540 South Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103
Food Network. Tourist destination. Foodies declare a “must visit”. It seems every town has one or two of these. Either featured on “Diner’s, Drive-In’s, and Dive’s”, or some other equally “Middle America” kind of show, it is usually an old institution that is still “doing it the old way”, and everyone loves the nostalgia. In Memphis, you have the Peabody Hotel, and you have Arcade Restaurant.
The claim to fame for Arcade Restaurant is that they are the oldest restaurant in Memphis. Located in downtown Memphis, a neighbourhood currently undergoing some “gentrification”, they even claim Elvis as a former regular customer. Considering some of the stories you hear about downtown, Arcade Restaurant resides in a fairly nice part of downtown.
The interior is all old school – I half expected to see Elvis sitting somewhere eating deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches after walking inside. This preserved interior has been the set for many Hollywood films. And they proudly state it. I actually kind of like it. While it doesn’t match my usual preferences for decor, it has character. LOTS of character.
Walking in on a late Sunday morning, the place is busy. While there is a lot of seating available, the place is crowded and we manage to get in during a lull. A line up forms literally minutes after we are seated.
This is when the experience starts to go south. We flip through the menus, and decide what we wish to order. We wait….and wait, when a server finally arrives to take our order. A little long, but based on how busy it is, something we consider reasonable. We place our orders, and watch food come out of the kitchen to see what we would be expecting.
One person starts to get quite hungry. We caution patience. I think they were hungover, which resulted in some grumpiness. And we wait. And wait. And wait. We make polite inquiries about our food, and we’re told that it’s coming right up. Our original server is no where to be seen. And we wait. And wait. And wait. Now im normally a pretty patient guy, but after watching tables that had been seated after us (and granted, ordered before we had) finish their meals and leave, we inquired about our order again. Another server flags down our original server, who says they’ll check.
They show up with 4 plates of cold food. Ice cold. We try a bite. It’s inedible. We flag down our server again, and mention that the food is cold. She goes to talk to the manager, comes back and offers us a fraction off our check, or they will remake the order, but “that could take quite a while.”
While a fraction may seem appealing to someone as value driven as myself, I kindly request they remake the order as I came to try this famous, well regarded food, and would like them to be able to put their best foot forward. 20 minutes later, the order arrives. With inaccuracies. We decide to keep our mouths shut and eat.
Country Fried steak with poached eggs, gravy, and biscuits. Steak is rock hard, over fried, and bland. The gravy is ok, but lacks the pepper punch of a good white gravy. The poached eggs – i could’ve done better in a microwave. The biscuits are fairly firm. This plate was a complete fail.
The ham steak and hash was a bit better. Hash was undercooked to the point of having some raw potato taste still. The ham itself had been cured, smoked, and then pan fried. It was extremely salty, but was decent. Toast was not memorable.
Other orders of eggs, bacon, and some sides like grits are all not very good. I’m a bit surprised, as being given a second opportunity to make the meal right, they didnt care enough to put much attention into it. We even ordered an extra side of deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. It arrived luke warm, was decent for a couple bites, then collapsed into a congealed mess.
From end to end, it took over 2 hours. I have to say, service aside, the food was average to below average. I’d come to expect a lot more, based on the quality of other establishments i had eaten at already in Memphis, and the reputation of the Arcade Restaurant. Once you factor in the service, well, to be honest, it falls into the bottom 5 service experiences i’ve ever had, and therefore, I heartily suggest you pass on this establishment. We were unfailingly polite, and patient to no end. And to be given a choice of “a fraction of your bill” or “i guess we can remake it, but it”ll take a while”, it was almost like they didn’t want to remake it. Like they didn’t care. And that hordes of tourists were going to walk through their door no matter what we thought. And they will. But hopefully no one who reads Foodosophy will. Consider yourself warned.