Readers, we couldn't do this without you. Every year, you faithfully fill out those ballots and mail 'em back to us. Our office begins to look like a mailroom on speed. Ballots are everywhere, and we crunch numbers and count votes like frantic accountants.
Thanks for making our magazine readers' poll a success, year after
Pearl's Oyster House
Pearl's filled a gaping, bi-valvular void in the South Main dining scene when it opened in May. A city boasting a proud tradition of shellfish houses, from Pappy's Lobster Shack to Anderton's, had previously fallen on hard times. Enter Pearl's, a Florida coast-inspired purveyor of Gulf aphrodisiacs and other fruits of the sea. The atmosphere in this 4,000-square-foot, nineteenth-century building fits Ernest Hemingway's preference for a "clean, well-lighted place."
My favorite oyster is the one in front of me, and Pearl's can put them in front of you raw by the half-dozen, fried and in Po-Boy form, grilled, and steamed. They can also Rockefeller oysters with the best of them, that is, serve the shellfish in creamed spinach and parmesan cheese. Their version of oysters Bienville mates our marine mollusk with shrimp and mushroom parmesan sauce. — Preston Lauterbach
No steak-loving folk would folly in a trip to this East Memphis institution. Even the breadsticks are extraordinary. Folk's has all the trimmings and the atmosphere one would expect of a five-star steakhouse, including a wonderful wine list, ample and tasty salads, cognacs, and of course, USDA prime beef.
The cuts are served simply, usually with just a dab of herb butter. But, should the meat require enhancement in your opinion, you may add a crabmeat béarnaise or generous topping of bleu cheese. The sides of garlic and leek mashed potatoes, garlic potato casserole, and sautéed spinach are generously proportioned and as rich and tasty as the meats.
As long as you've fasted in preparation, a course of action recommended here unreservedly, you'll be ready for the mature milkshake known as a Folk's Folly Freeze. The liqueur of your choice is served blended into soft ice cream. — Preston Lauterbach
Baby, it's cold outside, and what better way to warm up than with a spicy curry or fiery Pad Thai? And our readers agree, the best place to get all this and more is Bhan Thai.
Housed in the turn-of-the-century Midtown space that formerly was home to Raji, the ochre walls, cheerful brass chandeliers, and colorful but simple table dressings make the restaurant that perfect combination of fine and funky.
And once you're seated inside the comfy confines, you can decide among the perfectly seasoned dishes served up by chef Alex Kasmrijan. First, an order of Thai spring rolls to get things started. The order brings a couple of sticky-ish rice paper tubes stuffed to bursting with tofu, veggies, and egg, drizzled with a not-too-sweet version of honey mustard. Next, wrap your chilly hands around a steaming bowl of seafood adventure soup, a campy name that perfectly describes what awaits in your bowl. Think a hodgepodge of sea creatures swimming in a searing hot broth with mushrooms and lemongrass. If your tongue isn't completely numb by now, move onto your main course. I recommend the red snapper, any of the curries, or the garlic pork chops. And yes, if you tell your waiter you like it hot, rest assured, it will be hot. Mean it when you say it, or you'll be singing a sad song later. For the less adventurous, ease your way into the unknown cuisine with an order of chicken satay or pad Thai. Even if you're not sure you like Thai food, you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try. — Mary Helen Tibbs
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken
Best Fried Chicken
Used to be that we city folk had to drive 40 minutes down Highway 59 to Mason, Tennessee, home of the original Gus's, which was opened in 1953 by Napoleon and Maggie Vanderbilt. Despite the swanky surname, the Vanderbilt's restaurant was nothing fancy. Think sloping floors, peeling paint, and a small, unventilated room that filled with smoke and grease and the sounds of chicken sizzling within seconds of opening. The Bonner family eventually took over, and they were running the show when GQ magazine famously declared in 2001 that Gus's was one of the 10 restaurants in the world worth flying to for dinner.
Needless to say, that kind of publicity brings in business, and Gus's have since been popping up all over the region. For a franchise fee of $75,000, you too can open a Gus's, but don't think you're getting the famous batter recipe. That, my friends, they aren't selling. The original owners will mix up enough batter for each restaurant and deliver it, but that's as close as new owners come to getting the trusted family recipe.
Diners at Gus's must practice patience, though. Since the chicken is cooked as it's ordered, you'll usually have to wait anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes for your meal to arrive, but the first bite makes every minute worth it. — Mary Helen Tibbs
Who in the world is Brother Juniper, and how does he make those biscuits so fluffy?
Well, the first part of that query is easy enough to answer. Brother Juniper was a cook for St. Francis (the saint, folks, not the hospital). Juniper was a humble monk who made dishes — and most famously, breads — from whatever he had on hand, so creativity was a must. Flash forward to the peace-and-love era of the 1960s, and suddenly, Brother Juniper's restaurants were popping up across the country. Part ministry, part restaurant, each had its own unique flavor, but they all carried on the monk's tradition of homemade breads.
Memphis' cozy little breakfast cottage opened in the early 1990s on Walker, near the University of Memphis. College kids were the first to get a taste of the wonderful, Greek-inspired dishes, and word quickly spread. Today, the tiny establishment stays packed, especially on weekend mornings, when folks wait patiently outside for a free table.
And the wait is worth it. Sizzling skillets packed with potatoes, spinach, and mushrooms, heavenly waffles, spanikopita, rich, dark coffee, and those amazing biscuits await early-morning patrons.
The place changed hands in late 1998, but the new owners were wise enough to leave the menu unchanged. Good food, unhurried service, and a side of Greek-monk-hippie-inspired atmosphere make Brother Juniper's (one of the last, if not the last, remaining in the country) something truly special. — Mary Helen Tibbs
Located in a small shopping mall on Quince in East Memphis, Jarrett's is off the beaten dining path. But that hasn't stopped Chef Rick Farmer's restaurant from building a stellar reputation as one of Memphis' best fine dining destinations. In fact, according to Memphis magazine readers, it's the best restaurant in town. And for good reason. Jarrett's has it all — ambiance, knowledgeable waitstaff, and great food.
CEO and maitre d' Barbara Farmer (Rick's better half) welcomes patrons at the door with warmth and humor. The interior is decorated with artist John Robinette's glorious and mysterious paintings of the Mississippi Delta. The bar is filled with regulars who make you feel at home immediately.
But the real draw is Chef Farmer's seasonal menus, at once familiar and exquisite. Depending upon the season, starters can include house-smoked salmon, wild mushroom and goat cheese strudel, and smoked trout ravioli, to name just a few. Farmer's entrees range from long-time favorite horseradish-encrusted grouper to Nantucket Bay scallops with garlic and parsley purees to linguini with Gulf shrimp.
What keeps Jarrett's on top after 14 years? It's "all these great young chefs who keep popping up in town. It keeps an old guy like me on my toes," Farmer says. "I read a lot and try to stay on top of what's happening in restaurants in New York and San Francisco."
Farmer, who trained as a chef in New York and France for years, says he's honored and grateful to his many customers for making Jarrett's number one. And obviously, Memphis diners are grateful Farmer is still around — and still "on his toes."
— Bruce Vanwyngarden
What can be said that hasn't been said already? Erling Jensen is more than just this year's "Best Chef"; he's our city's culinary version of "Old Man River." With a dozen Memphis "Best Chef" plaques already on his wall, he just keeps rolling along . . .
Almost two decades have now passed since this Danish native first arrived on the banks of the Mississippi, answering a help-wanted ad in the New York Times to become chef at La Tourelle. After seven years spent taking that restaurant to new heights, Erling left Midtown in 1996 to start the now-legendary establishment that bears his name, building a local reputation for excellence, consistency, and service that none can match.
Quietly tucked away off Poplar, in an unpretentious setting, Erling Jensen's strikes the perfect mix of elegance and comfort; you feel as if you're inside a rich uncle's dining room the minute you walk in the door.
Oh yes, and then there is the food. While Erling is constantly coming up with fresh challenges for the palate, the menu is always power-packed with a host of stellar items that regulars have come to know and love: "Prosciutto Wrapped European Quail with Crisp Rice Cake, Balsamic Tomato Relish," "Lemongrass Steamed Halibut with Spicy Teriyaki Sauce and Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy," "Elk Chop with Balsamic Green Peppercorn Sauce"... you get the idea. Make sure to try the signature chocolate soufflé for dessert. Bravo, Erling, encore!
— John O'Leary
Best New Restaurant
Is anyone really surprised that Judd Grisanti's restaurant is a hit with Memphis diners? The Grisanti name has long been associated with fine dining, but Judd can certainly stand on his own in the cooking department.
Since he opened Spindini's doors last January, the place has been packed to the rafters every night. Friday and Saturday nights find patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk, more than happy to wait for a table at the hip South Main newcomer.
And why not? The place is great looking, with a long sleek bar hugging one wall and a beauty of a wood-burning oven situated in the center of the dining room. Make no mistake, this is where the beautiful people come to see and be seen. And that goes for the chef too — you're just as likely to find Judd greeting customers in the dining room as you are to see him spooning garlicky marinara over perfectly toasted ravioli, much to the delight of his loyal fans.
Even with its gorgeous clientele, talented chef, and hip locale, the food is the real star here. Delicate calamari, pancetta-wrapped shrimp, fragrant soups, seafood, and of course, pizzas, keep the tables full night after night. Don't miss the heavenly lobster, bacon, and spinach version — so good it might just bring a little tear to your eye. — Mary Helen Tibbs
Best Outdoor Dining
The only thing that could make eating at Boscos more enjoyable than it already is? Takin' it outside. Sure, sipping an icy housebrewed beer (I like the pale ale) with the sun shining on your shoulders is a great way to spend an afternoon, but one of the greatest assets Boscos patio dining has is its stellar Overton Square location.
Situated between Paulette's and Yosemite Sam's, Boscos' patio patrons have a unique cross-section of Memphians to observe. While lingering over one of Boscos' pizzas, you can watch society mavens stroll into the rarefied air of the Square's fine dining restaurant, then swivel in your seat and watch Harley-riders in fringed leather vests whip into the Yosemite lot, ready for an afternoon filled with cheap pitchers of beer. At Boscos, the same healthy mix of people is represented, especially on Sundays, when the promise of tasso cheese grits, chicken and red-pepper omelets, and applewood-smoked bacon bring in the masses. The Sunday brunch patio crowd is a perfect mix of those who've just come from church, filled with the holy spirit, and those who are clearly recovering from a wholly spirited Saturday night.
Of course, lots of places offer outdoor dining with excellent food and people-watching opportunities, but Boscos goes the extra mile to make sure the area is always immaculate, the service quick and friendly, and the food, just right. — Mary Helen Tibbs
Best Place to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Former steelworker Kevin Matthews has elevated the art of the cheesecake to towering heights. The pastry case at his shop in the South Main arts district holds cheesecake creations including Brandy, Lemon Fudge, Peach Pecan, and Red Velvet, among many, many others.
The typical slice is a good size for sharing. If you're the type of person who believes that cheesecake is a dish best served late, you'll appreciate that the downtown shop is open until midnight on weekends.
Should you arrive hungry, but not quite ready for dessert, Cheesecake Corner offers egg pie, also known as quiche. The quiche variety rivals that of its sweet counterpart, including turkey dressing, crab, and cheeseburger pies. — Preston Lauterbach
Gold: Memphis Pizza Café
Bronze: tie: Garibaldi's Pizza, Johnny Brusco's Pizza
It's official. We hereby declare Memphis Pizza Cafe the Huey's of the pizza world. Good job to our silver and bronze winners — all are new to the list. Welcome to the big time, guys.
Gold: El Porton
Silver: Molly's La Casita
Bronze: tie: Café Ole, El Mezcal
What an upset! El Mezcal ties for bronze after being voted gold last year. Molly's makes a comeback after a year off the list. Loyal you are.
Gold: Ronnie Grisanti & Sons
Silver: Pete & Sam's
The Grisantis bring in the gold and bronze, with papa Ronnie in the gold spot and son Judd in the bronze. After being knocked off completely last year, Pete & Sam's makes a victorious comeback.
Silver: P.F. Chang's
Bronze: tie: Mosa Asian Bistro, A-Tan
Wang's comes on strong in 2008 after being shut out last year. The ever-popular Chang gang holds steady at silver, with newcomer Mosa sharing bronze with last year's bronze winner, A-Tan.
Bronze: Sekisui Pacific Rim
It's an Ishii sandwich, same as last year.
Gold: India Palace
Silver: tie: Bombay House, Mayuri
Bronze: Golden India
Golden India joins us again after a year off the winners' list. Welcome back.
Gold: Saigon Le
Silver: Pho Saigon
Bronze: Pho Vietnam
Pho Saigon bumps Lotus off for the silver spot, while Pho Vietnam makes its way into our top three. Is anyone ever going to knock Saigon Le out of the coveted gold spot? Looking doubtful after all these years, but hey, there's always a major surprise or two when the votes are counted, so we'll be watching.
Gold: Bhan Thai
Silver: Bangkok Alley
After tying for gold last year, Bhan Thai managed to edge out Bangkok Alley for the top honor. Sawaddii knocks off Cooper-Young's Jasmine, reclaiming its bronze seat from two years ago. Judging from the jam-packed Jasmine parking lot, they're still tops with quite a few of you.
Best Home Cooking
Bronze: Blue Plate Café
Must be those perfectly thin, crispy, simple cornmeal/salt/pepper-covered fried green tomatoes that keeps the Cupboard in the golden glow of our readers. No complaints about our other two winners, either.
Bronze: Chez Philippe
You guys really, really like Paulette's. Jose's Encore makes the list in this category after winning silver in the best new restaurant category last year. Our prediction is that Cafe Society and Chez Philippe will battle it out to see who stays on the list next year (and that's an educated guess, folks. It was close).
Silver: Big Foot Lodge
Bronze: Belmont Grill
Yep. Add another year to your menu, Boggs family. And welcome to the list Big Foot — a first-timer. Must be those gargantuan portions that knocked Belmont's mouth-watering burger out of the silver slot. You really can't go wrong with any of these places. They all know what they're doing when it comes to America's sandwich.
Gold: Folk's Folly
Silver: Ruth's Chris
Boggs + red meat = gold.
It's just that simple.
Gold: Blue Fish
Is it really necessary for us to add the non-fast food caveat? Yes. Some of you have an unnatural fondness for drive-thrus with names involving "captain" and "silver's." And if that's okay with your cardiologist, it's fine by us, but that's not what we mean when we say seafood. These three winners? Oh yeah. That's what we mean.
Gold: Pearl's Oyster House
Silver: Half Shell
Bronze: Blue Fish, Flying Fish
Even in our landlocked, pig-lovin' city, we manage to house some great spots to slurp down these delicious creatures. And Pearl's, with it's way-cool two-level South Main location, was an instant hit with downtowners, heck, with pretty much everyone, from the minute it opened its doors. New category this year, and quite a popular one.
Best Barbecue Sandwich
Gold: Corky's BBQ
Silver: Bar-B-Q Shop
Bronze: Central BBQ
These three are the hands-down favorites year after year, with Corky's hogging the gold spot year after year. It's the next category that we have to keep an eye on . . .
Best Barbecue Ribs
Silver: Corky's BBQ
Bronze: Central BBQ
This one is always close, and we always count twice, just to be sure, but the legendary Rendezvous has unseated Corky's in the rib category!
— Awards of Excellence to:
In a city plagued with less-than-inspiring stories about customer service, it's nice to know that our readers have such high opinions of so many different eateries around town.
Gold: Flying Saucer
Silver: Peabody Lobby - bar
Ever since the Flying Saucer opened downtown, the art of people watching has been brought to a whole new level. Thanks to the open-air bar spots overlooking Peabody Place and Second Street, imbibers have had plenty to keep their darting eyes occupied. From checking out the "talent" passing by on a weekend to giggling at the unfortunate souls who find parallel parking a challenge, there's never a dull moment.
Bronze: Ruby Tuesday
House-made dressings, cheese toast? What's not to love about Houston's salads?
— Awards of Excellence to:
Belmont Grill, Half Shell, Huey's, Brookhaven Pub, Dish, Sekisui, Pacific Rim
Great choices, all. But honestly, anything that keeps you out of the Krystal drive-thru at 2 a.m. is a good thing, no?
Silver: Young Avenue Deli
Boy, this was close. Houston's crispy shoestrings and Young Avenue's thick, über-seasoned offerings couldn't keep Huey's from taking gold again this year. We think perhaps the proximity of the fries to the best burger in town made for a winning combination.
Best Fried Chicken
Silver: tie: KFC, Popeye's
Bronze: tie: Church's Chicken, The Cupboard, Patrick's
Overwhelmingly, this category was Gus's for the taking, and is anyone really surprised? While we can't say we agree with our readers' fast-food choices on this one, nevertheless, we report the results. How many times did Britney Spears vote in our poll, y'all?
Best Outdoor Dining
Silver: Bhan Thai
Bronze: Café Ole
We agree 100 percent with you guys on this one. All three have their own unique outdoor charm.
Gold: Owen Brennan's
Bronze: tie: Boscos, Yia Yia's Eurocafe
No arguments here either. You really can't go wrong with a mimosa and cheese grits in front of you on a Sunday, and all three of these places make that transition from weekend-to-work mode a bit easier on all of us.
Gold: Brother Juniper's
Silver: Blue Plate
The little cafe that could, Brother Juniper's is a Memphis favorite, and with good reason. Friendly service, hearty fare, good coffee. Blue Plate's French toast has lured many of us from our beds in the early morning hours, and there's an unpretentious charm to standing in line at Bryant's with an amazing cross-section of the city, waiting for your aluminum-foil-wrapped bundle of breakfast goodness.
Bogie's takes gold again this year, with a close finish for silver and bronze.
Best Place to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Gold: Cheesecake Corner
Silver: La Baguette
Diets be damned. Life's too short to skip dessert, and our readers agree.
Silver: High Point Coffee
The Starbucks machine edged out our locally owned places with a pretty Venti lead, but our silver and bronze places often leave us foaming at the mouth for their tasty concoctions.
Best Business Dinner Locale
Silver: Folk's Folly
Bronze: Grove Grill
Red meat apparently helps close deals, and our winners here prove it.
Worth the Drive (no more than two hours' drive from Memphis)
Gold: City Grocery (Oxford)
Silver: tie: Bonne Terre Café (Nesbit), Olive Branch Catfish Co.
Bronze: Timbeaux (Hernando)
No matter how high the price of gas, we'd gladly burn a tank to visit any of your choices.
Restaurant We Miss the Most
Gold: LuLu Grille
Silver: tie: Anderton's, Justine's
Bronze: La Tourelle
We hope that no new winners ever appear in this category. Visit your favorite restaurants often, readers!
Best Chain Restaurant
Bronze: tie: Back Yard Burger, P.F. Chang's
Chain chain chain . . . our voters are no fools when it comes to finding the best the national guys have to offer.
Best Memphis Chef
Gold: Erling Jensen, Erling Jensen the Restaurant
Silver: Jose Gutierrez, Encore
Bronze: Rick Farmer, Jarrett's
Aren't we lucky to have all of these chefs, plus many more, calling Memphis home?
Best New Restaurant
The dining scene in the Bluff City gets better every year. We can't wait to see what 2008 brings.
please . . .
Silver: Erling Jensen, The Restaurant
Bronze: tie: Grove Grill, Jim's Place East
Once again, Jarrett's takes top honors. Congrats to Chef Rick Farmer, and to all of our winners.
Hippest Bar Setting
Bronze: tie: Bluefin, Mollie Fontaine Lounge
Best Dive Bar
Gold: Ernestine & Hazel's
Bronze: P & H
Silver: Side Street Grill
Best Bloody Marys
Gold: Owen Brennan's
Bronze: Bayou Bar & Grill
Gold: Molly's La Casita
Silver: Café Ole
Bronze: El Porton
Best Wine Selection
Gold: Le Chardonnay
Bronze: tie: Circa, McEwen's on Monroe
Best Beer Selection
Gold: Flying Saucer
Bronze: Young Avenue Deli
Most Happening Happy Hour
Gold: Flying Saucer
Bronze: tie: Celtic Crossing, The Grove Grill, Swig
Best Place to Watch the Game
Gold: Fox & Hound
Silver: Buffalo Wild Wings
Bronze: Brookhaven Pub