With social distancing, it’s great to get close to an old friend at my dining room table.
I’m talking about Steelhead Trout Fish Tacos takeout from Elwood’s Shack.
This, to me, is one of the most unique dishes on the Memphis food scene. I had a craving, so I ordered a taco to go. I remember when you automatically got two to an order at Elwood’s. Now, you can order one taco, which - with a bag of potato chips - was enough for my dinner.
I asked Elwood’s owner Tim Bendarski to tell me about the history of his “fish tacos.”
“I wanted to do a fish taco, but everybody does tilapia or catfish - not the greatest quality fish,” Bendarski says. “I wanted a real high quality line-caught fish.”
He’s a big believer in utilizing what he already has on hand when he’s creating a new dish. “It’s a waste of money in my mind to bring in one ingredient and use it in one entree.”
Bendarski already had cheese for his pizza. And he used his pico de gallo, fresh cilantro, avocado, creamy horseradish - other items in the tacos - in multiple items.
He made the fish tacos for a special one day, but he kept the special going for a few days. “It took off like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s still our number one menu item.”
Bendarksi created the tacos three months after Elwood’s Shack opened. “I guess we’re going on eight years now.”
He was selling 100 pounds of the tacos “a week before the pandemic.”
Elwood’s Shack currently offers its complete menu for takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery.
But Bendarski also is keeping busy keeping hospital workers fed. “I’ve got numerous co-workers I worked with at Bahama Breeze. We’re still great friends.”
On their Facebook posts, he learned “some of the things happening. It’s scary for them at work not having masks, not having the ability to get off work, get food, go to Kroger because of the lines. I believe the front line workers are at the highest risk.”
Bendarski wants to “keep them healthy. They’re putting their lives on the line.”
He’s been making individually-packed meals, which he delivers by himself to hospitals. He makes breakfast runs and dinner runs. On March 23rd, he went to Baptist East twice - 150 breakfasts and 150 dinners. He brought breakfast to St. Francis hospital on March 24th and will go back to bring dinner.
‘“For a $250 donation I can produce 150 high-quality meals. Not like something slapped together. But a great blackened chicken Alfredo, red beans and rice, chicken and dumplings and Cobb salad. A wide variety.
“I can really produce up to 600 meals a day. Close to 1,000. Currently, we’re booked. I’m going to LeBonheur lab tomorrow for the day and night shift, Lebonheur critical care unit Thursday, St. Jude Friday for two deliveries.’’
Where did Bendarski find sponsors? “Just reached out on social media. The response is overwhelming I’m doing it at our cost or below cost. I’m reaching out to some vendors, who are providing items for us.”
To be on the safe side, Bendarski doesn’t take pans of food to the hospitals. “It needs to be individually-wrapped items in a container that can be microwaved. Hospitals have plenty of microwaves.
“I’m the only one delivering it. I’m the only one taking the risk. I’m wearing gloves. I got a mask today. Somebody donated it to me. As soon as I go in the hospital I wash my hands. And as I leave the hospital. I sanitize my truck. I’m doing everything I can to be safe at the restaurant and at the hospital.”
Those interested in donating to Bendarski’s meals for hospital workers, call Elwood’s Shack at (901) 761-9898.
As for his employees, everybody is working and busy, Bendarski says. “I haven’t had to lay anybody off.”
Elwood’s Shack is at 4523 Summer Avenue.