Published on July 25th, 2012 | by Michael Hansen
Restaurant Road Trip: Memphis’ Hog & Hominy
Last Thursday, as I was packing for a trip back to my hometown — Bluff City, USA — for my grandfather’s surprise 70th birthday party, I had an epiphany: I take the same nostalgic tour of the city as I did the previous time, and the time before that, and the time before that . . . and it’s become stale. I love those restaurants, bars and coffee shops I always go to — Huey’s, Saigon Le, Central BBQ, RP Tracks, Young Avenue Deli, Otherlands, Celtic Crossing, Dish (long closed now, but it was a staple before that) — but I always go to them.
I decided (as I pointlessly folded my tank tops and tossed them into my suitcase) that this trip would be different. I was going to eat at one restaurant I had never heard of. My chosen venue, thanks to my favorite Memphis blog, was to be Hog & Hominy, a new restaurant opened the week before by noted restauranteurs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. Their famed (in the Mid-South at least) Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen is across the street from the new joint on Brookhaven Circle.* My chosen company was my old friend Alli and her husband Bobby. (Old as in we’ve been friends since the mid-1990s.)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The atmosphere was clean, quaint, and Southern. The restaurant is in an old brick house (I’m using that term loosely — it was probably built in the 1950s) and its walls are mostly white-washed barn wood, which gives it a certain old-school-yet-modern quality. The chairs are brightly colored metal chairs that add pops of color throughout, making the overall look quite chic — at first strange and unexpected, but ultimately cool, laid back and comfy. I’m a huge fan of open kitchens and we were lucky enough to be seated right by the chef’s counter.
The dining is best described as family style (everybody orders some stuff and shares with everyone else). We were fortunate enough to meet an enthusiastic guest on her way out the door who explained how everything worked and went into great detail about what she and her family just ate (which seemed to have been every item on the menu). The menu is essentially divided into three main sections: Plates (sort of like tapas), Farmers (vegetable side dishes), and Pizzas (self-explanatory). There are also snacks at the top of the menu like arancini, pork rinds, popcorn and deviled eggs.
I ordered the pork rinds right off the bat. Hog is in the name of the restaurant, after all, so I was betting on these puffy, savory snacks to kick things off right. And boy did they. Airy yet crunchy. Spiced but not spicy. Fresh. So unlike the processed rinds in a bag at the convenience store.
Next, Alli ordered Poutine. If you’ve never heard of or eaten poutine before, I suggest you take a trip to www.lmgtfy.com and explore. But essentially it’s a fancy version of chili cheese fries: French fries topped with pork, neck bone (hog) gravy, chili oil and caputo cheese curd. I can’t even talk about how good this was.
After getting warmed up we were all in:
- Buffalo pig tails — They’re probably exactly what you think and absolutely delectable once you get past that initial mental image.
- Collard greens — These were the best collards I’ve ever had in my life; served with hominy and belly ends, they were wilted just enough and had a subtle spice from a tiny but of pepper vinegar.
- Polenta — Once again, I can’t even begin to talk about how creamy and delicious these were. We watched the chefs squirt in large amounts of heavy cream into each order, individually crafted and intensely stirred. I don’t want to know the caloric content of this dish, nor do I care. They were that damn good.
- Creamed corn — This dish came as an accident, but this is one accident I wish people made more often. The corn is slowly infused with large amounts of tarragon. It was mind-blowingly delicious: sweet, savory, herby; but not at all overwhelmingly any single attribute.
- ‘Shroom pizza — By the time this arrived we were stuffed. Regardless, I loved that this came with a nice arugula salad on top. The crust was incredible, and we all know the bread makes the pizza.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“Would you like to hear about our desserts?” <sigh> My button is about to pop off my jeans and shatter some poor unfortunate couple’s wine glass at this point, but the words that came out of our collective mouths were, “Sure, why not?”
I have three words for you if you visit Hog & Hominy: Peanut. Butter. Pie. Don’t ask questions and don’t assume it’s like the one your grandmother used to make or that you can make it at home from your girlfriend’s recipe. You can’t and neither did your grandma. We obviously had to have something other than peanut butter pie to share between three people — obviously. So, I chose chocolate-hazelnut gelato. Think: homemade nutella mixed with milk, cream, sugar and who-the-hell-knows what.
I don’t know if there’s a better combination on the planet than peanut butter pie and chocolate-hazelnut gelato side by side on a spoon. And if there is something, I need to know what it is. Just follow my instructions and try it. The world would be a better place if more people did. (Unless you’re allergic to nuts. In which case your world would be a decidedly worse place if you took my advice.)
*If you’re not familiar with East Memphis, Brookhaven sits in the shadow of the Clark Tower, an oddly out-of-place skyscraper miles away from downtown. The circle is home to a tragically awesome karaoke joint known as Windjammer, which I highly recommend you check out if you ever find yourself near the Clark Tower after you’ve had one too many. Be warned: it’ll be messy. You’re welcome.