Beignet Cafe opened in April just off South Main and has already found a loyal following among the residents in the area. It might be the coffee selection or the fresh-anytime beignets that draws them.
Either is a good enough reason, but what will get me there again and again will be the mac and cheese balls.
Yeah, that's right. And they're deep fried.
Restaurant owner Charles Duke makes old-fashioned, creamy macaroni and cheese with three cheeses, doesn't skimp on the butter or cream, and packs it in a pan and refrigerates it until it's cold enough to form into a ball. The balls are dipped in egg and bread crumbs, then deep fried until golden brown.
You know that great mac and cheese that has a nice crunchy layer of breadcrumbs on the top? Well, this is it times 10. With every forkful you get a crisp layer of breading and a creamy bite of rich mac and cheese,
which is soft and gooey after frying.
OK, of course, I'm not going to eat it every day.
But I could.
I can feel better about myself if I indulge in the shrimp po' boy instead. Eschewing the fried standard, this po' boy is made of sauteed plump shrimp on French bread, topped with lettuce and tomato and served with a spicy herb mayonnaise. Go easy on the mayo and ask the kitchen to go light on the fat when sauteing the shrimp and presto, you're eating right.
I also like the veggie sandwich, though I'd make a modification. The sandwich, served on hearty multigrain bread, contains avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, cucumber, mixed greens and cheddar cheese. With these veggies, I'd prefer the fresh flavor of a ripe tomato instead of the deeper notes of the sun-dried ones. Next time, I'll ask for the substitution. Still, the sandwich is tasty, filling and a good choice for vegetarians looking to stay away from deep-fried macaroni.
Landlord Norma Crow, from Nashville, bought the building and renovated it because she wanted to move to Memphis. She knew she wanted a restaurant, but as a tenant -- she didn't want to run one.
"This was my vision and I was fortunate enough to find someone to handle the business part," she said of Duke.
She said the building was built in 1949 as Tri-State Bank, and was housing the Tri-State Defender newspaper when she purchased it (the paper was in the process of moving to a new location on Beale).
The interior was restored to its timbers (cotton was the insulation in the attic) and is decorated in a warm and welcome manner that includes local art and soft seating areas that invite folks to linger, as well as tables for meals.
To the beignets, fried dough with powdered sugar: What's not to like? Most cultures have a fried sweet dough, and we're fortunate that our proximity to New Orleans gives us a decent shot at beignets now and again. These are puffy and satisfying, served with a more generous dousing of sugar than the stylized photo shows.
The cafe serves a full breakfast, available anytime, and features a jazz brunch on Sundays with New Orleans favorites such as shrimp and grits. Other New Orleans classics -- gumbo, jambalaya and the like -- are frequent specials.
Green salads and tuna, chicken and pasta salads are also available. The chicken salad is an excellent simple version, made with chunks of chicken, celery, mayonnaise and seasoning.
Salmon lovers will definitely want the salmon BLT. A generous roasted fillet is topped with Swiss cheese, a nice peppered bacon, lettuce and tomatoes and finished with the spicy herb mayo.
Beignet Cafe is a comfortable and creative new restaurant well worth a try. A liquor license is pending and should be approved within a few weeks, at which time wine, beer and specialty daiquiris will be available along with other mixed drinks.
Address: 124 G. E. Patterson Ave.
Telephone: (901) 527-1551
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Monday
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: License expected within a few weeks; no alcohol at this time but you can bring in your own wine for a $2 corkage fee.
Don't miss: The beignets, the mac and cheese balls, the shrimp po' boy.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223