The Little Tea Shop (CLOSED)

Soul Food Awesomeness!

A few weeks ago, my friend Craig of the blog Memphis Que wrote that he was having trouble finding places to blog about. Given that his blog's focus is on barbecue and Soul Food restaurants, this surprised me. I responded by listing places that I either experienced or heard great things about. Among the restaurants mentioned, one of them is head and shoulders above the rest.
For me, The Little Tea Shop is one of the best Soul Food restaurants in Memphis. Located in the Downtown district, it is open for lunch Monday through Friday. Because of its hours, I'm not sure if Craig can fit it in his schedule. My anticipation of his review motivated me to provide my take on it. I'm happy to do it, and I should have done it sooner. Fortunately, a day off from the FedExForum allowed me to visit my favorite Downtown Soul Food restaurant.
The day of my visit to the "Tea Shop" was on a Friday. The featured entrées that day were corned beef, chicken pan (pot) pie, seafood gumbo and catfish fillets. With the objective of writing a Soul Food review, I felt that catfish was the most appropriate choice. Along with that, I got turnip greens and a sweet potato as sides. The latter was an atypical choice for me, because I feel that sweet potatoes are too sweet for catfish. Normally, I would go with something like green beans, mashed potatoes or that great Southern "vegetable," macaroni and cheese. Still, I didn't regret the choices I made for a lunch that turned out great.

SIDE NOTE: I'm with Craig about his fascination of finding macaroni and cheese as a "vegetable" on most Soul Food/Country restaurant menus. How did this come to be? Aside from the fact that macaroni pasta comes from durum wheat, I don't understand how people consider Mac ‘n Cheese a vegetable. It has more animal products in it (butter, cheese) than anything else. I'm not sure what this says about our society, but I find it amusing.

The catfish I had at The Little Tea Shop was delicious. It was mildly seasoned with spices that put it head and shoulders above the competition. The catfish comes with Tartar sauce, but it is good enough without it. Louisiana Hot Sauce, which was also available (along with Bruce's Green Hot Pepper Sauce), couldn't have made it better. I'm definitely glad I chose the catfish, for it made my day.
My turnip greens were absolutely magnificent. Cooked with ingredients that resulted in a slightly sweet flavor, the best part of the greens is what it lacked: pork. Unlike most restaurants and people like my Mom, The Little Tea Shop has made this Southern staple vegetarian friendly. Compared to other places, The Little Tea Shop's turnip greens are the best I ever had (including my Mom's).

SIDE NOTE: The turnip greens can be ordered as an entrée with cornbread sticks (AKA "cornsticks"), tomatoes and onions for $7.95. For vegetarians, this seems like a good deal for a great meal.

Unlike the other items I had, the sweet potato didn't impress me as much. It's not that I didn't like it, but it wasn’t as exceptional as the rest of my lunch. For the most part, the taste is similar to most Soul Food restaurants. By the way, for those who "love" to check my grammar, I'm sure they took note of the word "potato." Because it consisted of one huge piece, I felt it was appropriate to refer to it in the singular sense. In hindsight, I should've split it in half like a Russet baked potato and buttered it. Along with butter, whipped cream (in place of sour cream) might have gone well with the sweet potato. It's something that I will keep in mind if I order it again.
As much as I loved the main course, there is one item that The Little Tea Shop serves that keeps me coming back. The cornbread sticks that the diner serves as an appetizer are "da bomb!" The crispy crust contains a buttery texture that is delectable, especially when dipped in margarine. For me, the cornsticks are comfort food that I could snack on all day without tiring of them. Except for my Mom, I can't think of anyone or anyplace that makes better cornbread.

SIDE NOTE: Prior to visiting The Little Tea Shop, I had a few beers at Bardog Tavern, located next door. The bartender (Brittany, who's a real sweetheart) told me that she hasn't been to the diner. However, she has had the cornbread sticks which she likes a lot. I wonder if I could trade a few sticks for a beer? Hmmm...

In the end, my lunch at The Little Tea Shop was great. In all my years of eating there, I never had a bad meal. In addition to the food, the service is great. I never have to wait long (ten minutes max) for an order. The diner's waitstaff are very friendly and eager to serve. This hospitality extends from the owner Suhair Lauck (known to most as "Su"), who is always smiling whenever I see her. With great food and hospitality, I can’t see anyone not liking The Little Tea Shop. That includes my friend Craig, who's looking for another great place to eat. He can't do much better.


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