During the past two weeks while working at the FedExForum, I decided to stroll down Memory Lane by having lunch at a place that was my go-to spot a long time ago. When I worked for a small printing and sign shop on Presidents Island, The Port Restaurant was a very convenient place for breakfast and lunch when I didn't have time to go Downtown to some of my favorite restaurants. It is in my opinion an atypical diner (read below for my reasoning) that has the blue collar charm that one would expect from a place located in an industrial park hosting the city's river port. Whenever I go there, I'm usually very hungry and in need of a big meal to satisfy my appetite. In particular, I rely on one of two entrées, the Tow "Boat" Special and the Giant Country Fried Steak.
The Tow "Boat" Special consists of two ½ lb. cheeseburgers on French bread with a side of fries. The meat in each sandwich comes in the form of two ground beef patties which are slightly charred and mildly seasoned. This is the foundation for solid burgers that also includes American and Swiss cheeses, lettuce and tomato. All of this is contained within baguettes that are soft and fresh with a very nice sweet dough flavor. The bun's soft texture allows it to blend well with the meat that results in very delicious cheeseburgers that I have longingly missed. The fries are decent and rounds out a great meal that I look forward to having again.
As for my other favorite entrée at The Port, I feel that the Giant Country Fried Steak is one of best in Memphis. I like it not only for its size (I'm guessing 10 oz.), but also because of how it's made and its flavor. Speaking of the latter, most of comes from the light coating of breading that's seasoned with salt, black pepper and other spices for a good taste that is better than most. The brown gravy (which is optional) adds to and enhances the entrée for a very flavorful steak. The cube steak used in it is very tender, allowing the aroma of the breading and gravy to seep in for a scrumptious chicken fried steak that's hard to find anywhere. With mashed potatoes (and more gravy), The Port's Giant Country Fried Steak is a very satisfying meal that is one of my all-time favorites.
Although I really love its Tow Boat burger and chicken fried steak, The Port has many entrées that I like and believe to have broad appeal. From loaded potato skins to salads to omelettes, there isn't anything on The Port's menu that I dislike. This includes Greek items like the gyro, which is good overall but a little heavy on the tzatziki (or as the menu calls it, "cucumber sauce"). Whatever you get, you will probably get satisfaction from it and will likely come back for more.
The layout of the diner is divided into two halves, smoking and non-smoking with a serving line in the back for its buffet although table service is also offered. The "smoking" side of the restaurant also has a pool table, dart boards and last but not least, a full service bar. The diner boasts great drink specials like $1 Bud Light Wednesdays and $2 Margarita Fridays (which seems out of place in a working class restaurant). Even if one isn't looking for drink specials, the alcohol at The Port is cheap when compared to other places. Several years ago when I worked on President's Island, I remembered getting a Red Tail (an amber ale beer) for four dollars (or it might have been less). Compared to places like the overly mentioned Flying Saucer that sold it then for about six dollars (I'm guessing), the beer was a bargain. So as a place to relax over drinks, it can be done inexpensively at The Port.
Overall, The Port is a very nice restaurant serving the hardworking men and women of Memphis' Presidents Island. There are days when I miss the camaraderie of the people who I came in contact with and I still reminisce about the good old days, but I've moved on with fond memories of my time on the "Island." Occasional visits are okay, but it's not the same as being a part of one of Memphis' vital economic engines. It is fortunate to have The Port Restaurant providing it fuel to keep it going, for Presidents Island would be a dismal place without it.
UPDATE: Check out this article in The Commercial Appeal about the origins of The Port and its owner, Nicholas Vrettos.