Alcenia’s

Review by: Jane & Michael Stern

Proprietor B.J. Chester-Tamayo, who named this 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 soul food but for her soulful 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.

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.

Contributor Jess Dawson recently visited Alcenia’s for brunch, which starts with the trademark hug and a forehead kiss from B.J. At just $13.45, brunch is a steal—but this is still slow, soulful food, so don’t be in a hurry. Choose a meat, bread, two sides, and rice or grits. The famous salmon croquettes are meaty and salty, the fried chicken light and tender, and the waffles a bready, cinnamon-y wonder. Make one of your sides the perfect fried green tomatoes, which have the most delicious crispy crust and tart center. And don’t forget the hashbrowns, which are actually soft, slow-cooked potatoes served in a tiny plastic cup and drenched in their own drippings.

Alcenia’s is a modest lunch room decorated in an eclectic mix of 1960s psychedelic beaded curtains, primitive folk art, odes to African-American culture, and white wedding-veil lace strung up across the ceiling.

What To Eat

Smothered Cabbage

DISH
Fried Chicken

DISH
Egg Custard Pie

DISH
Lima Beans

DISH
Catfish Bites

DISH
Fried Green Tomatoes

DISH
Salmon Croquettes

DISH
Cinnamon Waffles

DISH

Alcenia’s Recipes

Discuss

What do you think of Alcenia’s?

2 Responses to “Alcenia’s”

Jim David

January 9th, 2009

Home cooking at it’s best. I had the fried pork chop with sides of mac-n-cheese and cabbage; my wife had the same with corn instead of the mac-n-cheese. The pork chop was deep fried to perfection; not a bit greasy and done just enough to still be very tender and juicy. The cabbage was very well seasoned, but not too hot. The mac-n-cheese was creamy and tender. The corn was delicious, slightly pickled and creamy.

The meals came with an order of corn cakes (cornbread) that were simply the best I’ve ever put into my mouth. The sweet tea we were served was just as good as the rest of the meal. The friendly service (be sure to get your hug from BJ) and unique atmosphere make this a “must eat” location if you are in the Memphis area.

Reply

Barbara Southwell

March 25th, 2007

Just a couple blocks north from Poplar Avenue in downtown Memphis on the corner of North Main and Commerce is one of Memphis’s best kept secrets, with down home soul food good eatin’. That’s Alcenia’s.

The unpretentious ambiance is comfortable and welcoming. One can find people in suits and people in shorts, people from Washington D.C. and people from New Orleans; and people of all races and creeds who have come together for comfortable food served by comfortable people who have learned how to share that with all who come through the door.

Alcenia’s personal touches and down home welcome atmosphere offers a place where any one from anywhere can find something that appeals to them. That “something” is Alcenia’s grandmother’s love, captured by Alcenia not only in the foods she prepares, but in the good vibes and happy faces that satisfy both body and soul.

Reply

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