Why can't every morning start with a nice tall glass of Memphis Mary, the wickedly delicious breakfast cocktail that combines everything you love about a spicy Bloody Mary with the great taste of barbecue sauce? When you combine that smoky, tangy concoction with a modest, breakfast-sized portion of vodka, it reaches out and slaps your tongue right in the kisser.
But if you start the morning with one Memphis Mary, you'll probably start it with three. And then you won't accomplish anything until you've slept it off. But that doesn't mean you can't say "good morning" with a made-in-Memphis treat. In fact, if you stock your larder properly, you can eat Memphis for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then some. Here are some examples.
Breakfast: A cranberry orange scone might not be the healthiest way to kick off the morning, but it's one of the sweetest and most delicious. And the atypically moist, almost cake-y scones they make at Ono Bakery on Front Street are like orangey sunshine baked into a biscuit. They are especially good when washed down with a steaming-hot cup of Miss Cordelia's Rise & Shine coffee, a mellow blend of beans with a big, bold, almost chocolate aroma that more than lives up to its name. In fact, if you have too many cups of Rise & Shine, you may need to address the caffeine jitters by brewing a mid-morning pot of Ugly Mug chai tea. The milk fat and sugar stops the shakes, and the soothing but stimulating blend of Middle Eastern spices clears the sinuses and massages the brain. It's liquid comfort food that can pep you up and calm you down at the same time.
Lunch: You have to get up early in the morning — on Saturday morning, at that — if you want to have a Memphis-Meets-Milan patty melt for lunch. If you don't make it to the Farmers Market until noon, chances are good that the aromatic focaccia from Cucina Bakery and the crispy, spicy, slightly bitter, and brilliantly sweet baby mescaline greens from the Gracious Garden will be long gone. To make the MMM melt, toss some of those colorful greens in a little Yellow Fever sauce then plop them on the focaccia. Top that with a grilled patty of Neola Farm's ground Black Angus beef that's been rolled in Rendezvous barbecue seasoning. Unlike most Memphis rubs, the Rendezvous' rub contains whole mustard seeds and obvious flecks of dried green herbs mixed in with the brick-red barbecue spices. It hints of an earlier time when Memphis was a Central European melting pot. Add to this a slice of provolone and a spectacular slice of Ananas Noire tomato from Downing Hollow Farm, and you've got a museum-quality sandwich. Serve it with a mound of spicy, homemade potato chips from Central Barbecue. Sleep 'til dinner.
Dinner: John Willingham's original, mild W'ham Seasoning rub isn't just good barbecue seasoning. It's a savory, all-purpose spice that's as good on vegetables as it is on beef, pork, chicken, or right off the floor where you spilled it. For our purposes here, let's imagine it on a grilled center-cut pork chop. And let's imagine that pork chop is served over a nice big blob of Delta Grind's polenta. Coarsely ground and full of flavor, DG's polenta is Southern food at its most European. Quickly stirred in warm, seasoned olive oil then cooked in a hearty vegetable stock and thickened with a handful of Romano cheese, these are the most kissable grits you'll ever eat. Top all of this with a stack of roasted Giant Marconi peppers from the Sparkling River Pepper Company. To kick things up a notch, blanch the peppers in pineapple juice. Serve it all with a frosty mug full of Ghost River glacial pale ale, a crispy beverage from Boscos master brewer Chuck Skypeck.
Late-Night Snack: If you've got a keg of Ghost River beer lying around, friends will show up unannounced to "help" you get rid of it. That's why it's also best to keep a couple of Corky's barbecue pizzas in the freezer to break out when everybody gets hungry. After all, you don't want your beery visitors to discover the leftover portions of Valenza's mixed seafood lasagna with béchamel sauce that's lurking in a remote corner of your fridge.
Later-Night Snack: Go ahead and have that Memphis Mary. And have it with a nice big stalk of celery sprinkled with Sonny Salt, the Memphis-made seasoning that brings hints of cumin and white pepper to the already great taste of seasoning salt. Have three.
All produce, Neola beef, Delta Grind grits, and Cucina bread are available at the Memphis Farmers Market. Kegs and ponies of Ghost River can be bought off the dock at Ghost River Brewing (827 S. Main, ghostriverbrewing.com). Corky's pizza and W'ham and Rendezvous seasonings sold at groceries all over town. Yellow Fever and Memphis Mary available at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Tater Red's, the Arcade, and other places.