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How Memphis Mae’s Got Her Groove Back

Westchester Eats at Memphis Mae

She didn’t have it, now she’s found it.  The former sliver vacuum cleaner repair shop was converted by Jeff Matros, Karen Ferencz, and Andreas Nowara into a dining spot of great potential.

The opening of Memphis Mae’s BBQ Bistro back in March of 2006, lacked oomph.  There were no more than three wines offered and all Yellowtail (although nothing wrong with Yellowtail wines).  As you may know, my big whine, is wine not handled correctly.  All on the counter taking on the room’s warmth.  There were a few beer offerings which is a good choice for a BBQ joint.

My first meals at Memphis Mae’s were rough…. Straight up, the dishes had huge potential.  I am talkin’ about quality ingredients and all the makings for a great experience.  One problem consistently was the missing component in the foundation of cooking – – the seasoning (we’re talking salt & pepper).

Trained cooks/chefs know to season the ingredients as they go along, layer-by-layer making sure that there is an evenly balanced dish.  The food here was flat.  Everything from vegetable sides, to sauces, and the bbq itself.  All you got was smoke and there was nothing dancing on the tongue or allowing the natural flavor of the foods to round them out in the mouth.

I took a Croton bbq break for a period and have finally returned for another round. Something rectified the situation considerably.  Memphis Mae’s got her groove back by cooking with more skill and consideration. 

I am happy to report some exciting changes.

The wine list has greatly expanded and they even offer pinot noir and malbec!  My whine will drone on as long as they keep their offerings on top of the counter, however… Blah, blah and more blah.

The beer selections have grown, too.  Among draught and bottled beers there are some intriguing selections.  I love the Belgian Trappist Monk offerings. The Abita from New Orleans kicks butt with its lightly amber and caramel notes.  Beers are refreshingly served in iced and frosty pint glasses.

Mae’s decor has always been primo.  They converted this dingy box into a nice bistro.  Colors reminiscent of Tuscany… deep darker yellows with a sienna overhang above the main counter complement the plumish/lavender wainscoting.  The ceiling is a crenellated bronze number with a ceiling fan system that is pure entertainment.  Each works in tandem and is propelled by an inventive wheel/axle/pulley system.  The walls are dotted with colorful prints, some signed and numbered, of various music-fests across Memphis. Flooring here is blond birch plank giving the place the benefit of lightness and brightness.

The tables are of good size and chairs have squishy comfortable seats for the weary behind.  Salt and pepper shakers and three squirt bottles, each containing a different sauce, rest on each tabletop.  One is champagne vinegar with red chili flakes, another is an herb seasoned mustard sauce, and finally a chipotle-like smoky red sauce. Tables lack extra napkins or packages of “wet wipes” for sauced fingers. A bbq faux pas.

Above the main counter is an enormous chalkboard featuring all menu items and specials.  Next is a large mirror just above the wainscoting with bottled beer samplings visually displayed.

The last couple of times I’ve eaten there, they were not utilizing their expensive audio system.  Toward the end of my last meal, some jazz/blues were finally piped through the place.  It dramatically added to the ambience.

The food

Westchester Eats at Memphis Mae

The Mississippi Catfish is tasty.  It is lightly and crisply breaded in cornmeal and deep-fried.  There is no greasiness here and the seasonings are balanced.  The breading is just right and the catfish flavor comes through.  No need for any sauces.  Even the accompanying tarter sauce – – which tastes like cornichon mayo, can be left behind.

Teriyaki BBQ Glazed Salmon is a beautiful, well-sized portion. It is wasted by the glaze, which is too sugary, with hints of cinnamon, masking the salmon’s savory qualities.

The Fried Pickles made me laugh!  The menu says they are placed into a jalapeño brine for 36 hours; battered and fried.  The breading was a touch on the oily side; but the inside revealed a crisp pickle.  The first bite is exciting and then is followed by some heat that creeps up on you after a few seconds at the backside of the tongue and throat – – cayenne.

A vinegar-based coleslaw was disappointing.  The vegetables hold promise and are well shredded and crisp.  The top of the coleslaw was completely dry with the vinaigrette at the bottom of the ramekin.  Rather than prepare in advance, it should be continually tossed with the sauce and plated to order.

Westchester Eats at Memphis Mae

Brisket has never been a favorite of mine but I tried it again nonetheless.  It can be cooked and tender/moist – – but that isn’t an easy task.  The brisket I was served reinforced my feelings about it. The meat was too dry.  The presentation was eye catching – – thinly sliced across the diagonal and symmetrically juxtaposed forming a sort of “boat” shape.  Sauce, sickeningly sweet, was drizzled over the top.  The sugar was so present and mouth forward, I couldn’t take it.

Memphis Style Ribs are cooked low and slow and the smoky essence is quite noticeable.  Rather than “fall off the bone” ours were “wrestle off the bone.”  We ordered them dry to taste the meat for what it was in order to focus on the cooking technique rather than taste a piece of meat hiding in sauce. It was evident that after smoking, these ribs were grilled to the point of blackened (charred) – – This is where the bottled table sauces become a requirement to keep things interesting.

Now we move on to my favorite, the Carolina Pulled Pork.  This meat was perfectly seasoned, smoked low and slow and should be savored as is – – no additional sauces, etc.  This was a Wow.

The dishes were accompanied by a nice square of cornbread.  The cornbread was reasonably moist.  The best part about the browned and caramelized top-crust is that it tastes like candy.  That and a little fresh butter would have worked for me!

A lack-luster item was the Hoppin’ John Rice.  This side has onions, peppers, celery, and black-eyed peas.  More seasoning here please – – as is, quite uninteresting.

Comfort food lovers unite!  You will love the Smashed Golden Skins.  These are yellow potatoes (Yukon?) which are smashed with the skin on and served with your choice of gravy or “no gravy.”  I asked for the gravy, which came on the side.  The gravy obviously begins with a roux and there was no residual flour taste, to their credit.  This is a white sauce, that took me back to my younger years eating chicken fried steak.  This was a pleasant treat.

Westchester Eats at Memphis Mae

Desserts are intriguing.  One item of note is the Banana Bites. These are little battered deep fried squares containing a cheesecake like concoction (they say banana pudding) with a small brown-sugared banana slice resting atop.  They are accompanied by a melted chocolate sauce.  This is a whimsical dessert – – simple yet ingenious.  Coffee is from Croton’s local Black Cow.  Always good to collaborate with local merchants.

Memphis Mae’s got her groove back – – thankfully. 

A bbq bistro is a great addition to this community and I hope they continue to keep adding more groove to the repertoire.

Memphis Mae’s BBQ Bistro
173 South Riverside Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, NY, 914-271-0125

(http://www.memphismaes.com/)
Todd Alan is Westchester Eat’s critic for all things to stuff into your mouth, gadgetry to play with in the kitchen, and all things food.  We make him eat crap so you don’t have to.

 

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