Dining on the Flip Side

Chef Kelly English putting the final touches on a dish; Justin Fox Burks

Kelly English shows what makes him the best chef in Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Lobster Pronto Pup at Rizzos

Very unique Memphis food - grab yourself a lobster pronto pup from Rizzo's Diner. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Assortment of cupcakes from Muddys Bakeshop

Muddy's Bakeshop in Memphis has the perfect cure for your sweet tooth. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Interior dining area at Restaurant Iris

Restaurant Iris was named Best Restaurant, Best Service and Best Chef in Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks

Chef Felicia Suzanne Willet - Justin Fox Burks

Felicia Suzanne's restaurant is an intimate setting that blends a young, contemporary feel with classic Southern charm. Photo by Justin Fox Burks

Wally Joe at ACRE - Justin Fox Burks

Chef Wally Joe is one of the chefs at Acre in Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Burger at 3 Angels Diner (closed). Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Three Angels Diner on Broad Ave partners with local farmers to serve delicious and fresh food daily. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Chefs Andrew and Michael Italian Kitchen: Justin Fox Burks

Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Photo by Justin Fox Burks

Barbecue may be king on the Memphis food scene, but the flip side to it is anything goes – from lush, gourmet offerings to casual eateries that have locals lining up, the hits just keep coming on the city’s bourgeoning restaurant scene.

Side A – The Classics   

Memphis’ culinary scene rivals any in the country, with both formal and casual fine-dining choices. Longtime local favorites with long histories are found all over town, keeping customers well-sated with everything from traditional dishes to decidedly Southern cuisine with unexpected upscale twists. 

In the historic Peabody Hotel, the glamour and gilt of Chez Philippe – from the marble-columned dining room to the unobtrusively attentive service – is a decadent dining experience, up to and including the classical French cuisine on your palate. The iconic Folk’s Folly Prime Steakhouse – a local upscale steakhouse – offers cozy, private club-like dining and some of the best aged beef anywhere. At his eponymous east-side eatery, where he makes everything from scratch, Executive Chef Javier Lopez’s menu features prime steaks, chops, fresh seafood and weekly specials that make repeat visits a must.

Restaurant Iris is known for its frequently changing menu. At this Midtown favorite, a slight flair for French Creole, an amazing wine list and a cozy atmosphere combine for a memorable dining experience. (Be warned: Book ahead. And in the case of Sunday brunch reservations, book way ahead.)

The Cooper-Young neighborhood is known for its casual eateries. But while Sweet Grass has a less formal ambiance, the food is anything but basic. Choose from small, medium and large plates – and be prepared to share; combinations like pork osso bucco and shitake grits pay homage to the chef’s Low Country roots, as well as his classical training.

At Acre, Chefs Wally Joe and Andrew Adams have put together a full-blown sensory experience. From the engaging cocktails and fine boutique wines to the flavorful blend of fresh, locally sourced ingredients, Acre is grade A. The dynamic menu is devoted to quality and innovation - often with a Southern touch added to classic French techniques. Don't miss the grilled angus beef ribeye with garlic-rosemary yukon potatoes with red wine roasted onions. 

There’s a small spot at the unlikely junction of Poplar Avenue and I-240 that’s drawing fans and raves from around the Mid-South. Chef Jose Gutierrez, formerly of Chez Philippe, elevated the fine-dining experience at River Oaks to an art form, and true foodies travel far to pay homage to him. Think seasonal, succulent and savory – a mash-up of French and Southern cuisine, with loads of locally grown and raised foods.

A newcomer on the scene, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen fills a charming house on Brookhaven Circle with soft candlelight, rustic furnishings and a to-die-for menu of upscale Italian that includes truffled chicken livers with crostinis, Newman Farms pork and Maw Maw’s Ravioli. Presentation is everything here, and seeing each entrée as it comes out of the kitchen is almost as enticing as the food itself.

Side B – Casual Eateries

The flip side of Memphis’s fine-dining scene is fun, casual, comfortable – and scrumptious to boot. To top off the casual culinary experience, a few of these spots also offer a dose of local music. Now that’s what we call dinner and a show around here!  

Sweet Grass Next Door (just next door to Sweet Grass above) attracts young professionals with a great selection of beer and low country cuisine. This Midtown spot offers an authentic Memphis experience - stop by to watch the game or have a drink in a casual setting. Try the butcher plate with an assortment of local meats and sausages, or man-up and go for the chicken and waffles with bourbon pecan syrup.

In a nondescript building at the corner of South Main Street downtown, the onetime brothel-hotel-bar-restaurant (now it’s just a restaurant) Earnestine & Hazel’s is another slice of Memphis originality. Locals, rock stars, Hollywood types and more locals roll in late in the evening for people-watching and a must-eat Soul Burger complete with onions and all the fixings – a truly indulgent treat.

The unpretentious – really unpretentious – building on South Front might scare some folks away, but be brave, walk through the door and load up. Trust us, fried chicken rarely tasted so good as it does at Gus’ Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken. A Memphis outpost of the tiny Mason, Tenn., original, Gus’ chicken is spicy and succulent – and it never sits under a heat lamp. Paired with a cold beer, it’s a chart-topper of taste.

Cooper-Young’s Young Avenue Deli is part deli, part live music venue and beer palace. Yes, it is a deli – and a great one at that – but it also offers dozens of beers, including locally crafted brews, international stars and a few of the usual suspects. The Beer Battered Dill Pickles are a must. Even though the atmosphere might scream rock, there’s an eclectic mix of bands here and the warehouse-like interior offers billiards, video games and plenty of room to mingle.

Around Memphis, the name Huey’s is synonymous with heavenly hamburgers. There are seven locations of this local mini-chain scattered around the city, and each offers friendly service, checked tablecloths and ceilings full of toothpicks. Yes, customers spend some of their wait time trying their luck at shooting toothpicks into the ceilings, which makes for some great fun. Local bands pop up at each Huey’s every week, and beyond excellent baskets of burgers and fries, the huge menu offers salads, a nice selection of healthy items and plenty of kid-friendly eats.

With lushly frosted and delicious cupcakes sporting names like Prozac (chocolate with a chocolate buttercream icing), Pucker Up (lemon) and Strawberry Lemonade (that one’s self-explanatory), there’s always a sweet reason to stop in at Muddy’s. But add in vegan options, light sandwiches and snacks, and this whimsical eatery in East Memphis hits the spot.