Dining Review: Alex's Tavern true to roots

Sports, nostalgia, beer and burgers reign

 Alex's Tavern is one of the most beloved hangouts in Memphis, a great place to catch up with friends for beer, shuffleboard and burgers.

Photo by Ben Fant // Buy this photo

Alex's Tavern is one of the most beloved hangouts in Memphis, a great place to catch up with friends for beer, shuffleboard and burgers.

JB: What a shame we weren't friends back when a beer joint with a good burger and a shuffleboard table was my idea of a great night out. I had fun playing shuffleboard with you at Alex's!

 Alex's Tavern is one of the most beloved hangouts in Memphis, a great place to catch up with friends for beer, shuffleboard and burgers.

Photo by Ben Fant

Alex's Tavern is one of the most beloved hangouts in Memphis, a great place to catch up with friends for beer, shuffleboard and burgers.

Alex's Tavern is in the same location it's been in since 1953 on Jackson Avenue.

Photo by Ben Fant

Alex's Tavern is in the same location it's been in since 1953 on Jackson Avenue.

The burger at Alex's Tavern, cooked in an old skillet, the way mom used to do it, stacks up with the best in Memphis.

Photo by Ben Fant

The burger at Alex's Tavern, cooked in an old skillet, the way mom used to do it, stacks up with the best in Memphis.

Rocky Kasaftes shows a picture of him and his father, Alex.  Alex's Tavern is the oldest family-owned tavern in Memphis.

Photo by Ben Fant

Rocky Kasaftes shows a picture of him and his father, Alex. Alex's Tavern is the oldest family-owned tavern in Memphis.

PB: Yeah, I was having such a good time, I forgot to count the points. ... Or maybe I stopped counting when you knocked my puck off and hung a six-pointer. Did you notice how much better I played when I balanced the puck in my right hand with a draught beer in my left?

JB: I noticed that. And tell me where else in town you find, as Eyvette behind the bar says, "Nuthin' but Natural Light" on tap? This is just one of the reasons I adore Alex's -- it never changes. Never. The signs are the same. The music -- and you gotta love it -- never changes. Or at least it changes slooooooowly. As Rocky said, "We add something new to the menu about every 15 years."

PB: You do walk back in time there. I would not necessarily pay a quarter to hear a song by K.C. and the Sunshine Band or America, but when their music turns up in the background, it definitely creates a mood. But still I'm surprised that I saw two or three annual awards to Alex's for Best Jukebox in Town, and none for the extraordinary burger they serve. It is ridiculously under-appreciated work of art, don't you agree?

JB: I'm going way out here, but I think it's the best burger in town. You heard what I said and you know it's my highest compliment: "It tastes like my grandmother's." Don't get me wrong -- there are good burgers all over the place, but every time I have a burger at Alex's it just takes me back. It's pan-fried, not grilled. It's salty, with little crunchy bits of meat tumbling off the side. You might not know this, but this is the burger Don Henley eats when he's in town. Rocky told me the story about how Henley just stood in the kitchen and drank a beer while Rocky made his burger -- he wanted Vidalia onions, but it was too late in the season. The next time Henley was in town, I went to Alex's after the concert, but I'm truly a fair-weather stalker. It started pouring rain and I went home. Missed my chance. But I had my burger.

PB: Too much cannot be said about how this burger tastes. I like it because it's got substance: it's not loose and oozing with fat. The simplicity of the other parts, the pickle, the tomato, the store-bought bun, just remind me of childhood. And then there are those fat fries, toasty on the outside, cooked to the center. Another example of old-fashioned food art.

JB: The ribs were a big surprise. I'd heard that Rocky was cooking ribs, but I had no idea. These were as good as any I've ever had -- no joke. A crisp top layer with some bite, succulent meat beneath -- I mean, it truly fell off the bone. He just cooks them on grills behind the restaurant. Some people have the touch, and it's clear that Rocky has it and his dad, Alex Kasaftes, had it. I don't remember Alex's in the pre-Rocky days (he was just 24 when his dad died and he took it over), but as it's likely unchanged, it was probably a near-perfect beer joint then too. People come in for sports on the weekends and early in the evening, then the college kids come in for late-night revelry. I think it's a great place for happy hour too -- there's that shuffleboard table, after all. If there were a pool table and more beer on tap, Alex's would be a four-star beer joint instead of the three stars we're giving it.

PB: I was thinking we had failed to mention the sports-bar aspect of Alex's. Maybe because neither of us is a big sports freak, er, fan. I think the collections of old movie and star tributes on the walls are as interesting as anything on ESPN. Might be balanced with a little more James Dean, a little less Raquel Welch, but it's a collection that has obviously been edited by a person with good taste in classic film and TV. I like the ambient red glow from the lights. And I guess we should mention the claim to local fame made on one of those vintage signs: i.e., that Alex's establishment in 1953 makes it the oldest tavern in Memphis continuously owned by one family. Which explains its location in what is decidedly not a vibrant entertainment district. You can't claim that for the 1400 block of Jackson.

JB: Well, you can't claim to have won shuffleboard, either. But I'm willing to give you a second chance. Loser buys the burgers, winner picks the music. I'm going to go ahead and put on my my my my my boogie shoes.

Alex's Tavern

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 1445 Jackson

Telephone: (901) 278-9086

Hours: Open daily 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Reviewers' choice: The burger and the ribs. Chicken drummies and tenders are also good, and that about wraps up the menu unless Rocky is cooking something special.

Beverages: Beer. Natural Light on tap, about a dozen other beers by the bottle.

-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223 -- Peggy Burch: 529-2392

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

Comments » 2

grouchaux#250074 writes:

The Tavern is a unique place, where I bring my out-of-town guests for the best burger in Memphis. They (my guests) without fail claim it's one of the best they've ever had. The place has a distinct ambiance about it for sure, and whether it's an after-hours weeknight or a rainy Saturday afternoon or a Sunday evening, it's always comfortable. A handful of other places around town are close copies, but Alex's is the Memphis "original". Rocky, Andy, Rob, Greg, and Eyvette are always hospitable and at your service.

JTAGG writes:

I AM A FREQUENT PATRON AT ALEX'S TAVERN AND THERE IS NOTHING LIKE IT. I HAVE HAD HIS BURGER, HIS CHICKEN WINGS, HIS RIBS , WHICH ARE THE BEST I HAVE EVER HAD BUT HIS SHRIMP ARE TO DIE FOR. HE EVEN PEELS THEM FOR YOU. THERE IS SUCH A PERSONAL TOUCH TO THE PLACE BECAUSE ROCKY IS SO PROUD OF HIS WORK AND IT IS EVIDENT HOW MUCH HE LOVED HIS FATHER. IF ONE HASN'T BEEN TO ALEX'S ONE NEEDS TO GO, THERE IS NOTHING LIKE IT.

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