Monday March 4, 2013
The Beale Street Music Festival just announced its lineup a few day ago, so we figure this is as good a time as any to call attention to our recently revised and updated list of Memphis's best restaurants. With only two months until Memphis in May, it's important to start thinking about your eating itinerary while in town. After all, one cannot live off corn dogs, funnel cake and other festival foodstuffs alone. Restaurants new to our Memphis Top 100 include The Brass Door, Cafe 1912, Fuel Cafe, Hog & Hominy, Local Gastropub, and Rizzo's Diner. We've also added a handful of local favorites: Aldo's Pizza Pies, DeJavu, Marlowe's Ribs & Restaurant, Sakura Japanese, Sekisui, The Slider Inn, Stone Soup Cafe & Market, and Tom's Bar-B-Q.
Post list-creation, I stopped through Memphis on a 20-hour whirlwind trip the weekend before last. The reason for the visit was attending the swan song of beloved (yet dilapidated) Midtown music venue, the Hi-Tone. As per usual, my real motive remained cramming in as much food tourism as possible during my brief stay. My travelling companion and I squeezed in a couple Memphis classics around the concert. Upon arriving in Memphis we wasted no time at all, driving directly The Bar-B-Q Shop. This Midtown institution, which lays claim as "The Home of the Dancing Pigs," gets an A+ for exterior and signage alone, with cute window drawings of the aforementioned upright swine tango-ing. But kitsch value aside, the barbecue is the star of the show here and no secret among Midtowners - even at 3:30 in the afternoon, most tables in the joint were occupied. Their signature barbecue spaghetti is well worth a try (order it as a side if you don't want to commit all the way), as are their excellent chopped or pulled pork sandwiches on buttery Texas toast. This time around, I went ribs - there's no better city on the planet for ribs, so when in Rome ... Unable to resist the option which let me try a little of both, I opted for a half-wet/half-dry rack. The wet ribs were solid, but the dry were in a class of their own, heavily seasoned and not needing an ounce of sauce for additional flavor.
I'd gladly eat barbecue consecutive meals while in Memphis and have accomplished just that on previous occasions, but this time around we visited our favorite Memphis seafood spot, Half Shell in East Memphis (there's a Winchester location as well). It may not be the type of restaurant to make a New York Times 36-hours piece or other lists of the city's trendiest restaurants, but Half Shell truly is where the locals eat. Thematically, Half Shell's decor is some bizarre hybrid of tropical tiki bar, Mardi Gras, and cozy, wood-paneled lodge. When it comes to the food, they excel with fresh seafood and some of the best Cajun cuisine I've had outside New Orleans. Their etouffee (often a risky order outside Louisiana) did not disappoint, with an impressive depth of flavor. The fried oyster po' boy was exemplary as well, with a substantial French roll that held together nicely and sizeable fried oysters. Alas, there was no more time for eating adventures. Finishing at the Half Shell, which I might also mention has great access to I-240, was a wonderful way to conclude the stay.