Downtown Memphis was buzzing this past Saturday with Dragon Boat Races, a 5K and Octoberfest, but the one that had 100% of my attention was Battledish: Memphis, where I had been chosen as a judge.
Six chefs from downtown Memphis were creating their best dishes and cocktails for the judges, and public, who would be casting votes for their favorites in categories like Most Creative, Most Delicious, Most Authentic, Best Modern and Best Cocktail.
Tammy and I arrived early at Jerry Lee Lewis’ Cafe and Honky Tonk to get my judges packet. I thought all of the judges would be traveling together, so Tammy was going to wait for our friends, Eric and Mary, to show up and walk with them. But I found out we could all walk together so we waited for them to show up.
Since I was a judge I was going to be trying all of the dishes and cocktails (12 total) while Tammy, Eric and Mary would be trying any combination of six items.
Once Eric and Mary showed up we tried our first dish, which was actually served upstairs at Jerry Lee Lewis’.
Everyone chose the Flammkuchen, which was a thin pizza dough fried in butter and topped with gruyere, bacon, creme fraiche and sage.
Despite not knowing how to pronounce Flammkuchen, we all dug in. It had a very creamy texture which contrasted nicely with the crunch of the crust and bacon, which to my surprise was not very salty.
We all enjoyed it, but had the same thought that it was “just pizza.” It was a nice, upscale pizza, but it still just felt like pizza.
Jerry Lee Lewis’ also presented a Million Dollar Margarita, which was OK, but not great – definitely not up to the margarita standard set by our favorite Mexican restaurant in Illinois, Mixteca – and the Trishalicious which was a pink, cranberry-flavored concoction.
Since all of the restaurants competing in Battledish were within walking distance, we decided to hit the furthest away, Rizzo’s Diner, first and work our way back.
I’ve been waiting to go to Rizzo’s to knock their Lobster Pronto Pup off my Food Bucket List, but that would have to be for another time because today they were presenting Grit & Grind, a play on the Memphis Grizzlies slogan. They also served up the South Mango Mimosa.
Rizzo’s Grit & Grind was duck confit and goat cheese wrapped in grits, rolled in Panko and served over a bed of sautéed spinach.
Since I was expecting to see a duck leg on my plate, I was a little shocked when they brought out the food.
Those thoughts were quickly erased when I dug into what we affectionately called The Duck Ball.
The Panko coating made for a very crunchy exterior while the grits were very creamy. The flavor and tenderness of the duck meat is what really tied the dish together.
Even the girls, who were a little squeamish about trying the duck, were loving the flavors.
Everyone also got the South Mango Mimosa, which was very refreshing and finished with a little hint of basil. It was one of my favorite drinks of the day.
Chef Michael Patrick came out of the kitchen to talk with us for a few minutes, the only chef to do so. We talked about the contest and how he partners with downtown events, like the Orpheum, Memphis’ historic theater, to provide dishes that coordinate with the events.
We thanked Chef Patrick and told him we hoped people would come to visit him since his location was the furthest away. We were told later that people have been requesting him to put The Duck Balls on the menu and I can see why.
We hopped on the trolley and back up South Main to our next stop at the Belle Diner where they were serving up a Braised Short Rib with a grit cake and sautéed Brussels Sprout. The also entered the Bloody Belle as their cocktail.
I was able to slide the bone right out of my short rib, but some of the people at our table found it to be more difficult. The meat had a lot of flavor and shredded apart under my fork like a pot roast.
The Brussels sprouts were a little mushier than I generally make them, but were good too. The grit cake, which isn’t seen in the picture, was crispy on the outside and creamy inside and, as you can see, the presentation was nice.
The Belle Diner is where I also lost my Bloody Mary virginity and if they are all as good as this one was then I’ve been missing out. The Bloody Belle had a very distinct Worcestershire sauce flavor and wasn’t nearly as tomato-y as I thought all Bloody Mary’s were. There was just a hint of spice in the drink, with the majority of the heat coming from the pepper flakes on the rim.
While I’m not a fan of starting to drink at 9 a.m., I definitely can see why people would with a drink like this.
We jotted down our notes and headed over to Automactic Slim’s for their Pan Seared Tuna, Muddled Mango Mojito and Cranberry Lemongrass Martini.
I had only had a mojito one other time and it was a disaster (I think they forgot to add the simple syrup), so I was nervous about tasting this one.
It was very minty, which I know is part of the flavor, so I squeezed my lime in the glass and things were more manageable. I actually ended up drinking almost all of the drink by the time we left.
The Cranberry Lemongrass Martini was good too and wasn’t as tart as the Trishilicious, but I passed it off to Tammy after I got the Muddled Mango Mojito leveled to my liking.
The tuna was cooked perfectly and the presentation was top-notch. I enjoyed all of the sauces they paired with the fish. The rice was flavorful, but was a little overcooked, which I could understand since they were preparing around 100 dishes.
Mary tried a bite of Eric’s tuna and, despite not being a fish fan, actually liked it. Much to my surprise Tammy wanted to try a bite as well. I think she’s had all of 3 bites of fish since we’ve been together so this was a big step for her. She was shocked at how good it was and said it was “like steak.” Hopefully she’ll try more things like that in the future.
Up next was Tamp & Tap, a newcomer to the downtown Memphis scene, and it’s Autumn Napoleon – a horseradish brioche French toast, with roasted butternut squash puree, Quinoa, heirloom tomato relish, fried Shiitake and prosciutto and lime chimichurri.
This was by far one of the most creative looking dishes we tried. Eric and I each got a dish, and eagerly dug in. For all of the color and presentation the first bite was a little bland, it needed a little salt and/or garlic. Both Tammy and Mary were turned off by the horseradish ingredient in the French toast and were pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted.
It was Tammy who figured out to put a little piece of prosciutto with each bite, which brought out all of the flavors. The crunch and saltiness of the prosciutto tied everything together perfectly.
Our final stop on Battledish: Memphis took us to Lunchbox Eats, where they were offering Short Rib Chili – nestled in a buttery cornbread cup, this robust chili has spice from Chilies, sweetness from cinnamon, depth of flavor from chocolate and body from short ribs.
Everyone was looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint. We all really liked that it was served in a cornbread muffin. I could taste hints of cinnamon in the chili and the meat was very tender. But in the end it felt like it was just chili, very good chili.
As we headed back to Jerry Lee Lewis’ to finalize our ballots – everyone else could vote on the dishes they tried – I got to thinking about how some of the dishes would hold up at the next level, where all of the Battledish winners compete. I just didn’t think the “pizza” or chili would hold up very well at the next level.
In the end I voted for Rizzo’s Grit and Grind as Most Delicious, the Autumn Napoleon as Most Creative, the Braised Short Ribs as Most Authentic, the Pan Seared Tuna as Best Modern and the South Mango Mimosa as the Best Cocktail.
The see the complete list of winners click here.
This was an amazing experience and a great way to get to sample different restaurants in one night. While they only have Battledish competitions in a few cities, they have Dishcrawls (think Pub Crawls but with food) in a lot of cities.
We will definitely be taking part of more Memphis Dishcrawl’s. Check here to see if your city has an upcoming Dishcrawl.