Felicia Willet and I go way, way back. She's the culinary goddess of Memphis and one of the first chefs who captured my teenage attention beyond the television screen. I spent my sixteenth birthday dining in the Felicia Suzanne kitchen and remember the private meal's spacial intimacy and flavor intensity almost perfectly. I became infatuated with the restaurant's behind-the-scenes perspective and, clearly, have never turned back.
Felicia then cooked my high school graduation dinner at my home, making my favorite short rib grilled cheese and peppermint ice cream mini ice cream sandwiches like no one's business (healthy, I know).
And now, I live directly next door to Felicia's magical Memphis-meets-New Orleans restaurant and patio. Could it be more perfect? I think not.
I have dined at Felicia Suzanne's countless times without taking the appropriate photographs. I cannot stand to scroll through my Critiques page anymore without seeing her name under the "Memphis" category, so here is a taste of the Southern kitchen. I plan to step back into Felicia's fairly soon and taste/photograph some house favorites. But for now, I will discuss my favorite Friday lunch items that keep me going back. Besides the 25 cent dirty martinis.
1. SHORT RIB GRILLED CHEESE. I am not afraid to claim this sandwich as a top 10 dish I have ever and will ever taste. Tender short ribs on the inside and melted, toasted cheese on the outside. That's right; there's a generous sprinkle of cheese in between the bread, but the outside Sweetwater cheddar cheese kicks this up so many notches.
2. GUMBO. Did you know that Felicia trained under Emeril Lagasse, to whom I attribute my pretend cooking shows as a little kid? She clearly learned his gumbo secrets, because the andouille sausage and chicken roux is legitimate. Felicia's country gumbo is much more savory than a seafood gumbo, but it's well-rounded, especially with a dollup of (not too creamy) potato salad right in the middle.
3. FSR SALAD + FRIED OYSTERS. The oysters are plump and piping hot, melting blue cheese underneath. The tartness of the muscadine grapes inspired me to buy my own crate at the Memphis Farmers Market last weekend, where I ran into Felicia herself selling her precious Flo's line (homemade bread and butter pickles, you guys). Oh, and her cornbread croutons make sourdough croutons look defeated and flavorless. Hers are crispy and slightly crumbly in the center. And sweet. . .just like every touch in her Downtown Memphis restaurant.