Supper, Sips, and Songs at Pontotoc Lounge
You’ll recognize the upgrades to the former Cafe Pontotoc, now Pontotoc Lounge, before you enter the cozy space on South Main. The location’s adaptation last fall from cafe to lounge is a script for the renovations: darker walls, a gleaming chandelier, and a built-out patio replace the artsy, coffeehouse vibe.
Last year, when I read about plans to replace the casual cafe with something “upscale” that served “tapas” my Spidey senses – which have a lot to do with my bank account – tingled. But now that I’ve had the expert drinks and a wonderful meal at the new Pontotoc Lounge, I’m sold.
I sat at the bar both times I visited plus there are several tables and high tops as well as a community table that rests beneath a tremendous crystal chandelier. It may not be the most colossal chandelier of all comparable light fixtures, but in that space it is oversized in an intentional, alluring way.
Craft cocktail menus these days are 80 percent gin or mezcal or other Fernet-ish potions, which is fine, but I was happy to see a few other drinks offered, too. The bartender, Cady Smith, has made a quiet name for herself winning the People’s Choice award a couple times at the annual Mix-Odyssey competition (which is coming up! read more!)
Back to the cocktails…
On my first visit to Pontotoc Lounge, the French 95 caught my eye. It’s a classic variation on the French 75, but it calls for bourbon instead of gin. While she made my drink (refreshing, sweetness balanced with boozy) I noticed her spraying an old-timey perfume bottle on the outside of a rock glass. Curious.
A week or so later I returned to find Cady again at the bar, but this time I brought a friend and an appetite. Turns out, the perfume drink is the scotch-based Penicillin, which in Potontoc’s version is made of Monkey Shoulder scotch misted (via the perfume-looking bottle) with more scotch for aromatic purposes. Think of it like the absinthe rinse in a Sazerac, but subtler.
We got a Penicillin and a Manhattan; the former is for your adventurous aforementioned bitter potion appreciator while the latter is a classic made well by Cady. They also have a dozen beers on tap and plenty of wine available in three ounce, six ounce, and full pours for your tasting convenience.
Foodwise, we started out with the smoked trout deviled eggs, which were so good (or maybe we were so hungry) that I didn’t get a photo before we devoured them.
For Supper – that’s what the menu section is called, much to my delight – I tried the Mississippi Pot Roast ($13) and my friend ordered the Duck Confit ($22).
I received a heaping bowl of the most comforting comfort food I’ve eaten since the last time I had my mom’s Mississippi Pot Roast in actual Mississippi. Plus, Pontotoc’s came with a buttery jalapeño cornbread muffin. Such a simple dish could easily be an afterthought to fill out a menu in the winter, but it tasted like someone cared about cooking this. I’ll be back for this specifically.
As for the Duck Confit, the menu says it comes with a potato croquette. Whether from experience or a moment of cynicism, I expected a formed pile of mashed potatoes topped with some bits of pulled duck, maybe a syrup. No, no, no. I was so happy to be so wrong.
Perched atop two hefty fried potato cakes sat two duck leg quarters sealed with a pomegranate glaze. We devoured the juicy, tender meat and the decadent, creamy potatoes, wholly full and fully impressed. It’s always good to keep in mind the role that expectations play in satisfaction, but I feel like this dish wins either way.
As much as the Sister Shubert Beignets on the dessert menu tempted me, we couldn’t suffer another bite. Sister Shubert…beignets! What wonderful madness could that be?
Almost as intriguing was the Sunday Brunch menu, which runs 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and included the pot roast and a basic breakfast plate in addition to things like a banana nut French toast and a Grit BLT ($9 – $13). Brunch drink specials TBD.
Both times I went, the atmosphere was pretty chill, with only four or so tables sat, and the jazz guitarist on one occasion was fun and not overly loud. The bartender was also the only server at those times which made for a leisurely experience, one that we didn’t mind. I’m confidently assuming that during peak times they’ll have more servers on deck.
They host live jazz trios or Latin jazz (they usually announce on their Facebook page) a time or two a week that I’m sure will increase the volume inside, but I’m here to say downtown could use some more live music off-Beale.
Pontotoc Lounge is open in the evenings on weekdays and earlier on weekends. The hours are Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday from 2 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. They only have a couple of vegetarian options, but you can check out the full menu (subject to change) here.
It seems like it would be totally fine to dine with kids earlier in the evening, though it feels more like date night/girl or guy’s night/nightcap sort of place as it gets later and the music begins.
314 S. Main
Memphis, Tennessee 38103