Vintage vibes with a dash of hot sauce
Musicians Dale Watson and Celine Lee chose Memphis as their new part-time home base because it reminded them of something they were missing.
“Memphis feels like Austin did in the ’80s,” says Dale. “Music is really happening here. It’s a visible difference, and the city is proud of its legacy. The thing you have in Memphis—and I’ve been all over—Memphis has different parts of town with their own personalities. Each neighborhood is its own little place.”
Part of the reason for the move has to do with growth in Austin, Texas, where Dale and Celine have been living for many years. But it also has to do with finding respite, balance and calm when away from the grind of life on the road as a touring musician.
And while Dale is not complaining—he has a home, studio and several businesses in Austin—he remembers a city that would re-energize him after a tour.
“These days I’m getting re-energized in Memphis,” he says. “I’ve always been a champion of Austin, but to be honest, Austin has grown so much and has torn down a lot of what made it cool. It’s also become really expensive to live there.”
Dale and Celine, both honky-tonk musicians, always on the move, and with many irons in the fire, met in 2012 in New York City at—you guessed it—a Dale Watson show. “I went to see him play with a friend of mine, and then later that evening Dale hit me up on Facebook,” says Celine. “I was like, ‘I can’t date another musician.’ But here we are nearly five years later. Before I met Dale, I wanted to record at Sun [Studio], and Dale made that happen.”
We recently had the chance to visit their Whitehaven home (with the tour van parked out front), just around the corner from Graceland, to talk about music, food and their recent move to the Bluff City. Little did we know we were about to walk into the place in town.
Edible Memphis: So, wait. Your house is listed on Airbnb? We can stay here?
Celine Lee: It’s our own personal Graceland with our own Jungle Room and “Wat-Sun Studio” in the basement. We are also renting out two Airstreamers in our backyard now too.
Dale Watson: We have lots of tourists staying here, but also bands coming through to record. You can reserve it here: https://abnb.me/PudbvXDQfX.
Well, if that’s not cool enough, we hear you bought Hernando’s Hideaway? Something about a burger…?
DW: Patrick Trovato, originally from Long Island, New York, where he owns and operates Inferno Roadside Grill, has moved his family to Memphis to relaunch Hernando’s Hideaway in late June or early July.
We plan on having live music and the best burgers in Memphis.
Right when you walk into the restaurant, high-top tables and a small stage will greet you. We will also have a great bar and happy hour. Along with great burgers, the plan is to serve Southern fried catfish with hush puppies and homemade tartar sauce.
OK, one last burning question before we get to the standards. What’s your favorite barbecue—Texas or Memphis?
DW: It’s not an either/or. In the South it’s pork; in Texas it’s brisket. Favorite Memphis barbecue so far is The Bar-B-Q Shop.
CL: We haven’t been on the full tour yet, but I love the Rendezvous meat-and-cheese plate too.
What is the first thing you remember about cooking?
CL: Both of my grandmothers loved being in the kitchen and I loved being with them. Just chopping vegetables, making gravy and learning the family recipes from my Croatian heritage. I also remember making stuff up as a kid, potions and such.
What was your first food-related job?
CL: I worked in restaurants, bars, hotels, you name it. From dive bars to five-star hotels, I worked as a hostess, bartender, etc. Dale has been a musician since he was 12, but I think he worked at a Shasta factory when he was younger.
DW: That’s true. I put caps on the bottles. I was also a dishwasher at a Holiday Inn in 1978.
What is your default thing to cook when you’re hungry and need to make something fast?
DW: Fried bologna sandwich and reheated soup. I can also make oyster stew, which is embarrassingly simple. All you need is cream of potato and Bumblebee oysters. It’s a cheap way to go, for a bachelor. I also add a lot of hot sauce and butter.
CL: I like to make migas (Dale’s favorite). I also like making stuffed peppers, meatloaf and Brussels sprouts. I made stuffed peppers for Jerry Phillips a few weeks back and he loved them.
DW: She also makes a beet salad or a salad with cottage cheese and cucumbers with a nice blend of nuts and dried fruit when we are trying to eat healthy.
Can you name any ingredients that you couldn’t live without?
DW: Hot sauce of all kinds. Bacon—crispy. Eggs, jalapeños. Lone Star beers and avocados.
Name your favorite thing to do in the kitchen or your favorite part of the cooking process.
CL: Prepping and seeing it come together.
I like to wing it and make something out of nothing. Being on the road so much and not wanting to go to the grocery store, we are always forced to be creative.
Name your favorite kitchen tool(s) or gadget(s) and why it’s your favorite?
CL: It’s got to be our ’50s-era Frigidaire that we got at Flashback, or our Nostalgia toaster.
DW: I’m also a fan of our vintage Dishmaster.
Ever watch cooking shows on TV? If so, which ones?
DW: Celine watches the Food Network constantly.
CL: I like Chopped and Bobby Flay. I’m always getting ideas by watching.
Favorite place to shop locally for food?
CL: Trader Joe’s, ALDI, Kroger and Whole Foods.
What condiments are in your fridge right now?
DW: Hot sauce, soy sauce, mild green jalapeño jelly, ketchup, mustard, sriracha mayo and olive oil mayo.
Most embarrassing thing in the fridge?
DW: Celine’s cooling eye mask or her jade facial rollers. Or my peppermint mocha coffee creamer.
Favorite thing your mom/grandmother/aunt/neighbor cooked when you were a kid?
DW: Stuffed peppers.
Will you share a recipe that you cook at home?
CL: Absolutely! Migas—Dale’s favorite!
Splash of milk
2 tablespoons jarred chopped jalapeño
2 tablespoons butter
½ onion, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, chopped
1 serrano pepper, chopped
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup crispy tortilla strips
1 package corn tortillas
Whip 3 eggs with a big splash of milk. Take 2 big spoonfuls of jarred chopped jalapeño and add to the egg mixture. Beat until frothy.
Heat your pan with a couple of dabs of butter. Add chopped peppers and onion to the buttered pan. Sauté until soft and translucent.
Add eggs and turn down to low. Cook slowly and stir until you have a soft scramble; then turn off the heat.
Add a couple of handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese. Let melt slightly. Crumble crispy tortilla strips over the eggs.
In the meantime, set oven to 325°. Wrap corn tortillas in foil and warm for 8 minutes.
Transfer eggs to a baking dish. Add a little more melted cheese on top and put in the oven with the tortillas for just a couple of minutes until melted.
Serve with sour cream, hot sauce, salsa and a side of bacon or sausage.
Jeff Hulett is married with two daughters and lives in Midtown. He plays lots of music and tells lots of dad jokes. @dad_onarrival
Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais and his wife and kids. @chipchockley
Jeff Hulett is married with two daughters and lives in Midtown. He plays lots of music and tells lots of dad jokes.