Restaurant owner Larry Gonzalez has this explanation for the success of his Mexican cantinas, which now include two new locations, one in East Memphis and one in Kirksville, Missouri: "We are a very happy place."
This may be why three women in medical scrubs were laughing it up on a recent afternoon at the Happy Mexican on Primacy Parkway, which opened earlier this month. They were having margaritas at an outside table, and all three were wearing oversized striped sombreros.
Inside, several other diners helped themselves to Happy Mexican's hats, scattered throughout the restaurant in easy-to-reach stacks. The sombreros, attentive servers, and floor-to-ceiling mural of an Aztec chief carrying a voluptuous princess (awesome!) added to the festivities. The food, of course, helped too.
"We know how to do Mexican," said Gonzalez, who opened his first Happy Mexican in March 2006 on South Second Street downtown. He singles out the restaurant's popular "Happy Grande" burrito ($11): steak, chicken, shrimp, grilled onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, rice, beans, pico de gallo, lettuce, and sour cream rolled inside a flour tortilla and covered with cheese, ranchero, and tomatillo sauce.
The menu at Happy Mexican is extensive, so even vegetarians have options. The veggie quesadilla ($6) is stuffed with beans, cheese, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, and a hot and flavorful pile of grilled mushrooms.
Happy Mexican also serves margaritas in every conceivable flavor. A favorite is the Ultimate, a mix of Chinaco tequila, Triple Sec, orange juice, Grand Gala, sour mix, and a splash of Coke. Try waiting until Saturdays to order an Ultimate, when a jumbo size sells for $7.99.
Happy Mexican, 6080 Primacy Parkway (683-0000), happymexican.com
John Freeman isn't quite sure why the blackberries he grows at Green Frog Pioneer Village near Jackson, Tennessee, are so plump and prolific this summer. "Every year is different," Freeman said. "We had a little problem with Japanese beetles, but at least they don't eat the fruit."
That's a good thing, because Freeman's crop of the quintessential summer berries will be available at the Memphis Botanic Garden's farmers market on Wednesdays and the Agricenter farmers market on Saturdays for another week or two. "These are Chester blackberries," Freeman said, offering one to taste. "They aren't quite as sweet as our earlier varieties, but they are big producers."
At $6 a quart, it's probably worth the drive to Jackson, where blackberries will be sold at the Green Frog's produce stand through August. For an added treat, stop off at the village's JaJa's Café for fresh-roasted coffees, homemade ice cream and desserts, or "Frickin Sandwich" (grilled chicken, fried pickles, lettuce, tomato, and creamy ranch dressing).
"I thought my wife's blackberry cobbler was my favorite," Freeman said. "But I had a fried blackberry pie at the restaurant this morning. It was unbelievable."
Green Frog Pioneer Village (731-663-3319), greenfrogtn.com
Middle Eastern fast-food restaurants are popping up all over Memphis, and that's a good thing. A recent addition is Pita Wraps, tucked away in a shopping center on the north side of Park near Goodlett.
Owner Musa Mahmond opened his restaurant earlier this month after selling his former Pita Wraps near Mendenhall and Poplar. At $4.99, the wraps are affordable and hearty: veggie, chicken fajita, smoked turkey, grilled gyro, Swiss Philly steak, grilled gyro, and falafel and hummus. For an extra dollar, there's Keftah lamb or beef.
I asked for house-brewed sweet tea and Mahmond's favorite wrap to go. He went with the chicken shawarma, a sandwich bursting with flavor. Chunks of grilled roasted chicken are tossed with hummus, cucumbers, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, pepper salsa, cheddar cheese, and a generous drizzle of "secret" yogurt sauce.
Before leaving, Mahmond insisted I taste my wrap, pointing to the guarantee printed on his menu: "Bite it before you buy it."
"If you don't like it, I'll make you something else," he said. No need. The chicken shawarma was delicious and wrapped in enough aluminum foil so I could scarf it down at stoplights without making a mess.