What a great area this is for Chowhounding! Warning: Strict diet is imminent.
So here's what did the damage: from Memphis Airport took a very quick drive to Interstate BBQ. This is a veritable temple of BBQ. Ribs here are so tender that every molecule completely disintegrates in your mouth. No need for chewing. Maybe I prefer my BBQ 'tastier' - including the sauce, but I'm not going to quibble with the crusty exterior and large, meaty interior that submits instantly. Awesome. For a pleasant twist, the BBQ nachos are another good excuse to eat smoked pork.
For a classic meat and three experience, found my way to the new Cupboard, now located in a former Shoney's. Despite the new and spacious digs, they still prepare only three main dishes per day, plus all those terrific sides. Loved the cucumber salad, the greens, eggplant casserole (like a super-moist stuffing). Can't get this back home.
The went on to Romeo's Pizza. No need to go for the pizza itself, but chef/owner John Wills (disclosure: John Wills is my wife's first cousin)loads it up with his great pork shoulder, what Memphis 'cue is all about. Also stuffs the pork into a meltingly tender burrito. If you're tired of BBQ, you can always go for toasted ravioli, a Memphis tradition. Also great meatballs with that thick, delicious red sauce. This is not the place to go for a cheese pizza; there is no point to that. I don't mind telling you about his operation because he twice won the Memphis International BBQ Competition, and he has long been a big name in Memphis BBQ. This is a place for serious eating.
Drove to Hot Springs, Arkansas where we hit two longtime favorites. Molly's has deli food. Chopped liver, cole slaw, corned beef, pastrami, matzoh ball and kreplach soups, etc. So is it worth it? Well, we liked it so much the first time, we went back the next day. Enjoyed the chicken soups, a consomee with an enormous and perfectly cooked Matzoh Ball or two delicious kreplachs, the very fresh chopped liver, the absolutely perfect cole slaw and potato salad, and a sandwich combining salami, pastrami, and corned beef. Beautifully spiced. The next day, unfortunately, was a downer. The corned beef, by itself, was sliced thicker and was boring. The cabbage soup was watery. My suggestion is to stick with the specialty sandwiches accompanied by dead-on cole slaw or potato salad and make sure you get the Matzoh Ball soup.
Mrs. Miller's, way out past the race track, is another Hot Springs institution that features whole bone-in catfish and chicken pan-fried TO ORDER. Just about impossible to find on the East Coast. Every meal includes very good biscuits and her famous fruit compote. Appetizers like smoked sausage with onions and tabasco pickles can't be found outside of the South.
On the way back to Memphis, stopped in DeVall's Bluff, AR for Craig's BBQ. It's on Highway 70, which runs parallel to the Interstate. But there's no exit at DeVall's Bluff, so you have to go a little out of your way to get there. Craig's is a shack with 7 or so formica tables. One good wind and it might all blow over. A steady stream of customers means there's always a small wait. This is country BBQ, Arkansas BBQ, an entirely different animal. This makes the Memphis places look civilized. Good crusty exterior, pink interior. I made the big mistake, though, of not asking for the sauce on the side. Typical of Arkansas, the sauce is very tangy and poured all over the ribs. The pork sandwiches are sliced and not as much to my liking. Go to Craig's for the experience and the ribs: just ask for the sauce on the side.