When most people think of Memphis, Blues, Barbeque and Elvis come readily to mind.
For locals, Central BBQ is the first choice for its slow-cooked dry-rubbed ribs (no sauce allowed in the pit). I have enjoyed Central’s ribs on each of my three visits to Memphis and they are sensational with just the rub.
When we were there in December to celebrate our daughter, Glenalyn’s, graduation with her MBA, she introduced us to Memphis fine dining with Italian food prepared with local Southern ingredients at Catherine and Mary’s. The restaurant is located downtown on the first floor of the historic Hotel Chisca, a couple of blocks from the FedEx Forum and a few blocks from the historic Peabody Hotel (home of the marching ducks).
The restaurant, which opened in 2016, is a collaboration between chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. It’s named in honor of their grandmothers. Natives of Memphis, they trained in South Carolina and Italy. They now have five restaurants in the city, as well as Josephine Estelle in New Orleans, and have been widely recognized for their offerings. They opened their first restaurant in 2008 (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen). They have been either finalists or semi-finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast from 2013 to 2018.
We dined on a busy Monday night a week before Christmas Eve. Fellow diners ranged from business people working on deals to office parties to couples on a date. The décor is simple with raw concrete columns dividing the dining room and an open kitchen situated opposite the well-stocked bar.
The restaurant prides itself on both the offerings from the bar as well as a wine list with about 150 bottles, including many unusual choices. There were familiar California choices, but France, Spain, New Zealand, Germany, and Portugal were also represented.
We were able to rely on our server, David, for both translations of what the pasta dishes were as well as a wine recommendation. The menu, like others of Ticer and Hudman’s restaurants, is divided into snacks, plates, pastas and entrees.
Snacks ranged from the salumi board with local meats, pickled vegetables and breadsticks (one of our choices) to house pickles, a cheese plate, and a spuntini selection with crispy pork, smoked fish pate, acorn squad and confit sunchokes.
The plates ranged from Sunday meatballs to beef tartare, crudo, shishito peppers, and shaved Brussels sprouts with duck confit, gorgonzola, cherry mostarda and pecorino. My ladies opted for this plate—as no fan of Brussels sprouts, I was content with a taste. They declared it delicious.
When it came time for the pastas, we leaned heavily into David to explain what Radiatore Cacio E Pepe; or Gnudi Nduja, tomato, ricotta, panna gratta; or Casarecce Maw Maw Gravy actually meant.
We chose the Casarecce and the Garganelli with poultry ragu, ham and robiola. Both were excellent with the house-made pasta complemented by the sauces and meats.
When it came to entrees, the December menu offered duck, snapper and Golden Tile (another fish), a thick lamb chop and beef short rib. The Golden Tile was served with Fregola, bacon, corn, Shishito, fennel and tomato, while the snapper was accompanied by Carolina gold rice, squash, tomato, sunflower and celery.
Our lamb chop was served with carrots, maitake, ricotta and tomato. It was perfectly cooked medium rare and nearly 3 inches thick.
To complement our meal, David recommended an unusual Spanish wine that is grown on vineyards located on the Camino Santiago. The winemaker harvests his fruit about a month later than other growers in the area, but turns out a red blend that actually drinks like a Pinot Noir. The 2016 Saint Jacques Mencia Ultreia by Raul Perez complemented our pasta and lamb dishes nicely and it is a wine I never would have ordered ($60).
Incidentally, the wine was decanted on the table, a routine practice for all red wines there.
The dessert offerings include a selection of wines, grappas and sambuccas as well as cheeses from Arcata, CA; Thomasville, GA; the Piedmont region of Italy; Sequatchie,TN, and the Netherlands.
We opted for the selection of gelatos (including a great bourbon vanilla), the panna cotta served with brown butter oats and honey and the Torta Del Nona chocolate with hazelnut and benne seed brittle over cream. All finished off a delightful meal in style.
The Memphis price point generally is significantly lower than in the Bay Area, but not so at Catherine and Mary’s. The pastas ranged from $14 to $17, while entrees were $30 to $38. Snacks were $15 to $25 for the salumi board.
By Tim Hunt