Welcome back to the fourth installment of EAT THIS CITY, in which premier chefs tell us where to eat when we’re in their town. On the plate this week: Memphis, Tennessee!
Imagine your best friend from childhood. Did you dream of working together one day? Maybe a space station ice cream shop or a water slide park with real dinosaurs plodding around? Or maybe something as simple as a restaurant with all your favorite foods.
Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer are Memphis natives who started out as rivals back in the sixth grade but soon bonded over their Italian heritage and the food traditions that accompanied it. They were so committed to food and to their friendship that they even went to culinary school together in Charleston, South Carolina. Later, they studied in Calabria, Italy, before returning to Memphis to open their restaurant. Now, they have three Memphis restaurants together: Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy, and Porcellino’s Craft Butcher. It was Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen that landed them a James Beard nomination for Best Chef Southeast.
Michael and Andy know that nothing makes a meal taste better than sharing it with someone you love — their lifelong friendship is deeply infused into every recipe that the duo invents (many of which you can find in the recently published cookbook, Collards & Carbonara, Southern Cooking, Italian Roots).
Memphis is known for its rich musical heritage. For Graceland. For Sun Studio. And maybe most importantly, for barbecue. But there’s more to the story. So, dust off your blue suede shoes, grab your best friend, and check out these deep cuts with the 15 best restaurants in Memphis right now, recommended by two home-grown, best friends (who are also wildly talented chefs).
When it comes to pizza, and we’re not eating Hog & Hominy’s Neapolitan-inspired styles that remind us of our time in Italy, we enjoy grabbing a slice that reminds us most of growing up in Memphis: Garibaldi’s. This staple Memphis pizzeria is the place we went with our families as kids, our friends as teens, and our children now.
Huevos con chorizo tortas from Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana is the ultimate Mexican fix for us. We also love to break apart a fried cheese wheel. Our friend Jonathan Magallanes, owner of Las Tortugas, always greets us with the greatest hospitality.
Also not to miss: fish tacos and brisket tortas.
Our fine dining Italian restaurant Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen hosts a dinner on the last Monday of each month called No Menu Monday. We create a four-course meal to serve to our guests without telling them what they’re eating; after they spend the evening picking each other’s brains for what the dishes contain, we send them home with a menu.
Once we finish this monthly dinner and close up the kitchen for the night, the staff heads to Lotus for some pho beef, chicken, and pork. Flavors of fermented bean broth, spice, fresh cilantro, and lemongrass. It’s a great staff ritual to cap off the evening.
Our friend Jacob Dries recently opened a food truck called El Mero Taco. We’ve been excited to eat through his menu as it develops. How can you resist when someone takes a traditional breakfast platter like chilaquiles and turns it into street food?
We are very fortunate to have a back parking lot that leads right to Muddy’s Bake Shop. Kat Gordon — Memphis’s queen of cupcakes — stocks her cases with all sorts of irresistible treats, but the two that reel us in every time are the Prozac (an appropriately named chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing) and the Tomboy (chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing).
Our friend Kelly English of Restaurant Iris crafts an experience that embodies fine dining. The New Orleans-style cuisine found in his restaurants make us feel as if we were in the Big Easy ourselves. Don’t miss the decadent lobster knuckle sandwich.
We often crave Gus’s Fried Chicken, especially on the long Mondays that we spend in meeting after meeting with our management team. Our order of chicken, french fries, and mac and cheese hits the spot every time.
Our go-to meatless dish is the falafel hummus platter at Casablanca Restaurant, a Mediterranean spot with a sage, ginger, and honey tea that’ll have you coming back for more.
Sundays are family days for both of us, but we also like to spend it with our restaurant family. We enjoy starting the morning with a cup of coffee at Porcellino’s Craft Butcher and moving to the bar at Hog & Hominy for a Gut Bomb or Breakfast in Bed pizza. On special occasions, we’ll venture downtown for a morning at the Majestic Grille. $15 dollars for fresh squeezed orange juice and an entire bottle of champagne!
FOOD IN THE CITY
Cozy Corner is the Memphis barbecue that makes our hearts sing. Last winter the restaurant had a kitchen fire that burned most of their building. In a quick response to the situation, several local chefs participated in a Swine & Wine dinner that we hosted in our three-restaurant nook on Brookhaven Circle. The six-course progressive dinner finished with a tent party that showcased Cozy Corner’s specialty: smoked ribs. There is a sweeter tomato sauce in Memphis, but this one has a good balance. You just can’t replicate the flavor.
Also: BBQ Bologna!
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
Sno cones with soft-serve ice cream sound a little outlandish, but it has become a staple in the city of Memphis through a small building with long lines called Jerry’s Sno Cones. We personally love the Tiger’s Blood and Wedding Cake Supreme (“supreme” meaning prepared with a layer of soft-serve vanilla ice cream half way through the cup and another layer to top it off).
Corky’s, another barbecue standard in Memphis, has a chili and cheese tamale that makes for the perfect post-flight meal. There’s nothing like come home and running around the corner for this hearty dish.
If it’s not a Red Eye pizza (sugo, fontina, smoked pork belly, celery leaf, and a fried egg — everything you would want the morning after a rough night) from Hog & Hominy, it better be a tall order of pancakes from Staks. Their motto is “so flippin’ good.”
Andy and his wife Karie enjoy spending their date night at Folk’s Folly for martinis on the rocks, fried pickles, filomena shrimp, and a filet.
Michael and his wife Katie spend their date nights downing sushi and saké at Sekisui.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
All of the Above!
All of the above. We are fortunate in the city of Memphis to have a close community within our city’s restaurant industry.
See you next week!