Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ethnic Foods Cooking Class

Have you ever wanted to try to cook like the street vendors of Vietnam or the great chefs of Bombay? Join us as we look into the culture, history, and food of some of the most fascinating world cultures in 'Introduction to World Cuisine'.

Take a virtual tour of an ethnic food market and learn where and how to shop for exotic ingredients found in Asian, Indian and Latin cooking. Learn about the fundamental herbs and spices used in Thai, Indian, African and Middle-Eastern dishes. Learn the history and philosophy behind traditional Chinese cooking. Understand how to identify the tools and supplies of traditional ethnic kitchens. Last but not least, learn to cook delicious Asian street food, Caribbean cuisine and Indian favorites.

Registration for this class is $20.00 and includes class, supplies and take home materials. Class is 8:00 am to 12:00 pm March 31, 2011 at Jackson State Community College.

You may register through Jackson State Continuing Education at

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Feast in the Middle East

One of things missing from many chain restaurants is the element of 'atmosphere'. Sure they may have peanuts on the floor but the Toby Keith soundtrack is so loud the waiter has to hold their hand up to their mouth 'yodeling style' to take your order. Or maybe there is decor but it is cookie cutter pre-fabed street signs and sports memorabilia. Somewhere there's gotta be a sweatshop that does nothing but pump out restaurant props." I want you kids to bang out two-hundred of these John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe cutouts by the end of the day or the beatings will continue!"

Much like the 'set' in a theater production can set the mood for an audience, the atmosphere of a dining establishment can sometimes make even the tastiest food unappealing. So with that being said, the atmosphere at Memphis' Al-Rayan takes one into a world of dining pleasure. Colorful handmade rugs and pillows decorate a large area of the restaurant. Exotic lamps, pipes and art from the Middle East give the restaurant a feel of dining in a desert cafe. The alluring smell of lamb roasting on the spit calls the senses. Al-Rayan brings Middle East cuisine to the Mid-South.

Chef Hndi Nahwi serves traditional cuisine from Lebanon and various regions of the Middle East. Meals can be served in a traditional style starting with small appetizer plates known as 'Meze' that are best enjoyed communally. Some of the appetizers include homemade hummus and stuffed grape leaves. For the health conscious there is delightful treat that combines fried white cheese and homemade butter. Yeah...feel em' cloggin....

Soups made from lentils and Arabic spices as well as the refreshing Tabouleh salad made from chopped parsley, fresh mint, wheat, olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. One tasty lentil soup is made of lentils, vermicelli and spices.

 As delicious as these starters may be, let's get into the meat of it. I enjoyed some of the Tandoori Chicken and rice cooked in East African style with fresh herbs. The chicken was smoky and rich and served with fresh warm pita bread and a citrus based salad. I also enjoyed some chickpea croquettes.

Marinated shish kabobs of grilled lamb are also an amazing treat here. Grilled robust shwarma is available wrapped in pita bread with a minty yogurt sauce. One of the most notable items on the menu is a traditional stew from Yemen of lamb, potatoes and herbs. This rich savory stew is served in a traditional clay pot.

My favorite part of the meal was this steaming cup of goodness that the waitress served me. Hot, sweet Arabic tea made from cardamom and cloves served with a golden nugget of sweetbread cookie.

When you are looking for delicious Middle Eastern cuisine you should pay a visit to the folks at Al-Rayan. Pull up a pillow on the carpet and order communally. Great tastes in a great atmosphere.

Al Rayan
288 North Cleveland St.
Memphis TN 38104

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Comfort Food Honduran Style

Throughout Jackson Tennessee there is an steady growing number of Mexican restaurants.  Many of them selling the same three usual suspects: meat, cheese and rice. It seems like every 'Los Something', 'El Sew and Sew' and 'La This and That' serve the same cookie cutter Americanized Mexican dishes like tacos, burritos and fajitas.  Much of what passes as Mexican cuisine is about as authentic Mexican as 'Chef Boyardee' is Italian. There are those few local Taquerias that serve authentic dishes like Al Pastor, Barbacoa and Mole Poblano. 

Every now and then something special comes down the culinary pike. Enter 'Los Amigos'…

As the cold weather has began to set in, I am driving down 45 bypass in Jackson and I peer over to see a lighted sign that says 'Los Amigos'. I must admit that with a name like 'Los Amigos', I was not expecting much. (Too Vanilla!) I immediately pulled in and proceeded to go inside just to humor myself.  I was a little leery sensing the same three suspects of meat, cheese and rice would be hiding inside. Maybe I could get a 'McTaco' or a 9 piece box of Salsa Nuggets…As I entered, I noticed a Honduran flag hanging in the front window. Interesting. No images of sombreros, burros or the typical kitch Mexi deco….

I picked up a menu and began scanning. 'Plantains', 'Pupusas' 'Molcajete'…What was this? This was not the same old Mexican fare that could be found all over town. Just then a delightful young lady greeted me and tells me that they serve Honduran foods. Sweet! Without hesitating I took my seat for what would prove to be some delicious fare!

Los Amigos features some wonderful Honduran dishes that many West Tennesseans may have never encountered. Lets start with one of my favorites, the 'Pupusas'. Pupusas are hand made corn tortillas stuffed with pork, cheese and covered in shredded vinegar laden cabbage. Think warm cornbread cakes stuffed with slow cooked pork. Man are these good!

You must try the 'Pastelitos' which are golden fried tortillas stuffed with seasoned beef and potatoes and are covered with a savory Honduran salsa called 'Salsina'. The 'La Marinera' is fresh fried talapia with Honduran salsa served with sweet green bananas and avocado. 

Other dishes include Honduran fried pork chops fried sweet or salty plantains and Honduran fried chicken and salsa. Los Amigo's 'Carnitas' are slow cooked pork tips marinated in citrus juices and seasonings. Los Amigos serves their carnitas with beans, rice and warm tortillas. 

The featured crown jewel of Los Amigos is the creation known as  'Molcajete' (Mole-ka-he-tay). The word 'molcajete' refers to a stone bowl used to grind spices. This amazing dish is served in an actual molcajete. The bowl is filled with a delicious stew made from slow braised steak, caramelized onions, stewed tomatoes and peppers and seasoned with Honduran spices. It is topped with cheese and served piping hot with warm tortillas.   

I don't easily admit this but this food was so good that I came back a second day and ate their cooking again. It was so fresh, so different and so delicious I just had to have more.

'Los Amigos' is operated by the Villeda family from Brownsville Tennessee. Head chef Maria Villeda has been cooking Honduran favorites for years. Come taste some of her amazing Honduran comfort food!  

Los Amigos

1869 Hwy 45 Bypass

Jackson TN

Monday, October 31, 2011

Middle Eastern Treats

Fans of middle eastern cuisine in the Hub City now have a place to get their fix. 'Al Houda International Food Market' is serving up some delicious foods prepared daily. The market is an oasis itself where Jacksonians can find a number of hard to find products including meats, cheeses and a variety of spices.

Al Houda features a huge assortment of spices and herbs ranging from Tumeric and Sumac to Aniseed. There's also an assortment of dried ingredients like lentils, Garam Masala and tea leaves. Foodies can enjoy sodas from Holland and fresh pita bread.

There's a killer selection of cheeses from Syria and homemade butter from the middle east. Cooks can find filo dough and falafal mix to make their own dishes at home!

For those seeking a true Middle Eastern experience, Al Houda sells authentic herbal teas along with Shisha pipes and tobaccos. (Affectionately known in the west as 'Hookahs')

The crown jewel of Al Houda is their fresh cooked meals. Classic foods include lamb gyros and roasted shwarma. A wonderful marinated chicken dish called 'Shish Tawook' is a big seller. Owner and cook Alex Hanson serves roasted kabobs of beef, lamb and chicken alongside tasty bits like falafel and tabbouleh.  Vegans can try their cool and flavorful Mediterranean Salad served with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. The rich eggplant dip Baba Ghanoosh and Hummus is also available eat in or carry out.

Al Houda International Market 
903 Hollywood
Jackson Tennessee 38301

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cheeseburger in Paradise

" But at night I'd had these wonderful dreams
Some kind of sensuous treat
Not zucchini, fettucini or Bulgar wheat
but a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat"

The great poet James Buffet truly spoke to the heart of many of us who yearn for that big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat. there a more perfect food? The quintessential combination of meat, cheese and bread. And while it seems very difficult to mess up this kind of combination, there are some that  find a way to do so.

The quest for the ideal cheeseburger can lead you into a number of diners and eateries. Want it served 'fast food' style in a value meal at your favorite 'Mc-Indigestion'? How about as the main star at a more formal burger joint that dries it out but serves it with a bottomless barrel of fries to compensate?

Yes the quest for the ideal burger can be rather daunting. But there is hope my fellow foodies...

Jennifer Boals has thrown down the gauntlet in the world of cheeseburgers. She and her staff operate Ruben's Drive Thru in Humboldt Tennessee and their weapon of choice is a delicious dish known as the 'Cheeseburger in Paradise'. Patted and cooked from real ground beef, the CIP is an 8 oz. patty of 100% ground beef served dripping with ooey-gooey American cheese on a buttery golden bun. Topped with fresh green lettuce and a ruby red tomato slice, the burger is amazing!

Jennifer shares that while it takes her staff a little longer to create a burger while not using a pre-made patty, it is definitely worth it.  Her customers come from miles around to get her famous burger. The Cheeseburger in Paradise is but one of their stars. Customers can try the jumbo size Double Corral Burger made from a 12oz. ground beef patty or truly step up to the plate and get a 16oz. Double Paradise Burger. All of their burgers can be custom built with toppings like chili, jalapenos, bacons or mushrooms.

'Ruben's Drive Thru' also serves a variety of dishes including Philly Cheese Steaks, Patty Melts and Chicken Sandwiches. They also offer dishes that no one else in the city offers including deep-fried green beans, deep-fried squash and sweet potato fries. When the winter months hit, Ruben's offers a variety of bread bowl soups. Summer months bring out a wide variety of salads to give customers a 'lighter' menu of items. 

On Saturday's Ruben's offers customers a taste of southern barbecue as they serve full and half orders of smoked baby back ribs. And while I must admit that I usually don't care for pizza from a restaurant that doesn't specialize solely in pizza, the pizza at Rubens is actually pretty dang good. I had a slice of the cheese which was a stringy, gooey, cheesy experience on a very tasty golden crust. 

Have a sweet tooth? Ruben's serves up a delicious array of deserts including chocolate chip cookies made from real butter, pizza desserts covered in Oreo crumbles and old-fashioned milkshakes.

Ruben's is a breath of fresh air in the world of chain restaurants. Remember folks: EAT LOCAL!

Rubens's Drive Thru
2216 East End Drive
Humboldt Tennessee 38343

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mexican Coke: No Drugs just Soda

A few years ago I was in a little Mexican grocery where I spotted a beautiful tall slender glass bottle of Coca-Cola. The fact that it was in a glass bottle and even better a 'tall' green glass bottle made it stand out. These types of bottles used to be standard fare in the little country grocery stores found throughout West Tennessee. I can remember sliding open a freezer's glass door and gripping a metal lid and pulling out an almost painfully cold soda pop.The little stars on a green Sprite glass bottle seemed to sparkle to my young eyes. I remember sodas being a treat, not simply an accompaniment that you downed with every meal. The whole 'ceremony' of using a soda machine seemed to build the excitement. The clunking sound of your change hitting rock bottom as you swung open a glass door and gazed upon this amazing gallery of colored bottles.

For those of you under the age of thirty, soda machines weren't always bright colored buttons distributing automated refreshment. At one time Coca Cola even released a machine that 'talked' with a robotic synthesized voice that amazed us wide-eyed kids in the Eighties! But there is a deeper thing that is missing in our world that goes deeper than the mechanics of soda machines...The soda.

Yes young Americans, there was a time when you could pop the top off of a bottle of Coca-Cola and the smell of lavender would immediately steal your senses. The first swallow of the cold dark syrupy treat would glide down your throat and immediately make your eyes widen. The burst of carbonated goodness was almost over bearing. Unfortunately, there are two wonderful elements that the illustrious Coca-Cola company sought to remove from their wonderful product that have left a generation of us wanting....lavender oil and real sugar.

Lavender oil used to provide Coca-Cola with a wonderful flowery perfume scent while real sugar gave the soda it's signature sweetness. Back in the Eighties Coca-Coal decided that it was to expensive to use real sugar and switched to high-fructose corn syrup to make the soda sweet.

For those seek the Coca-Cola of days gone by, the promises of this taste can be found again in what many are terming 'Mexi-Coke'. Found on the shelves of Mexican grocery stores and in some restaurants, the Mexican formula for Coke includes the inclusion of the much coveted cane sugar sweetener. The taste is a 'cleaner' taste that goes down smooth. Some have noted that it tastes more 'natural' than U.S. sodas.

 Newspapers have reported that the U.S. based Coca-Cola has expressed disapproval with the imported soda being brought into the U.S. The fear is that consumers will eventually demand the American based soda to be produced with actual sugar which the company feels is too expensive to make. (However Coca-Cola has made some exceptions such as the production of a sugar based 'kosher' Coca-Cola product called  'Passover Coke' around Jewish holidays. )

Here in the U.S. the Mexican drink has gained such a following that some have termed it the 'Cult of Mexican Coke' while there is even a Facebook page called 'Gringos who love Mexican Coke'. The popularity of the product has even caused some U.S. based businesses like Costco to carry the sweet Latin alternative.

So if your feeling a little nostalgic for the taste of sodas gone by, drop into your local Mexican grocery and grab up a bottle of Mexi-Coke. It will certainly take you back!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

When barbecue was barbecue...

Many of you know that southern barbecue is a passion of mine. The iconic Southern barbecue joint that is the temple where this favorite dish is served is disappearing before our very eyes. Given place to the chain pre-fab barbecue merchants that sit like soulless halls of shame that taunt us with people in pig suits, neo-blues music and faux smoke from electric smokers...

One of the last few 'real' barbecue joints in West Tennessee is 'Sam's BBQ' in Humboldt Tennessee.  Sam's was originally started by local barbecue veteran Sam Donald. Sam and his brother in law began cooking barbecue back in the nineteen forties. Today Sam's daughter Seressa and her husband Jon run the pit and serve up some of West Tennessee's best old school barbecue.

 Jon still cooks barbecue the way his father in law did back in the forties. Jon slow smokes his meat over hickory wood . The process can take anywhere from 14 to 18 hours. The patience and discipline that it takes to cook using real southern techniques creates flavors that cannot be reproduced by liquid smoke or electric smokers.

Sam's serves pork and beef. Brisket is a unique addition to the southern barbecue scene, typically reserved for Texas and Oklahoma bbq joints. But Sam's serves up smoky beef brisket sandwiches drizzled in the house sweet smoky barbecue sauce. Another customer favorite is Jon's barbecue bologna. John takes a thick slice of beef bologna seasons it with his secret dry rub and slow smokes over wood.  John then cuts a generous slice of the meat and tops it with a helping of his homemade tangy vinegar coleslaw for an unbelievable taste.

Sundays at Sam's BBQ are a special treat. Sam's features a plate lunch with selections like homemade turkey and dressing, fried chicken, sweet potatoes and assorted side items. It's like eating at your favorite grandmother's house!

When dining at Sam’s, be sure to save room for dessert! The Ivory family has also become famous for their delectable sweets  like their many delicious homemade pies. Many of Sam’s customers have fallen in love with their signature ‘buttermilk pie’, a cool, sweet refreshing treat.

If your looking for the remnants of the great southern barbecue joint culture, look no further than Sam's BBQ in Humboldt Tennessee!

Sam's BBQ is located at 500 West Main Street in Humboldt Tennessee.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summertime Food: Richard's Famous Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are such a flexible food. They can be prepared steamed, grilled or boiled. They can be served buck-naked or loaded down with extravagant ingredients. Hot dogs can appear differently among various geographic regions. There's always the famous 'Chicago Dogs'. Don't forget about 'Coney Island Dogs' or 'Frankfurters' (Who calls them 'frankfurters' anymore? Old German men with handlebar mustaches and frothy beer steins?).

Whatever you call them, the hot dog is the quintessential summer food. It can be prepared fast, its portable and it isn't heavy. For your summertime hot dog fix, you must check out 'Richard's Famous Hot Dogs' located in Humboldt Tennessee.

'Richard's' is located in a small trailer parked across from the city park. Colorful flags wave you in to the steamed goodness that is located in this wagon of flavor. 'Richard's Famous Hot Dogs', opened in December of 2010 in Humboldt to bring West Tennesseans a wide variety of tasty treats.

Richard Neal serves up a wide variety of hot dogs from the traditional hot dog with mustard and kraut to complex combinations like candied jalapenos and raspberry mustard. One of his more popular hot dogs is his 'Devil Dog'. The Devil Dog is covered in mustard, onions, kraut and his grandmother's 'secret sauce'. "The Devil Dog sauce is a recipe my grandmother used to make. It is spicy but has lot's of flavor. It's not just heat, but tastes good too!" Richard is right. The Devil Dog is a unique spicy, rich flavored dog.

Another popular dog is Richard's Raspberry Mustard Dog. A steamed hot dog covered in mustard, onions, kraut and a sweet and savory mustard sauce. One of my personal favorites, the Raspberry Mustard delivers a taste like no other dog you'll find in West Tennessee.   

Even Richard's traditional Hot Dogs are dressed up with a nice mild tomato based hot dog sauce found in many bigger city hot dog joints. And the buns, the buns are not your simple store bought hot dog buns. The buns are golden rich breaded rolls that can be eaten by themselves.

Richards Famous Hot Dogs is a very affordable summertime treat with most dogs starting at less than $3.00 
Richards offers punch cards for returning customers and is open Tuesday through Friday 10:30-4:00. 
Richard's is located at 585 B North 22nd Street, across from Bailey Park in Humboldt Tennessee.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Real Philly in West Tennessee...


The site of oversized trucks in West Tennessee is quite common as is the site of outrageous decorations on vehicles. (ie. 'R.I.P. Uncle Tricky' and 'My Pomeranian can out think your first grader!' You get the picture!)

However over the last few months, a monstrous red colored truck displaying the signage ‘Greatest Sandwiches on Earth’ has adorned a crowded parking lot on Vann Drive. Drawing more than peering glances from the frothy frappucinos at the nearby Starbucks, this gigantic rolling over-compensation heralded the arrival of a truly unique dining experience.

‘United Steaks of America’ grabs you from the moment you open their front door. Colorful chasing lights and pop art decorate the walls as rock and roll plays on the restaurants loudspeakers. The iconic face of Rocky Balboa can be seen throughout the place as it celebrates the city of brotherly love. For it is from here where their star Philly Cheese Steak comes from.

I know what you’re thinking “I’ve had Philly cheese steak at the 5 dollar foot-long place and I don’t consider a mostly bread little meat sandwich to be anything like a real Philly cheese..”. Served on a glorious buttery golden bun, the Philly cheese steak at United Steaks is made from honest to goodness rib eye steak. 

Chef Armondo brings out a beautifully marbled piece of steak wrapped and stamped by the USDA. Yep, real steak. 

But the Philly doesn’t stop there, loaded with sweet tangy onions and the classic provolone or even hardcore cheez whiz, you can custom build your Philly with green or sweet peppers, mushrooms, chili, tomatoes, bacon lettuce and jalapenos. Maybe Chef Armando will fix you one like he made me similar to the infamous ‘Fat Darrell’ sandwich of New Jersey with fries on it!

Now, steak is not the only boat afloat at United Steaks. Try the ‘Hillbilly Philly’ with smoky grilled pork tenderloin or grilled chicken. Want something really different? Try the Pizza Sub filled with steak, chicken or pork, cheese and pizza sauce and Italian seasonings.

Just to take a moment and pause from this gastronomic conversation and let me tell you about United Steaks drinks and desserts. As if the sandwiches were not unique enough, Chef Armondo brings Jacksonians some hard to find treats as well. Try a Mexican Coca-Cola. (Why a Mexican Coca-Cola? There is a growing trend across the U.S. with foodies seeking the syrupy beverage because of the use of cane sugar instead of the American version made high fructose syrup.) Also try a host of specialty desserts like Mexican 3 milk cake…but enough of this, let’s get back to the sandwiches…

Tired of the same combinations of thin sliced ham or turkey and standardized meal deals? Why not try United Steaks Cuban Sandwich filled with ham, turkey, cheese, pickles and mustard on a fresh buttered bun? Or how about Portuguese Spicy Sausage, a unique sausage covered in marinara sauce, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and provolone cheese?

Maybe you are seeking something a little more ‘primal’? Something to fill that secret ‘Man vs. Food’ fantasy that you keep inside? Behold…the Messy Mondo.

The Messy Mondo is a grand sandwich quite worthy of it’s sloppy name. The Messy Mondo is a sandwich made from fresh ground beef, grilled onions, mushrooms, rich red marinara sauce and Italian seasonings on a toasted long roll. It is served with a fork because it’s just too massive and messy to handle with a normal man’s hands!

United Steaks also features a variety of assorted sandwiches like lamb Gyros, pizza burgers, chicken Parmesan, hoagies, hot dogs and salads. And to our vegan friends out there, yes United Steaks can even satisfy your craving. They have an all veggie Philly and veggie wraps available as well!

The service is friendly, the atmosphere is lively and the food is tasty. Looking for something different in Jackson? Pledge your allegiance to the United Steaks of America….

United Steaks of America
901 Vann Drive
Jackson Tennessee

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tourist Tacos versus Authentic Cuisine

I think I have the formula down:

C=Beef or Chicken
D= Cheese

A+B+C+D=  The same dish served in many different combinations. Jumble them together, mix them up, any way you slice it these four ingredients are typically the same combination found in many Americanized Mexican restaurants. Now you can go the route of tourist tacos at your favorite McMexican cafe or you seek out the real deal. If you want authenticity in Jackson Tennessee, you need to go visit Taqueria El Mezcal,

Situated in the Hamilton Hills Shopping Center, El Mezcal Latin Grocery offers goods from a variety of Latin American countries. Looking for a pinata or dried Jalapeno peppers? The Grocery features a number of dried goods, spices and food products. But the focus of this journey is not what's in the front of the grocery but what's in the back of the store.

Walking through El Mezcal the smell of home cooking hits your nose. A little elderly woman with a bundle of fresh onions walks into a small kitchen. The sound of Telemundo Latin television can be heard from a small color television. The backroom of the grocery leads into a full service restaurant. The daily menu is affectionately written on a dry erase board.

The Taqueria features Mexican favorites like Menudo and Shrimp stew.The menu lists such specialties as beef tongue known as 'lengua'. For those who have never had lengua, it is like the most tender pot roast. Served in stews, taco and sandwiches called 'tortas'. It is wonderful. They also feature goat, steak known as 'asada' and one of my favorite's known as Al Pastor. Pastor is pork marinated in fruit juices, chilies and pineapple.  Mexican barbecue known as 'barbacoa' is also a customer favorite.

Mexican traditional dishes like tripe tacos, chorizo Mexican sausage  or pork carnitas are also on the menu. While perusing the menu I found one of my favorite dishes known as 'Mole Poblano. Mole is a sauce made up of several ingredients featuring Chili peppers and chocolate. Their mole poblano is a sweet, smokey dark gravy that is served over chicken.

From the warm fresh tortillas to the rich creamy gravy of the mole, Taqeria El Mezcal  is the real deal. You now have a choice, go to the same four ingredients or try out authentic cuisine...

El Mezcal Grocery and Taqueria
621 Old Hickory Blvd # J1
Jackson, TN 38305-2911
(731) 668-6980

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You want sum? Come get Dim Sum!

One of the biggest culinary holes in the Bible Belt has been the absence of authentic Dim Sum. Unless you have traveled outside the area you may think Dim Sum is merely the name of a dumpling found on most Americanized Chinese Buffets. But real Dim Sum is something very different. It is not one particular dish but a celebration of several dishes. If you are looking for an authentic Dim Sum experience, you must check out Asian Palace.

Driving down Summer Avenue in Memphis evokes memories of the still surviving Drive-In theater and the Memphis of the Seventies. Summer has changed a lot and has a new assortment of businesses, people and restaurants. In the end of a busy shopping strip mall, Asian Palace appears very much like many of the cookie-cutter buffet restaurants that can be found slinging msg throughout Memphis. But as you open the front doors, you are met with a grinning face of a gold colored Buddha. An omen of joy that you will soon find behind the doors of Asian Palace.

Every Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. Something extraordinary happens. The streets of Summer Avenue are rolled up and replaced with an authentic Chinatown experience. Waitresses begin rolling out chrome carts filled with boiled, fried and and grilled Chinese delicacies. Patrons can simply point to the items that they would like and the staff serves them fresh.

Let's talk about variety. The Dim Sum menu ranges from very familiar dishes like Spring Rolls and Pot Stickers to the more exotic like Pig Skin and Blood served with chives to Chicken Feet. Each item runs from around two dollars to a little over five dollars depending on the size of the dish. Served this way, you can try a little bit of everything at a very affordable price.

I started out with some very familiar items. Lightly fried golden Hong Kong style Egg Rolls and a Fried Shrimp Ball. The fried shrimp ball is an amazing golden fried plate of deep fried rice noodles wrapped around a buttery battered fried shrimp. Light and crunchy, this dish is delicious.

I then tried my personal favorite Steamed Pork Bun and a the Fried Eggplant stuffed with Shrimp. The fried eggplant is part juicy seasoned eggplant and part golden fried shrimp. The tangy taste of the eggplant is subtle while the sweet fried breading of the shrimp makes a fine compliment to the eggplant.

It is at this point during the meal that I begin to take notice of the 'carnival' type atmosphere around me. Silver carts filled with smoking fresh dishes from the kitchen are being wheeled around tables filled with families and friends. The tinkling of silverware and the silence of chopsticks can be sen and heard at tables throughout the room. The crowd is not overbearing. Many of the patrons are from the Chinese community and have brought elderly men and women with them. This is a good sign. This speaks to the authenticity of the food.

As I am taking it in, a white haired Chinese lady appears beside me seemingly as from out of nowhere. “Try this” she says. She lays a plate on the table in front of me. Amazing colors and smells fill my senses. A waitress leans and tells me “she is the cook!” I smile and thank her.

She tells me that this dish is not on the menu but can be ordered during Dim Sum. Fresh Clams and Black Bean Sauce covered in fresh chives. The owner tells me that the clams are cooked freshly shipped in from Seattle. When he said fresh he was not kidding! The clams were so tender and juicy and did not taste fishy. The sauce is a dark savory gravy that is salty and earthy. Breaking the clam meat from it's shell, I dip it into the sauce. And what...I have a steamed pork bun that I can drag through the remaining gravy....Oh heavens....

Asian Palace has been serving authentic Cantonese dishes since 1988 and has existed in several locations throughout Memphis. Today, the restaurant has made it's home on Summer Avenue since 2010. The owner is Mister Mike Woo who heads a tight-nit crew of cooks and servers. The head chef is Lisa Chen. Lisa cooks Cantonese, Taiwanese and Szechuan dishes.

One of the very cool aspects of Asian Place is there ability to serve fresh seafood. There are numerous aquariums filled with gigantic specimens of crab and lobster. Chef Lisa can take a King Crab and drop it into one of her sizzling woks filled with Szechuan chilies and fresh vegetables.

They also serve specialties such as Peking Duck, Chinese Barbecue Pork, Shark's Fin Soup and Duck Broth Soup.

I have experienced some tremendous Chinese food in three separate Chinatowns of New York, D.C. And San Francisco. Asian Palace offers some of the most delicious, most authentic Chinese food I have had outside of Chinatown. You must do yourself a favor and take a Saturday or Sunday and drove over to Summer Avenue to experience Asian Palace.

Asian Palace is located at 5266 Summer Avenue in the Perimeter Shopping Center.