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quintessential memphis & nashville

  • k

I've read through the old posts about good eats in Memphis and Nashville and I'm wondering if anyone can pick out places that really capture what these places are all about. In Nashville, everyone seems to like Loveless, Sylvan Park, and Red, Hot & Blue. Do these places really represent what Nashville cuisine is all about? And in Memphis, McNeely's Interstate BBQ, Leonard's, Corky's and Cozy? Same question?

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  1. s
    Susan Thomsen

    Kate,
    Nashville is a crazy mix of old Southern aristocrats,
    star-studded country-music biz, Bible Belt (Southern
    Baptist headquarters is there), academia, New South
    boom town, and on and on. So, a "representative" list
    is, naturally, highly arbitrary, but I'd recommend
    breakfast at Loveless, a lunch at the Elliston Place
    Soda Shop (a wonderful, old-fashioned counter place)
    and dinner at Rotier's. (Get the cheeseburger on
    French bread.) All of these are down-home places, not
    fancy, with a crowd that's as eclectic as the city
    itself. Also, a number of ethnic eateries have sprung
    up in the Nolensville Road area, but I haven't gotten
    down there in a while to check these out. See if you
    can find a link for an alternative paper called, I
    think, The Nashville Scene; they have a "Best Of..."
    roundup.

    In Memphis, my best BBQ experiences have been at
    Corky's (the one in East Memphis), Interstate and the
    Barbecue Shop (on Madison). I haven't heard much about
    the last one recently; I hope it's still open. Last
    month a friend sent me Corky's via FedEx, and it was
    WAY good. To me, the Red Hot and Blue chain is
    skippable, but perhaps others differ.

    If you're visiting Nashville and Memphis, you'll have
    a ball. Be sure to report in when you return.

    Susan

    3 Replies
    1. re: Susan Thomsen
      j
      jonathan gold

      And read, if you can, Peter Taylor's amazing, if brief novel ``Summons to Memphis,'' which in its quiet way obsesses on the difference between these two cities. No food in it, but otherwise swell.

      1. re: jonathan gold
        s
        Susan Thomsen

        Jonathan, I second your advice to read "A Summons to
        Memphis"! What a fine writer Taylor was. If you want
        to concentrate on the Nashville side of things, pick
        up Taylor's short-story collection "In the Miro
        District," too; Peter Taylor breaks my heart every
        time I read his work.

        R.e. Nashville dining, many also like the Belle Meade
        Cafeteria. (Just to keep this note food-related!)

        Susan

      2. re: Susan Thomsen

        I second Rotiers. Get the patty melt. And Brown's (21st and Blair) for burgers. Cantrell's BBQ across the river, and Gerst Haus near the Titans stadium. And, do not miss, Prince's Hot Chicken Shack.

      3. m
        Memphis Fare (bbq and other stuff)

        I'm a lifelong Memphian and I can say definitively that yes, the bbq joints you mentioned are what Memphis is about. The one not on your list is (IMO) the best bbq in town - Charlie Vergos' Rendezvoux. You gotta like dry rub to like these ribs (and I do) but you will find none better!
        In the past few years, the ethnic base of Memphis has started changing...and ethnic restaurant options along with it. Five years ago there was one place that served (East)Indian cuisine - now there are at least 5 (and they're all pretty good.) Mexican taqueria's have sprouted up all over the place too.
        Perhaps I have gotten burned out on bbq...but my favorite thing to do is hunt down new, ethnic, dives that I've never been to before.
        Oh, and for the best gyro sandwich you will get in Memphis, go to the Kwik Check convenience store on Madison Ave. - In midtown just west of Overton Square. Any midtowner can tell point you in the right direction.
        Wanna know anything else about Memphis...just drop me a line.
        Happy Chowing!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Memphis Fare (bbq and other stuff)

          I second your call for Rendezvous - it's hands down my husband's family's favorite.

          1. re: Memphis Fare (bbq and other stuff)

            I think Rendezvous is an over-priced tourist trap. Most of the menu items are just plain bad. The dry ribs are decent, but are better and cheaper elsewhere. It can't compare with Cozy Corner, Central, Payne's, Neely's, Interstate, or BBQ Shop.

              1. re: tennreb

                Without a doubt, I agree with you about the Rendezvous - I dont get it and never will except that the restaurant itself is cool - the ribs are forgettable and the sides are inedible - all served with cold white bread - what's up with that? It cannot compare to Corky's, Neely's, BBQ Shop, Central BBQ, Cozy Corner and the Germantown Commisary.

            1. Susan,
              The BBQ Shop is still open. I have never eaten there, but a good friend (and a bbq afficionado) highly recommends it. It's about 2 miles from my home...so, we'll probably go there soon.

              6 Replies
              1. re: tatia
                s
                Susan Thomsen

                Thanks for the good news about the Barbecue Shop! I'm glad to hear it's still around. A bartender at the Peabody steered a friend and me to it a while back. (An added bonus of our brief visit to the Peabody was seeing Jerry Lee Lewis.)

                What about a place called the Three Pigs? Have you eaten there? A cousin of mine recommended it a couple of years ago, but I haven't eaten there yet.

                Susan

                1. re: Susan Thomsen

                  Three Little Pigs on Highland is a very oldtime Memphis shop and has excellent BBQ. They also have an out-east joint on Quince near White Station. I've been consuming 3 Little Pigs since I was a child and my Daddy used to pick up their chopped pig sandwiches on Sundays after Church. You can NOT go wrong with 3 Little Pigs.

                  1. re: T. Twain

                    Rendezvous is awesome- best place in town for dry ribs - no doubt. Try the lamb riblets - they are my favorite. New favorite BBQ joint - Central BBQ (on Central Ave.) just west of E. Parkway and the Fairgrounds/Liberty Bowl. It's also Bobby Flay's favorite place in town (as if you or I care.) I used to work at the local Viking Range cooking school and he personally confirmed that to me when he was here for a demo a few years ago. Cheap and wonderful - plus, they have an awesome variety of sauces.

                    I agree with "Memphis Fare" about all the great ethnic places that have popped up in the last several years. Taquerias, Middle Eastern, Thai and Vietnamese - we do have a nice variety of inexpensive, authentic places now. Even a couple out in the "burbs" - but I try to avoid going out there on general principle (plus, I grew up out there.)
                    For good, authentic "meat & 3" type places (1 meat and 3 veg. sides) try
                    1. The Cottage Restaurant
                    2. Barksdale's Restaurant
                    3. The Cupboard Restaurant
                    To my knowlege, Buntyn Restaurant closed up there place on Park Ave. and is no longer open. If someone knows if they have moved to a new place - please let me know!

                    Oh, also - if you are in downtown Memphis....Gus' Fried Chicken. They have a place out in Mason? TN, but that's a pretty long haul from town. Ain't nothin fancy - the original (that burned down, in Mason) was full up with extention cords, and old ceiling fans, and a screen door half off the hinges. But man, best fried chicken ever! The one downtown, I hear, was not as good, but has gotten a lot better recently. If you are not from the south - go on and give it a try - it's surely better than KFC or any of the others.

                    For a good southern style meat & 3

                    1. re: tatia

                      Gus' is fantastic - best fried chicken I ever ate, and one of the few places you can find fried green tomatoes as well. There's a new one recently opened in Collierville.

                      To add to the list of "Meat & 3" type places:
                      4. The Little Tea Shop downtown
                      5. Dale's in Southaven (okay, it's not Memphis, but it's only 15 minutes away)

                      Best Thai Home Cooking - Ja Ja's in Collierville, on Washington street, just off the square. Go east on Poplar until you get to Collierville, hang a right on Main Street. Make a left on Washington, which is directly across from the square. I've tried several Thai places, and each has a diferent flavor...but authentic and truly hot Thai can be had there.

                      Italian food - there have been Italian familes in Memphis since before the Yellow Fever epidemic in 1880. Elfo's is fabulous.

                    1. re: prainer

                      Not the one on Quince!!! I just ate there last week for breakfast. They have the best breakfast in Memphis by far!

                2. I really like Ronnie Grisanti's in Memphis. Although it does seem kinda weird to go for Italian in Memphis.

                  And will add to the chorus of praise for Rendexvous. The dry rub makes it different from a lot of bbq places and the meat is super tender. Also, when I was there, it felt like this secret tucked down an alley. But you could smell it from a block away, and once you got in, it was very spacious. The bartender also charmed my family by carding my 50-some-year-old mom and not carding 25-year-old me.

                  As far as Nashville, there's one place my best friend and her husband always drag me to called Demos'. It's not much more than a steak house, but every steak comes with a side order of noodles, you choose the sauce. I don't think it's as great as they do, but it wasn't bad.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: AmyWatts

                    Amy I agree with you 100% on both Ronnie Grisanti's (probably my favorite restaurant in the whole city, and one of my favorite anywhere) and the Rendezvous. You do have to like dry-rub ribs, though most people miss that this only means that sauce is not applied during cooking, but rather a dry-rub of seasonings instead, sauce still being available on the table. And while I like spare ribs, I much prefer baby-back ribs like the Rendezvous uses, even though you have to eat more of them. And finally, theirs are slow-cooked in charcoal "ovens" (they did used to have a big brick pit below the smoke stack until forced to change) rather than smoked, but this is acceptable BBQ procedure for ribs (not for shoulder or butts though). I think the Rendezvous rocks!

                    1. re: gourmet padre

                      The Rendezvous doesn't slow cook. Most places smoke ribs using wood for 4-6 hours using indirect heat. Rendezvous grills directly over charcoal and their ribs cook in a little over an hour.

                  2. Nashville is typically viewed as a meat-n-three mecca of sorts. Though we do have a good few higher end establishments serving wonderful food, they are not quintessential Nashville. Avoid Demos' at all costs, and though the Belle Meade Cafeteria has always been a good choice, it has recently closed its doors. Loveless and Sylvan Park would both be great, and I would also try and hit Prince's Hot Chicken Shack for some hot chicken. Fair warning: you will wait about 20 minutes for your order and it will be hot! But this is one of Nashville's famous local cuisines. Another worthy meat-n-three is Swett's. As for Memphis, I enjoy my foragings for 'que there but do not consider myself an authority on the best. Good luck!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: notgreg

                      Notgreg, when is the last time you tried Sylvan Park? I used to love the place, but the last two times I've been the food was very mediocre. Crab cakes made with the imitation stuff, dried out fried chicken. The cornbread and rolls weren't that fresh. Seems like it went down hill after they painted the interior. Other people I know concur. New ownership?

                      1. re: mister

                        Such a shame about Nashville's Sylvan Park (and I assume you're talking about the original on Murphy Rd). On a recent trip back home I noticed that Sylvan Park has morphed all over the place,,,maybe their expansion is an explanation for their downfall?

                        Also still mourning the loss of Belle Meade Buffet (ya, I know "Cafeteria" but family always called it by the old name)...I was practically raised on their food. Back in the day Belle Meade Buffet catered the cafeteria at MBA, where I happily lunched for 6 years.

                        I fear that the meat'n'three genre in Nashville is on the wane. However I can attest that the country ham breakfast at Wendell Smith's on Charlotte is as good as ever, praise Lordy that some good things don't change!

                        1. re: marais

                          And they catered the cafeteria at the girls' school I attended. In addition, Wed night was kids night, so I have mixed memories of pea juice seeping into my breaded cutlet. But it was free, which was great for my parents. I still hate peas. But the last time I ate at the buffet, summer 06, it was in top form, with superb food at great prices. RIP.

                        2. re: mister

                          I went about 3 months ago, had a good meatloaf and the green beans, mashed potatoes and mac n' cheese, and the cornbread was good. The chocolate pie was, as always, phenomenal. That said, a couple weeks before that I went to the outpost on 8th avenue and got a completely different vibe, rushed service, and a feeling that left a sour taste in my mouth.