I was destined to drive down Florida Street last Monday no matter where I stopped to eat. I was making my way down Third Street when Third Street was suddenly ... gone. It was blocked off just ahead of a bridge that didn't exist anymore. I asked one of my customers at a nearby business what the story was and he told me the construction project to improve the street was slated to take two years. So that made McLemore to Florida a natural detour to get me further south where I could cut back over to Third.
I had already planned on taking a detour that way since a friend had recently posted a photo on Instagram of a place called Aunt Cora's Soul Food on McLemore near Florida and asked if anyone had tried it. If you use Instagram on your phone and run across any good barbecue or soul food finds that you end up posting there be sure to tag them #memphisque.
Aunt Cora's ended up being closed. I'm not sure if that is a temporary or permanent situation. I just know no one was there last Monday at lunchtime. That was okay with me since I had heard good things about another soul food place further down Florida called the Crock Pot. For those who are unfamiliar with Florida Street, it is in South Memphis in the heavily industrial area around President's Island. The street is also something of an under-recognized hotspot for Southern Cuisine with the extraordinary Cajun food of Deja Vu on it to the north of McLemore and the famed cheeseburgers and Delta-style tamales of the South Memphis Grocery to the south.
The South Memphis Grocery is practically across the street from the restaurant I was headed to. When I got there a sign on the building informed me that it was now called Mama's Flavors Soul Food instead of the Crock Pot. I'm not sure about the story behind the change but when I mentioned I'd come looking for the Crock Pot the friendly lady at the register told me, "we kept all the same cooks in the kitchen when we took over."
After looking over the day's options I opted for chopped hamburger steak with greens and yams. It was a little over $7 for a single patty or a little over $9 for two. I asked for one but changed my order to two when the lady preparing my plate acted like I was crazy for not getting the double serving. I ended up thanking her after I'd completely cleaned my plate. The patties were seasoned perfectly; stuffed with garlic, onions and peppers and topped with a tasty gravy. The greens and yams were expertly seasoned as well. I didn't even touch the Bruce's Hot Green Pepper Sauce on the table while I was eating my greens.
The food was delicious but the lighting made it difficult to make it look appetizing in photographs.
While the locally infamous "section of South Memphis where the streets are named after states" definitely isn't known as one of the safest parts of this city, and it isn't an area where you'd find me exploring after dark, everyone I encountered at Mama's Flavors was exceptionally outgoing and friendly towards me. And while I was on Florida I also stopped in at another local landmark that makes the street such an important part of the Memphis food scene.
From competition teams to restaurants, the Charcoal Warehouse on Florida is where Memphis's serious pitmasters shop. Beyond charcoal in both lump and briquette form the place also stocks a large variety of woods like apple, cherry, maple, oak, peach, pecan and hickory that are used to fine tune the flavor profile of carefully crafted smoked meats.
Prices are kept up-to-date on a dry erase board.
Some places ask what I am doing when I show up taking pictures. At the Charcoal Warehouse I just said, "I have a barbecue blog," as I stepped in and started snapping pics. They just nodded like, "Well of course this place needs to be in it," and waved me further in.
They can sell you whatever quantity you need, up-to and including using a forklift to load it by the pallet-full if you have a trailer that can handle it.