Feb 26, 2019

Brunch at Alcenia’s, Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis has more than its share of famous barbecue joints, and I’ve been proud to share my experiences at a few of them on this blog.  But when it comes to soul food in the “Home of the Blues” the conversation begins with Alcenia’s. 

If Alcenia’s seems familiar, you may have seen the restaurant and its engaging owner, B.J. Chester-Tomayo, featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  Or maybe you’ve read about it on popular foodie websites like Roadfood.  Its reputation as a soul food mecca comes well earned, and for that reason Punky and I made Alcenia’s famous Saturday brunch destination dining on one of our recent trips to Memphis.

Alcenia’s is actually pretty easy to find, even if your only familiarity with Memphis is the downtown area.  Its location on North Main Street is within sight of Interstate 40, and you’ll probably pass under the highway if you walk to Alcenia’s like Punky and I did. 

We were among the first to arrive that Saturday morning, and knowing most items were cooked to order, we knew we’d have time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.  Punky especially enjoyed the table décor.  I must admit that table lamp is unlike any other I’ve seen in a restaurant. 

I, on the other hand, kept looking behind me at the other dining room.  Between the birthday party decorations, the paper lamps and the eclectic mix of furniture, there was a lot to take in. 

I guess if there were a theme to it all, I’d describe it as a cross between African and Mardi Gras influences – all colorful and quite enjoyable. 

As with so many soul food restaurants, the menu is based on the “meat and two” concept.  Choose among the day’s featured entrees and complement that with your choice of a couple of sides also being served that day.  The options seem to be a little more varied for the Saturday brunch, and we took full advantage of it. 

Punky chose the chicken and waffles – a classic choice – with syrup on the side, along with grits and fried green tomatoes.  By her account, the chicken and waffles were both exceptional as expected.  But her opinion of the fried green tomatoes was that they were among the best she had ever tried.  It made me very happy I ordered a side of them for myself, and once I tried them I knew she was right.

I couldn’t resist the salmon croquettes to go with those fried green tomatoes, simply because it’s Alcenia’s signature Saturday feature, and it’s an item I don’t often see on a menu, soul food or otherwise.  They were flavorful and filling, but definitely not overly fishy.  Dipping them in the tomato gravy that topped my grits made them even better.  

If I’m being brutally honest in my review, I can’t put Alcenia’s at the top of my soul food restaurant dining experiences (the Old Country Store in Lorman, Miss., for example, is mind-blowingly good), but it is surely worth seeking out.  The “soul” that makes up the soul food they serve is evident by their attention to detail and the hospitality of the family who runs Alcenia’s.  It’s an obvious labor of love. 

Unfortunately, the future of this culinary landmark may be uncertain because the restaurant’s lease is up in May 2019, and the new owners of the property may be putting it up for sale.  Hopefully, Alcenia’s can continue either at its current spot or at another location where they can thrive.  It’s a special place that’s worthy of all the praise it gets. 

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