Memphis Hi-Lites: Deja Vu – Let the Food Times Roll

Throw Me Something Mister! Those Mardi Gras colors

Throw Me Something Mister! Those Mardi Gras colors

I know the saying is Let the Good Times Roll, but in this instance I couldn’t help saying Food. A while ago, I got a message that I needed to go to Deja Vu Restaurant. On several occasions I attempted to go, but I was always a little late getting to the location on Florida Street. As regulars in New Orleans, our palates just love us some Louisiana flavors although in Memphis we tend to find more Bar B Que themed restaurants. While we did discover Bayou Bar & Grill, we always find it a bit more important to find Black owned businesses due to the high turnover and closings in the Black community. Basically when you find a business that does everything, and I do mean everything, right, and the business is Black owned, it becomes imperative to share the information about that business.

Deja Vu did everything right. Don’t let me get ahead of myself here. First it’s important to know that the restaurant we attended was the new location at 51 South Main in the Downtown Memphis corridor. What’s great about this is that you can park anywhere along the trolley line and reach your destination since the trolley rolls through the Main street corridor. I state this because we (Black folks) can get real lazy when it comes to choosing where to go and eat. We would rather roll down the street to Applebees, which damn sure doesn’t need your business (it’s a chain people), and eat the same old bland menu items and swear that we’ve had a great night out on the town. Right now I’m calling your card folks. While parking can be difficult downtown, we are entering the spring months and the weather is great. You can park anywhere down Main Street and enjoy a trolley ride up to S. Main. You do not have an excuse for not heading down to Deja Vu. Besides, like I said, when a restaurant does it right, sugar honey iced tea, you need to support them.

Sorry about that, you know I get on my small biz rants. We visited Deja Vu on a weekday at lunch time. We were able to find a parking spot less than a block away (kudos to Memphis for the new parking meter systems which should increase visits to stores downtown). Since it was lunch we weren’t going to head in looking to pile it on, but as I looked at the menu and our host McKini presented the items (something that only takes place at high end restaurants which Deja Vu definitely should be considered, but without the stuffy and pretentious atmosphere), our little family went into meal for the day mode. Meal for the day means that we know we are about to eat enough calories for both lunch and dinner in one sitting, so we have to monitor our caloric intake for the rest of the day.

As we entered the S. Main location the sound of jazz filled the room. Diners engaged in upbeat dialogue, servers moved effortlessly between tables in the small space, and the staff treated you like home. There wasn’t any tension, or the feeling that you weren’t really wanted in the restaurant at all. Add to the jazz ambiance a mixture of art collages, a rustic, intentionally unfinished interior, if LV and I could have left the kids at home, Deja Vu easily converts from family friendly restaurant to a very cool date night location.

We began our meal with Gator Bites as an appetizer. Of course the kids were initially hesitant to dive in on these, but as soon as they tasted the batter on the bites, the plate was emptied in about 2 minutes. The kids ordered shrimp kids meals, with fries. LV ordered:

Bayou Rolls

Bayou Rolls

Bayou Rolls: stuffed with shrimp, curry cabbage, carrots, raisins, fresh seasonings, fried perfectly and served with two sides. She chose grilled cabbage and roasted garlic potatoes.

I chose the Arkansas Outlaw, recommended by McKini. The Outlaw was possibly the best entree I’ve had at any restaurant in any city I’ve been too (which says a lot). I’m still trying to figure out how they were able to serve Fried Catfish smothered with a crawfish etoufee. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, let me try to break it down. Typically an etoufee is served with rice or sometimes in a bowl as a soup styled dish. I have never experienced it served as a smothered dish over fried catfish. To do so without having the crust get soft was fantastic. As a matter of fact I was going to attempt to make something similar for Sunday night family feast, but I got lazy (shoulder shrug). I also had red beans and rice and greens. I went to Copelands in New Orleans and I have to say that I wasn’t very impressed by the red beans and rice there. At Deja Vu I could have had that as the main course. The side was light and unlike most red beans and rice from other restaurants it wasn’t salty at all. The same can be said about the catfish. Etoufee also has a tendency to be a bit salty, but this was the first time I’ve eaten catfish without having to dump hot sauce all over the earth.


The Arkansas Outlaw

Although it was lunch time, we finished off our meal with desert. LV had a slice of turtle cheesecake. Our daughter had strawberry cheesecake and our son had Beignets (what else would you eat in the Nola?) I overdid it with peach cobbler a la mode. We couldn’t ask for a better day out. Excellent service, very good pricing and incredible food. We will definitely experience Deja Vu again (pun intended).

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April 13th, 2014 Second visit update

Marchelah blending ingredients for Bananas Foster

Marchelah blending ingredients for Bananas Foster

After having such a fantastic time at Deja Vu the first time, I decided that it would be the best place to take my father for his birthday. This time around we went on a Sunday afternoon and upon entering the restaurant we noticed a buffet style setup right next to a live band. Since there were five of us this time, and the place was packed, we chose to head to the upstairs area which featured more art and some photos of Chef Gary with people like Forrest Whitaker, Jermaine Dupree, and Gus Fring! Yep, I know his name is Giancarlo Esposito, or Big Brother Almighty, but just go with it. Since this was a birthday I didn’t take pictures of the food because I didn’t plan on writing a revision to this article. All of that changed when our server Marchelah (Once again the service was incredible which tells me that the first time was the way it is all the time.) gave us the finger to the lips, shhhhssshhhh signal after we informed him that it was my pop’s birthday.

Here we were in a crowded restaurant and I couldn’t really imagine what Marchelah had planned. I just made sure to keep my dad talking, which isn’t hard to do. As my Pops continued telling old stories about Stax and Universal Records, Marchelah came up the steps with a small portable table. On this table he sat a metal, gas burning, small burner. My dad kept talking. Marchelah kept walking up and down the stairs returning each time with another plate or bowl. Once he finally had everything set up, butter, bananas, brown sugar, liquers and a tall glass of ice cream, we all experienced something in a restaurant that we had never seen before. Our server/chef made Bananas Foster right in front of us for my father’s birthday.

Bananas Foster by Marchela (LV caught that one!)

Bananas Foster by Marchela (LV caught that one!)

They turned down the lights and Marchelah talked us through the process, “First you take the butter,” the flame jumping under the skillet, “and then you add the brown sugar.” He deftly moved in the space and added the liquer and the bananas and a marvelous flame spiraled into the air. As he stirred the ingredients everyone upstairs looked on in amazement. There were two other dinner parties of 5 plus people there as well. Once he finished he placed the glass in front of Pops and Pops thoroughly enjoyed the dessert sharing it with his granddaughter. What’s even better was the serenade of Happy Birthday sung by Marchelah; the brother can sing!

When I say that Deja Vu is hands down the best restaurant I’ve been too, I say that with conviction. You should take a visit down the Main Street Trolley line and drop in.

51 S. Main Street
Memphis, Tennessee 38104
Mon – Thu: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Phone (901) 505-0212

936 Florida Street
Memphis, Tennessee 38106
Tue – Wed: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Thu – Fri: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
Sat: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Phone (901) 942-1400