There are two things that puzzle folks about Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's new restaurant on Brookhaven Circle — but they can explain both.
There's the name, Hog & Hominy, which seems an odd choice for a place that many believe is a pizza restaurant. First of all, H&H is no ordinary pizza joint, and second, Tennessee was once known as the Hog and Hominy state because of its prodigious production of pork and corn. With a focus on using local farm products, it's not as if the name was selected without thought.
And there's the menu, which will change seasonally. At dinner, it's divided into four sections, plus desserts: Snacks, plates, pizza and farmers, the latter a selection of mostly vegetable side dishes. At lunch, sandwiches and salads take the place of plates. Missing from both are entrees. There's no spaghetti, no pork chop with potatoes and vegetable, no steak. But that's by design.
"We had, like, three menus before we opened," Hudman said. "We went with this one because the thought was for people to come in and have a good time. It's got that fun vibe, a little loud, people can share food."
If you want a traditional meal, the chefs' other restaurant, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, is just across the street, after all.
Hog & Hominy is all Hudman says it is. Ballgames are on TV (sound down, during dinner, at least), there's a bar with a lovely selection of cocktails, outdoor seating, and possibly the only bocce court in Memphis (surely the only one at a restaurant, anyway). Diners can watch all the action, too.
At one end of the converted house is the bar, the kitchen is in the middle, and the pizza kitchen, with a wood-fired oven, is at the other end. There's limited parking in the lot, but street parking is plentiful, and the East Memphis location is convenient, almost smack-dab in the center of the east-west corridor through town and the 'burbs.
And while it was a little odd to order a bowl of collard greens with my chicken sandwich at lunch, both were simply delicious. Ditto on the brunch we created: Poutine, creamed corn and romaine salad.
Poutine is a dish of french fries (housemade and superb) covered with gravy and cheese curds. At H&H, the gravy is made from pork neck bones, meat is shredded in it, and it's generously poured over the fries and the cheese curds. We gobbled, at first, then slowly picked our way through. It was good, but here's a testament to the romaine: The salad trumped a plate of gravy-covered fries. That's what happens when you use fried chicken skin for croutons. Crisp romaine coated with a tangy dressing, shards of Parmesan, and bits of fried chicken skin. That's what they call, simply, "romaine" at H&H.
Better yet was the corn, kissed with black pepper and infused with tarragon cream. It's served in a bowl with a spoon, the only thing you'll need. Hurry, as this is a dish that will soon be off the menu for the season.
Some of the pizzas, too, will rotate. But the Red Eye, one I know I'll want again and again, will remain. Like all the pizzas, it begins with a thin crust. Sugo — a tomato sauce — is applied with a light hand, with pork belly and fontina cheese on top. An egg is cracked in the middle, served with a runny yolk, and lemony celery leaves, cooked just to barely crisp, are scattered on top. They're not just for garnish, but also provide plenty of flavor.
The pizza comes to the table uncut, with a pizza wheel. We waited a few minutes before cutting the pizza as it looked like it needed time to set, yet the center was still a little wet. If that's the price to pay for a rich, lovely egg on my pizza, then I'll pay it. But next time, I'll ask that the pizza cook an extra minute or so and see how it is.
Organ meat fans will want the sweetbreads. Cut into bite-size pieces, the sweetbreads (the thymus gland and/or pancreas) are lightly breaded, fried and tossed in a spicy sauce that would be just as suited for hot wings.
Oysters are offered every day at market price. We tried some from Rhode Island, served with a black pepper mignonette and a housemade jalapeño hot sauce. They were intoxicating: Cold, briny, and bracing, enhanced by the sauces.
There's a late-night menu that will include a burger within the next few days. With 24 hours' notice, up to five people can reserve the kitchen bar and have Ticer or Hudman (they alternate between restaurants) cook for them, from on and off the menu.
There's more coming, too. Right now, the pizza ovens are mainly used for pizza, though a bird or two has been cooked by the fire. Later, whole birds such as squab or pheasant might make the menu.
Hog & Hominy
Address: 707 W. Brookhaven Circle.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday- Saturday; dinner 5-11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday- Saturday. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.
Reviewer’s choice: Red Eye pizza ($16); oysters (market price, $3 each when we dined); sweetbreads ($9); creamed corn and collard greens ($6 each).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars