When I asked Cullen Kent, Cafe Society owner/chef, what he was serving at the recent March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction, he said, "Bacon-wrapped shrimp with horseradish sauce. Classic Cafe Society appetizer for 23 years on the menu."
He ran out of the shrimp before I got to try them, so I ordered them at the restaurant a couple of days later.
Man, they're delicious. The first bite releases that sharp, but not too sharp, horseradish flavor mixed with the bacon, sour cream, heavy cream and the shrimp. Lemon juice already is in the mixture, but I went ahead and squirted the accompanying wedge of lemon on them, which gave them an even more savory taste. Eating French bread with them reminded me of the taste of the iconic Crab Meat Justines from the old Justine's restaurant.
Cullen said he goes through 20 pounds of shrimp a week just for the bacon-wrapped shrimp in horseradish sauce, which sells for $9 for five shrimp. "It's one of the classic dishes of Memphis," he said. "The recipe never changes. Why mess with success?"
The sour and heavy creams balance the horseradish (they use mild-flavored horseradish instead of hot) in the sauce, Kent said. "People order sides of the sauce just to dip bread in."
Michel Leny, Cafe Society founder, said the recipe came from Dinky Delisi, who was one of his managers. "We put that baby on maybe three weeks after we opened," Leny said. The shrimp took off immediately.
Delisi said the recipe was a collaboration. "Michel and I kind of did it together," she said. "I was never a cook. I cooked stuff for my mother, but it wasn't bacon-wrapped shrimp."
She and Leny were trying to come up with something different. "The two of you put your heads together: 'We can do this. We can do that.' The next thing you know you've got bacon-wrapped shrimp that everybody loves."
The restaurant's phone rang just as I was about to leave. It was someone from The Orpheum ordering bacon-wrapped shrimp. Kent said he's going to bring a chafing dish and cook 500 shrimp on sight at Saturday night's Orpheum Auction.
Cafe Society is at 212 North Evergreen; 722-2177.
Michael Donahue: 529-2797. email@example.com