The other evening, I walked downtown under a brief but welcome cloud cover to A Taste of Memphis, the soul-food restaurant on Idaho Street. It was hot and dry out, so a plate of fried chicken and a mug of sweet tea sounded like the perfect elixir. Located below the Rose Room, A Taste of Memphis may look unassuming upon first impression with its cafeteria-style tables and chairs and haphazardly placed Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin posters. But this restaurant is a must for food lovers. Go on one of those days when you've been so slammed at work, you don't even notice when 5 p.m. rolls around. The restaurant's motto is "Tastes so great you'll lick your plate," and you will most likely want to devour every bite. Then order dessert. Then wonder if you should have ordered some hot wings to go ... just for good measure.
My date and I arrived around 6 p.m. and the place was empty but for a table full of giggling kids munching on the Monday night special—a "well-done only" hamburger with fries—and one very stressed-out-looking man making desperate efforts to eat his own burger and manage his wiggling table guests. We sat at the other end of the room and were immediately greeted by our server Brandon.
My date decided on the catfish, which comes with a choice of one of many tempting side dishes, of which he chose macaroni and cheese ($9.49). The lengthy list includes other Southern classics such as fried okra, green beans with ham hocks, squash and candied yams.
I was having one of those pesky indecisive days and couldn't make up my mind, but lucky for me, there was a perfect solution to my dilemma: the "sampler platter."
The sampler platter dinner offers three entrees and two sides, which meant I got to order the pork ribs, fried chicken and black-eyed pea casserole with collard greens and hush puppies for a very reasonable price ($12.99). For the ultimate Southern experience, I asked for a sweet tea, which the server promptly delivered in a Mason jar-styled mug. The first sip made me feel like an instant candidate for diabetes, but I added a little water and found the sugary drink surprisingly refreshing and potentially addictive. At $1.99 a glass, it's hard to say "No, thanks" to the bottomless refills.
We waited about 15 minutes, and as the server neared with our plates, I felt a wave of intimidation. The sampler platter is a formidable plate of food. A Taste of Memphis doesn't waste time with presentation or wimpy garnishes, they just pile on the food. Beneath a massive fried chicken breast and two small but meaty ribs smothered in zesty homemade barbecue sauce lay a hearty helping of casserole accompanied by six hushpuppies, a big dish of greens and a corn bread muffin. How they fit it all on one plate mystified me, but the bigger mystery was how I managed to eat all but two hushpuppies and a smattering of greens.
I dug into the casserole first. It was a perfect pairing of black-eyed peas, ground beef and corn bread, especially with a dash of "Louisiana's Perfect Hot Sauce." The ribs were so tender, the meat fell off the bone, and the fried chicken was delightfully crunchy with a hint of herbs mixed into the golden batter. The collard greens were a little over-cooked for my taste, but the hushpuppies were crispy little balls of joy. Even my date, who insisted he hates hushpuppies, snuck a couple off my plate. In his words, "If I'm eating them, you know they're damn good."
As we waited for our slice of sweet potato pie ($2.99), I continued to nibble. I was stuffed beyond capacity, but the fried food beckoned. My date raised an eyebrow, but I just smiled through a mouthful of hushpuppy. I pointed out that the menu said Friday's special was gumbo and rice.
—Anna Demetriades isn't afraid of food (though she is scared of huge serving platters).