Discover Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe In Cooper Young
Ed. Note: Stacey has discovered not one, but two things on my must-eats list for 2018: peach cobbler nachos and muddy mac ‘n’ cheese. They’re both found at Chef Tam’s Underground Cafe. Read more about the home-cooking-meets-Cajun-favorites spot in midtown.
Chef Tam’s Underground Café opened up in Cooper-Young in the former Imagine Vegan Café* location earlier this year. Chef Tam comes to us from Fort Worth, Texas. Until opening the cafe, she was a caterer, but she comes from a long line of cooks, bakers and restaurant owners.
Before taking my two teenage sons and my mom for dinner, I tried to do some recon and look at their menu beforehand. The internet was little help, so we just forged ahead. I told my mom and kids, “I think it’s a cross between cajun and home cooking.” I saw a picture of the “Peach Cobbler Nachos” on their Facebook page, so that was really all I needed to know.
We arrived around 6 p.m. on a Thursday, and the house was all lit up with several tables full of people already enjoying their dinner. I wondered how different the inside would look and was pleased to see that Chef Tam had done quite a bit of redecorating. She couldn’t do much about the separate rooms, but I love the new bright yellow walls, the community table in the front, and the bar stools at the counter. It feels very welcoming.
To say the service is friendly would be a gross understatement. We were greeted as family and taken to a table in the back room by a smiley and ebullient waitress. She asked if we’d ever been before and went over some menu items with us, as well as telling us what wasn’t available for the evening.
While my youngest son’s dream of eating the Donut Burger was dashed, there were still plenty of menu items that we wanted to try. Really, too many, as everything sounded great.
We started with an order of Fried Green Tomatoes. By we, I mean my mom and me, as the boys are anti-tomato, especially if they are green. There were five to the order and they were nice and crispy. The signature underground dipping sauce was really good. Similar to a remoulade, but thinner. It’s the kind of sauce that you want to put on everything.
The food is made to order, so our entrees came out as they were ready. I prefer when everything comes out together, but we didn’t let it get us down.
My mom’s Catfish Tacos arrived first (possibly because they are listed under starters). Served in a flour tortilla with coleslaw, pico de gallo and spicy drizzle, they were a hit. (Spicy drizzle was code for the signature underground dipping sauce.) She was very pleased.
Next up was my Overloaded Salad with chicken. I will admit that I am a salad snob and am often disappointed by them in restaurants, but not this time. It was chock full of things I like – grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, red onion, banana peppers, and a special bonus: pickled okra.
There were also things that I don’t love—raw mushrooms and cucumbers—but they were easily removed. I ended up ditching the ranch dressing in favor of the leftover signature underground dipping sauce from the fried green tomatoes. It was a good call.
I also had a side of the Muddy Water Mac & Cheese (aka “Muddy Mac”) because, well, I’m smart. This is no ordinary mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s loaded with crawfish, crab and shrimp and baked to cheesy perfection. They piled it as high as they could in a little ramekin. It’s hearty and oh-so-delicious.
My oldest son got the Spicy Chicken Sandwich (aka “Hot Bird”) and seasoned fries. Considering it was gone in 60 seconds, I can safely say that he liked it. My youngest went with the Big Mouth Burger which was a half pound burger topped with bacon, cheddar and a choice of traditional toppings on a Crustini bun.
And of course, you can and should get it with the signature underground dipping sauce. After one bite, my son looked at me and cooed, “This is SO good.” His brother then immediately began negotiating with him for a bite.
Eventually, there were four empty plates before us, and we were all stuffed. But! We weren’t leaving without trying the Peach Cobbler Nachos. And turns out, some Banana Pudding too. (It was hard not to tack on a Limoncello Cheesecake and a Butter Rum Bundt Cake.)
The Banana Pudding was already ready, and packed to go, so it came right out. It was covered in vanilla wafers and one extra special cookie in the middle. It was gone in short order.
After about ten minutes, the Peach Cobbler Nachos came out. Holy moly. They were beautiful. The chips were –and I say this with the utmost respect – similar to Cinnamon Crispas from Taco Bell. Using them to scoop up the peaches, sauce and ice cream was like getting that perfect corner bite on a regular cobbler every.single.time.
When we were done eating, the restaurant had really filled up. Because of the close proximity of the tables, we ended up making friends with the people next to us, which was fun. We got to see what they ordered and compare notes. The busy-ness of the 7:00 hour did make getting our check and paying our bill a little slow, but since everyone was so sweet and friendly, it wasn’t a big deal.
I grabbed a menu to go, and it tempted me for about a week. I tried calling to get dinner to go on a Monday, only to learn they are closed on Sunday and Monday. But, on Tuesday I was successful. I couldn’t believe we had left without trying any wings on our first visit. My kids would eat chicken wings at every meal if I let them.
I ordered the Bayou la Batre Wangs with Fried Okra, and Bacon Cheddar Gratin Potatoes to go. They also offer Such a Jerk Chicken Wings which are made in the Jamaican style.
My four whole jumbo wings were seasoned with Cajun spices and deep fried. The bones broke apart easily, as they should, and the meat fell right off the bone. Major win.
The fried okra was good, but I’m partial to the cornmeal batter variety you can find at other places – just personal preference. But man, those potatoes were something. They came thinly sliced and smothered with cheese and bacon. Very filling and satisfying. I’ll admit it: I had to take a nap. Chef Tam’s is a welcome addition to the Cooper Young community – go try for yourself.
Chef Tam’s is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. She’s closed on Sunday and Monday.
*Imagine Vegan Cafe is now at 2158 Young Avenue.
Chef Tam’s Underground Café
2299 Young Ave.
About The Author
Stacey Greenberg is a freelance writer who lives in Cooper Young with her two teenaged sons. She’s a contributor to Thrillist.com, Edible Memphis, I Love Memphis, and Memphis Travel. She’s also the author of the award winning blog, Dining with Monkeys (diningwithmonkeys.com). A lifelong Memphian, she loves the fact that she’s never met a stranger here.