The Beauty Shop
The Beauty Shop is often my first stop for any out of town guests. For decades, it was a barber shop in the front and a beauty shop in the back—a husband and wife team cut hair for many years, and you see the old hair washing sinks behind the bar and 50s-era hair dryers perched over seats in the rear. It's open for lunch and dinner, though I've always enjoyed their brunch.
Eggs Sardou ($13) is a New Orleans dish that combines poached eggs with marinated artichoke hearts, tomatoes, goat cheese, pumpernickel, and hollandaise sauce. It's savory, steamy, and spicy all in the same bite. Also quite good is the cinnamon challah french toast with a healthy dollop of sweet butter.
Alchemy is a newer addition to the neighborhood with a long list of unique cocktails, and my girlfriend and I tried two of them. She had the TFG ($11): Hanger One Spiced Pear Vodka, fresh ruby red grapefruit, simple syrup and lemon (pictured in the martini glass). I'm not a big fan of flavored vodka, but this was quite delicious—bright and refreshing with balanced sweetness.
I had the Zippin Pippin ($11; Bulleit Bourbon, apple cider, lemon, maple syrup), named after our city's historic wooden roller coaster that ran from 1912 to 2005. I was expecting something relatively sweet, but the end result was milder, like a mint julep minus the mint. The server told me that in the summer they dial back on the maple syrup to avoid making it too heavy. Be sure to stick around for dishes like lamb T-bones, hanger steak, and fried green tomatoes topped with crab meat.
Irish pubs are a dime a dozen across the United States, but Celtic Crossing expands the menu with traditional fare from across the British Isles as well as a few local delicacies. We enjoyed a quartet of Scottish Eggs ($8.90) served with fresh potato chips and a Guinness-Dijon mustard dipping sauce. Hardboiled eggs coated in sausage and breadcrumbs and then deep-fried...A perfect bar snack. The pub also shows major soccer matches, and while we were eating we got to watch Italy beat Uruguay 3-2 in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Sweet Grass offers a wide variety of dishes in small, medium, and large plate formats. We started out with the cubanelle peppers stuffed with braised rabbit ($12) and a salad topped with a caramelized pear, gorgonzola, toasted pistachios, and a mild key lime vinaigrette ($9). The pepper-rabbit dish was just hot enough for my tastes, and the addition of local Bonnie Blue Farm feta cheese was a great bonus. The salad was just perfect, with the pear cooked only long enough to retain its structure.
For the main course, we split a large plate of the low country shrimp and grits, including scallops, country ham, and andouille sausage ($26). The many different flavor and size options allow you to tailor your individual dinner to your own tastes, and I highly recommend the complimentary jalapeño cornbread that arrives at each table.
Young Avenue Deli
Known for its pool tables, award-winning french fries, and extensive beer selection, this longtime favorite offers a range of burgers, sandwiches, and snacks like fried dill pickles to munch on while listening to local bands or just meeting up with friends.
I'm partial to the Reuben on Marbled Rye with those freshly cut fries ($9.25). Their execution of the American classic is never soggy or overstuffed, and a nice pint of Schlafly APA helps wash it all down. The selection of beers on draft and in bottle changes frequently, so be sure to check the chalkboard when you walk in. And don't wait to be seated—everyone will think you're a tourist.
Most of the restaurants I've mentioned feature great desserts, but generally I like heading over to this little independent coffee shop. In addition to a lot of humorously named coffee drinks, you can snag a pastry, a cookie, a piece of pie or cake—something not baked on premise, but contributed by local cooks.
Walking through the front door may make you feel like you've entered an episode of Portlandia, but this place comes by it honestly. When it opened in 1992 Starbucks had not yet come to Memphis and it continues to be a venue for up-and-coming artists and poets. For a long time it was home to the coin-operated First Church of Elvis Impersonator Shrine, but these days I enjoy a quiet game of chess in the back.
Skunx Chef Pub
Find yourself wandering around after every other place is closed? You can check in at Skunx Chef Pub. It's best known for the pizzas, but the owner is always playing around with various appetizers and other dishes that change from day to day. I like the Lucca Brazzi ($18), which is a simple pizza topped with cheese, marinated anchovies, arugula, tomatoes, garlic, and truffle oil. Instead of lots of little anchovy fillets spread throughout, each slice gets a single perfect fish that delivers a lot of flavor. I'm not sure why the name was changed from Luca Brasi, but the harmonious combination of ingredients trumps spelling.
Skunkx Chef Pub; 2158 Young Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 (map); 901-722-4031 (no website)