Ben Yay's

A Special Occasion

In keeping with a new tradition, I treated myself to a nice dinner on my birthday. After visits to fancy restaurants like Bari and Bishop, I decided to dress it down a bit by dining at Ben Yay's. Formerly a fast food chicken joint (Krispy Krunchy Chicken), the late Chef Gary Williams turned it into the Creole restaurant DejaVu. Unfortunately, Chef Gary ran into financial trouble and had to give up ownership of his restaurants, including his original Florida Street location that introduced me to his delicious gumbo. Fortunately, Ben Yay's is carrying on Williams' legacy of great Creole cuisine that is still popular with many Memphians.

Unlike previous birthday dinners (with the Majestic Grille being the exception), I never knew what to expect from the restaurant. In the case of Ben Yay's, I had some familiarity with the menu due to my many late night visits there. There was one item in particular that I wanted to get that I never had sober (by the way, I have recently cut back on alcohol consumption by a lot for health reasons). I will discuss it later but first, I want to focus on the appetizer.

Seafood Balls from Ben Yay's in Memphis, TN

At first, I intended to get the Boudin Balls, but was persuaded to get something else. Nikki, my server for the evening, urged me to get the Seafood Balls for an appetizer. Given my longtime relationship with her during Nikki's previous stints at other restaurants and bars (including an establishment that made a "silly" decision in not retaining her services), I trusted her advice in going with the Seafood Balls. It turned out to be a very good choice, for the spicy appetizer was excellent. Fried in a catfish-style cornmeal breading, the "balls" consists of salmon, shrimp, cream cheese and green onions that gives it that spicy flavor. With Remoulade sauce for dipping, the Seafood Balls were great and could be a meal by itself. With it being so rich in substance, I wasn't sure if I had enough room in my stomach for the main course, but I had the "balls" to go on.

The DejaVu Special from Ben Yay's in Memphis, TN

Once I finished eating the appetizer, I pressed on to the main course. The DejaVu Special, named in honor of the restaurant that Ben Yay's inherited its legacy from, is a Creole masterpiece. Consisting of a fried catfish filet atop Pimento cheese grits and smothered with Crawfish Étouffée, this really hit the spot. Extremely spicy in flavor (owing in part to the saltiness), both the étouffé and the catfish were very tasty. It definitely had that New Orleans flare that I encountered in past dining experiences in that city. The cheese grits added a soothing balance to the entrée, making it an overall wonderful meal.

SIDE NOTE: I wanted to wash my dinner down with a Louisiana beer, but Ben Yay's didn't have any. Not even an Abita beer that I've had in places ranging from Felicia Suzanne's (an upscale restaurant that was located a block from Ben Yay's before it closed) to Hooters (given that it only sells the very potent Abita Andygator, I'm glad that I didn't get that). Even an Abita Purple Haze (not a fan) would have sufficed, but I had to settle for a Pabst Blue Ribbon to drink with my Creole dinner. Far be it for me to tell anyone how to run a business, but not having a genuine Louisiana beer isn't a good look for a Creole/Cajun restaurant, in my opinion.

SIDE-SIDE NOTE: If Ben Yay's gets any Abita beer, I recommend the FlufferNutter. Although I never had it, the name alone cracks me up. 🤣

Bourbon Bread Pudding from Ben Yay's in Memphis, TN

For dessert, I got the Bourbon Bread Pudding. This usually isn't something that I would eat, but it seemed a more appropriate choice than the other options on the menu. In terms of taste, it is somewhat similar to French toast but sweeter and more gooey. After eating the Seafood Balls and the DejaVu Special, I didn't have much room in my stomach for anything else. Given the richness of the bread pudding, I was only able to take a few bites before tapping out. While bread pudding isn't among my favorite desserts, I could make an exception for Ben Yay's "Bourbon."

In all, my birthday dinner was great. Everything that I had was superb, accompanied by outstanding service. Kudos to both Nikki and the kitchen staff for making my special day memorable. If I ever need a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion, Ben Yay's is on my short list of places to choose from.

For Dad

The previous year, I took my Dad to Ben Yay's for Father's Day. With him being a huge fan of Pappadeaux, the New Orleans-themed restaurant chain with locations scattered across the United States but not in Memphis (or New Orleans). With the closet Pappadeaux restaurant being over two hundred miles away in Birmingham, Alabama, I tried to find something that was at least somewhat close to what my Dad is accustomed to while getting away from the corporate restaurant shtick (or course, this is ironic given who owns Ben Yay's, but more thoughts on that later). However, I didn't plan our dinner well because among other things, I didn't take accessibility parking into consideration with my Dad being eighty-five years old at the time and walking with a cane. With Ben Yay's situated on Main Street between Monroe and Union avenues and the scarcity of Downtown Memphis parking, getting my Dad to walk from Monroe Avenue to the restaurant was a bit much. I regret not planning better for my Dad, but he persevered in getting to Ben Yay's. It seems that sometimes, going to a spacious suburban restaurant with its own parking lot is a good thing, even if it's part of a "chain" (if you're interested in more of my thoughts about chain restaurants, click here).

The Catfish Basket from Ben Yay's in Memphis, TNAs far as what my Dad had, he got the Catfish Basket. As you can see, the "basket" consists of only two catfish filets along with two sides. While my Dad liked the catfish, he felt that the menu was a little misleading. Instead of getting a huge plate of food, my Dad got a little less than he expected. Again, I want to stress that my Dad liked the catfish, spinach and potatoes, but he had a big appetite that wasn't satisfied. In hindsight, I should have recommended the DejaVu Special, a meal more befitting of his stature. The next time I plan a dinner for my hard-to-satisfy Dad who has special needs, I will plan accordingly (as in asking him where he wants to go, as opposed to making assumptions).

SIDE NOTE: Maybe for my next birthday, I should get my Dad to treat me to dinner at Ben Yay's where I can help him achieve a better experience. That is not an easy task but I believe it's worth it.

The Praline Duck from Ben Yay's in Memphis, TN

As for myself, I got one of Ben Yay's more exotic dishes, the Praline Duck. The entrée consists of sliced duck and a medley of vegetables including scallions ("green onions"), diced tomatoes, sweet potatoes and walnuts (not sure if a walnut is a fruit or a vegetable) immersed in a Praline vinaigrette. To me, the sweet and sour taste of the entrée seems more like a Chinese dish than a Creole staple, but the Praline Duck was very tasty and enjoyable.

Gator Bites from Ben Yay's in Memphis, TN

Prior to getting our main courses, my Dad and I shared a delicious appetizer. In recalling the years I spent in Florida, I urged my Dad to try the Gator Bites. Made up of breaded cuts of alligator that tastes like chicken with a more tender texture, the "bites" were a delightful appetizer that both my Dad and I bonded over. With the lettuce and Remoulade sauce, I believe my Dad got more of a meal from the Gator Bites than from his main course. In all, the Gator Bites are a great appetizer that can stand on its own.

Upping The Steaks

Ben Yay's has a tremendous menu of good things that I could write a book about. While I won't go on and on about everything that Ben Yay's offers, I will mention one of the best. The Delmonico Steak is one the most unique entrées that I've ever had. I knew going in that the steak was going to be something unlike any that I ever had, but it didn't prepare me for the plate that Nikki brought me.

Delmonico Steak Ben Yay's in Memphis, TN

The Delmonico Steak is huge. A 16 oz. steak (I'm guessing ribeye) topped with fried onions and cilantro and setting atop a bed of Delmonico potatoes (needless to say, that is a lot of food). Fortunately, the medium rare steak was tender and easy to slice, so I didn't have any trouble digging in. The steak itself was okay as far as tastiness, for although it was perfectly cooked from a temperature standpoint, it lacked that combination of salt and other seasoning that enhances a steak. That said, the steak didn't need any of that, for the charred broccoli, cilantro, fried onions and creamy cheese potatoes more than made up for any lack of flavor from the steak. The Delmonico Potatoes, a dish inspired by an early 20th Century New York City restaurant, consisted of cheddar cheese and a heavy whipping cream that combined for an extremely calorie-laden "side." The tasty potatoes were so filling that I couldn't eat all of it, leaving a good amount of it on my plate (but I did finish the steak😊). Overall, it was a very delicious meal and a great dining experience.

CORRECTION: As opposed to an "UPDATE" that I normally do when I edit a blog post, this is a "correction" that I felt needed to be made. First, the "Delmonico Steak" is an actual thing, inspired by the New York City that is STILL OPEN. When I referred to Delmonico's as "an early 20th Century New York City restaurant," I assumed it was in the past. Although it closed in 1923, it reopened three years later and is still going strong as one of America's best Italian Steakhouses. The "Delmonico Steak" is one of the restaurant's signature dishes, which according to Wikipedia is "a thick-cut preparation popularized by Delmonico's restaurant in New York City during the mid-19th century." It says that a true "Delmonico Steak" is a three-inch cut of Chuck Eye beef although my steak, while thick, wasn't nearly that beefy. Nonetheless, Ben Yay's version was very good and a pleasure to eat. Looking forward to getting it again soon.

In conclusion, Ben Yay's is a great restaurant for all things Creole and beyond. What I mentioned in this review only scratches the surface of what Ben Yay's offers (including brunch, something that I'm anxious to try). In addition to great food, the service at Ben Yay's is exceptional. Nikki (who is also a manager) and the rest of the staff does a great job at ensuring guests having everything they need for a great dining experience. It's something that another restaurant, Sugar Grits, can learn from. Coincidently, both eateries are a part of the group of restaurants owned by Tandem Restaurant Partners. It's hard to believe the difference between the two restaurants in terms of both food quality and service, but it goes to show that good management can make a difference. So unlike with Sugar Grits, I can with good conscience recommend Ben Yay's to anyone yearning for great food in a beautiful environment.

NOTE: Ben Yay's also has a restaurant in Jonesboro, Arkansas for those living in the northeastern part of the state.


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