It comes as no surprise that Memphis is chock-full of restaurants where the words 'home style' and 'family' are as much a part of the menu as biscuits, country ham, farm-fresh, and homemade.
In the region that brought the phrases biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, and meat-and-three into the American dining lexicon, and despite the city's food-forward reputation, restaurants that are considered home cooking are still as busy as ever. A meat-and-three, for those unfamiliar with the phrase, is a daily special that offers a meat with your choice of three vegetables. And, to further confuse things, macaroni and cheese and grits are sometimes considered vegetables here in the South.
Our list includes some of the city's best cooking - and certainly include the kinds of places where you should come hungry and check your diet at the door. From downtown's favorite lunch-only, power-broker lunch spot, the Little Tea Shop, to a homey suburban steakhouse, to the Woman's Exchange, which supports local non-profits (and has the best lunch deals in town), you never have to travel far to indulge in some serious Southern comfort.
A few of the spots on our list serve lunch only, a few others stay open for dinner - but not as late as most restaurants in town. Pay special attention to holiday schedules, too, as these mostly family-owned operations close for holidays.
Young Avenue Deli
Don't be thrown by the name; this cavernous space is indeed a deli - and a tasty one, at that.
Young Avenue has one of the broadest menus we've ever laid eyes on; there's everything from killer fish and chips to a cowboy pita to a pimento cheese sandwich, salads, and smaller plates for kids. Yes, kids are welcome – and we'd advise to bring them during daylight hours, as when the deli starts rocking, it's a grown-up scene.
The beer list is expansive, with what just might be the longest beer menu in town, a mix of the most exotic beers on tap and in a bottle or can - and you can indeed order a Bud Light or something of that ilk, but why would you, when you can have a Ghost River Wee Heavy or a Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout? (901-278-0034)
The Silver Caboose
This family-owned restaurant on the Collierville square is the kind of place where few things ever change - not the menu, the waitstaff, and only occasionally the pricing.
And that's its charm; the Silver Caboose is a throw-down for those who want traditional Southern cooking in an elegant atmosphere; those looking for a meat and three plate or chicken, egg, or pimento cheese sandwiches will be in heaven.
Next door, the Caboose's soda fountain is one of the last remaining - and one of the oldest - in Tennessee. It shares space with a dessert market, so popping in for a cold scoop of ice cream or a homemade pie or cake is always a must-do, whether or not a full meal is on the agenda. (901-853-0010)
Side Porch Steak House
This tiny, family-owned steakhouse in suburban Bartlet opened in 1976, and is known for good steaks at more reasonable prices.
The homey feeling of the restaurant and more casual atmosphere than some of the city's other steakhouses makes this a popular neighborhood spot; unlike most of its steakhouse competitors, however, the Side Porch offers sides and salads with its entrees, which start at $12.
There's a smattering of inexpensive starters, mostly fried - mushrooms, pickles, zucchini and onions - and the wine list is pretty basic but good, with just a few options on both the red and white list. ((901) 377-2484)
Trolley Stop Market
One of the most unique spots in town, the Trolley Stop is part restaurant, part bar, part market and part gift store - and we adore each and every part that exists here.
The cavernous space located across from the Orleans trolley stop on Madison Avenue offers diners some of the best breakfast in town; the food is super-fresh, with locally-sourced everything on the menu: Eggs, bacon, grits and cheeses come from 'round these parts, and the result is fabulous. When the plate hits the table, you truly feel like you're eating at a friend's house, or at Grandma's - it's that good, and that home-cooked. ((901) 526-1361)
This funky little breakfast nook, once owned by an Eastern Orthodox priest, stands apart from other breakfast places thanks to its fresh, healthy options.
Practically located on the University of Memphis campus, one would expect that college students would be the majority of the clientele, but there are loads of families and folks from all over town who make a trek on the weekend.
The homemade, fluffy rolls are offered in white or wheat and the open-faced omelets can be topped with anything from spinach to feta cheese to black beans or sausage. They're also widely known for their homemade biscuits with sorghum. Those visiting solo or as a couple should ask for a counter seat – your wait will be minimal, and the people watching is great from this vantage point. (901-324-0144)
Any local will tell you that Bryant's is one of the best places to get a hot, greasy, incredibly delicious Southern breakfast feast – or hangover meal, call it what you want.
The specialty at this walk-up and order, take-a-seat spot is all Southern: biscuits and gravy, grits, eggs any way you like, country ham. Bryant's also bakes up some seriously good cinnamon rolls, too. We wish they'd have more traditional has browns, however.
The prices are small and the servings are huge, meaning it is a favorite spot for the college crowd, but it's also a go-to for just about anyone in town. (901-324-7494)
The Cupboard Restaurant
The Cupboard opened in 1943, and quickly became a Memphis favorite, serving up basic but scrumptious home-y meals, with loads of options, daily specials, and some killer side dishes.
There are no surprises when it comes to eating at The Cupboard; Monday's specials this week are the same as Monday's specials next week - and the same goes for the daily vegetable selections and the daily dessert. Breakfast is served all day, every day - which is a real draw for us - and portions are generous, fresh, and served up by gals who will probably call you darlin' or honey. ((901) 276-8015)
Gus's World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken
The basic brick building on South Front might scare some folks away – but trust us, walk in and load up.
Gus's is a franchise of the original in Mason, about an hour from Memphis; that eatery opened in 1953 and the chicken was served up in a paper sack. This is the real deal spicy, crunchy, and juicy, served with white bread. And be patient - your particular order doesn't hit the oil until you've ordered.
Cold beer (served up in 40-ounce cans) is a nice contrast to the hot chicken. Sides and starters include fried pickles and green tomatoes, beans and slaw, and strangely enough – fried rice.
Assuming you have any room left, chess pie is the way to go for dessert. (901-527-4877)
The Little Tea Shop
The Little Tea Shop is a family-owned downtown home-cooking restaurant. The Old Cotton Row eatery is like stepping back in time, with its vintage lunchroom atmosphere and old-fashioned menu. It's very common to see local business bigwigs chatting up the friendly waitresses, many of whom have worked here for decades; these gals know their regulars well and can even name their children.
The food is simple Southern fare, chosen via ballot-style menu � simply grab a pencil, pickup a menu, and start marking off your choices; turnip greens and other lushly prepared veggies are always on the menu, as is chicken salad, and daily specials include catfish or fried chicken.
No matter what day of the week, everything is served with corn sticks on the side. (901-525-6000)
Ladies who lunch in Memphis often lunch at the Woman's Exchange; it's a cozy lunch spot where the food is so much more than chicken salad, although that's on the menu too.
Opened in the early 60's in a Midtown house, it hasn't changed a lot in those years, whether we're talking the food or the clientele. The lunch crowd (and yes, men eat here, too!) dines on everything from beef tenderloin to fried catfish to the aforementioned chicken salad; the cost of the meal includes beverage, dessert, gratuity and tax and is one of the best lunch deals in town. (901-327-5681)
About Sally Walker Davies
Sally Walker Davies is enchanted by Memphis' music, history, and characters. From the artsy South Main Historic District to the grittiness of her favorite live music clubs to the sophisticated style of the eastern edge of the city, there’s a Memphis for every mood, and she loves every part of it.
Walker Davies is an experienced broadcast, print, and online journalist focusing on travel, writing for the Commercial Appeal, AOL Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and The Tennessean. She is the author of Tennessee: An Explorer’s Guide and the Elvis-themed travel app King Me: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty Tour.
Read more about Sally Walker Davies here.
Connect with Sally via: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest