Nothing about the past two years has been easy, but one of the hardest things about the pandemic for me personally has been its impact on my ability to travel safely. I've been fortunate enough to visit 46 states and more than 20 countries — sitting at home on the couch just isn't in my nature. Recently, as things have begun to reopen, I've spent a little more time rediscovering some of the cities within driving distance of Little Rock.
One of the highlights of these road trips has been delving head-first into the food and wine renaissance happening just across the river in Memphis. For so long, Memphis was the place I drove through rather than drove to (I'm sure Memphis residents say the same about Little Rock), but the city's restaurant scene is chock-full of fantastic restaurants and, I was happy to see, many high-quality wine lists. If you're also feeling the "dear God, let me go absolutely anywhere" blues, here are some of my favorite spots in the city to pop a bottle:
Knifebird Wine Bar (knifebirdwinebar.com)
If you're into drinking top-notch wine in an instantly Instagrammable setting, Knifebird Wine Bar in the trendy Cooper-Young neighborhood is for you. Myriad wine flights are perfect for the indecisive, and their globetrotting wine list (and friendly staff) make it easy to branch out of your drinking comfort zone.
The Gray Canary (thegraycanary.com)
Out of all of Memphis' restaurants, The Gray Canary may be the one I always look forward to returning to the most, and with a menu that takes inspiration from both sides of the Atlantic and an always-on-point raw bar, it's easy to see why. The wine list here is diverse with a pan-Mediterranean focus, but I keep coming back to their picks from the Canary Islands.
117 Prime (117prime.com)
The traditional steakhouse can sometimes feel stuffy in our do-it-for-the-'gram world, but the team behind 117 Prime avoids the dinner jacket-required atmosphere and creates an experience of quiet luxury. Even better, they make it easy to pair your meal with one of the city's most well-rounded wine lists. The list starts with a lovely selection of grower Champagne and features a veritable "who's who" of world-class Californian cabernets.
Catherine and Mary's (catherineandmarys.com)
It was a trip to Catherine and Mary's that sparked my curiosity about the Bluff City's food scene. The restaurant's Italian-focused wine list showcases the almost infinite diversity of the country's wine. I've become well acquainted with their deep selection of Italian nebbiolo, and if you know what's up, you will too.
OK, not really. The Memphis Ikea store doesn't actually sell wine, but this may be my only chance to give Swedish fruit wine a shoutout in this column. None is available in Arkansas (or Tennessee), but if ever you find a bottle, grab it, find me, and let's drink it together!