Chef Jimmy Bannos’s Guide to Memphis and Oxford
Where to eat, drink and stay in Memphis and Oxford.
Jimmy Bannos Sr. is the chef and owner of Chicago’s iconic Heaven on Seven. He opened The Purple Pig with his son Jimmy Jr., who is also a chef.
I've been a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance for a while, but I had never been to their annual Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. I decided to go this year and built in some time to eat and drink around Memphis and Oxford. Barbecue has always made Memphis a terrific culinary destination, and now with a whole new generation of chefs (like Andy Ticer, Mikey Hudman and Kelly English) doing exciting things, there are even more unique and compelling reasons to go.
WHERE TO EAT
Perfect Pork and Buttery Biscuits: Hog & Hominy
The ham steak was one of the most delicious and decadent dishes I have ever eaten. It had just the right amount of fattiness and char, and with the red eye aioli, crunchiness of the pig ear, fresh pea tendrils, peaches and scuppernong, it was just fricking awesome. The boys (chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman) also really knocked it out of the park with their crispy pork. The pork cake was tender on the inside with crisp edges and the succotash of okra, corn and field peas offered the perfect balance. Hard to believe, but overall this was an incredibly light dish. Delicious!
And of course the meal wouldn’t have been complete without a biscuit. Thankfully, Hog & Hominy obliged and we tucked into sublime biscuits. They had what seemed like millions of layers with a pillowy interior and a crisp and buttery exterior. We had to stop ourselves at two. hogandhominy.com
Legit Fried Chicken: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
This is a legit chicken joint! The chicken had a really peppery and crispy crust and it was perfectly fried. Normally I am a chicken thigh guy, but I loved Gus's chicken breast and wings. We sat inside and gobbled up the chicken. The only thing that could have made it any better: If they had honey and barbecue sauce for my special fried chicken dip. You start with a smear of honey, then dip the meat into barbecue sauce followed by a pickled jalapeño pepper chaser. It's a sweet-tangy-hot trifecta. gusfriedchicken.com
Badass Beef Jerky: Porcellino’s
Ticer and Hudman’s butcher shop was stocked with pristine cuts of meat and run by a young and hungry team of butchers. We had just eaten a last-meal-worthy lunch next door at Hog & Hominy, so we grabbed a few bags of beef jerky (the best road trip food ever), nitro iced coffees and a box of insane pastries, and hit the road for the drive to Oxford. Luckily, Porcellino's was open on our way back as well, so we re-stocked the jerky for the plane ride home. porcellionscraftbutcher.com
WHERE TO STAY
I had never been to Memphis, but I had heard so much about the Peabody Hotel. I landed early and took a cab to the hotel to grab breakfast: what would turn out to be one of many bowls of great shrimp and grits over the course of the weekend. After breakfast, I bellied up to the bar to knock back a delicious Bloody Mary while I waited for the ducks [that famously come down the elevator every morning on their way to go swimming in the fountain]. And I am so glad I did! It was wild to see the ducks walk out of the elevator and jump into the fountain to swim all day. The whole experience was pretty magical. peabodymemphis.com
WHERE TO EAT
Incredible Shrimp and Grits: Big Bad Breakfast
Sitting at the counter of John Currence's Big Bad Breakfast with a hot cup of coffee and a bowl of his famous shrimp and grits (my third bowl of the trip) was a perfect way to kick off the day. The shrimp is perfectly cooked, the grits are creamy, and it’s all topped off with red eye gravy and a fried egg. You can't go wrong! bigbadbreakfast.com
The Best Fried Catfish: Taylor Grocery
This was, hands down, the best catfish I have ever eaten in my life. It was perfectly seasoned and expertly fried. I could have eaten another ten pieces. Lynne and Debbie are the most gracious hosts, and the restaurant has the well-worn patina of feeding countless hungry travelers over the years. It has a picture-book charm: It's located in the crook of the road, and just oozes character, so much so that the food could be an afterthought. Turns out, it might be one of the best dining experiences of your life. taylorgrocery.com
It was after dinner at Taylor that we learned of a delicious Southern tradition. Take a swig of the first pressing of Poirier's Pure Cane Syrup, swirl it around in your mouth, followed by a pull of bourbon off a flask. It's delicious. It's powerful. I'm thinking about making a drink out of it at Heaven on Seven.
Fried Collard Greens: Snackbar
After our epic meal at Taylor Grocery, we made our way to Snackbar in hopes that a Scotch egg was in our future. Having sold out for the night, we settled for a nightcap and a terrific salad of fried collard greens. Chef Vishwesh Bhatt came by to say hi and we shared a toast to his success. When we begged him to whip up a few Scotch eggs, he wisely hit the road. snackbar.com
WHERE TO STAY
The Graduate has a can't-be-beat location in the middle of town, a block off Oxford Square. The check-in desk is on one side of the lobby and a bar is on the other. That's what I call hospitality! They make a damn fine dirty martini, too. The hotel is within spitting distance of the famed gas station with chicken on a stick. After a night at City Grocery's upstairs bar, I was tempted to get a few sticks for a snack, but thought better of it. My doctor would be proud! graduatehotel.com