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Open Your Mouth

Talking 'bout Isaac Hayes'.

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To cap off a great day at the new Stax Museum, a group of us decided to continue the soul theme with dinner at Isaac Hayes Music ™ Food ™ Passion located downtown in Peabody Place. It was Saturday night, but early Saturday night, and we weren't expecting the $10-per-person cover charge when we came only for dinner. But, going with the flow, we paid and were seated promptly. (Though we had asked for a booth, the only one empty belonged to Mr. Hayes, and not just anyone is worthy of his throne.)

The musicians are center stage so everyone can see them. And if your view is obstructed by someone or something, there are monitors strategically hung from the ceilings so you won't miss anything the band does. The emphasis on music is continued with the menu, which looks like an album cover and is sorted into "tracks," such as appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, entrées, steaks, ribs and "hot buttered soul" (entrées that are not barbecue), and desserts. The menu also includes interesting snippets about Hayes' career.

We started with the Delta catfish fingers, which were served with rémoulade and sweet-and-sour sauces. The crispy fish, coated in cornmeal and fried golden-brown, held up to the thick rÇmoulade, making a tasty snack. We didn't care for the sweet-and-sour sauce, but the kitchen gets credit for trying to be different. The Rib Ticklers should have been an entreée. A huge platter was piled high with smoked rib tips bathed in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. These ribs pulled easily from the bone and melted in your mouth. I would definitely recommend this appetizer, but make sure you and your dining companion are big eaters.

The garden salad was your basic medley of greens, tomatoes, and assorted veggies. Nothing wrong with that. But the Caesar salad's romaine lettuce came drenched in an overpowering, lemony dressing. Not a bad flavor, just way too much of it.

While we waited for our dinner, we enjoyed an awesome band. The wait took longer than expected, however, and as I looked around the room, it appeared the staff was rather sparse for a Saturday evening and they were busing their own tables. The long wait and the fact that our drink orders arrived after our appetizers and then were not refilled in a timely manner were probably a result of the skimpy staff. I realize needs are difficult to predict on any given night, but a Saturday night with live music should indicate that more staff will be necessary. In addition, the staff should be focused on their customers, and there should be a separate bus staff for a restaurant of this size and caliber.

For dinner, one of my companions chose the 16-ounce rib-eye steak. This steak, ordered rare, had a beautiful red interior and came with onion rings and macaroni and cheese. This mac and cheese was the real deal -- large noodles and creamy, velvety cheese sauce with a golden-brown crust. My companion beamed with happiness.

Another companion, however, was not so pleased with the tilapia fillets. According to the menu, the fillets would be basted with Isaac's Jivin' Jerk Sauce then charbroiled. What came to the table was soggy and the sauce pungent to the point of sour. The tangy fried green tomatoes that came with the fish, on the other hand, hit the spot.

I chose Isaac's herb-roasted chicken -- half a hen seasoned perfectly with lemon pepper and garlic and slowly oven-roasted. The meat was oh-so tender, the best lemon-pepper chicken I've ever had. Other notable entrÇes include the turkey meatloaf and passionate pasta.

We finished our evening with Isaac Hayes' homemade desserts. The bread pudding came served warm with a bourbon sauce and vanilla ice cream. The combination of cinnamon, raisins, and bourbon sauce mixed with vanilla ice cream is spectacular. The warm and chewy chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream is a chocoholic's dream. But my favorite was the warm pecan pie Ö la mode -- the largest piece I've ever seen. I wished I had skipped dinner and simply ordered it.

All in all, Isaac Hayes' restaurant and club is a great value: ample portions, good food, and reasonable prices. If they tweak their service slightly, I think they will be a wonderful addition to downtown, although I still have an issue with having to pay a cover charge at 7 p.m. just to have dinner.

Isaac Hayes Music ™ Food ™ Passion is located at 150 Peabody Place (529-9222) on the second floor. Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. seven days a week.

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