illustration by Martha Kelly / Memphis Urban Sketchers
My initial list for favorite dishes of the past year was two-dozen strong and a bit far-flung, moving from appetizers with French names to oversized sandwiches from local food trucks. But despite the list’s diversity, my favorites confirmed a surprising (to me) turnaround: After 22 years of living in Memphis, my palate has turned decidedly Southern. Barbecue, for instance, peppered my list, and sweet dishes frequently trumped savory.
Even more startling, coconut enchanted me in three different ways: as a perfect macaroon, as a coconut cake with ambrosia, and as a creamy yellow coconut pie. In the end, like many Southerners on a languid summer day, I sided with the pie as one of my top-10 choices.
– photographs by Justin Fox Burks
Company Iz Coming Coconut Pie
at the Pie Folks
It is easy to understand why Audrey Anderson’s coconut pie won a blue ribbon this year at the National Pie Championships. Made with love and fresh ingredients, the pie melts seamlessly together from the crust, to the custard, to the shredded coconut that lingers at the end of every bite. Equally alluring is the pie’s snow-white cap of whipped cream and the piping nestled perfectly against its fluted edges.
7781 Farmington in Germantown (901-752-5454)
John T. Edge Burger
at Hog & Hominy
Hog & Hominy serves Edge burgers Thursday through Saturday after 9 p.m. at the restaurant’s back porch bar, so plan weekends accordingly. A riff on Depression-era burgers popularized in El Reno, Oklahoma, Hog & Hominy builds a messy and delicious signature spin with mustard, caramelized onions, Claybrook Farms beef ground in-house, and iceberg lettuce soaked in pickle juice.
707 W. Brookhaven Circle (901-207-7396)
Godiva Cream Cioccolato
at twilight sky terrace
After a memorable taste of Chef Andrianna Shea’s hand-crafted chocolate at a special event, I was thrilled to discover the candy on the menu of the Madison Hotel’s rooftop terrace. Using Italian chocolate and Godiva liqueur, Shea makes a type of crème brulee, cooks it in a water bath, then molds it, freezes it, and dips it in chocolate. Simply put, her bite-size beauties redefine the perfect candy kiss.
79 Madison (901-333-1243)
Locally brewed Ghost River Lager, pancetta, and saffron build the broth for Shrimp Mozambique at Bleu, a gorgeous example of the restaurant’s signature fusion cooking. At first, four colossal head-on shrimp command the plate, but flavorful companion players soon take over, including squid ink pasta, roasted garlic and tomato confit, and a scattering of red grapes and almonds.
221 S. Third (901-334-5950)
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Served piping hot, Chef Nate Oliva’s curried cauliflower soup is a satisfying stand-alone dish to pair with cocktails or a prelude to dinner hearty enough to share with a friend. Fragrant and delicious, the soup marries flavor and plating with a beautiful garnish of brown butter almonds, golden raisins, and a zigzag of parsley pesto spiked with lemon juice, garlic, and jalapeño.
948 S. Cooper (901-729-0101)
at Sweet Grass
House-made charcuterie is my favorite frolic at the table, especially at Sweet Grass where chefs run through a Berkshire pig every week or so. A combination I loved in mid-May included chorizo verde, duck prosciutto, and a salty spread of rabbit rillettes, but don’t expect a duplication. Instead, be adventuresome and embrace whatever pate, sausage, liver mousse, or head cheese shows up on your plate.
937 S. Cooper (901-278-0278)
at Pop’s Smokehouse
Oversized and magnificent, this food truck sandwich is an iconic Memphis Happy Meal. Competitive grillers with the cooking team Boars Night Out, owners Jeff and Kim Toney cook pork traditionally over cherry wood, pull it apart in manageable chunks, and add a generous pour of barbecue sauce that is both sweet and smoky. - photograph by Pamela Denney
check popssmokehouse.com for the truck’s daily locations.
Chef’s Choice Vegetarian Plate
Vegetarians in Memphis know that an elegant vegetable plate for lunch is not an easy score. Happily, the chefs at Interim caress seasonal vegetables into combinations such as this springtime favorite: A square of baked gnocchi topped with micro-greens, a mound of roasted Brussels sprouts cut into quarters, and a berry reduction that seduces the palate like a fine Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. - photograph by Pamela Denney
5040 sanderlin (901-818-0821)
Memphis in May Family Night
with the Danish National BBQ Team
What happens when a Danish cooking team marries exotic barbecue with Weber grills and a tent kitchen on the Mississippi? The best meal I ate all year, hands down. From start (clay flower pots sprouting grilled vegetables in smoked soft cheese) to finish (lemon fromage sprinkled with raspberry dust), the team turned Memphis barbecue into a dazzling taste treat. Even now, I still smile when remembering the team’s entrée: slow cooked beef tenderloin served with celeriac puree, pickled oyster mushrooms, grilled foie gras, and truffle sauce. - photograph courtesy Danish National BBQ Team
Many of the team’s recipes are included in their new award-winning book Gold, available atThe Booksellers at Laurelwood.
If cremeux (a lovely French word that means creamy) seems an incongruous pairing with artichoke, remember how artistry and invention team up at Acre. A custard-like mold, the artichoke cremeux anchors cucumber, sourdough slices, grilled gobo, fennel sprigs, violet blossoms, smoked steelhead roe, and a crunchy garland of parsnip that masquerades across the plate like a sandy beachscape. - photograph by Pamela Denney
690 S. Perkins (901-818-2273)