Memphis is more than the music. Memphis is more than the history. Memphis is more than Elvis and it’s also so much than ribs and barbecue.
Memphis has been attracting glowing Bon Appetit reviews and James Beard award nominations for quite a while. It’s a city where fine dining restaurants sit happily next to dive bars, soul food joints and drive-thru beignets. Downtown’s mix of historic storefronts and nondescript 70’s brick buildings house some of the city’s tastiest treats. The Cooper-Young neighbourhood is home to an eclectic mix of hip restaurants and chic bars.
Catherine & Mary’s
Catherine & Mary’s is the perfect example of what Americans do best; refined food in a casual, relaxed style. The restaurant sits on the ground floor of the former Chisca Hotel where DJ Dewey Phillips debuted Elvis’s ‘That’s Alright, Mama’.
Slowly, the neighbourhood is prising itself out of its forlorn past with long overdue renewal. On the corner of S. Main St and MLK Drive, Catherine & Mary’s is a chic, pared-back space – all polished concrete and moody lighting.
Catherine & Mary’s is the latest from James Beard nominated chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. The menu? Sicilian nonna meets Downtown Memphis: spuntini, handmade pasta and hearty mains. The chefs honour both their grandmothers with the name and their Maw Maw’s ravioli formed in the trays that Michael’s grandmother brought from the old country.
There are plenty of boutique American and European wines by the glass with a curated list of beers and ciders. The manicured cocktail list. How could you go past a Blue Eyes/Cold Heart? – where lots of yummy drops meet local favourite Old Dominick vodka. We do mean local – Old Dominick’s Distillery is right across the street.
A lamb ragu spaghetti with kalamata, pancetta and mint was smart and al dente. Glistening duck with farro, mushrooms, cauliflower and pear was the winner of the mains with a succulent local fish with summer squash, shisitos, tarragon, garlic and topped with tomatillos a close second.
The Beauty Shop Restaurant
Memphian’s favourite weekend brunch spot is known for its eclectic take on Southern comfort food. Chef Karen Carrier took a Cooper-Young 50’s era beauty shop and made it one of Memphis’ hottest places to eat. The front window says it all – “Look Good. Eat Good”. The Beauty Shop Restaurant is where the cool kids go to eat in one of the Bluff City’s hippest neighbourhoods.
Sit by one of the dryers and partake a libation to start. The Beautini sounds good. Imagine you’re sitting next to Priscilla having your do done. (Yes, Priscilla was a regular here when it was a curl and dye shop). The wine list ranges from Italy to France, Oregon to New Zealand.
It’s pink and mint green, vitrolite and glass brick interior sets the mood for a fun night. Servings are Southern sized – generous and understandably sweet. The whole grilled Romaine is not for those looking for a light salad option with roasted cherry toms, maple glazed bacon, gorgonzola, rosemary spiced pecans and blue cheese dressing but it is deee-licious.
Newman Farms pork chop is served with grilled peaches, muddled blueberry, creamed corn, Bentons’ bacon, scallions & chicharrons – outrageous and comforting all at the same time. Daily dessert specials include traditional Southern favourites like Red Velvet and a pretty in pink Strawberry cake is highly recommended.
The Second Line
The Second Line is a more casual restaurant conveniently next door to Chef Kelly English’s celebrated Iris. Housed in a renovated bungalow, Reflecting his New Orleans roots, the Second Line serves up plates of red beans and rice and you can add shrimp or oysters to anything.
If the weather’s fine outback is the place to be. Best described in Australian terms as a beer garden, it’s relaxed and service is informative and fast. The patio has its own bar to dispense cocktails to wash down those Andouille, crawfish & pimento cheese fries. This must be the most popular after work drinks spot in Memphis. The Wiseacre Ananda IPA and a Edna Valley Chardonnay worked a treat with the peppery flavours.
Po’ boys are the plat du jour with fried gulf shrimp and our choice the chicken thigh. Chef English brings in the bread from New Orleans to keep things authentic. We opt for those fries and peppery besh bbq shrimp too. Would have like to try the ‘fancy ass coleslaw’ but we were beaten.
The Arcade Restaurant
The Arcade has been around longer than just about anywhere in Memphis. Yes, it’s true that Elvis used to hide from screaming hordes of girls in the teal and butter yellow booths up the back, way back when. Featured in countless movies set in Memphis from the Client to Jarmusch’s classic Mystery Train, The Arcade Restaurant IS Memphis.
Once upon a time the neighbourhood was constantly buzzy but after storekeepers moved to the suburbs and the murder of Dr King, things changed. The Arcade kept on keeping on and there’s no better time to visit than breakfast to see those timeless traditions.
There’s Country Fried Steak, Eggs Redneck with biscuits and sausage smothered in gravy with eggs and hash browns and the French Toast comes with 2 eggs any style, hash browns or grits, bacon or sausage. Two scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns, biscuit and gravy go down easy.
You don’t go to Memphis and not eat barbecue. This is the Mecca of barbecue and many make the pilgrimage. Locals will always disagree on who does the best barbecue. But the awards have all been heading to Central BBQ in the last few years.
There’s wings – wet, dry, jerk or naked. There’s BBQ Nachos, home made Potato Chips with blue cheese dressing, ribs, pulled pork, brisket, turkey, chicken, and for the meat averse a ‘portabella’ mushroom sandwich. You can add your own sauce and there are sides but really it’s all about the meat.
Food is only one of the reasons to visit this intriguing city on the Missississippi. Come for the barbecue and stay for the other tastes and sights. You’ll be glad you did.
Disclaimer: This Magnificent Life was hosted by MemphisTravel