At some point early on in the marketing of Shimmer, someone at Unbridled, the publisher, asked me to write up a quick blurb about where I like to eat in Memphis. It seemed like a simple request, I’m sure. My response:
You of course have no idea how deeply you’ve stepped into one of the strangest of my habits. I am a person with many particular habits, rituals in a way, each day structured around a wide range of routines that in and of themselves don’t appear to be notable, but that can, to someone close to me, like my wife, Elizabeth, appear as precise and particular as a formal mass, conducted in Latin, starting at midnight. It’s disturbing to the unindoctrinated, but for those on the inside — in this case me — there’s a deep comfort in it all.
My favorite breakfast of the moment is yogurt. Yoplait Light, any flavor. I’ve eaten yogurt for breakfast every day for approximately a year now. This is what I do. I eat the same thing for breakfast and the same thing for lunch for months or years at a time. I would do it for dinner as well, except Elizabeth won’t let me, which makes me love and respect her even more than ever. Her refusal is clearly a caring yet firm response to my obvious though unspoken cry for help, a plea manifested in my obsessive need for yogurt at breakfast, a caesar with chicken at lunch.
Before we were married and before I had children, I once ate frozen waffles for dinner for four months. I was in my twenties then and a frozen waffle didn’t have the same debilitating effect it would have on me now.
The lunch habit gets awkward because I’m a relatively private person, but waiters, cooks and restaurant owners across Memphis begin to recognize me as that guy who comes in every day and orders a caesar with chicken. This is at once embarrassing, annoying, disturbing and, in the end, often helpful, because sometimes my order will get bumped to the front of the line, either as a nod to my regular patronage of the restaurant or out of some latent fear of what might happen if the Caesar Guy doesn’t get his salad right away.
Maybe it’s a little of both.
I’ve learned to mix up the restaurants I frequent for lunch, alternating my destination so that I appear slightly less obsessive to any one group of restaurant employees, while in fact I’m simply spreading my obsession across a broader geographic range and wider number of people who will, inevitably, recognize me elsewhere — at a store, in a bar — as the guy who eats a caesar with chicken every day.
Even for me, though, there comes a time when I transition from one meal to another. It’s a rough and unsteady period for me, when I realize that one meal has run its course and I am in need of another. I’m in one of those states now, transitioning from a caesar with chicken to cheese quesadillas. A friend once asked if I would tell him when I came to one of these transitionary periods, hoping that I’d let him shadow me around as I searched for a new food, trying different options, failing, worrying, and distraught as I considered what new direction to follow.
He wanted to take notes. Snap a few pictures. But I wouldn’t let him.
I don’t like talking about this change from one food to another, feeling as I do that I’m betraying my true caesar-with-chicken self as I move awkwardly yet uncontrollably toward life as a quesadilla man. There’s something unseemly and adulterous about it all.
On a practical note, quesadillas are proving to be hard to find at more than a very few locations. It’s as if I’ve newly found myself to be a devout Methodist yet I live in Iran or Dubai. As a result, I am more and more often cooking quesadillas for myself, which means I’m eating lunch alone, and which worries me somewhat. Am I shutting myself off from the world in order to focus more intensely on what I eat for lunch every day? Maybe being able to admit this concern is in and of itself a good sign. I hope so.
If you visit Memphis, you should eat a caesar with chicken at Quetzal near downtown or at Miss Cordelia’s, a restaurant and grocery on the Mississippi River. It’s deeply pleasant down by Miss Cordelia’s, quiet, with tug boats pushing barges up and down the river. You can also get beer and wine at Miss Cordelia’s and sneak it out to have a drink sitting on the riverbank.
If you’re getting coffee, go to Bluff City Coffee, on South Main, near the galleries and an old brothel, Earnest & Hazel’s, that now functions for the most part as a bar. Bluff City Coffee has the best cappuccino’s I have ever had, anywhere. Go figure. I go there every morning, as you might expect, so if you see me, say hello.
For dinner you should go to Bari on Cooper, which has great Italian food, then go about a mile south to any of the bars or restaurants in Cooper-Young, at Cooper Street and Young Avenue.