No time for a tropical vacation this summer? We cannot bring sandy beaches and blue oceans to Memphis, but we CAN recommend a culinary tour of the Caribbean on Madison Avenue! Our city is enjoying a boom in restaurants featuring cuisines from around the world, and our offering of Caribbean food is impressive. Here’s what to check out:
662 Madison Ave., Memphis • (901) 433-9980 or (901) 949-8537
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday
Simple and casual, Arepa & Salsa brings Venezulean food to Memphis. John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and guru of Southern eating, listed the cachapas at Arepa & Salsa on his list of 10 best things to eat in the South, and he’s absolutely right! Someone at the table should definitely order this unique dish, which is a slightly sweet corn cake folded over a filling of ham, beef or cheese.
Another must-try is the tostone, which is a long, fried plantain slice used as the “bread” for a choice of sandwiches, making possibly the most unique sandwich in town. The UFOs are a sort of doughnut-shaped fried cheese, also worth a taste. Make sure to ask for one of their creamy dipping sauces. And if you’d like to try the namesake dish, arepas are white corn pastries resembling pita bread in shape, stuffed with a choice of fillings.
Arepa & Salsa has a short beer selection, and when I’ve visited, Venezuelan football or telenovelas has been on TV. The salsa in their name is for the dancing classes they offer on Friday nights. We haven’t been brave enough to try this yet, but we’re sure it makes for a fun night out.
630 Madison Ave., Memphis • (901) 748-5422
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
Evelyn & Olive is a fun and lively Jamaican spot. Reggae music plays while the friendly servers deliver rum punches and Red Stripes to go with the creative—and spicy—food menu. Salt and pepper shrimp with boom boom sauce is a favorite—the shrimp has a light and crispy batter. And the fried green tomatoes are delicious as well—crispy and delicious thin, green tomato slivers are a nice alternative to the meaty Southern-style version. These, too, are served with the boom boom sauce. Frankly, we’d love it if Evelyn & Olive would bottle the boom boom sauce, because it’s so good we could drink it with a straw!
We love their pasta dishes like Ziggy Pasta (fettuccine with shrimp, corn and black beans in a creamy sauce) or Jerk Chicken Pasta, a dish with noodles in red pepper cream sauce topped with jerk chicken. The Appleton Pork Tenderloin is delicious, glazed in Jamaican rum and cane sugar, served with rice and peas and a tangy pineapple slaw that appears frequently on the menu. The pork tender is also available as part of their generous selection of wraps and burgers. The salmon cakes and grits are a delightful combination of creamy grits and flavorful salmon cakes topped, yes, with that spicy boom boom sauce.
All of their classic Jamaican jerk dishes—chicken, shrimp, tilapia and wings—are spicy without being mouth-numbing. But don’t worry, you can cool everything down with a slice of delicious key lime pie. It’s well worth a mention that Evelyn & Olive also has an extensive choice of vegetarian dishes.
143 Madison Ave., Memphis • (901) 527-2878
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Havana’s Pilón offers a wide range of Cuban specialties in a simple, but cheerful, atmosphere. Guests can enjoy a good selection of sandwiches, including a classic Cuban, and empanadas, which are pastry pockets stuffed with a choice of fillings. But go for the delicious plate lunches, which are classic Cuban dishes that come with a choice of tasty side options. We suggest ropa vieja, which is shredded beef simmered in tomato sauce, garlic and herbs studded with olives and bell peppers.
The codfish stew is salt cod in a potato and vegetable sauce that is tangy with a slightly sweet and sour edge. For side selections, congri rice is a dramatically hued rice and black bean dish in traditional Cuban style. Tostones, a Cuban staple, are slices of plantain smashed and fried. Dip them in the accompanying tangy sauce, or use them to sop up the sauce from your plate. Do what we’ve done—sit down for a hearty plate and take some empanadas home for dinner, including one with rich guava filling.
Enjoy your tropical vacation on Madison Avenue!