D uring the opening night party for the new Lafayette’s Music Room in Overton Square, a trio of former bartenders from the neighborhood’s earlier heyday debated the location of Lafayette’s original stage. It was a spirited conversation with no consensus, but they all agreed on this: Lafayette’s shared kitchen with TGI Friday’s was heaven sent. “We used to sneak into Lafayette’s through Friday’s kitchen next door, so we never had to pay a cover,” reminisced East Memphis resident Tyler Lee.
Nostalgia certainly informs the original Lafayette’s and its short-lived but memorable roster of musical superstars, including Billy Joel and KISS. No one understands the connection more profoundly than the new venue’s general manger Alex Boggs, whose father, the late Thomas Boggs and founder of Huey’s, was the first general manager of Lafayette’s in 1972. Even more beguiling, Thomas Boggs met Wight Boggs, his future wife and Alex’s mother, when they both worked at the club. “To come full circle in our family’s history like that is pretty awesome,” Boggs says.
Owned by Beale Street Blues Co., which also operates B.B. King’s downtown and sister restaurant Itta Bena, the transformed Lafayette’s at the intersection of Cooper Street and Madison Avenue includes its own kitchen for preparing shareable plates such as smoked tuna dip with saltine crackers, a clever nod to the venue’s roots; pimento cheese and crawfish waffle fries, a soon-to-be pub grub classic; and Grannie’s chocolate chess pie, a scrumptious family recipe from Chef Jody Moyt, formerly with Owen Brennan’s in East Memphis.
Lafayette’s wood-burning oven also turns out half-a-dozen 10-inch pies, including the popular Buffalo Chicken with wing sauce, celery leaves, ranch dressing, and cheddar, and the cheeseburger pizza, a comforting combination of ground beef, roasted tomatoes, cheddar, mustard, and pickles.
From appetizers to mains, Southern food directs Lafayette’s menu, developed by Moyt and culinary consultant and cookbook author Jennifer Chandler. “We started with a strong Creole theme, because so many people associate the name Lafayette’s with New Orleans,” Chandler says, even though the venue’s true namesake is the late Lafayette Draper, a popular bartender from the club’s initial run. “But we kept experimenting and ended up pulling from our favorite dishes that we love from all over the South.”
The griddle burger, for instance, layers caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, and Moyt’s dreamy tomato jam on a po-boy bun from Leidenheimer bakery in New Orleans. And the blackened amberjack, a favorite of Chandler’s from The Back Porch in Destin, Florida, pairs with pickled okra and Creole-spirited corn maque choux.
Baked oysters with chipotle barbecue sauce, grilled 12-ounce flank steak with truffle Parmesan fries, and more po-boys (fried shrimp and fried okra, to name a few) fill out a menu for two bars, one upstairs, one down, and two balconies, one inside overlooking the club’s impressive central stage and one outside overlooking the square’s busy intersection. Lafayette’s also offers early and late live shows nightly to accommodate both oldsters and young people. Look for big names like Leon Russell on November 14th and regional upstarts booked by Memphis soulstress Susan Marshall.
Lafayette’s Music Room2119 Madison Ave. 901.207.50974 StarsFood: Southern favorites inspire elevated pub grub.Prices: Menu offers many choices, including small plates ($5 to $8); mains ($12 to $16); and po-boys ($9 to $15).Drinks: Cocktails, craft beer by bottle or tap, and 30 wines by the glass make for spirited revelry.Extras: A wood-burning pizza oven upstairs cranks out inventive pizzas priced $9 to $12.Atmosphere: Lively and fun thanks to a central stage for local, regional, and national acts.Service: Energetic new staff is eager to please.Noise level: Loud (it’s a music venue!) but the balcony and patio offer more quiet escapes.Reservations: Groups of 15 or more should call ahead, but otherwise, it’s first come, first served.Open: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week.
Yes, Lafayette’s burger on a po-boy bun cradles tomato jam, caramelized onions, and smoked cheddar cheese, but the exceptional po-boy also settles this debate: Burgers cooked on a griddle outshine all other contenders.
Stave off a hangover with a new take on Crawfish Monica, an iconic New Orleans mac and cheese now Memphis-made with pimento cheese, cooked in a cast-iron skillet, and topped with cornbread crumbles sautéed in butter.
Disarmingly simple and served in cute mini-Mason jars, the vinegar-based slaw mixed with spices, chipotle, lime juice, and julienne carrots is a pleasing side for fried shrimp and a crisp glass of chilled Riesling.
Memphis magazine intern Hannah Bailey contributed to this story.