September 10, 2020

New Eats: Southall Cafe

The Daily Memphian

By Jennifer Biggs

Southall Café opened Sept. 8 after an extensive renovation to the former Tobacco Corner space at Mendenhall and Poplar, just south of the railroad tracks in Williamsburg Village.

Some good advice: Order the chicken sandwich.

We went for a soft opening and then again for lunch on opening day, both times sampling a bit of this, a bite of that. It’s open for breakfast and lunch only for now, but co-owner Mark Pender intends to eventually open for dinner.

Chef Jesus Ramon came to Southall with experience from Bishop and El Mero Taco, and the menu reflects the creativity and freshness abundant at both those places.

First up, there are three salads: The Mendenhall salad, broad salad and a watermelon salad (Pender grows the watermelons on his farm in Missouri). I ordered the broad salad ($8), a zesty and virtuous bowl of arugula, fresh mozzarella, briny olives, broad beans (though they were lima beans instead of fava beans at the soft opening), and something brand new to me: Milpa sprouts.

I’ll tell you what they are because, well, it’s my job. But it would be fun to let you taste them and see if you can guess the familiar flavor, something I love about sprouts in general: They always taste, at least a bit, of what they will grow to be. In this case, the sweet and slightly spicy sprouts are corn sprouts. I had to ask, then — of course — I felt I should’ve been able to guess it. You can taste it.

We split the salad with an entrée of shrimp and grits — a bargain at $12 with five big shrimp, mushrooms and sautéed peppers in a spicy broth over stone-ground grits and an order of paté.

The Hidalgo paté ($12) is rustic, a coarse mix of pork, fat and spices, and it’s wrapped in a squash blossom, served with pickled jicama, tomatoes, a tiny salad of arugula and milpa sprouts with a chunk of crusty bread.

But the chicken sandwich ($10): It’s such a simple thing but when it’s done right, such a pleasure. They’ve got the touch at Southall, so watch out, Popeye’s. The big chicken breast is breaded and fried super crisp, serve with chipotle mayonnaise, arugula and pickles on a buttered and grilled bun. That’s it — and it’s great. You get your choice of a side.

Merge Memphis ($12) is a breakfast with a bit of most things: Two eggs, sausage, bacon, potato hash and toast. The sausage is a blend that contains chorizo, and I’m not sure that’s my thing for breakfast sausage. Maybe a choice of sage, too? The hash with diced potatoes, onion and yellow pepper was excellent.

I haven’t had dessert, but pastry chef Donald Stockard said he plans to have a good selection every day by next week; he’s also making cinnamon rolls fresh daily.

There’s a full bar; the liquor license was approved late on opening day, and they should be able to serve beer as well by next week. A covered patio that seats 64 people at full capacity will be complete in the next few days, perfect for the cooler weather and for those of us who want to keep eating outdoors as long as we can.

Southall Café, 683 S. Mendenhall, is open 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 901-646-5698.