As the year winds down, I've been looking back over old posts, trying to figure out where the time has gone. I've realized that in 2012, a lot of my time was spent eating.
I know there aren't really any vegetables on this list, and that's not a purposeful omission. I very much like vegetables, but 2012 seemed to be a year of bacon. Delicious, tasty bacon.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the best things I've eaten in Memphis in the past year:
1. Ribs, Alex's Tavern (1445 Jackson Ave.)
During the Grizzlies' playoff run, I had a game night ritual: hole up at Alex's Tavern with a bottle of Buffalo Trace dressed in a Growl Towel (because Alex's is the sort of place that lets you bring your own whiskey), order a Greek burger in the first half, and a half slab of ribs in the second half. Every game that I did this, the Grizz won (the wins probably owing more to our team of man beasts rather than my questionable diet). I've had a lot of ribs, and the ones from Alex's are hands-down the best. They're slow smoked in a grill behind the bar, the meat is R&B slow jam tender, and the seasoning is crazy amazing. Go eat them, whether or not the Grizz are playing. Note: they cook them on the weekends, so that's your best chance of getting some.
2. Maple Bacon Donut, Gibson's Donuts (760 Mount Moriah Rd)
For a food that's so exuberantly unhealthy, the maple bacon donut from Gibson's is surprisingly light. It's a fluffy yeast donut topped with a thin coating of maple icing that serves as glue for sprinkles of real bacon. Paula Deen only wishes she had invented a decadent food delivery system as efficient as this donut.
3. Shanghai Shakes, Shanghai (1400 Poplar)
Ordering a shake from Shanghai is always a bit of a gamble – they may not have them on the day you go, and if they do, you can never be sure of what flavors they're offering. Over the summer, I developed a bit of an addiction to them. The avocado shakes are thick and creamy, the fruit ones (pineapple, strawberry, etc.) are more like granitas, but whatever combination of fresh fruit, ice, condensed milk and magic the ladies behind the counter serve, it's amazing.
4. Benton's Bacon, served in all kinds of places (like Iris, Andrew Michael, at Cochon, etc.)
Allan Benton is a bacon legend. His thick cut, aged bacon is made in East Tennessee and used in some of my favorite dishes in Memphis. I had it for the first time at Restaurant Iris, served fried and on a plate before my meal, like a down-home amuse bouche. They also use slices of it in their brussels sprouts. At Cochon 555, the table centerpieces were mason jars full of Benton's bacon, just like I imagine they are in heaven. You can't buy it in stores in Memphis, but you can order it from the man himself.
5. The Other Side pizza, Aldo's Pizza Pies (100 S. Main St.)
Hey look – vegetables!
Even though it's been open less than a year, Aldo's Pizza Pies has become a downtown staple. It's good, it's reasonably priced, and it's got a great location. While all of the pizza I've had there has been delicious, the Other Side – a pizza with poblano cream sauce, grilled chicken, tomato slices and spinach – is easily the best. It's good the night you order it, it's better the next morning.
6. Barbecue Nachos with House Chips, Central Barbecue (all locations)
A few months ago, reader Thomas W. suggested that I make a slight (and free) modification to my barbecue nachos order: ask for Central's house-made potato chips instead of the menu-suggested tortilla chips. Thomas, thank you. You've changed my life for the better.
7. Tom Yum Soup, Shanghai (1400 Poplar Ave.)
I know that I've already listed one item from Shanghai here, but I would be lying to you (and myself) if I didn't also give a spot on this list to their amazing tom yum soup. Since I walked into Shanghai's hallowed, disco-balled halls in February, I've probably eaten this soup at least once every two weeks. It's packed with vegetables, there's enough of it to make two meals, and I'm now convinced that it can cure bad days, broken hearts and the common cold.
8. Ramen Noodles, Hog and Hominy (707 W Brookhaven Cir.)
Hog and Hominy just started serving late-night Ramen noodles a few weeks ago, and they're definitely worth staying up past 10 p.m. A giant bowl costs $10 and comes packed with noodles, duck sausage, a chicken wing, crispy seaweed, pickled mushrooms and carrots, crispy pig ear, a poached egg, and just enough spicy chicken broth. This is nowhere near the Ramen you ate in your dorm room. It's served Thursday through Saturday from 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
9.Honey Shortbread, Bluff City Coffee (505 South Main)
Bluff City Coffee's pastry chef, Jason Doty, works all kinds of flour-based miracles, but my favorite thing he makes are the wedges of honey shortbread. The honey adds moisture and sweetness to the thick shortbread, and the sea salt sprinkled on the top sends it over the edge. Pair it with coffee or hot chocolate, or do what I do and eat it straight from the paper bag while you walk back to your car, like a dignified lady.
10. Cheese pizza from Rock'n'Dough Food Truck
I'm so excited that Rock'n'Dough Pizza is opening a brick-and-mortar store in 2013. Their shack-like food truck is one of my favorite ones in Memphis, and I applaud anyone who can make pizza this delicious in a trailer. Their cheese pizza is perfection – thin crusted, hot and melty. I want them to park this truck outside of every bar in town at closing time – they'd sell slices like crazy.
What are the best things you've eaten in the past year?