Arcade Restaurant – Memphis, TN

Arcade Restaurant
540 South Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 526-5757

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.

Arcade on Urbanspoon

25 thoughts on “Arcade Restaurant – Memphis, TN

  1. I have started to notice an odd trend: Almost anything featured in Guy Fieri’s show ended up being a disaster. So, just because it appears on the show, doesn’t necessarily mean it is good!

    • I think this was only my second trip to a Guy “rated” place…i’ll have to check if i’ve been to others. But you’re right – 0 for 2 so far! 🙂

      • Crappy deal foodospher. I’ve heard some strange things about Triple D and it’s restaurants. As a fan of the show, I’ve always wanted to hit a few stops, but like you mentioned, when the show is filming, things are obviously in their A-One moment. Plus, I’ve heard he can make a diner into something way bigger (dare say famous) than it would have been without his help.

        Then you have to think; maybe the owner cashed in and left, maybe the restaurant couldn’t keep up with the new attack of clientele. Prices change, staff change etc.. So many things come in to play.

  2. That’s unfortunate — well, at least now you know that you weren’t missing anything. I must say, though, I can’t help but love the Jetsons-blue vinyl seats!

  3. Two hours. You are a much more patient man than I. Especially for something that is expected to come out hot and quick. Those tv shows only capture a short segment when it has the full attention of the kitchen. Your plates look very much like afterthoughts. Sorry to hear of your poor experience.

    • I blame Almattone. He’s the one that researched this place out 😉 ….actually, i don’t. He’s the one that researched all the places. There was more good than bad… no complaints here.

  4. I live in Memphis and haven’t been back to the Arcade in many years due to a horrible experience, which is sadly almost identical to yours. The only difference is that my wife and I finally just got up and left after watching all the people that came in 30 minutes after us leaving with a full belly. Also I was told I couldn’t have a pizza because there was no cheese, well when I left I see someone eating… a pizza. I guess the kitchen found some cheese an hour after I tried to order it. The few other times I did go there with no service problems(it was dead), the food wasn’t that great anyway.

    • Im disappointed to hear that Matt, but sadly, not surprised. Thanks for validating our experience – at least I don’t need to give them a second try now 🙂

  5. Trust me, you’re right–they don’t care. I used to live in Memphis and the service in several of the downtown or Midtown restaurants and bars sucked if you weren’t a regular. Several years back, the Arcade was definitely worth the wait, but last time I went, my experience was very similiar to yours. I guess they do think that “hoardes of tourists” will keep walking in their door, no matter what, but eventually enough people will figure out if they want good food and good service, they don’t need to be walking thru the doors of the Arcade.

    • Can you suggest somewhere else worth going to? I was pushing for Gus’, but people couldn’t stomach fried chicken at noon.

      • Flight restaurant downtown is great with excellent service, as is Bardog Tavern and Kooky Kanuck, which was featured on Man v. Food.

      • The places I would suggest are not usually ‘tourist’ destinations, but well worth your time. For BBQ and ribs, I would go to Cozy Corner. If you’re looking for ambience, there’s not much here, but if you’re looking for great food, you’ll be in the right place. Another place that gets a big thumbs up is Uncle Lou’s Fried Chicken, a hole-in-the-wall that does so much more than just chicken. Wonderful burgers, honey-dipped grilled cheeze, and their honey-dipped biscuits are amazing! I like Barksdale’s for breakfast or a quick lunch–good service, good food, good prices. And, of course, Gus’ is always perfect for chicken; I’ve never gotten a plate of food from there that wasn’t steaming when it reached the table.

        For desert, if you like cookies, I’d highly recommend Makeda’s.

        Hope this helps!

  6. Just looking at that CFS makes me queasy. I looks pre-fried, refrigerated then reheated. Did you hear the beeping of a microwave oven before it was served? …shudder.

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  8. Although I haven’t been to Arcade, I’ve heard pretty much this exact same thing from everyone I know who has. Which is sad, because a lot of tourists go there and then think that all the food here in Memphis is like that…it’s not!

    Gus’s is the best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my life, excluding my late, great, grandmother’s. If there is a line, wait, because…oh dear lord.

    Also, I used to work at TGI Fridays (I know, I know) and we had menus for awhile that had Guy Fieri on them. He has crazy eyes…I don’t trust him. 🙂

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