[Memphis, TN] Itta Bena

Itta Bena had come recommended as one of the city’s best restaurants. It’d also come with the warning that it wasn’t easy to fnd. It isn’t – it’s up an unmarked fire escape at the back of B B King’s Blues Club.

It’s an interesting room – much of the woodwork has been expensively distressed. The careful use of booths and screening gives the impression that it’s quite an intimate space, although it actually isn’t.

At first glance, the menu offers a goodly choice but it’s one of those places where a number of dishes have a key ingredient which doesn’t really fit in with the rest (at least, to our tastes). So your choice becomes more limited – perhaps down to making a selection from two or three dishes, rather than six or seven.

Crab cakes were fine as one starter. They come with a honey and mustard dressing and a little salad leaf garnish. They were, however, somewhat muted in flavour – we remembered that Americans don’t generally use the more flavoursome brown meat along with the white in their cooking, so the muted flavour was understandable.

The other starter took the classic fried green tomatoes and turned them into quite an elegant plate. Sharp tomatoes, crisp coating, a drizzle of remoulade sauce, with each of the four slices topped with a shrimp.

Chicken and waffle is a modern American classic but I hadn’t come across duck and waffle before. Duck leg had been confit’d to the state where it could reasonably called “pulled duck”. It sat on the waffle, surrounded by a dice of vegetables and a drizzle of a sauce, based on hoisin but sweetened a little further. Nice.

Across the table, red snapper and been “blackened” and was surprisingly (but nicely) spicy. It came with an andouille hash – fried grated potato, mixed with a very tiny amount of the sausage.

We don’t order desserts too often but we may not pass this was again, so thought we better order one in this case. For one of us, it was simply vanilla ice cream – a slightly oversweet one. For the other, the first two choices (peach cobbler and pecan pie) were sold out. The manager was apologetic and comp’d the third choice – a chocolate cheesecake, which was rich and intense and one which did no good at all to the blood sugar levels.

So, a reasonably successful meal to welcome us to Memphis.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold