Where to go, what to do, and where to eat (and drink) in Memphis Tennessee—from drive-thru beignets to barbecue spaghetti.
This is Spilling the Beans, where plugged-in baristas give us the lowdown on where to go, what to do, and what to eat (and drink) in their hometown.
Lisa Toro wants you to forget what you’ve heard about Memphis. Unless it’s that Memphis is home to a deep, hallowed music legacy and first-rate barbecue. And no one knows better than Toro, co-owner of premiere Memphis coffee shop/retailer City & State, who has been living in the Tennessee city for over 20 years. What’s kept her there is the people, who, she says, are approachable and friendly—a Memphis point of pride. Okay, fine, the other things keeping her there involve food and music: the best juke box in the South, drive-thru beignets, and flowing Tennessee whiskey. Let Toro show you the ropes:
Where should I stay?
If you’re splurging, stay at the newly opened James Lee House, a stunning newly restored Victorian home. I’m waiting for the new Guest House at Graceland, which would probably be a whole lot of fun. Otherwise, Airbnbs in Central Gardens or Cooper-Young are your best bet.
Best cup of coffee?
Avenue Coffee is small and mighty. They donate a portion of proceeds every month to different nonprofits around town. It’s a really good group of people that care for the community and want to do coffee well. Then there’s Relevant Roasters. He only just opened in the last 1.5 years but it’s great to order coffee at the bar and see roasting in action.
Best place to grab breakfast?
I’ve always loved Brother Juniper’s, which has been around forever; it has these incredible open-faced omelets with avocado and chorizo. The biscuits are also tremendous. Then there’s a cash-only place called Bryant’s that’s what you would imagine a quintessential truck stop breakfast diner would be. The line is worth it. Our newest option is a place called Rock N Dough, which has a drive-thru beignet window.
Best brewery to spend the day?
Wiseacre Brewing Co. It was started by two brothers, and their pilsner, Tiny Bomb, keeps winning awards. It’s dog-friendly, kid-friendly, with an awesome tap room and food trucks.
Best market to walk around and eat?
The Memphis Farmers’ Market with food trucks and vendors out every Saturday morning. I usually start with breakfast at The Arcade, the oldest diner in Memphis one block down, then walk around the market. I have a couple of vendors I love: Pigasus Cured Meats, a local butcher that does pre-seasoned, ready-to-go pork carnitas, and also Whitton Farms.
Best place to see art?
My favorite is David Lusk Gallery. They work with fantastic local talent and put on my favorite show of the year: “The Price is Right.” Every piece of art is $1000 or less; it’s a great way to start an art collection. The recently renovated Dixon Gallery is also beautiful and has incredible gardens.
Hottest new dinner spot?
Anything by chefs Andrew [Ticer] and Michael [Hudman]. They’re killing it and are nominated again for a James Beard. They started with Andrew Michael, this incredible modern American-Italian fare. Across the street you have Hog & Hominy [a top 50 nominee from 2013!] which is casual and comfortable with incredible pizzas, a ridiculous peanut butter pie, and late-night ramen. Next door to that is Porcellino’s [a top 50 nominee in 2015!], their butcher shop that also serves breakfast and lunch. You could do a restaurant crawl in one night between the three and you couldn’t go wrong. I always really enjoy Tsunami. Ben Smith has been serving incredible farm-to-table food there for years.
Restaurants you frequent?
You’ll find me at Hog & Hominy all the time. My husband and I also go to Memphis Pizza Café because we live so close. It’s a super casual, super affordable spot that has been around forever. Even though it’s a pizza place, I like their sandwiches. Also: they have, hands down, the best ranch dressing I’ve ever had in my life.
My personal favorite is Central BBQ. But I also love this place called The Bar-B-Q Shop, which has barbecue spaghetti. The other one off the beaten path is Payne’s Bar-B-Que. Cozy Corner is excellent too; its whole chicken is amazing.
Where to get a great cocktail?
I like the bar at Acre Restaurant; it has one of the most beautiful interiors. It has a great whiskey selection, which is really what matters to me. Another one is Alchemy over in Cooper-Young.
Where can we get into trouble for the night?
I would start at Mollie Fontaine, a fabulous bar that opened in an old Victorian house. You go upstairs and there are rooms and bars throughout with fantastic DJs. I’d also go to Earnestine & Hazels downtown; it has a Soulburger, which only tastes good when you’re drunk. My other one is called The Cove, which is just a dive bar/late-night spot that happens to have good cocktails.
Best thing to eat when the party’s over?
My personal favorite which is Alex’s Tavern. The Greek Burger is what you want. I also personally love their hot wings. Also good to know: They have, without a doubt, the best juke box in town.
Best day trip?
I go to Oxford, Mississippi a lot. It’s super easy to get to and it has amazing food, including Big Bad Breakfast (get the jalapeño maple bacon) and then a place called City Grocery, which is known for its shrimp and grits. There’s a cute town square and Square Books, two stories packed to the gills with books. I could spend all day there.