The school has always been something of a commuter campus. Although I lived in the dorms and was a Resident Advisor for a while, nearly everyone has a car and it's not that hard to get downtown, to the casinos in nearby Tunica, MS, or out into the various suburbs. But there are still a lot of great places nestled near the university grounds that provide that unique college neighborhood experience for students, alumni, and locals alike.
There's no better place for breakfast in the entire city, and students are lucky to have Brother Juniper's right off the edge of campus. When I first went there as a kid in the 80s, it was this weird hippie place with whole-grain biscuits and a big jar of homemade yogurt curdling on top of the fridge. I remember the exotic thrill of trying lamb and feta and baby spinach in an omelette. Over the years the rest of the city has caught up with their passion for slow food using traditional ingredients and methods, and while I celebrate their success it does mean that there's a long wait during peak breakfast hours.
When you're ready for a fun weekend brunch, head over to The Half Shell. This venerable seafood restaurant has a lot of Louisiana favorites on the menu like Eggs Hussarde and Eggs Sardou, but my favorite has always been the crepes with fried oysters and a chilled mimosa. Or how about the Benedict shrimp and grits?
Ubee's is a relative newcomer to the Highland Strip and specializes in thin, griddle smashed burgers. So I'd suggest going with the Two Timer: two patties, two slices of cheese, with pickles, onions, and mustard. Add freshly made hand-cut fries and finish it all off with a deep fried Snicker's bar, and give thanks for your youthful metabolism.
Since 1975 the original Walker Ave. location of Garibaldi's has been serving pizza to hungry students as well as the surrounding community. I'm a big fan of their BBQ pizza, which incorporates big chunks of pulled pork and sweet Memphis BBQ sauce. Great old-school salads as well: iceberg lettuce, pepperoncinis, and little packets of crackers. Pictured here is the classic Meat Lover's with sausage, pepperoni, and ham.
Five of You Want Chinese But One Guy Only Eats Sandwiches...
I've got to be honest and admit that neither the sandwiches nor the Chinese food at Super Submarine Sandwich Shop (a.k.a. the Chinese Sub Shop) great, but the food is cheap and the dark dining room that hasn't been updated since the 70s has a weird, greasy charm. The main benefit is the ability to bring back lots of different food for a group without making multiple stops. Cash only, but the service is quick and hey, you've had worse.
I spent the night before I turned 21 with my parents at a wine tasting where I served my own homemade baked bread (I was a weird kid), but the next day I used my legal license for the first time at Newby's. Sure, I'd already been to Europe and had experienced making a legal alcohol purchase, but there's something about buying that first beer on your own home soil. A decent pub grub menu with lots of live music events.
Sitting right on the north side of the train tracks, RP Tracks features a lot of amusingly named shots, BBQ Tofu Nachos, and a bunch of other goodies that are available on the menu until midnight. But the party doesn't have to stop, because after the kitchen closes they keep on pouring drinks until three in the AM. Discounts are available when the train is passing by and rattling the pictures on the wall.
Hey, it's Memphis, so it's our duty to have a great university-area 'cue joint. My pick is Central BBQ, located on the same road that leads from the school to the Liberty Bowl stadium. While there are lots of traditional favorites, you can also go slumming and enjoy a fried bologna sandwich with a cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Where to Impress a Date
One of the bests chefs in Memphis is cooking at Acre, right around the corner from the University. The menu is constantly changing but in the past I've had great hanger steak and frites as well as small first courses incorporating seared scallops with microgreens and heirloom tomatoes. Check out the bar menu for some bargains in a classy setting, like duck pastrami hash and braised pork belly steamed buns with hoisin sauce.
When the Parents are in Town
The Elegant Farmer is a tiny restaurant that shares space with an antique store (and indeed, you will be dining on old tables built long before IKEA was around). The establishment specializes in fresh local ingredients with a focus on great Southern flavors with gourmet execution. We enjoyed the Newman Farms Berkshire pork loin served over chipotle sweet potatoes with a side of steamed wax beans. It will show off the best of Memphis's local ingredients, and Dad will thank you when he's got to haul an armoire all the way back home.
Last Minute Choice When You Find Out Your Blind Date is a Vegetarian
It's happened to the best of us, but do not be afraid: there are some great places around town serving great vegetarian food. You don't want your date to be presented with the usual option of "You can pick the bacon off the side salad if you want." Fuel Cafe not only has great vegetarian but also great vegan and carnivore dishes, making it a win-win situation. You can get the soft shell crabs with succotash, she can get the red bean chili, and you can figure out your future over the one course that never features meat: dessert.
Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt
YoLo specializes in all-natural and, when possible, local ingredients. Pop in and fill up a tub of frozen yogurt from one of a half dozen different machines and then add any of 20 different toppings. At the register they'll weigh the dish and charge accordingly, or you can grab a small, medium, or large cup of gelato that's been made on-site. Pictured here: marscapone gelato with pistachios and a tub of peach yogurt with a topping of roasted salted pecans.