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Alcenia's

317 N. Main, Memphis, TN - (901) 523-0200
Posted By Michael Stern on 12/4/2008 1:27:00 PM
Alcenia's is a modest lunch room decorated in a style that is an intriguing mix of 1960s psychedelic beaded curtains, primitive folk art, odes to African-American culture, and white wedding-veil lace strung up across the ceiling over the large table. Proprietor B.J. Chester-Tamayo, who named the restaurant for her mother and granddaughter and opened it as therapy to get over the untimely death of her son, is known to Memphians not only for her homey food but for her hugs. Everyone who eats here gets a squeeze from this good-natured woman, either on the way in or out, or both. "I feel so guilty if I haven't hugged you, I'll chase you down the street when you leave," she laughs.

B.J. learned to cook from her mother, who lives in Meridian, Mississippi, but comes to visit and makes tea cakes and egg custard pie and coaches B.J. on the phone when she is making chow chow or pear preserves. We discovered her restaurant on a mission to sample Memphis's best southern-style vegetables. Among the city's very best are B.J.'s cabbage, which we assumed on sight to contain collards or turnip greens. But she explained that the darker leaves among the white were the cabbage's outer leaves. "The best part!" she exclaims. "Most people throw them away because they are tough. They need an hour extra steaming; that makes them soft and brown." Flavored with a hail of spice that includes jerk chicken seasoning and lots of pepper, this is cabbage with tongue-searing punch. On the side comes a basket of hot water corn bread: cushiony-moist, griddle-cooked cakes that are the perfect foil for ecstatically seasoned vegetables.

We loved the lunch special of a fried pork chop, crisp-crusted and dripping with juice, as well as the gorgeous fried chicken. And dessert? It was hard choosing among egg custard pie, buttermilk pie, and bread pudding … so we had some of each, and each was superb.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

There is scarcely anything simpler, or more directly satisfying for dessert lovers, than egg custard pie.
"There is scarcely anything simpler, or more directly satisfying for dessert lovers, than egg custard pie. "
Michael Stern





Note the festive plate on which the fried chicken is served. Alcenia's dishware and decor are eye-popping, but not so wondrous as to distract anyone from the greatness of the food.
"Note the festive plate on which the fried chicken is served. Alcenia's dishware and decor are eye-popping, but not so wondrous as to distract anyone from the greatness of the food."
Michael Stern


In other regions of the country, cabbage is at best boring. In Memphis, at Alcenia's in particular, it is glorious. Spicy, luxurious, and satisfying.
"In other regions of the country, cabbage is at best boring. In Memphis, at Alcenia's in particular, it is glorious. Spicy, luxurious, and satisfying."
Michael Stern


The Memphis Commercial Appeal declared Alcenia's bread pudding one of the ten best desserts in the city.
"The Memphis Commercial Appeal declared Alcenia's bread pudding one of the ten best desserts in the city."
Michael Stern


The tomatoes tasted fresh and perfectly tart.  We were surprised to find out there is no cornmeal in the breading.
"The tomatoes tasted fresh and perfectly tart. We were surprised to find out there is no cornmeal in the breading."
Cliff Strutz


B.J. asked if I wanted some okra tossed in with my lima beans, which was a resounding yes!
"B.J. asked if I wanted some okra tossed in with my lima beans, which was a resounding yes!"
Cliff Strutz


The same addictive breading used in the fried green tomatoes and pork chop is also used in the catfish bites.  The homemade tartar sauce was so good, ChiTownDiner was still talking about it days later!
"The same addictive breading used in the fried green tomatoes and pork chop is also used in the catfish bites. The homemade tartar sauce was so good, ChiTownDiner was still talking about it days later! "
Cliff Strutz


A pretty straightforward omelette.  Pleasantly un-greasy with the perfect amount of fillings.
"A pretty straightforward omelette. Pleasantly un-greasy with the perfect amount of fillings."
Mike Fuhr


These croquettes were perfectly done.  Nice and crispy on the outside with just the right meaty texture inside.
"These croquettes were perfectly done. Nice and crispy on the outside with just the right meaty texture inside."
Mike Fuhr


The mundane exterior doesn't prepare you for the colorful decor or the interesting food.
"The mundane exterior doesn't prepare you for the colorful decor or the interesting food."
Cliff Strutz



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