Dining Spotlight: Diner a real humdinger

In Memphis, KFC's new grilled chicken was grounded before it got a chance to fly. That's why it's refreshing to find a restaurant where grills are smoking with fish, chicken, and vegetables.

Since early April, Humdinger's has been offering healthful, tasty food at reasonable prices and with quick service.

 General manager Jason McElhaney works the grill in the open kitchen at Humdinger's.  Not only does the glassed-in kitchen add ambience to the dining room, it ensures that the staff is ''always on point,'' according to co-owner Alan Schlesinger.

Photo by Ben Fant, Photos by Ben Fant/Special to The Commercial Appeal

General manager Jason McElhaney works the grill in the open kitchen at Humdinger's. Not only does the glassed-in kitchen add ambience to the dining room, it ensures that the staff is ''always on point,'' according to co-owner Alan Schlesinger.

Humdingers is a quick-service restaurant that doesn't cut corners.  Meals are prepared fresh and the atmosphere is a lot more dressed-up and sophisticated than you would expect from a place known for quick lunches.

Humdingers is a quick-service restaurant that doesn't cut corners. Meals are prepared fresh and the atmosphere is a lot more dressed-up and sophisticated than you would expect from a place known for quick lunches.

Above: Mahi-mahi is served grilled with a black bean and corn relish, rice and grilled zucchini. Left: The Piri Piri Half-Chicken arrives with sweet potato fries and a chilled, marinated broccoli salad.

Above: Mahi-mahi is served grilled with a black bean and corn relish, rice and grilled zucchini. Left: The Piri Piri Half-Chicken arrives with sweet potato fries and a chilled, marinated broccoli salad.

The drill is familiar. You order at a counter, get a number to display at the table and then your food is brought to your table on colorful Fiesta-like dishes. The flatware is also real stainless, not plastic.

Grilled portions of salmon, tilapia, mahi-mahi, and Pacific snapper are offered on sandwiches, as topper for salads and as part of a meal-deal that includes rice and a side dish.

Diners can opt to top any fish with pineapple salsa, cucumber lime and yogurt, sautéed mushrooms or black bean salsa.

But wait, as they say in TV infomercials, that's not all.

Extra zest is added at the table with Humdinger's special condiment, a peppery African sauce known as piri-piri.

Not every dish is grilled. Humdinger's Shrimp, an appetizer we tried, is fried to crispness and tossed in a zippy aioli sauce with a hint of piri-piri. It's a winner.

We also lapped up the soup of the day -- roasted red bell pepper with gouda cheese. The cheese becomes invisible as it melts into the orange-red dill-flecked bisque, bringing a rich flavor and silky texture.

I found the tilapia, snapper and mahi-mahi perfectly seasoned and grilled even without toppings or piri-piri. But I also enjoyed the cooling flavors of cucumbers and yogurt sauce on the tilapia.

Not many casual restaurants offer grilled zucchini strips and grilled asparagus and it's too bad. Grilling brings out natural sweetness in the vegetables as it imparts a hint of smoke. The generous serving of 5 to 7 asparagus spears is definitely worth the $1 upcharge.

Another side, Asian slaw, blends shredded cabbage and carrots tossed with sesame-flavored dressing sans mayonnaise. Black bean and corn salsa is also available as an enjoyable accompaniment.

Because the list also includes seasoned fries, sweet potato fries, chilled marinated broccoli or a side salad, it's easy to make a meal from the sides.

One of my companions opted for a dinner salad topped with grilled mahi-mahi, a thick-fleshed fish that can be tough when overcooked. Humdinger's is flaky and tender.

The salad underneath it is a mélange of lettuce, apple slices, dried cranberries, diced cucumbers, carrots and Gorgonzola cheese tossed in a light raspberry ginger vinaigrette.

The only disappointment is the grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast. As is often the case, the hot grill dried and toughened the chicken. Next time I'll try the grilled half-chicken.

Children also get more choices than usual: crisp shrimp, chicken tenders, grilled chicken breast or crisp fish nuggets with a juice box, side dish and cookie for $3.99.

Dessert options are more meager: three types of cookies including a chocolate chunk that seemed almost flavorless; a decent oatmeal raisin and macadamia nut and white chocolate that I did not try.

I'll pass on the cookies but I'll be back at Humdinger's for the rest of the menu.

Humdinger's

Address: 6300 Poplar (at Massey behind Chick-fil-A)

Telephone: 901-260-8292

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closes at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Price: $

Handicapped access: Yes

Alcoholic beverages: None, but licenses are being sought

Don't miss: Shrimp, any grilled fish, grilled asparagus, Asian slaw and roasted red pepper soup when available.

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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