In the Frankensteinian world of Paula Deen's donut burger and the (now banned) NyQuil and Pepto-Bismol donuts at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon, sometimes all we want to hear are the sweet and simple words: "We're just a typical donut shop."
So says Chico Pho, general manager for Memphis Donuts, a shop as straightforward as its name.
Pho's father, Both Chey, and mother, Heng Em, both of Cambodian descent, opened the donut shop on Poplar about a month ago. The shop's location across from East High School has significance for Both Chey: After he came to Memphis from Cambodia in 1977, he was himself an East High Mustang.
Pho says the family began the business to employ his brother-in-law, Sak Lay, formerly a baker at Café du Monde in New Orleans. Now Lay starts every morning making donuts in Memphis, churning out fresh batches before the early birds start rolling in. Chey and the rest of the family are also hard at work, running the business and manning the counter from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week.
The offerings at Memphis Donuts are traditional: crème-filled, custard-filled, cake, and glazed. Sprinkles abound, and frosting — chocolate, strawberry, maple — calls out from the glass case behind the counter. A personal favorite, the buttermilk donut, is like the shortbread version of a cake donut: dense and soft inside, haloed in a perfect crust.
Despite Lay's background, there aren't any beignets, but Memphis Donuts does serve breakfast sandwiches and pigs-in-a-blanket, as well as Community coffee in to-go cups. A dozen glazed donuts will run you $6.39 plus tax; a dozen assorted, $7.29 plus tax.
Memphis Donuts, 3119 Poplar (347-2561)
E's 24-Hour Cafe, a local chain that has taken over a couple of former CK's Coffee Shop buildings around town, maintains the classic diner menu that earned CK's a cult following but adds a new paint job and a generally cleaner space, inviting old patrons to become new converts.
Run by father and son duo Rip Crain and Eric Tushek, E's has two locations so far: one on Union Avenue across from Methodist Hospital and one on Summer. Still another is in the works on Park and should be open sometime in January. In fact, Crain says they've got their eyes on former CK's spaces across the city — excluding, of course, the four locations that are still open and operating as CK's. Business has been good, Crain says, and he hopes to continue to expand in the Memphis region, which he believes could handle as many as 25 to 30 stores.
The E's menu has all the telltale signs of a diner: burgers, fries, patty melts, country-fried steak, hash browns, and grilled cheese and chili, all for prices on par with a diner. And unlike CK's, E's takes debit and credit cards, so you don't have to collect all your pocket change for a grilled cheese (something this writer has certainly never done before).
E's 24-Hour Café, 4287 Summer (767-8397), 1308 Union (267-4845)