Thursday, July 19, 2012

We’re Going to Miss “Elvis Week”

That’s August 10th to 18th. And we are not—I repeat, not—going to Graceland. I must admit that, even in my youth, I wasn’t an Elvis fan. I was a pre-teen when he burst on the scene in 1956 with Heartbreak Hotel. I didn’t “get” him then, and I never did.

Every once in a while when he hears Elvis’ Suspicious Minds, my Favorite Traveling Companion will walk around the house singing “We're caught in a trap, I can't walk out, Because I love you too much baby” (words and music by Mark James).

So the closest we will come to an Elvis experience is having breakfast at one of Elvis’ favorite eateries, where they would (and still do) prepare his beloved fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches—The Arcade Restaurant.

“The Arcade has the honor of being Memphis' oldest restaurant. Speros Zepatos founded the diner in 1919 after emigrating from Cephalonia, Greece…. (T)he original building was a small, one story, wood framed building. Food was actually cooked on potbelly stoves! In 1925, Speros tore down the wood structure and built the Arcade Building in a Greek revival style, complete with retail stores to signify the ‘Arcade’ name.

“His son, Harry Zepatos, took the Arcade to a new level in the 1950's. He made the cafe into the hip, fifties diner you see today. The boomerang table top designs, now faded and worn around the edges due to thousands of coffee cups, plates, and elbows rubbed
across the surface; the spectacular neon signage; and original storefronts have all stood the test of time.

“Third generation owners Harry and Karan Zepatos can now be found running the day-to-day operations of the Arcade. There have been many changes over the years, but great care has been taken to preserve the old-time charm…” (

The Arcade Restaurant is at the corner where the Downtown Loop Trolley turns onto Main Street and is just two blocks from the National Civil Rights Museum. (We toured the museum on our previous trip and it is well worth making an effort to visit.) During the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the surrounding area fell into disrepair, but the Arcade hung on to see the rebirth of this section of the city.

I had expected the interior to be a shrine to Elvis, but other than the “Elvis Booth” complete with small plaque (We didn’t look for it. We didn’t sit in it.), most of the decorations consisted of tributes to Speros and Harry Zepatos. We are assuming that these two gentlemen are memorialized by these two very large portraits.
And on the window sill next to our table was a plaque from his friends on South Main Street thanking Harry Zepatos for his contribution to the neighborhood.

But one of the servers with her retro-50’s hair-do seemed to be in the spirit. I wonder if she has bobby socks and a poodle skirt at home?

I believe that historic diner-like restaurants are best sampled at breakfast, so we made a point to get an early start before the temperatures started to soar. When we arrived, the Arcade was almost empty,
but after about a half an hour, the late risers began to wander in—most of them looking like fellow travelers.

The breakfast menu was surprisingly short with about eight combos plus a list of a la carte items. The combos all sounded very large. For example, there was the “Food Network Favorite” of two sweet potato pancakes, two eggs any style, bacon or sausage, and hash browns or grits. And there was the “Travel Channel Favorite,” the Eggs Redneck with biscuits, sausage, eggs, and hash browns all smothered in gravy. But we both chose to order from the a la carte section.

For Chuck it would be a slice of country ham plus an order of French toast. The ham was everything country ham should be—and more. It was dry. It was chewy. It was smoky. It was salty. And having been cooked on a hot flattop, the surface was caramelized and all of those attributes intensified.
But we didn’t understand the reason for the small dish of white gravy that came with it. I could have understood redeye gravy—but white gravy? Besides, it was bland and it was cold.

The Arcade touts their version of French toast (an “Arcade Favorite”) and well they should. It was delicious—if unusual—with a super crispy crust but the bread’s interior didn’t have that custard-like consistency that you find when the bread has been soaked for a period of time in the egg mixture.
I took a taste and conjectured that the dipped slices of bread had been deep fat fried rather than having been cooked on a griddle. A question to one of the servers confirmed that my guess was right.

I really wanted the sweet potato pancakes, but didn’t want the “Food Network Favorite.” So I ordered the a la carte stack. When I saw four good-sized cakes on my plate, I knew that I would never eat all of this, so two cakes were moved out of syrup’s way to take home. These were wonderful. Think Thanksgiving dessert for breakfast.
They had all of the traditional pumpkin or sweet potato pie flavors—cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. And while they were more substantial than, for example, buttermilk pancakes, they weren’t heavy. And they had no taste of baking powder. And throughout you could see flecks of sweet potato. So good were they that I also ate a half of one of the set asides.

If I am eating something sweet at breakfast, I also have to have something salty. So I added a side of two very peppery sausage patties. These were good, but not extraordinary.

Well, we didn’t eat Elvis’ favorite. That—thank heaven—is on the lunch menu, so I wasn’t tempted, even for the sake of research. But we still enjoyed a really good 4.0 Addie breakfast.

Thank you, thank you very much.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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