The All Things Foodie Guide to Memphis

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Most foodies may think of Nashville over Memphis when it comes to award-winning chefs and renowned southern dishes and restaurants you’ll want to write home about. While Nashville is no doubt a serious foodie city given its size, the number of celebrities who live there and pass through, Memphis has its fair share of great restaurants worth noting (and adding to your must-eat-at-list) for your next trip to Tennessee. Be sure to read our write-up on the foodie guide to Nashville for our latest picks and take notes on our recommended choices for Memphis below.

Let’s start with the incredibly surprising and delicious Eighty 3 Restaurant in the Madison Hotel, where we stayed while we toured Memphis. Below, find a Max Hussey gem, the latest chef at Eighty 3 — the spicy ahi tuna wonton with avocado, sesame, chili, scallions and red onion.

Other great seafood specialties include the Louisiana crab cake, shrimp beignets with shrimp/pepper jelly, lump crab and shrimp ceviche, his seafood gumbo (crawfish, shrimp, okra, scallop, lobster, rice, clam and seafood stock with creole seasonings), shrimp and grits, and roasted salmon with green tomato pepper ragu, stone ground grits, sweet sun drops and a cilantro glaze. Yum!

At eighty3, Max uses free-style because, he says, “it gets you out of cooking the same menu every night and repeat guests get to try new things.” What was so refreshing about his menu, that while it does have a southern flare, it wasn’t heavy and laden with all the ingredients you love but that tends to add too many unnecessary calories and cholesterol.

Worth noting since it was so unusual (and over-the-top delicious) was their smoked bacon wrapped dates. How could you pass these up?

There’s also a crab and shrimp ceviche with sweet potato, corn and chili pepper water, shrimp beignets with pepper jelly and a Louisiana crab cake, clearly from his New Orleans days, which is served with carrot slaw (MAN, I love Southern slaws), dressed mixed greens and aioli,  Also worth noting is the chicken lettuce wraps, which he does with a hoisin glazed chicken, sauté mushrooms, water chestnut, roasted peanuts and cilantro lime in a crispy iceberg lettuce cup.

Details:

Eighty 3 Restaurant

83 Madison Avenue

Memphis, TN 38103

901.333.1224

Lafayette’s, which also has legendary live music in Memphis regularly, was also a real treat thanks to the culinary craftsmanship of Chef Jody Moyt. Be sure to read our write-up of Barbara Blue‘s performance as well as our culinary experience there in mid-January.

The menu includes such southern influenced dishes as po-boys, shrimp and grits, baked oysters, wood-fired pizzas and made-from-scratch desserts.  The dishes (and the drinks) far exceeded our expectations.  A combination of out-of-this-world food and music make Lafayette’s a must-visit venue for your Memphis agenda.

Details:

Lafayette’s Music Room

2119 Madison Avenue

Memphis, TN 38104

(901) 207-5097

Then, there’s the legendary Arcade Restaurant, which is really more of a diner, but the very same diner where Elvis Presley was known to order his infamous grilled peanut butter and banana concoction — there’s even an Elvis booth in the back dedicated to him.

In existence since 1919, Arcade is Memphis’ oldest cafe serving breakfast and lunch. Speros Zepatos founded the diner in 1919 after immigrating from Cephalonia, Greece. Situated at the corner of South Main Street and G.E. Patterson, the original building was a small, one story, wood framed building. Food was actualy cooked on potbelly stoves.

In 1925, Speros tore down the wood structure and built the Arcade Building in a Greek revival style, complete with retail stores to signify the “Arcade” name.  His son, Harry Zepatos, took the Arcade to a new level in the 1950’s, who made the cafe into the fifties diner that still sits there today. Iconic are the boomerang now faded table top designs, the neon signage, and original storefront motif.

Apparently scenes from Mystery Train, Great Balls of Fire, The Client, The Firm, 21 Grams, Elizabethtown, Walk the Line, and My Blueberry Nights, just to name a few, have all been filmed in this restaurant.

In oh so charming diner style, they serve dishes up from the somewhat open kitchen — everything from burgers, grits and other southern fare to pancakes, sausage and scrambled eggs.

They also have a massive choice of salads — from cobb and fried chicken to chef, turkey club, taco and Greek variations. They even have pizza on the menu as well as more traditional classics like country fried steak and eggs redneck with hash browns.

The Elvis sandwich….fried peanut butter, banana and bacon. Yup, I had it exactly as Elvis ate it in his “hey-day” and didn’t even pay for it later.

Details:

Arcade Restaurant

540 South Main Street

Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 526-5757

For those who have been to a BB Kings Blues Club, you know that for the most part, they’re all fun and play great blues music regardless of where they are in the world. It was particularly interesting to visit a BB Kings in the Blues Capital of the world, where live music every night was a notch above the rest of the country and then some. While a popular haunt and perhaps a little touristy, it’s also classically authentic and the musicians are about as down-to-earth as it gets.

It surprised me that the food was quite good as well since we largely went there for the music and the vibe! We secured a table upstairs so it was a little further away from the speakers, yet still had great views of the band. We decided to go for all things fried and southern, as well as order some of the most outlandish sounding cocktails they had on the menu.

Entrees included dishes like their Lip Smacking Ribs, grilled salmon, southern fried catfish, pork chops, filet mignon, glazed ribeye, brisket, meatloaf, shrimp and grits (of course – it’s Tennessee), gumbo (their recipe is smoked chicken, Andouille sausage, crawfish, okra, peppers, onions, and tomatoes), beer chili, crawfish poppers, fried green tomatoes (YUM – see below), black-eyed pea hummus, Memphis wings, nachos and sausage and cheese platters. The venue may be more about the music than the food but the southern style options truly brought it home!!

We tried a few southern appetizers and main course dishes…and of course, we always order at least one salad.

Because its BB Kings, you can get a celebration glass which I haven’t done in years, but we opted to – hell, it was only $2.00 more.

They have a Motown Margarita, a drink called Love on the Delta (pearl red berry vodka, peach schnapps, raspberry liqueur, orange, pineapple and cranberry juices), a Southern Hurricane, which is Southern Comfort, Dark Rum, orange juice, sweet & sour and pineapple juice, topped with 151 rum, and two really great named drinks: the Lucille (Malibu Coconut Rum, Blue Curacao, mixed with orange and pineapple juices) and a Juke Joint (pearl vodka, peach schnapps, melon liquor, sour apple liquor and blue curacao mixed with orange and pineapple juices). Oh yeah baby, bring on the blues!

As for the on-stage bands. Let’s just say we danced all night long!!

Details:

BB King Blues Club

143 Beale Street

Memphis, TN 38103

(901) 524.5464

We were then introduced to a famous RIB joint called Charlie Vergos RENDEZVOUS Ribs.  Located in an alley across the street from The Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis, Rendezvous is an unassuming restaurant between Holiday Inn Select and Benchmark Hotels.

The Rendezvous has been serving ribs in a downtown Memphis alley since 1948 and has been owned and operated by the Vergos family for three generations. The ambiance is very casual, with picnic-table-LIKE tables with tons of photos and memoirs over the years of the owners with various celebrities who have stopped in during various visits including names like Bill and Hillary Clinton. Think red checkered table cloths and baskets full of fried food and bread with chicken and beef on the way.

Robert Junior waited on us, not to be confused with his dad Robert Senior. Perhaps a whole lot younger than “Senior,” he’s been waiting tables with the Vergos family since 1981 and still looks like a young pup! He had many a historical story to share about the establishment and it’s history. Together with a number of other long time waiters (Percy, who has been on board since 1971), Geno (also since 1971), Albert (since 1973), and Jack (since 1965), they have kept Rendezvous alive with vigor and personality.

The restaurant has been around since 1948, when original owner Charlie Vergos discovered a coal chute and shortly thereafter, started a legend. The coal chute gave him a vent for his talent over a grill and allowed him to expand from ham and cheese sandwiches to ribs. Today, the place is a Ribs Joint legend in Memphis and on average, several thousand people head to Rendezvous Ribs on a Saturday night to sink their teeth into what makes Memphis…..Memphis.

You can order a variety of “Ribs” options but given that we were newcomers, we let Robert Junior order away on our behalf. And so, we went with a beef brisket choice, lamb riblets and pork shoulder, as well as red beans and rice on the side — and plenty of pickles. We had to get a side of slaw of course, as well as potato salad and peppers. All of it was oh so delicious and oh so good! Robert also brought out a sausage and pickle platter before we got to “go” with our main courses as well. (always served with saltines of course)

The deliciously traditional potato salad with paprika.

Two thumbs up and definitely worth a stop, as traditional and classic as it may be. All the waiters are fabulous and have been there for donkey’s years, so you can’t go wrong regardless of who you end up with — ask about the history, order the slaw and oh yeah, go for a pitcher of beer – perhaps the Ghost River or the Wiseacre.

You can also purchase their famous seasoning in a 4.5 ounce jar, their BBQ sauce and their Rendezvous seasoned popcorn on-site. What else is cool is that regardless of where you are in the continental USA, you can order their ribs online at www.hogsfly.com or via phone 888.HOGS-FLY.

Details:

Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous Ribs

@RendezvousRibs

52 South Second Street

Memphis, TN 38104

(901) 523.2746

Suggested Lunch venues in Memphis include the following:

  • Trolley Stop Market @TrolleyStopMkt on 704 Madison Avenue
  • Gus’s Fried Chicken on 310 South Front Street
  • LUNCHBOX eats @LUNCHBOXeats at 288 South 4th Street
  • South of Beale @southofbeale on 361 South Main Street
  • Central BBQ @CentralBBQ on 147 East Butler Avenue
  • The Majestic Grille @MajesticGrille on 145 South Main Street

Also, you should check out Overton Square aka @overtonsquare on “social.” It is a relatively new theater and entertainment district in Midtown Memphis, which is only about a 10 minute drive from downtown and we didn’t find parking to be a problem.

Check out their boutique shopping options in the afternoon and then stay in the area for food and drinks. There are some great restaurants in the square and music venues (Lafayette’s is a combo of both). Both Boscos aka @BoscosSquared on Twitter and Local Gastropub aka @localgastropub, have Happy Hour Specials.

Disclosure: we were hosted by a chunk of venues above during our stay, however all opinions here are entirely my own.

 

 

 

We also had an opportunity to meet executive chef Max Hussey, who just came to Memphis from San Francisco, so we were able to chat about the food scene in the city where I hang my hat more than anywhere else when I’m not on an airplane or driving across the grand United States.

A southerner at heart, he weaves in influences from New Orleans and Boston, and most recently, as mentioned above, San Francisco where he put his Memphis-style spin on Bananas Foster as executive chef at the award-winning Southpaw BBQ, the Southern-inspired restaurant on Mission Street.

At eighty3, Max uses free-style because, he says, “it gets you out of cooking the same menu every night and repeat guests get to try new things.” What was so refreshing about his menu, that while it does have a southern flare, it wasn’t heavy and laden with all the ingredients you love but that tends to add too many unnecessary calories and cholesterol.

The salad selection was extensive and included a butter lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, red onion, panko and gorgonzola, a simple but delicious Caesar with parmesan artisan croutons, anchovies and cherry tomatoes, a wedge salad with beef tenderloin tips, bacon, onions, tomato, gorgonzola and onion tangles, a cherry bomb salad with kale chips, stuffed crispy peppadew peppers, tomato, red onion, carrots and a honey basil vinaigrette, a blackened ahi tuna salad with mixed greens, tomato, red onions and a citrus wonton and the eighty 3 chopped salad with is served with a champagne vinaigrette, apple, avocado, onion, bacon, corn, tomatoes and gorgonzola. Yum!!

 

For a little more traditional southern style, there’s the signature skillet cornbread on the menu served with a delicious honey-jalapeño butter and fall-off-the-bone pork wings with bang bang sauce and onion tangles. Our favorite? Truth be told, it wasn’t a low calorie option at all, but the “to-die-for” smoked bacon wrapped dates are a must try.

 

Spicy ahi tuna wonton with avocado, sesame, chili, scallions and red onion.

 

Renee Blodgett
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Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
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