By Barb Ford
Memphis is no longer just about barbecue. I know many of us drive there to see Beale Street or eat at iconic places like Vergo's Rendevous and Gus's Famous Fried Chicken, but there is much more to the Memphis food scene these days. If you want great barbecue, you know you can find it in Memphis-from pulled pork to Memphis' famous barbecue spaghetti. Of course, there has always been the Peabody with their ducks and special dining opportunities. But did you know there are some serious chefs creating farm to table experiences, giving back to the community in unique ways and making the Memphis food scene richer, brighter and fresher? I have several suggestions for any foodie trip to Memphis, in addition to the aforementioned icons. Take a quick weekend trip to Memphis with me and enjoy a few of my beloved stops.
First, never ignore the icons. Make a reservation at the Rendevous and you can't go wrong. They were originally a ham and cheese sandwich place, so if you start with one of their appetizer plates, you will be enjoying a bit of their original history. Everybody knows they are most famous for their barbecue ribs. Charcoal grilled with a dry rub, they are one of the Memphis favorites. However, if you venture out of the norm a bit, you can find some other gems, like their charcoal grilled lamb ribs or their giant skillet of barbecue shrimp. You have to call ahead ((901)523-2746) for the shrimp, and I suggest doing so early in the week. Also, I would head there early on a Friday night if you can-they don't take reservations and fill up fast!
Next, there is no better place for Saturday lunch than Karen Carrier's Beauty Shop Restaurant. It is literally set in an old Beauty Shop, complete with those beehive hair dryers-and was the spot where Priscilla Presley got her hair done back in the day. The menu is the real treat here, featuring flavors from all over the world. If salads are your thing, you can't go wrong with a Thai Cobb Salad-all the usual Cobb ingredients blended with crispy duck, mangoes and a mint Green Goddess dressing reminiscent of that 1950's favorite. Or perhaps try the Grilled Romaine, paired with Ripley tomato, crisp bacon and spicy pecans. If you lust after a really good sandwich, this place is a paradise. They have an amazing sandwich they call The Beastie Boy and I call roast beef heaven-with sharp horseradish, roasted red peppers, lemony aioli and a warm au jus dipping sauce. There are also traditional New York lunch options like a real pastrami sandwich and a luscious Rueben. But for the lighter diner, perhaps a succulent smoked salmon club sandwich or a mouthwatering bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with avocado are more appealing. Desserts are 1950's standards-homemade shakes, scrumptious cakes and ice cream floats dominate. You get the idea-lunch at the Beauty Shop is a wonderful adventure, not to be missed!
After your lunch, you may want to pick up some culinary prizes for foodie friends back home. I would head to Phillip Ashley Chocolates or to Muddy's Bake Shop. Phillip Ashley Rix, one of the world's great chocolatiers, offers up some uniquely Memphis takes on chocolate. He offers the Memphis Truffle Collection-that features a truffle for every flavor you would find dining in a Memphis barbecue joint, including Memphis BBQ, Mama Jean Sweet Potato, CocoLoco and Arnie (half sweet tea caramel and half lemonade Ganache.) His chocolate bacon has been much copied, but never equaled. At Muddy's Bake Shoppe, Kat Gordon and her team bake things we can only wish our grandmothers had made. They have some ridiculously rich toffee bars and an amazing array of other cookies. If you are visiting folks in Memphis, a pie or a dozen cupcakes from Muddy's is the perfect hostess gift, and yummier than any bottle of wine!
Dinner on Saturday will take some advance planning, as I don't want you to miss a chance to enjoy the amazing atmosphere and outstanding hospitality at Felicia Suzanne. It is popular enough that reservations are important. Here, Felicia Willett has created the perfect blend of farm fresh foods with beautiful décor which defines modern Southern dining. While she may have worked with Emeril in New Orleans, her restaurant is truly her own. Her appetizers are inventive and delightfully Southern, like Felicia's famous deviled eggs with smoked salmon topped with Arkansas's Kelly Catch Caviar or her Gulf Oysters of Love (crispy oysters with Delta Grind Grits and New Orleans Barbecue sauce.) The menu is peppered with references to the source of ingredients, such as the tomato salad made with Robert Tims's Heirloom tomatoes and Woodson Ridge Farm's baby tomatoes, the Georgia Bobwhite Quail with dirty rice dressing, caramelized sweet potatoes and bourbon syrup or their creamy macaroni and cheese made with Sweetwater Farms cheddar from right here in Middle Tennessee. All of this attention to detail and care shows in the beautiful plates and the fabulous flavors. It is one of the truly great places for a memorable meal in the South.
Finally, there is the Majestic Grille, known as the spot for dramatic dining. Here, in the heart of a grand old movie theatre, owners Patrick and Deni Reilly have brought a bit of old Hollywood glamour to the Memphis dining scene. They are locally known as supporters of the arts, and pride themselves on helping art organizations grow. They even pioneered a special program for music students at the University of Memphis to help students gain exposure to working in a professional performance environment. So Sunday Brunch could also mean enjoying a live performance of jazz or blues along with the best brunch in town. While they do serve the standard Southern fare of biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits and eggs and bacon, brunch also includes six signature flatbreads (think wild mushrooms or grilled artichoke) and sandwiches (try their grilled aged cheddar cheese sandwich with local tomatoes, bacon and creole mustard on artisan bread.) French toast, pancakes and steak and eggs are offered up alongside distinctive items like smoked salmon hash and vegetable frittatas with goat cheese and Parmesan. This is really the best way to end a lovely Memphis weekend!
Now I know we can't all get away for a trip to Memphis, so I am leaving you with Felicia Suzanne's deviled egg recipe to try soon.
House Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs with Arkansas White River Caviar
1 dozen large eggs
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces Smoked Salmon, flaked
1 ounce, Arkansas White River Caviar
In a saucepan, add the eggs and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover for 11 minutes. Remove the eggs from water and place in a bowl of ice water. Allow eggs to sit for 8 minutes. Remove and peel the eggs. Slice each egg in half and add the yolks to a bowl. With a fork, smash all of the egg yolks. Add the mayonnaise, one spoonful at a time and mix until smooth. Season with salt and hot sauce. Fold in the smoked salmon and mix well. **If you like your eggs creamy add a little more of the mayonnaise. Place on a serving tray and garnish with the caviar.
Recipe courteous of Felicia Willett, 200