Readers' Restaurant Poll Results 2010
Well Done! The best restaurants in the Bluff City. Period.
Justin Fox Burks
Maybe this whole "Internet" thing isn't a fad after all. Last year, we decided to put our readers' restaurant poll online, just to see if it worked better than the old-timey mail-in ballots. Readers seemed to like it: Just a click of the mouse, and your votes were cast. So this year, we added a few more categories and tried again, and all we can say is — wow! More than a thousand readers voted for their favorite steak, hamburger, chef, and lots more, in what has became our city's definitive restaurant poll.
And yes, we dropped in lots of security checkpoints along the way — one vote per person, that sort of thing — to prevent "stuffing" the ballots.
Several new names are bringing home the gold this year, and we had quite a few surprises. Thanks to all who participated, congratulations to the winners, and bon appetit!
Best Burger, Best Late-Night, Best Fries
Can't beat the classics: the original Huey's burger with crispy onion rings and Gold Nugget Ale
The funky Midtown burger joint made famous by the late, great Thomas Boggs has since grown to a chain of seven local Huey's restaurants. They're still run by the Boggs family, and each location still serves those award-winning burgers with the frill-picks you can blow into the ceiling, not to mention a host of other great sandwiches, salads, soups, and sides. But some things have changed.
Huey's calls itself the "Home of Brews, Blues, and Burgers," and increasingly, Memphians are enjoying the "blues" part of that slogan. Live music is featured at all Huey's locations, which makes it not all that surprising that the restaurant won in the "Best Late-Night" (as well as "Best Burger" and "Best French Fries") category in this year's balloting. And, as a bonus to those whose idea of "late" is, well, not very, you don't have to stay late to enjoy the music. Most locations offer an "early" band and a "late" band.
This year marks Huey's 40th anniversary, and after four decades of serving Memphis and Shelby County, it has become an institution — and one of our best. And if a toothpick falls out of the ceiling and boinks you in the ear, well, it's a small price to pay for great food and music.
- Bruce VanWyngarden
Mollie Fontaine Lounge
Tempting tippling: Mollie Fontaine Lounge keeps the hip happy with offerings including mojitos, long bean tempura, and pomegranate martinis.
Though Mollie Fontaine Lounge is the centerpiece of Victorian Village, the atmosphere inside is far from the buttoned-up stuffiness for which the era is known. Call it "restrained Bacchanalia": Well-dressed people sipping smart cocktails in a setting that's mixed old-world craftsmanship (high ceilings, decorative molding, and other original flourishes) and modern touches (metallic paints, black-and-white photography, faux-fur furniture) as artfully as the perfectly shaken martini. With DiAnn Price's alternately soothing and rousing piano stylings providing a melody to the soft din of conversation, you've got the recipe for a perfect way to wash away the work week. Bonus for patrons if Dave is bartending. The man is the 100-proof ruler of the spirits with a keen eye for presentation.
Hats off to owner Karen Blockman Carrier for transforming the home first into the elegant eatery Cielo, then successfully executing its makeover to the "Hippest Bar" in Memphis. Carrier's chic restaurants — including Beauty Shop and Do Sushi and Noodles, as well as catering company Another Roadside Attraction — are a vital part of the city's flavorful makeup, and we love her for them with every bite, sip, and sated sigh.
- Mary Helen Randall
Muddy's Bake Shop
The best things do come in small packages: mouthwatering mini-cupcakes from Muddy's Bake Shop.
In the short amount of time since Kat Gordon opened Muddy's Bake Shop in East Memphis in 2008, the confectioner has built a devoted fan base that grows every day with the wildfire word-of-mouth of an evangelist. Muddy's has become a destination spot for locals looking to get their sweet on.
The shop offers a panoply of pies and puddings, cakes and cookies, brownies and bars, and other delicacies — it's all, as Muddy's motto attests, "Lovin' from the oven."
Each week, Muddy's features its six mainstay cupcake flavors (with names such as the Prozac, Plain Jane, Pucker Up, Capote, and Frankly Scarlett) and six rotating recipes from the bakery's other 30-plus cupcakes (including the Grasshopper, Tomboy, Mocha Madness, and Hubba Hubba). And vegans take note: Muddy's caters to you, offering many cakes, cupcakes, and pies in vegan recipes that don't contain dairy or other animal products.
Desserts aren't all you can get there, of course. Muddy's treats lunchers to a weekly menu of sandwiches, soups, chips, and fruit. Try the PB2H: peanut butter, banana slices, and honey.
Business is clearly booming: Muddy's recently opened its "Underground Bakery" — a non-retail location to help meet the needs of special orders and keep up with the daily demand for iced goodness. Delicious.
— Greg Akers
The good times (and tastes) roll with a spicy muffaletta from Bogie's Deli.
It's no big surprise that Bogie's Deli is the best deli in town. With multiple locations scattered around the city and an accommodating catering service, they're bringing their signature sandwiches, bagels, fresh salads, and homemade desserts to all Memphians.
Try any of the sandwiches on fluffy French bread, honey wheat, marble rye, a croissant, or a fresh water bagel. They slice their own Boar's Head meats and quality cheeses and spice it up with special Bogie's dressing. Bogie's proudly serves Boar's Head meats and cheeses — a brand that has come to stand for high-quality products, with no fillers or artificial flavors, and is served in mom-and-pop delicatessans all over the country.
Vegetarians have something to look forward to as well: Their meat-free sandwiches and salads are packed with fresh veggies and toppings.
The chicken salad (made from farm-raised chickens) is famous, the broccoli bacon salad is a favorite, and the pasta salad is a welcome change from the mayonnaise-drenched macaroni you often find here in the South.
Top off your meal with a freshly baked cookie, lemon square, key lime square, brownie, or a thick slice of perfectly moist cake — caramel, chocolate, carrot. I could go on about the desserts, but judging from your votes, you already know.
— Hannah Sayle
Best Coffee Shop
What's the buzz? It's all about Republic Coffee.
When I first slid into a tiny two-seater booth at Republic Coffee, I felt like I was 15 again, with hours to while away just talking and talking about nothing amid the faint hum of everyone else doing the exact same thing. Years later, though, I require more frequent applications of double espresso, and I also want to be in a proper independent place to appreciate its effects.
Located on Walnut Grove and owned by Fitz Dearmore and Chris Lee, Republic Coffee has established itself as a relaxed, low-key haven for all ages, and expertly made drinks and food — not just coffee alone — are the focus. These days, the house-recipe chai along with seasonal drinks like gingerbread and pumpkin spice lattes have been in demand; during the summer, smoothies were a major hit. The coffee beans, sourced from regions all over the world, are used to make mochas, lattes, Americanos, and espresso creams on offer. In addition, up to 20 whole-bean roasts are available for purchase each day, and recently, a signature R.C. Roast has been developed, too.
At Republic, the baristas are sassy and lightly sardonic, and the food is surprisingly on target. Lingering over a housemade cranberry nut muffin, I noted that this is the kind of place that gets every detail exactly right. And so, with an ideal double-shot cappuccino warming my hands, I decided I'd stay for a while . . . just like way back when.
— Amy Lawrence
Happiness abounds at the Happy Mexican, where the Happy Fajitas heat things up as the Monster Margarita cools them down.
This aptly named eatery has made many a Memphian's mouth more than happy, and has been rewarded with its first Gold finish for its efforts. And what's not to be happy about? Tuck into one of the restaurant's many booths or tables surrounded by a rainbow of brightly colored walls and hand-painted murals, and within moments, a basket of warm-from-the-oven, salty tortilla chips arrives. Dip into the housemade salsa — the ripest blend of tomatoes, onions, and chopped cilantro — and savor the mild burn. Cool off with an icy, oversized margarita. Happiness indeed.
The menu includes Mexican favorites we've come to expect, from burritos, chimichangas, and fajitas to the salads and soft shell tacos. One of the restaurant's best-kept secrets is its tilapia tacos, a generous serving of the non-fishy tasting, flaky fish with chopped veggies. We like ours piled high on warm corn tortillas (they'll happily substitute them for the flour ones if asked) with a liberal squeeze of fresh lime juice for added zing. Another bonus for the downtown favorite? Plenty of free parking.
— Mary Helen Randall
Best Restaurant, Best Chef
While it sure was impressive to see Food & Wine recognize his skill and promise as one of their Best New Chefs of 2009, our biggest ongoing thrill centers around all that Chef Kelly English brings to Memphis.
English's focus on the cuisine of the South and regional food informs everything that he does. He's the proper Southern gentleman who courteously offered me his elbow as we strolled outside after an interview to check out the fledgling herb garden he's developing behind Restaurant Iris. He's the chef who seems very much in his element meandering through the Downtown Farmers Market first thing on Saturday mornings. He's the guy with well-researched food theories that he backs up with amazing experiences and stories. He's the amiable leader who shines with content and calm as the crazy-busy four-thirty-in-the-afternoon energy of the kitchen at Restaurant Iris whirls and rushes around him. And as for the plates being created there? They're just plain more than anyone anywhere probably even deserves. English's take on traditional Southern food — French-Creole cuisine in particular — boasts pairings that mesh so well it's astounding. Consistently, Iris is a place everybody wants to visit, and after that, an experience everyone's dying to discuss.
Even though his modern takes on classic dishes may just about knock you down onto Restaurant Iris's beautifully weathered floor, the personality and charm of English himself are a bonus. We really love what he's doing, and just as much, we love that he chooses to do his thing right here in Memphis.
— Amy Lawrence
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Best New Restaurant
Old-world Italian with modern touches wins over diners, and earns Andrew Michael Best New Restaurant honors.
Admiration abounds all around town for Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer, two young hometown guys on a roll, and their groundbreaking namesake restaurant. Watching their unique brand of tried-and-true meets brand-new Italian cuisine has been a pleasure, and now it's all culminated into something truly gratifying: top honors for Memphis' best new restaurant.
Since it opened in October 2008, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen has enlivened Brookhaven Circle in East Memphis. It's become the place to go for a modern take on traditional Italian dishes and also some interesting surprises: a "breakfast" dish for dinner with pork belly and rinds, egg, and polenta; or a confit with rabbit bacon and cannellini beans.
Hudman and Ticer pay meticulous attention to the food that they use and its effect on the dishes they create. Local meats and produce are key components of their ever-evolving menu, and the bounty from the restaurant's backyard garden finds its way onto the plate whenever possible.
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen shines brightly this year as our readers' favorite new spot.
— Amy Lawrence
Best New Restaurant
Best Home Cooking
Best People Watching
Best BBQ Sandwich
Worth the Drive
Best Outdoor Dining
Best Fried Chicken
Gold: Gus's Fried Chicken
Best Place To Watch The Game
Best Local Coffee Shop
Best Business Dinner Locale
Best Wine Selection
Best Beer Selection
Best Dive Bar
Best Happy Hour