Located on North Main in the historic Pinch District, Alcenia’s is a Southern-style restaurant that has been on my to-do list for quite some time now – two years to be exact. Even after the rave reviews in Southern Living and TV spots on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and the Today show, I can’t believe my first visit was only a few weeks ago. And I was shocked to discover that this Memphis restaurant, for as much as it’s being talked about across the country, has more customers who are tourists than fellow Memphians. Having put my money where my mouth was and tried this “famous” down home cooking, I can tell you, you’ll want to make a beeline over and get ahead of the tourist crowd quickly – Alcenia’s is GREAT!
When we pulled up to Alcenia’s, a delicious, familiar whiff of something yummy frying up on the stove floated through the air. It immediately took me back to my grandma’s kitchen and I was sold before I even stepped through the doors. Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by one the brightest smiles I have ever seen, and before we knew it, my little girl and I both were being bear hugged by a woman who, I quickly learned, was the owner, Mrs. B.J Chester Tamayo. She did not know us from Adam, but you would have thought we were long lost friends. And we were not the exception. She literally hugs every person who walks through her doors. With “honey” and “how you doin’ baby” very much a part of her vocabulary, it was hard not to love Mrs. B.J. instantly!
Not long after settling in at our table, Mrs. B.J. herself sat right down with us and began to tell how Alcenia’s began. Surprisingly, she was a stranger in the kitchen for most of her life until she lost her only son in a tragic motorcycle accident. To keep from sliding into a deep depression, she turned to food, which ultimately saved her life. Opening in 1997, and cooking with her mother Alcenia’s recipes, she quickly picked up a cult following and has been going full speed ahead ever since.
All of the food, I am sure, is exceptional, but it must have been my lucky day when we went, because one of the daily specials was fried chicken. Along with my deliciously golden, fried-to-perfection chicken came 2 sides, plus hot water cornbread, all for around $8.00! What stole the show, though, was the hot water cornbread, which was one of the tastiest little delights I have ever had. My little girl must have been equally impressed. She said it was the best food she ever tasted, and coming from a two-year old, that is saying something!
For Round 2 of my dining experience, I tackled the desserts. Her sweet potato cobbler is famous, and I’ll definitely go back to try it, since she was out the day we were there. I ordered the chocolate pound cake, then realizing I wouldn’t do our dear StyleBlueprint readers justice if I only had one dessert (wink), I ordered sweet potato pie, and a custard pie, too. Words can’t describe how good the pies were, especially the sweet potato, which was absolute perfection! I attempted to save some for later, but my dad finished all 3 before I even knew it!
Truly living by her motto, “Feeding the heart, the head and the stomach,” Mrs. B.J. is the real deal. Not only does she serve up some of the best southern food around, but she also serves up a lot of comfort for all those who walk through her doors. She is a ray of sunshine and is truly at her best when she is in front of a customer. I am not recommending that you go to this restaurant, I am demanding! The food will make your belly full, but Mrs. B.J. herself will make your heart full. Honestly, the world would be a better place if we had more Mrs. B.J.’s in it, and of course, a few more Alcenia’s.
Alcenia’s is located at 317 North Main Street. Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11-5. Saturday 9-3. alcenias.com