Catch a Great Game and Meal Near the Liberty Bowl

Photo courtesy of Lisa Buser
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Young Avenue Deli
By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

The Liberty Bowl is both an actual stadium - home field for the University of Memphis Tigers - as well as  one of the post-season NCAA Football bowl games, pitting teams from the Southeastern and Big 12 Conferences against one another in late December. And while you can get yourself invited to a tailgate party in the festive Tiger Lane, or indulge in the wonders of all that is stadium food, there's something to be said about actually sitting down and enjoying a pre- or post-game meal.

Fortunately, Midtown Memphis, home to the University and the Liberty Bowl, offers a myriad of options for dining. From the stadium, you could walk into the Cooper-Young neighborhood (about five blocks west of the stadium grounds) and grab craft beers and huge sandwiches - and if you're lucky,some live music - at the Young Avenue Deli, or relax with fine wines and low country cuisine at Sweet Grass. Head over to Overton Square its varied food scene, with fresh Mexican at Babalu, the upscale Italian Bari, and the festive Second Line with its New Orleans-inspired cuisine.

Whether you're in the mood for quick & easy & inexpensive or chef-selected cheese plates with paired wines, there's something for every taste and budget within a short distance of the Liberty Bowl.

10. Sweet Grass
Photo courtesy of Lisa Buser

With a seasonal menu and a focus on locally grown produce, the menu is never quite the same each evening at Sweet Grass, but one can always count on an artful combination of Low Country cooking combined with an overall Southern flair. Our favorites include a few always-on-the-menu options - the fried green tomato sandwich, such a treat - and the tasty shrimp and grits, peppered with a few scallops to keep your palate off balance. The airy, open dining room has a small bar area and a very small waiting area, so you can always pop next door to Next Door, also co-owned by Chef Trimm, to wait in comfort for a table if there's no spot available at the bar.

9. Bari Ristorante e Enoteca
Photo courtesy of Bari Ristorante e Enoteca

Influenced by the flavors of Southern Italy, especially the Puglia region, Bari serves authentic Italian fare made from only the freshest ingredients. Its intimate setting and attentive service are perfect for a romantic evening out. Bari offers one of the most extensive wine and cheese lists in the city - and the bartenders are always happy to let you sip before your commit. Bari also treats diners to dishes like pan-roasted grouper, seared scallops, a pepper-dusted filet, and spaghetti alla carbonara.The bar area is a great spot for drinks and to nibble on the daily cheese plate offering - and the bar is one of our favorite spots for casual dates, bar none.

8. Boscos Squared

With a hip, casual atmosphere, this micro-brewery serves up a yummy Sunday brunch. The a la carte menu includes omelets, Belgian waffles, lots of variations of eggs Benedict, sandwiches, hot entrees, and the restaurant's signature wood-fired pizzas. From spring to fall, and even on chilly days, the spacious deck provides a perfect setting for relaxing with friends over mimosas and bloody Mary's; sometimes on Sundays, a local band will take up residence on part of the deck to entertain diners. The restaurant is larger than it appears, so tables turn over more quickly than you might imagine; if you are a single or double, a spot at the bar is just the ticket.

7. Brother Juniper's

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.

6. Alchemy
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Young Avenue Deli

It's a bit ironic that such a huge space is dedicated to small plates - but after a signature cocktail or two from the mixologists at the wrap-around bar in this Cooper-Young eatery, who pays attention to irony, anyway? Alchemy works so well in this huge space because it buzzes with a hip, every-everything kind of crowd, from BoHo Midtowners to groups of suburban moms to urban hipsters. Our favorite tiny plates - and they are small, so take our advice and over-order, especially if you plan to imbibe - are shrimp and grits, the duck spring rolls and the Spanish Manchego cheese with roasted red peppers. . Monday � Saturday 4 pm � 1 am, Sunday 4 pm � 11 pm. Phone 901- 726-4444. 940 South Cooper Street, Memphis (Cooper Young area of midtown). http://www.alchemymemphis.com

5. High Point Pizza
Photo courtesy of High Point Pizza

The restaurant is tiny, the menu impressively expansive, and the pizza crust brushed with garlic sauce – and this neighborhood pizza joint tosses some seriously good pizza that way better than anything one can have delivered in town. With fried macaroni and cheese, a small variety of sandwiches, a full complement of traditional - and a few not-so-traditional - toppings, HPP is a favorite across the city, with folks driving miles to pick up. A few tables in the small dining room are actually vintage video game consoles - Ms. Pac Man included. When the weather's fine, a few outdoor tables are set up, and with the nearby greenline and a few more local businesses in the same strip mall, the people watching is always good. Beer is served, but you can bring your own wine in (a corkage fee applies).

4. Babalu Tacos & Tapas
Photo courtesy of Memphis CVB/I Love Memphis

Babalus Tacos & Tapas is a Southern mini-chain, if you will; the original is in Jackson, MS, the Memphis location in Overton Square was restaurant dos, and Birmingham gets numero tres. The food is super-fresh, the ambiance rocking, and the crafty cocktails sure to please. Located in a cavernous space in the Overton Square district of Midtown, Babalu is basically one giant room with a long, long bar – and the bar opens to the back, right to the outdoor patio where there are lounging couches and cocktail tables. The menu offers a variety of food made to share – from a killer bacon cheeseburger with white cheddar, roasted tomatoes and chipotle aioli on a sweet sourdough bun (our new favorite burger in town, bar none) to gourmet tacos and Spanish-style tapas (potatas bravas!). There's also the occasional dash of Southern cooking – garlic shrimp and grits, or tamales from the Mississippi Delta to name a couple. The drink list is extensive and fabulous, with a huge list of tequilas and a bunch of fun cocktails – there are seasonal options, as well.

3. The Second Line
Photo courtesy of Scond Line Memphis

The Second Line is chef Kelly English's more casual, New Orleans-influenced spot that's right next door to his Restaurant Iris. As with Iris, English took an old Midtown house with lots of character and a nice porch and space for outdoor dining. English calls Second Line "casual, honest, delicious and true" - with the true being true New Orleans comfort food, not the blackened versions of fish and chicken that he considers tourist food. So the menu is full of po'boys - catfish, shrimp, roast beef and other options - snack food including fried oyster salads, meat pies and more; and side dishes, or what is termed groceries on the menu - french fries, cheese grits, "fancy ass" coleslaw, and more. Food is served up on baking sheet-style trays lined with waxed paper, or small cast-iron style ramekins which is novel. Local beer gets its due here, with loads of local craft offerings on tap.

2. Young Avenue Deli
Photo courtesy of Courtesy 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?

1. Central BBQ
Photo courtesy of upload.wikimedia.org

Central is one of our favorites, thanks to the huge patio that's open during fine weather (often with a band tucked into the corner), the homemade potato chips with bleu cheese dressing, which our table of six agreed recently were the work of the devil, they're so delicious, or maybe it's just the atmosphere - fun and funky, with that aroma of smoking meat wafting from the pit. The magic numbers for Central are 250 (as in degrees) and 14 (the number of hours meat is cooked). The pork is always tender, the ribs have just the right balance of crust on top and moisture inside. Probably our favorite dish is the pork barbecue nachos, which feature a two cheeses - the melt-y nacho cheese down under, then a layer of pulled pork, then shredded cheese on top. Y-U-M. Central's patio is always hopping, and many times there's a band on Friday nights, or Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The beer selection focuses on local brews like Ghost River, and the staff - from the counter help to the food runners - are super-friendly. A second location is further east, at 4375 Summer Avenue.