A hunka-hunka fried peanut butter
The path to Graceland is a gooey, fattening one
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN) -- Rolling along Highway 78 headed to Memphis to pay tribute to the King, your stomach starts grumbling, your hands get shaky, and only one food will do -- fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, naturally.
This gooey concoction, fatter than a herd of hogs, was what Elvis Presley reached for when his stomach yelped.
Well, it was one of the things he liked.
Elvis purportedly also dined large on barbecue sandwiches, barbecue pizzas, mash potatoes, peas, apple pie and meatloaf -- the latter which he sometimes ate for weeks, even months, in a row. If it came on a blue plate, it was special.
And here, in the King's adopted hometown, almost every native Memphite, and even diehard fans from Canada, Australia and France seem to know where to find food fit for a king.
"Elvis likes to eat barbecue," said 23-year-old Chad Torres, a native of Memphis and an Elvis impersonator. "He goes to Interstate Barbecue, Dyers and even The Pig, when he's in the mood for a burger."
For the record: Torres, dressed as young Elvis -- in his, ahem, svelte stage -- works at The Pig.
What did Elvis eat? Ellie Volk from Buffalo, New York, knows.
"I don't even like peanut butter," said Volk, visiting Memphis with three friends, all of them members of the True Fans for Elvis Fan Club, all of them making their annual pilgrimage commemmorating his August 16 death, all of them willing to eat nearly anything if it passed his lips.
"But if Elvis wanted me to eat a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, if it meant that I could sit next to him, I'd do it."
That belt-busting sandwich is hardly a secret, said Jennifer Dorman, sales manager of Elvis Presley's Memphis Restaurant. Located on Beale Street downtown, the eatery is managed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, which also manages Graceland, Elvis' renowned mansion and a Memphis landmark.
"Everybody recognizes that about Elvis," Dorman said. "He's known for [the sandwich]. You've got to try it."
Creamy and hot from the grill, the $5.75 P-B-and-B was a classic stack of calories -- creamy peanut butter, sliced bananas, all wedged between two pieces of white bread.
OK, it's famous. Yes, it's fattening. But is it any good?
"I like it," said Diane Villafranca, one of Volk's buddies who also made the trip from Buffalo. "I've always eaten peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches."
'Elvis Presley Ate Here'
All right, Elvis was a regular guy, eating regular food at regular restaurants, but he was also a rock n' roll superstar with a Cadillac-load of charm.
"He was very charismatic to be around," said Jerry Schilling, a long-time Elvis friend and confidant who lived with Elvis for 10 years.
"I don't care where you were," said Schilling, recalling the time when the king met the president -- a 1970 meeting between Elvis and Richard Nixon. "No matter who was in the room, he demanded the attention."
Schilling is happy to discuss his old friend -- to a point. Talk of fried sandwiches leaves him boiling.
"The body of work that he contributed to the music world is the thing that we should be remembering him for ... more than the peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches," said Schilling, now president and CEO of Memphis and Shelby County (Tennessee) Music Commission. "I am so tired of talking about that. I don't want that to be his legacy."
"The peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich is part of the whole Elvis mystique," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and culture at Syracuse University, who identified the lowbrow sandwich as proof of Elvis' common touch. "He wasn't only the king, he was one of us."
To truly be like Elvis, visit one of the real Elvis-walked-across-this-threshold restaurants, the Arcade, located on South Main Street. Unlike Graceland's wall-to-wall, shrine-like atmosphere, the Arcade's gold-and-blue vaulted ceilings and pink diner booths look much as they did when Elvis ate there. The menu includes thin-crust pizza, sandwiches and hand-dipped milkshakes.
Third-generation Arcade owner Harry Zepatos, whose grandfather built the restaurant in 1919, recalled hearing his mother talk about times when Elvis would sneak in the side door. That was in the late 1950s, when he'd already become a star, and Elvis would eat with his head turned away from the Arcade's other customers, Zepatos said.
In the very back left-hand booth, Zepatos mounted a plaque to mark where Elvis once sat. Not as big as a saucer, the plaque is the only evidence that Memphis' most renowned diner customer passed through.
Why not capitalize on the King when you have the chance? "I wouldn't do that," said Zepatos. Elvis, he said, came to the Arcade and was treated as a regular customer. "I've done no advertising."
Others have, and Elvis is big business in Memphis. According to Graceland's estimates, 600,000 tourists a year visit the King's home, some plunking down $25 for the "platinum tour" of the white-columned home where Elvis lived and died.
Others roam the city in search his more humble haunts, such as the Arcade.
Syracuse University's Thompson is not surprised.
"'Elvis Presley Ate Here' is the cultural equivalent of 'George Washington Slept Here'," said Thompson. "Every time a place makes a claim that Elvis ate there, it becomes a memorial to his memory, to his life and to his legend."
A legend that includes a humble sandwich.
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