[NOTE: The Germantown Road location of this restaurant is now closed but the Hickory Hill location is still open.]
Since I first tried the meatloaf at Southern Hands Family Dining a couple months ago I've eaten it almost every single time I've been in Collierville at lunchtime. I always look over the menu, but I always end up ordering meatloaf, turnip greens and black-eyed peas. I get cravings for it just from driving through Collierville.
Another Memphis Que post that starts with a visit to a restaurant before digressing completely.
Last Wednesday I stopped for lunch at the Southern Hands on Germantown Parkway, which is located near the Cordova Farmer's Market. The Cordova location is in a newer building with a more spaciously spartan dining area than the cozy, well-worn Collierville store. Once again I looked at the menu and couldn't resist returning to my tried-and-true combination.
The savory meat sauce is what makes the meatloaf so superior to the ketchup-drenched renditions served in so many restaurants. Everything was really good although it seemed to be missing a little something from the perfect seasoning profile I've come to expect from the Collierville store. But keep in mind that I routinely drive past the the Captain John's Barbecue that store shares a parking lot with and the Gus's Fried Chicken a few blocks away to eat at the Collierville Southern Hands because it is so good. So don't take it as an insult to the Cordova location when I say the one meal I had there fell a little short of being perfect.
While I was waiting for my food I read a framed review of the restaurant from the Commercial Appeal newspaper that was hanging on one of the walls. I agree with the reviewer, Jennifer Biggs, that while sweet cornbread is generally something to avoid the sweetness of the cornbread at Southern Hands is subtle enough that it is still completely enjoyable, unlike the cornbread that offended me so much at the Rum Boogie Cafe.
One area where my tastes obviously differ from Biggs's was when she wrote that, "the turnip greens were too smoky for my tastes, but that's an issue left to the individual palate; I prefer my greens without any meat. At Southern Hands, the greens do have a nice balance of sweet and sour -- but mostly, they were smoky."
Any regular ready of this blog knows that the concept that greens can have too much of a smoky meat flavor doesn't really fit into my worldview. But like she pointed out, individual tastes are going to vary.
The one thing that stood out the most about the review was the heavy praise Biggs gave to the fried chicken. I'd never been tempted to try the fried chicken in all my times eating at the Collierville location since it is right around the corner from a Gus's Fried Chicken. If I'm in the mood for fried chicken with a Gus's a few blocks away, I'm going to Gus's. But after reading the description of the fried chicken at Southern Hands I decided I needed to try some the next time I was near one of restaurants.
The next time ended up being the next day when I stopped by the Southern Hands on Winchester in front of the Hickory Ridge Mall. The Hickory Hill location is in a former Applebee's near both the former Schnuck's grocery that is now the Winchester Farmer's Market and the former Target store that is now the epic retail extravaganza known as Big Daddy's Pawn Shop.
Having been to all three Southern Hands locations now, every single employee I've encountered has been so courteous and friendly that it is obvious the restaurant puts a heavy emphasis on making welcoming customer service an ingrained part of the company's culture. The fried chicken meal at Southern Hands usually comes with three whole wings. The Winchester restaurant was running out of wings on my visit so the kitchen substituted a breast for one of the them. My server was so apologetic when he came out to tell me that for a second I thought he was saying I couldn't get fried chicken at all. Subbing a breast for a wing? No problem, no need for apologies.
While I was looking at the Urbanspoon page for the Cordova Southern Hands the day before I noticed that the Memphis Gastroblog praised the yams there so I ordered some with my fried chicken and turnip greens at the Hickory Hill store.
The serving of turnip greens I had that day ended up being absolutely perfect. The candied yams were a little sweeter than I prefer but sill good. The fried chicken had two women at the table next to mine talking to me about how good it looked and asking how it tasted. The batter on the skin is definitely lighter than Gus's, or even most fast food fried chicken for that matter. It isn't spicy at all but the chicken meat is good and juicy. If I'm in Collierville wanting fried chicken I'll still stick to Gus's but at the Hickory Hill location I didn't regret getting it instead of the meatloaf for a change of pace. On a future visit I'll have to try the fried pork chop, which is supposed have the same batter.
On my way out I noticed a lot of cars in the parking lot of the Hickory Ridge Mall so I decided to take a walk through it. A tornado hit the mall in 2008 causing severe damage. Like most Memphians I hadn't been inside the mall since. The Hickory Ridge Mall frequently gets mentioned alongside the Raleigh Springs Mall as an example of what being in Memphis does to commercial property by people who conveniently forget about the vacant mall in Lakeland.
While all the former large anchor stores at the Raleigh Springs Mall have deserted it the Hickory Ridge Mall is still anchored by a Sears and an Incredible Pizza Company. Inside the mall there were plenty of vacant spaces but I was surprised by how many stores were open. There weren't many national retailers, instead most of the tenants are small, local businesses. People who haven't been to the mall in years will describe at as somehow being simultaneously deserted yet full of criminals. In reality it was clean and well-lit, and while it wasn't crowded there were more shoppers than I expected to see, especially on a Thursday afternoon.
I think most people from outside Hickory Hill just assume the mall is empty because of how much vacant commercial property they see driving along Winchester around the mall. But the mall is still walkable, drawing customers and full of spaces for small businesses, so it doesn't have near the problems that owners of properties geared towards big box tenants do.
Shopping centers like this have a smaller number of retail spaces that are much larger than the ones inside the mall. They need tenants who need, and are willing to pay for, that much square-footage of space. Those prospective tenants don't want to locate in a mostly empty shopping center, since being surrounded by vacant buildings and large empty parking lots isn't very welcoming to customers. Once an area is overbuilt large vacant buildings and empty seas of asphalt drive down rent prices, and therefore property values, in a perpetuating cycle.
Hickory Hill fell victim to the build-and-abandon debt-driven growth ponzi scheme that nearly destroyed the U.S. economy by 2008. As area municipalities continually tried to grow their way out of debt with borrowed money, and homeowners did the same thing with subprime home loans, an increasing number of both residential and commercial properties were left vacant as new construction greatly outstripped growth in both population and personal income.
Developers built a tremendous amount of new retail space in the Mid-south at the same time that the Internet was reducing the demand for brick and mortar stores. Circuit City, which used to occupy this building, couldn't survive competition from both Best Buy and online retailers like Amazon.com. Despite losing a competitor Best Buy is currently struggling against online retailers. This building is now empty retail capacity with no demand for it.
The same thing happened across the United States during the previous decade as banks seemingly approved every harebrained loan application that crossed their desks in the short-sighted pursuit of quarterly performance numbers. Local governments welcomed the new growth; borrowing money for new infrastructure and ignoring the way the new developments increased blight and decreased tax revenues in older areas they were already responsible for.
Memphis has foolishly spent decades trying to annex its way to prosperity; constantly claiming new territory in the pursuit of tax revenue only to be left responsible for each new community's police, fire and infrastructure upkeep costs as aging properties and outward sprawl inevitably make each new annexation a net drain on the city's finances. The pursuit of growth for the sake of growth has created so much new blight throughout the Mid-south that it is hard for many residents to believe the fact that crime rates have actually gone down in Memphis over the past 20 years. Find an older cop and ask them about what the inner city areas were like during the heyday of the crack epidemic in the late 80s and early 90s. Sprawl hasn't created additional crime, other than the developers-bribing-politicians variety of white collar crime, but it has steadily spread it into new areas.
The vacant building on the right was a Barnes and Noble. That company still exists. I got a Barnes and Noble gift card for my birthday a few weeks ago. I used it buying stuff on the company's website. Barnes and Noble may survive, but it will never be the brick and mortar powerhouse it once was. Even if no additional retail space had been added in Mid-south after Hickory Hill was developed the area would still be struggling with the fact that so much of its commercial property was created for customers going to stores to buy things like books, electronics, and movies and music stored on individual discs.
Despite the surrounding commercial blight the megachurches in Hickory Hill still draw plenty of people. There is absolutely zero correlation between the financial prosperity of an area and the religious faith of its inhabitants despite countless claims that nonsense like prayer in schools would revitalize communities.