parts of Frayser and realize how many well-kept lakefront homes are there, often selling for shockingly cheap prices due to the blight, crime and rampant teen pregnancy rates that people associate with area.

There was a period where the Midtown section of Memphis was being promoted with “Midtown is Memphis” bumper stickers. I love living in Midtown with its well-cared-for historic homes; great selection of restaurants, music venues and bars; and landmarks like the Memphis Zoo and  Brooks Museum of Art in Overton Park. But in reality Midtown is not representative of Memphis. On average the homes are older and the residents are more educated and affluent than is typical for the Midsouth.

And while Midtown has a diverse population, so does Frayser. But Frayser is a former small, country town that was annexed by the city. It has suffered economically from the closing of nearby industry like the former International Harvester and Firestone plants coupled with white flight and the ravages of our country’s devastatingly inane “war on drugs.”

Yo Gotti grew up less than two miles south of the Frayser Boulevard Tops location in the Ridgecrest Apartments complex, which sits in front of Sky Lake. So I’ll let him explain what the drug war has meant to the local community.

Frayser is openly mocked by people from other areas as a violent warzone, but if you visit you will mostly see people of various races getting along and going about their business. It’s most impoverished citizens are struggling to get by while the rest of society wishes they could be swept under the rug. Generations of poverty, teen pregnancy and fallout from the drug war have created failing schools that keep the cycle perpetuating. Midtown isn’t Memphis. Frayser is. It’s problems are the problems that we; as the Midsouth, not just the city of Memphis, have to confront.

NOTE: While driving through Frayser today I passed by a trailer park that was abandoned and condemned following the Mississippi River flood of 2011. The pictures I took represent some of the blight that, combined with pollution left behind by long-gone industry, can make Frayser seem so hopeless. I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated with photographing blight, from the city to the suburbs.

Tops Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon


  1. Great post. At first I was a little annoyed at getting social commentary when I just wanted to read about a Top's burger. :-)
    You mention you like to photograph blight. I would enjoy seeing those photos. Maybe you could start a seperate blog.

    1. I'm doing so many posts I think it would get boring if I just talked about barbecue. Besides, the locations of the various restaurants make up a big part of the experience.

  2. I love your posts.what you put at the middle/end about frayser made me kinda happy for some'm 19 now and was only nearing the end of first grade when we moved near bartlett but sometimes when the people around me talk bad about frayser when most are too afraid to go there it upsets me.but of course I know what they mean when they point out it's problems.but it seems like the problems gave some of us that sense of community that doesn't seem to exist where I live....

    1. I lot of the areas in Memphis people talk bad about have a solid sense of community that people who never go there don't know about. In the suburbs it seems like people don't even know their neighbors. go out in North Memphis or Orange Mound and it seems like everyone knows everyone.