The Wise Guise was honored to interview Jason Hood awhile back about his latest book. As he prepares to leave Memphis, he’s returning to The Wise Guise to share some of his favorite things about his time in Memphis. Today, he tackles what many would argue is the best part of Memphis – the food!
As I prepare to move with my family to Africa, The Wise Guise have graciously allowed me to do some posts on Memphis memories.
We’ll start with food.
Memphis was a wonderful place to get fat.
In 1994, I rolled into town as a scrawny, 6’ 3”, 180-pound freshman. BBQ, Coletta’s (later the site of my first date with the future Mrs Hood), and the Rhodes College Rat (later the site of our rehearsal dinner) were the first notable culinary experiences, followed closely by Fino’s on the Hill and the massive desserts at Café Espresso in The Peabody. This was back when downtown was, to quote Phil Jackson, “like Dresden after the war.”
College brings back memories of grilled cheese sandwiches—a sandwich maker, a block of processed cheese, butter, and a loaf of bread made for a glorious experience in the dorms. I also remember canned goods and tuna fish mixed with BBQ sauce, which really cuts the fish flavor.
My single days brought the advent of BBQ nachos and a cholesterol disaster called “The Fry-Daddy Jr,” a vat of oil in which we’d pop corn dogs and fried okra. We loved getting a can of biscuits, cutting them in half and dropping them into the roiling grease of the Fry Daddy, then rolling them in sugar (the end product is like the dessert you find at cheap Chinese food joints). One of my wiser roommates threw this item away in self-defense. I owe that man a lobe of my liver.
As a father of four, Little Caesar’s and Chick-fil-A have been a pretty big part of my life—we met some of our closest friends in CFA, actually. But Huey’s and Pho Saigon have been the next most frequent stops. I first hit Pho Saigon in 1998; it’s been fifteen years of getting hot ‘n’ heavy with the combo vermicelli, batting my eyelids at the delicate spring rolls, and, on rare occasion, I accept the invitation to a love feast with the whole fish in oyster sauce (“a special treat to be shared with a friend”). I think it might be my favorite restaurant in Memphis.
Of course there are other excellent choices. Until they open up a branch in Tanzania, I’ll sorely miss Las Delicias. I’m not sure how I’ll make it without the occasional dessert from La Michoacana, Jerry’s Sno Cones, or Muddy’s Bake Shop.
I’ll be taking lots of Memphis with me next month. To be precise, I’m fifty pounds past my freshman weight. And I’ve loved every ounce of it.
Favorite dish (upscale): Elfo’s Special, at any Grisanti’s family joint
Favorite dive dish: Pad Thai with pork, spicy at “Shang Hai Restaurant Serve Vegetables” on Poplar Ave near Cleveland Ave (honorable mention to hummus w/ shwarma meat, Jerusalem Café on Summer Ave)
Favorite side item: Cabbage at Soul Fish Café
Favorite tourist joint: Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous
Favorite appetizer: spinach/artichoke dip, Buckley’s and Houston’s
Favorite dish for watching sports: Ching’s seasoned and hot, plus seasoned fried okra
Favorite dessert: Cheesecake Corner cheesecake
Favorite buffet: Pho Hoa Binh, Madison Ave (honorable mention to Mayuri, Quince at Kirby and Bombay House on Germantown Parkway—dig their spinach saag)
Favorite salad: Huey’s spinach w/ hot honey bacon dressing (also good on their grilled chicken salad; honorable mention goes to BBQ pulled pork salad at Rib Cage, Pickwick—since Pickwick is basically far east Memphis)
Favorite breakfast: almost anything at Brother Juniper’s
Favorite beverage: the best tap water on the planet
Favorite sandwich: Milanesa torta, Las Delicias (honorable mention goes to the Reuben at Bogie’s and almost anything on the menu at Las Tortugas on Germantown Parkway)
Favorite extinct dish: the fish sandwich at Arie’s (Note: Arie’s is extinct, not the fish. Don’t eat endangered species, y’all, even if they are tasty.)
Favorite pizza: Trolley Stop Market spinach, mushroom, and sausage (honorable mention to BBQ Chicken at Memphis Pizza Café)