Jan 21, 2020

A commoner dines at the Arcade Restaurant, Memphis, Tenn.

As a blogger, I sometimes have to make tough decisions on which topics I cover. Sure, a place can be historically significant, a city landmark or popular with tourists.  But if my personal experience there leaves me (ahem) underwhelmed, is it still, for lack of a better term, blogworthy?  Case in point:  the Arcade Restaurant in downtown Memphis, Tenn.

The Arcade Restaurant is recognized as the oldest and longest running restaurant in Memphis.  It’s ingrained in the city’s history.  Elvis Presley loved the place, probably because they served his favorite sandwich.  JFK, MLK and undoubtedly many other famous people with famous initials have dined here.    

And with its classic 1950s diner look, the Arcade Restaurant still stands out at the corner of South Main and G.E. Patterson streets, in the same neighborhood where you’ll find the National Civil Rights Museum today.  In that regard, it’s practically perfectly located for tourists visiting Memphis for all kinds of reasons. 

Once you find the Arcade Restaurant, if the neon lighting on the outside doesn’t put you in a 1950s frame of mind, the interior of the diner will.  Green and tan booths – two-seaters down the middle for more intimate seating, four-seaters along the window for a view of the neighborhood – fill the majority of the dining space.   A long row of red spinning stools stands along the serving counter.  And, unlike many diners that end up showing their age eventually, the Arcade Restaurant is clean and bright.   

In fact, the only thing that looks worn is the boomerang design on the tables.  Obviously, a lot of customers have enjoyed their morning coffee here throughout the decades, and Arcade Restaurant does make a fine brew. 

Clearly, we had no issue with the Arcade Restaurant’s atmosphere.  But the areas where Punky and I found the experience to be rather ordinary, or occasionally downright lacking, were with the service and the food itself.     

We had arrived at what we thought would be the perfect lull between breakfast and lunch, just the right time for Punky to order one of her favorite “breakfast” plates from a diner – the classic burger and fries.  After 45 minutes into our order, it arrived.  A decent burger and fries, simply prepared, but barely warm at this point and certainly nothing special.       

Knowing the history of the Arcade Restaurant, and the many quirks of “the King” Elvis Presley, I did not hesitate to order his beloved peanut butter and banana sandwich.  Is it me, or does that sandwich look smallish?  Certainly not “King”-sized.  And served almost cool to the touch.  To say I was disappointed is an understatement.  We also did not see our server very often after we placed our order.  Between the disappointing food and the slow wait times, we left feeling a little taken for granted as tourists.     

I don’t want to completely dissuade any of my 12 faithful followers from going to the Arcade Restaurant.  It’s worth dropping in for the nostalgia if for no other reason.  And if the reviews are any indication, their breakfasts are hard to beat, if you get it hot.  Another option if you really want to soak in the atmosphere is to simply belly up to the counter for a classic milkshake or an adult beverage. 

But if you want a burger, maybe try the Green Beetle nearby.  Another great breakfast option in downtown Memphis, albeit on the northern side, is the Blue Plate Café.  And if you do stop at the Arcade Restaurant, don’t be surprised if you leave feeling lukewarm about the place – kind of like our sandwiches. 

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