"Turkey and dressing" still sounds special. Growing up, we ate turkey just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We even made little paper "booties" for the turkey's legs. We never did that for chicken.
Willie Earl Bates also considers turkey and dressing special even though he serves it every day at Four Way Restaurant. Asked why he serves it daily, Bates, who co-owns the restaurant, likes to use the title of a song by Stax great William Bell: "Every Day Will be Like a Holiday."
"We consider every day a holiday and we try to serve in that spirit," Bates said. "I try to cook in the spirit of love. Soul food is a refection of mother's love, grandmother's love, cook's love. (They) poured their best efforts into preparing a delicious meal."
Bates, who was with Universal Life Insurance for 38 years, and his business partner, Tyrone Burroughs, took over Four Way in 2001. Bates went into the restaurant business after hearing at his church, Metropolitan Baptist Church, that the restaurant was going to be auctioned off. Bates grew up in the same neighborhood.
After they took it over, Bates went over all the recipes and talked to former employees and Bernice Martin, sister of the late Irene Cleaves. Cleaves and her husband, the late Clint Cleaves, took over the Four Way in 1946, Bates said. Clint Cleaves was the chauffeur for former Memphis Mayor E. H. "Boss" Crump, he said. He worked for the mayor in the morning and at the restaurant at night. Customers included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (fried catfish and peach cobbler were his favorites), Rosa Parks and Aretha Franklin, Bates said.
As for the food, which Irene Cleaves advertised on the radio as "rightly seasoned," Bates said they would "duplicate as best we could and enhance what was already a successful recipe."
Unlike some places that serve turkey, at Four Way it tastes roasted. It comes with Southern cornbread dressing, but the taste of sage isn't powerful, which is fine with me. I grew up eating Yankee dressing -- white bread, egg, raisins, chicken broth, onions and celery. No sage.
When I asked people at the restaurant what they were going to order, just about everybody said "turkey and dressing."
"It's so good I want to take my mom and get it for Thanksgiving," said Ross Ridenhour.
Four Way Restaurant is at 998 Mississippi Blvd.; (901) 507-1519.
Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; email@example.com