I would argue the recipe for a good trip is good company, good lodging, great entertainment, but most importantly, good food. Think about it, you ask someone how was their trip and they will inevitably talk about the food – be it at someone’s house or a restaurant.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of eating food made with love and recipes passed down for generations. Alcenia’s restaurant in downtown Memphis was more than I could have imagined and then some.
It starts here. A door that looks like it leads to a boutique but the awning marks it as Alcenia’s – the place where we set out for soul food breakfast. Upon entry, it looks like forever Mardi Gras. Vibrant green, orange, purple and yellow decorations cover the walls and tables. We’re the first to walk in and a lady who looks like she could be your aunt who woke hours before you, and has been doing some cleaning around the house, walks out to greet us with a kiss on the forehead. She hands us the menus to peruse while she grabs our drinks. Mom and I order apple juice while my grandmother attempts the Ghetto-Aid.
When she returns, she explains how the brunch works and we get to placing our orders. Mom and Grandma order pork chops. Grandma and I get waffles. Mom and I request hash brown. Grandma gets fried green tomatoes and I round out my meal with eggs and chicken – white meat to be exact. Alcenia offers to bring a sample of her tomato gravy to taste.
As she is setting up her place, preparing for more people to enter, she shares 90% of her visitors come from out of town. As you can see on her menu, she’s been on several tv shows, featured in many articles and magazines, including Oprah’s magazine. Surprisingly enough, though she’s been there 20 years, she doesn’t get a lot of traction from the people of Memphis.
Strung across an archway was a birthday banner that reads, “Happy 95th Birthday!” My grandmother asks about it and Alcenia shares the banner was for her mother’s 95th but she is now 96 and Alcenia 2, referring to herself, is 20 years old.
As we wait for our food, more people walk in and are greeted in the same familial, loving way that we were. Alcenia jokes with my grandmother about adding the Ghetto-Aid to her water exclaiming, “That ain’t my Ghetto-Aid, that’s colored water!” When that food came out…H O N E Y C H I L E ! The plates are full. I know I won’t be able to finish what is in front of me. Just as Alcenia proclaimed, everything was cooked fresh upon ordering, and it all looks, smells and tastes like aunty whipped out grandma’s cast iron and slayed once she saw her nieces walk in expecting their empty bellies to be satisfied.
The meat is juicy, the potatoes clearly chopped and fried. The pancakes and waffles look like they have something special to them and the eggs are cooked to perfection. She brings the samples of tomato gravy and I try it. As selective (picky) of an eater as I am, I’m definitely nervous but realize it’s quite alright. I load my grits with sugar dig in. SOOOOO GOOOOOOD! The food is just as flavorful as the personality of Alcenia’s – the restaurant and the woman. I know I won’t need to eat anymore until the party.
Satisfied, I sit back and think, “I need to tell people about this place.” With that being said, should you happen to be in Memphis and looking for a good place to eat, I recommend stopping by Alcenia’s. Great food – and even greater people, you will not be disappointed.