Bread pudding, to me, is like barbecue. I can’t just say I want a barbecue sandwich. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a Tops pork sandwich, other times a Payne’s, or maybe Central BBQ, Cozy Corner, Rendezvous or whatever. Each one is distinct.
I’ve learned over the years not to categorize bread pudding, either. I remember eating a great one that had a reddish color, as I recall, made by Michael Cahhal at his old Cafe Roux. I believe it was his mother’s recipe. The old Lavoro’s Italian restaurant made a delicious one out of leftover pizza dough.
The Memphis area is full of restaurants with their own unique bread puddings, but I chose just five places to show the diversity of the dessert.
Also, like barbecue, bread pudding, which is heavy and seems more suited to something you’d eat by a fireside, is just as good in the good old summertime.
The bread pudding at Uncle John’s restaurant in Crawfordsville, Ark., is what inspired me to write about the dessert. It’s so creamy it resembles (also a bit in the taste) egg custard. I ate the whole thing in less than five minutes. And they give you a good-sized portion.
Owner Lucille Marconi said she and her husband, the late John Marconi, who founded the restaurant some 28 years ago, and their children weren’t bread pudding eaters. They ate pies, cakes and other desserts. Marconi didn’t like to order bread pudding at restaurants because she didn’t like raisins, which seemed to be in the ones she’d tried. And they all seemed to be made out of leftover biscuits, she said.
When they were coming up with menu items for Uncle John’s, they decided to add a bread pudding, Marconi said. They used two or three different recipes. They tried making it with white bread, but white bread was “too packed,” she said. French bread was “too soggy.”
One day, Marconi used hamburger buns because that’s all they had in the kitchen. The buns now are the “secret” to their bread pudding. The current recipe, which is a combination of several old recipes, is the one that clicked with customers 20 years ago. “Actually, it’s a recipe by mistake,” Marconi said.
They use a custard made with sugar, eggs, butter and bourbon. I loved the hint of bourbon, which wasn’t overpowering.
They used to make a lemon sauce, but the bourbon one was more popular. They still make the lemon sauce if you ask for it. It only takes two or three minutes, she said.
Marconi said customers who’ve been to New Orleans say her bread pudding is better than what they ate in the Crescent City, but Marconi still isn’t a fan. “John and I never did like it.”
Flight Restaurant & Wine Bar serves a bananas Foster bread pudding. It comes with little slices of banana on top and tastes like the iconic New Orleans dessert that bursts into flame when the server lights the rum.
No flames lit up my table, but my face probably glowed with happiness while I was eating Flight’s bread pudding. “Is it not incredible?’ asked my server, Mandy Carter.
I thought the bread in the pudding was banana bread, but Flight executive chef Joshua Laban Perkins said no. “It’s regular bread pudding made out of brioche,” he said. They make a praline liqueur-sugar sauce, which they cook off to caramelize and then mix with butter. They saute the bananas, which they put on top of the bread, add the sauce and then finish it off with vanilla ice cream.
With the praline liqueur, bananas Foster and bread pudding, you have “three flavors from New Orleans in one decadent plate.”
They flame the dessert in the kitchen, Perkins said. “To keep my insurance premiums low.”
eighty3 restaurant in the Madison Hotel serves a blueberry bread pudding. This was the most over-the-top one I tried. The bread is covered with caramel sauce and includes blueberries and one big strawberry with ice cream on top and whipping cream on the side. The whole thing is served in a little hot iron skillet.
“It’s a very popular menu item for dessert here,” said Rex Manning, eighty3 lead kitchen cook. “I’ve been told by a customer it tastes like an old-fashioned hot blueberry muffin.”
The bread pudding at Ruth’s Chris Steak House reminds me of the plum pudding the Cratchits served at their Christmas dinner, at least the dinner portrayed in the 1938 movie version. My sister, who was with me, said the mint leaf sticking into the dessert resembled holly.
This is a hefty portion made for sharing by at least two people. It’s made of the same French bread served with dinner, said manager Guy Strong. The recipe is from the late Ruth Fertel, who bought Chris Steak House in New Orleans in 1965. Originally, the sauce contained spiced rum, but about 10 years ago Jack Daniel’s whiskey was substituted, Strong said.
Raisins also are added to the bread, which gives it that Christmasy-taste.
If those aren’t enough bread puddings to get you started, check out Boscos. They don’t serve the same bread pudding every week. “We try to switch it out and rotate it, just to give something different,” said Daryll Seymour, general manager.
Their bread puddings have included doughnut bread pudding, bananas Foster bread pudding and double chocolate bread pudding.
Uncle John’s Restaurant is at 5453 Main in Crawfordsville, Ark., 870-823-5319
Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar is at 39 South Main; 901 521-8005
eighty3 Food & Drink Restaurant is at 83 Madison in the Madison Hotel; 901-333-1224
Boscos is at 2120 Madison; 901-432-2222