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Elvis loved good old Southern country cooking
August 15, 2007
By Jennifer Chandler

Chow down on some of Elvis' little-known favorites

By Jennifer Chandler
Special to The Commercial Appeal

August 15, 2007

This is a big week for Memphis. Thousands of loyal fans have come to town to honor the 30th anniversary of the death of one of my favorite foodies, Elvis Presley. They'll visit Graceland, attend fan club events and enjoy memorial concerts as they pay tribute to the King of Rock and Roll.

I had originally planned to write this column about fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a dish that has become synonymous with Elvis.

But when I started asking around, I found that Elvis' favorite foods were so much more commonplace than fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Fans and friends of the King are quick to point out that Elvis was first and foremost a country boy who preferred simple meals with family and friends.

"He loved his mother's cooking -- the comfort foods that nurtured and connected him to his familial taproot," explains Ellen Rolfes, author of "Graceland's Table: Recipes Fit for the King of Rock and Roll" (Thomas Nelson, $19.99).

"I never saw or heard of a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich at Graceland," says Marian Cocke, Elvis' nurse and organizer of the annual Elvis Presley Memorial Dinner Charity Event. But she is quick to add that he liked burgers, bacon, Southern-style vegetables and ice cream.

So in honor of Elvis, take time this week to enjoy a good meal of Southern comfort food with your friends and families ... as well as a sinful fried peanut butter and banana sandwich for dessert!

Fine dining on Beale

Beale Street is known for great music, beer and barbecue, but not really for fine dining. Well, the folks at B.B. King's Blues Club have decided to change that with the opening of Itta Bena.

Named after the Mississippi Delta birthplace of B.B. King, Itta Bena is located on the third floor of the blues club at Beale and Second. Itta Bena features upscale Southern contemporary cuisine with a Delta influence. Similar in style to the House of Blues' members-only Foundation Rooms (but open to everyone), the restaurant has a separate entrance. The special VIP entrance for restaurant patrons is located in the alley behind the club and offers valet parking. Itta Bena is open for dinner only Monday through Saturday, but is also available for rental for private functions. For reservations, call 578-3031.

Half-price Italian wines

Caffe Italia, 102 E. Mulberry in Collierville, is featuring several Italian wines by the glass and bottle for half price during the month of August, and 2-for-1 Stoli martinis at the bar. Specials are 5-10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday. Call 850-8363 for more information.

New barbecue joint in Cordova

Whole Hog Cafe is opening its second location at 1250 N. Germantown Pwky. on Monday. Featuring their award-winning barbecue, the new location will be open for lunch and dinner daily.

Holiday Ham in Midtown

Midtown is getting a new Holiday Deli & Ham Co. Aug. 23.

Located at 2087 Union, the new store will be the first in the chain to have a coffee bar and to be open for breakfast. On the menu will be ham-stuffed rolls and coffee cake for breakfast, as well as the ever-popular Papa's pimento cheese. This will be the Memphis-based company's fourth location in the Memphis area.

Cooling cocktails

Encore Restaurant's bar manager has whipped up a selection of refreshing summer drinks to help patrons cool down in this summer heat. The pineapple mojito, the "Diva" (orange vodka and Mathilde orange cognac shaken with a blood orange puree until ice cold) and the Lillet blanc cocktail (a French aperitif with hints of citrus) are among the new selections. For dessert, try my favorite: the Encore Brandy Alexander (a milkshake with brandy, Godiva dark chocolate liquor, and Encore's homemade hazelnut ice cream).

Happy hour at Encore (150 Peabody Place) runs Tuesday through Sunday from opening until 6:30 p.m., and features $2 off all specialty cocktails and liquor as well as $2 domestic beers.

Memphis ribs the tops

When the staff members of Bon Appetit magazine ate their way across the country to find the quintessential versions of six American classics -- pizza, steak, tacos, hamburgers, fried chicken, and ribs -- they liked what they tasted in Memphis. Charles Vergos' Rendezvous was chosen as one of the three best places in the country for ribs. To find out about the Rendevous and their other top picks, pick up the September issue of Bon Appetit or tune into The Food Network this Saturday at 9 p.m. to see "America's Top Restaurants: Bon Appetit Picks the Best."

Please share your fabulous food finds and restaurant news with me at jennifer@cookwithjennifer.com.

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