Meet Our Best Friends
Our Top Ten picks for the best tastes in town.
illustration by Martha Kelley
photographs by Justin Fox Burks
Meet our best friends — our top-ten picks for the best tastes in town. For a food writer who loves fancy food, my favorite dishes this year are decidedly low-brow. I was so startled by this realization that I reviewed blog posts and reviews, wondering how I veered from sophisticated to pedestrian. Did the sluggish economy realign my taste? Did the roll-out of Memphis food trucks redirect my attention to more sensible food? Or did my own humble accomplishments in the kitchen reaffirm that simple and seasonal ingredients are always the best?
More than likely, this year’s top-ten list reflects all of these things, along with a practical shift by chefs who recognize that less frill can mean more flavor. The list, written in random order, also includes best dish picks from Hannah Sayle, who reviewed several restaurants this year for our Dining Out column. - by Pamela Denney
Chocolate Sea Salt and Hibiscus Mint Ice Pops
··· at Mama D’s Italian Ice ···
Give up your Fudgesicles and Bombpops: Frozen treats have gotten a lot more sophisticated. And yet Mama D’s ice pops hit all the right flavor profiles without being too complicated. Chocolate sea salt is a classic salty and sweet combination and the perfect blend of creaminess and refreshing iciness. The bright-red hibiscus mint might seem esoteric, but the flavor is just the right mix of sweet and herbal flavors to make it a crowd-pleaser. — hannah sayle
··· at Bleu ···
Chef Robert Cirillo brings a taste of his former home in Rhode Island to the South with this signature dish. The salmon filet is wrapped around a rich seafood stuffing, served atop a beurre blanc sauce, and surrounded by edamame, black rice, and sweet cherry tomatoes. The result is an East Coast seafood-centric dish with French and Asian influences. It’s the perfect melting pot selection from a Korean-born American raised in a first-generation Italian family and trained in the French tradition. — hannah sayle
221 S. Third, (901) 334-5950
Kingston Stew Fish
··· at Evelyn & Olive ···
Don’t be fooled by the name. Kingston Stew Fish isn’t really a stew at all, but an immensely satisfying and flavorful pan-seared tilapia seasoned with Jamaican spices, tomatoes, pimentos, and scallions. The fish is served with rice and pigeon peas, a popular bean in the West Indies favored for its rich nutty taste. You won’t want to share this perfect plate of Jamaican food, one of many authentic dishes at this delightful new eatery from Kingston-born Tony Hall and his wife, Vicki Newsum.
630 Madison, (901) 748-5422
··· at Las Tortugas ···
The tacos at Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana are a hard call indeed. So, so many choices! Do you go with the delectable Newman Farms pork shoulder braised lovingly with orange, bay leaves, jalapeño, and lime? Or do you swing toward the beef brisket slow-cooked with Mexican oregano and Achiote paste? I made it easy on myself and chose one of each. A win-win for me, as each taco is extraordinary and served with house-made corn tortil-las, spicy cucumbers, avocado slices, shredded lettuce, lime, cilantro, and Pepe’s creamy green salsa. 1215 S. Germantown Road,
Surf and Turf
··· at Restaurant Iris ···
I took the last of my surf and turf from Kelly English’s Restaurant Iris home in a to-go box, rationing out bites over the next few days to make the experience last as long as I possibly could. Let's just say this is not your typical surf and turf. With its tender New York strip steak, perfectly crispy fried oysters, creamy blue cheese, hollandaise sauce, and savory potato and bacon hash, this is the kind of dish you won’t want to stop thinking about — or relishing. No wonder it wound up featured on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate! — hannah sayle
2146 Monroe, (901) 590-2828
Fried Egg Sandwich
··· at Sweet Grass Next Door ···
This splendid fried egg sandwich is a bit on the hefty side and hard to manage with two hands, so you might be tempted to eat part of it with a fork. Please resist that urge. A far better approach is to let the two slices of sourdough bread bookend the egg, bacon, avocado, tomato, lettuce, and cheddar cheese for one of the most satisfying sandwiches you will ever put in your mouth. For a meal clincher, order the bar’s signature Bloody Mary, skillfully made with house-infused vodka and garnished with a lime, olive, and pickled string bean.
937 S. Cooper, (901) 726-0015
··· at Tamale Trolley ···
Ken Hooper enchanted friends and family with his distinctive and mouthwatering New Mexican tamales before joining the city’s emerging cadre of food trucks earlier this year. His tamales — wrapped in corn husks like genuine tamales should be — are game-changers, thanks to his red chili sauce, a meticulous blend of chili ancho (for bitterness) and chili morita (for smoke and heat). Hooper also fills his tamales with seasoned pork shoulder and ties each corn husk with a perfect bow.
Chef’s TV Dinner
··· at River Oaks ···
For people who tend to over-order on the front end, Chef Jose Gutierrez’ TV Dinner is an elegant way to save room for dessert. Served only at lunch, the pretty divided plate includes four mini-courses that change day-to-day. The plate’s grab-bag approach is part of its appeal, offering selections such as pork tenderloin with bordelaise sauce, a medley of seasonal vegetables, arugula salad with red pepper and Parmesan, and chocolate fondant cake in strawberry glaze. 5871 Poplar,
Tender Spanish Octopus
··· at ACRE ···
The first time I ordered this appetizer, I was sitting on ACRE’s patio in early July, sipping an icy martini to forget the summer heat. When the dish arrived at the table, I was mesmerized by its color and texture. Grilled octopus curled around chunks of olives, sopressata, roasted potatoes, and red onions. A puddle of paprika jus blended the appetizer into such a wonderful sense memory that I returned a few days later to order the octopus again. 690 S. Perkins, (901) 818-2273
··· at Cocoa Van ···
Some people might be able to leave Cocoa Van’s charming shop in Cordova with one favorite cupcake, but not me. I carry home a six-pack in a pretty brown box. Baker Nicole Reed uses premium ingredients such as fresh fruit, citrus zests, and European chocolate for cupcake flavors that play together like lovely melodic songs. Try Campfire, a whimsical nod to S’mores with a roasted marshmallow crown, or Lemon Berry, a summertime treat topped with buttercream and fresh blueberries. 7990 Trinity, (901) 308-1536
This is just a sampling. For more dining news and reviews, visit the Memphis Stew blog and memphismagazine.com