By Howard M. Romaine
There are only a few restaurants in Tennessee which make it to the top of the gourmet list, and Bari’s in Memphis is one. Even its web page, illustrated with its delicious fish pieces, and its diverse wine list, shows the simple elegance that makes this the top spot in elegant eating in our list this year. http://www.barimemphis.com/web/
Of course, there is the ever OK chain, Piccadilly Cafeteria, originally out of Baton Rouge, which features fresh vegetables, a diversity of what some call ‘Cajun’ or ‘Creole’ cuisine, and desserts that just put on the Holiday pounds. Piccadilly Cafeteria, has locations in Memphis, and in Nashville, and for me fits the OK category, with its modest prices. The entrees are a diverse and healthy mix of meats, fish, poultry dishes, along with a wide array of vegetables which one can view before choosing, so the ‘steam table’ is in front one’s eyes, rather than tucked away in the back. A favorite of mine is its garlic bread, which features whole fresh garlic ground into butter and served on crispy toasted sliced French bread.
En Route to Memphis
If one is driving from Nashville to Memphis, the most reliable sit-down eating is at Cracker Barrel, which serves a huge breakfast of great variety, but also which offers a smaller one, which fits those trying to cut down in the New Year. It’s also has a small lunch which of beans and greens and cornbread or biscuit or rolls, which also can hold down the price to $5 or so. Of course, coffee or drinks is extra and if one dives into its catfish, or to meatloaf, roast beef or chicken the price goes up. Its vegetable dishes – peas, beans, okra, beets, and its well-meat flavored greens – are consistently high quality.
Loretta Lynn’s place
Halfway to Jackson, I finally convinced my traveling partner, Hortense Spillers, to stop at Loretta Lynn’s restaurant and motel combination for a late breakfast. Even with the large plastic buffalo in the parking lot she was not impressed, nor did the walls filled with CD’s of country stars, and photos of the same, in the medium small dining room, caused her to reflect on the possibility of combining coal miners’ daughters with insurgent civil rights warriors. In fact, even though I got a huge glass of orange juice for a modest price, and four pieces of bacon with my two eggs, I had to agree that the presentation shared none of the ‘country funk’ and charm and good food of the Cracker Barrel chain – with its preserves and butter served in plastic containers, and the whole enterprise being almost dreadfully ‘plastic.’
Further on the road to Memphis, just off the freeway in Jackson, is the original in ‘country charm’ and down to earth food - Casey Jones’ Village and Old Country Store. It’s breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets bring a large, diverse crowd from Jackson, and off the interstate. The eatery features a number of traditional items presented in an unusual way, like corn pancakes or side bread of a constantly cooking grill; two types of cobbler, apple, blackberry and other, along with other traditional desserts like bread pudding. It’s not the place to stop if you want to avoid the temptation of calorie intense items of fresh food in endless quantities. If one is up for ham, fried chicken, cat fish, or turkey, dressing, and all the sides one would ever see at one’s Grandmother’s or Sister’s or Aunt’s full-fledged Thanksgiving dinner, then this is the place to stop. It also does a big carry out business, has a unique ice cream parlor, with an array of the untypically diverse, local and Tennessee array of jams, jellies, souvenirs, and creative clutter makers, one could imagine. And, the service is friendly, continuing, and there’s an aura of homeliness about it, including a very diverse, (read black and white) group of friendly local diners. http://www.caseyjones.com/OldCountryStore/buffetmenu.html
And, to top it off, after 4PM there’s a discount for over 55 year olds. Like me!!!