Good eats for good
July 28, 2013
As an aside, here are some scene-setters for tonight’s post:
- I have been tussling all day with a web site creator. It has triumphed. I have given up the ghost, gone to drinking wine, and turned the technical stuff over to someone who, hopefully, knows more about it than I do.
- I have been juggling what all I need to get done next week, which is more than I’m going to get done next week, and many of those things are things that cannot be done until something else, over which I have no control, takes place, and I’ve just Thrown Up My Hands.
- I cooked a good dinner of creamed corn, okra, purple hulled peas, country ham, heirloom tomatoes and cornbread, about which I am not going to blog, because, well, I have written about all those things ad infinitum.
- I spent Thursday and Friday in Memphis and its environs, and enjoyed it greatly, and ate some fine food, so I am going to revert to what I do quite well, which is waxing eloquent about food.
It’s been a while since I had such a two-day period of dining overindulgence. Went to Crittenden County and to Memphis, over Thursday morning, back Friday night, and squeezed in four most excellent meals, including three old favorites and a brand new favorite.
Pulled in to West Memphis in time for a 9:30 meeting, got that over, went up to Marion to visit Child A and discuss potential lunch plans. I was jonesing for Uncle John’s, a long-time Italian eatery in the thriving metropolis of Crawfordsville, AR, population maybe 300-and-some. No website, but here’s a review. Her lunch hour time restrictions didn’t allow for a dinner in, so we called in an order, went to pick it up, brought it back, and ate it in the break room at her office. She had ravioli; I had the roast beef po’boy, which is an open-faced roast beef smothered in red meat sauce.
To tell the truth, I was a tad disappointed in the po’boy. Seems to me that the quality of the sliced roast beef has gone down. Meat sauce is still primo, though. And I finished off Child A’s ravioli, homemade, irregular squares filled with a meat-and-cheese stuffing, and just so-so-so good. As good as I remembered. Check one craving, satisfied.
Dinner was thinking about being Pearl’s Oyster House, but I took to contemplating Central Barbecue’s new downtown location, which I’d never patronized, it being less than two or three months old.
Central’s exquisite barbecue has not suffered from the expansion. They already have two outlets, at the site of the old Tony’s Pizza on Central, where I downed many a pitcher of beef in my dissolute college years, and one at the former Red Lobster location on Summer Avenue. The downtown location is on Butler, within rock-throwing distance of the National Civil Rights Museum and just off the trolley line. It does a pretty thriving business at lunch among the bidness crowd and at night among the South Main party and residential crowd.
Pulled pork plate. Beans and potato salad. Saison Irish ale. (I had, btw, never seen both “saison” and “Irish” used in conjunction as modifiers for ale, but what do I know?) More food than I could eat. And it was up to Central’s usual excellent standards. Go there. You won’t regret it. I won’t call it my favorite in Memphis, as that varies depending on the day and my mood, but it’s damn-sho among the top five.
Next day. Repeat meetings. Meet a friend for lunch; she is to pick the place, as she is An Authority on the foodie scene in Memphis.
“How about Caritas Village?” she texts me.
“Dunno WTF it is, but fine by me,” I reply.
I meet her at her house, and we set off for Caritas Village, which is a mostly-volunteer-run community center in the poverty-stricken Binghampton neighborhood in Memphis. (More here.) They offer, among other things, a cultural center, an art gallery and art classes, a health clinic, and a cafe that is a most exceptional place to grab lunch.
Entirely staffed by volunteers, including the cute Rhodes College (prestigious Memphis private school where tuition, room and board tab out better than $50K a year) student who took our order and the obviously well-to-do Southern matrons who were busing tables, the whole cafe boasts two paid employees: the manager and the chef. The chef, a Muslim emingrant from Sudan who was fasting for Ramadan while she was cooking all sorts of delicacies for the dining public, came out to visit; lovely lady. Counter staff, waiters and busboys are volunteers from all over. Meals are cheap — two of us ate a BIG lunch for less than $20 — but no one is turned away for inability to pay.
The special was tilapia, baked, over rice, and I disremember the exact presentation. There was a standing menu of sandwiches, soups, salads. I opted for the “Greek Beef,” a high-quality deli sliced beef on a cross between a foccacia and a gyro roll, with an olive-artichoke-feta relish and a Caesar dressing, except I asked for it over lettuce leaves.
Dear Sweet Baby Jesus. That olive-artichoke-feta spread, all moistened with some olive oil and red wine vinegar, and livened with some garlic and oregano, was To Die For and I am SO going to make it.
It was killer. Just killer. The spread played off the beef just perfectly. The potato salad had a mustard tinge, no onion and no celery, the three cardinal “musts” in my book. The tea was crisp and fresh.
And it was amid a really cool ambience. The volunteer waitress, a friend of my dining companion, brought some folks over and introduced them. Great networking. Folks there working on laptops. An acoustic trio doing Gospel, country, bluegrass, blues. Eclectic, mismatched furnishings. Comfy sofas. Nice buzz. A group of Purple Hat ladies in for their regular social lunch.
We ordered a bread pudding, at $1 apiece, for dessert. A volunteer had baked the bread pudding and brought it in. It was marvelous. I was fraught with guilt, handed the lady a five, and asked her to put the difference in the tip bucket. Total lunch bill for two still came to less than $25, and I was stuffed, I tell you.
Was talking to Child B about it, and she said, she’d been there with her brother-in-law, a seminary student who worked with it, while her Dad was in the hospital last year. They put them on the prayer list and asked her every time when she came in how he was doing, and assured them they were still praying for them. Can’t hardly beat that.
I’ll go back. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em should, too.
Dinner that night was at another old favorite, Bahn Thai. Hadn’t been there in a couple of years. Patio is still fun, especially in an unseasonably cool July. Tum Kha is still marvelous. I had the appetizer sampler, My only complaint about the spring rolls, potstickers, shrimp toast and relishes was that I couldn’t clean my plate.
That’s what dining in Memphis will do for you. It’s a fine food town.