Black-eyed pea tortellini from Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Photo by Ed Anderson.
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Memphis is My Tastiest Town: An Interview with Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman

I’m a dork for Southern Living. I read it cover to cover each month, savoring the pretty spreads; clipping recipes; laughing/crying over Rick Bragg’s column. So when the magazine nominated Memphis for “The South’s Tastiest Town,” you bet I squealed. And voted. And waited for the winner to be announced in this month’s issue.

We won…second place (after Durham, North Carolina).

We won…second place (after Durham, North Carolina).

Many of my favorite names were dropped in the accolade – some of which you’ve read about here (Restaurant Iris, Muddy’s Bake Shop) and some you haven’t, yet (Cozy Corner, Memphis Food Truckers).

But two concepts (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy) and the duo fueling them (Andrew Ticer, Michael Hudman) were mentioned so many times, you know they’re red-hot. After establishing Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in 2008, Ticer and Hudman made 2013 their buzziest year yet, earning Food & Wine’s Best New Chef Award, semi-finaling for the James Beard Foundation Awards’ Best Chef: Southeast, and hosting a Friends of James Beard Benefit dinner in April. Hog & Hominy, which the pair debuted in 2011, was named one of GQ Magazine’s 12 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2013.

Behind the praise and packed houses, there are Andy and Michael, two guys nice (and humble) enough to let a fan like me grill them this afternoon:

Photo by Justin Fox Burks. Copyright © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Justin Fox Burks. Copyright © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011. All Rights Reserved.

In simple terms, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen is the guys’ finer interpretation of their Italian heritage through a regional lens. Make reservations, but expect a warm reception along with a well-edited menu of starters, pastas and entrees. Across the street, Hog & Hominy is down to party with big tables for gathering friends and family over brick-oven pizzas and farm-driven, Southern-style sides; pick-up bocce ball games; lunch and dinner. Both are located in residential East Memphis, and both have a reputation for hosting signature events. We’ll start with Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen’s No Menu Monday, a four-course meal scheduled for the last Monday of each month (reservations recommended).

Sam: If I’m cooking, No Menu Monday means I’m cleaning out the fridge.

Andy: It’s the opposite of that for us. It started as a way to incorporate different things on our menu that we wanted people to start trying slowly, to get them to eat things they wouldn’t normally order.

Sam: Like…?

Michael: Last July 4th, we did an ode to barbecue with a French Dip-type sandwich of beef heart and tongue, served with bone marrow tater tots.

[Ed.’s note: On No Menu Monday, you won’t know (for sure) what you’re eating until a handwritten description is presented after dinner. It’s similar to how I played this year’s Swine & Wine, Andrew Michael’s annual snout-to-tail dinner. A menu was provided, but I chose to let the food influence me over any preconceived notions I had regarding offal. My takeaway? Put your trust in their taste, and you won’t be disappointed.]

Sam: Pork is hot. Southern food is hot. Eating local is hot. You bring them all together.

Michael: We use so much local stuff. What we try to do is take the products and not screw them up. You see food really going that way – this primal style of cooking – smoking and roasting whole pigs; getting back down to the proteins and the fire. We try to work with what we have around here and stay as local and as seasonal as possible. [Ed.’s note: Check out this list of Andrew Michael’s local sources, including Tennessee farmers like Gayle and Jim over at Bonnie Blue.]

Andy: When we were in Italy [studying and traveling], we went to small restaurants – in houses – and they cooked whatever grew around them. We killed our first pig there. They use everything.

Sam: Sounds like a Southern/Italian connection…

Michael: It’s hard to say we do Italian food because we aren’t in Italy, but there’s such a good parallel between Southern and Italian food. I look at the Southern table and it’s all about family and comfort…cooking what grows around you. One of our favorite dishes [at Andrew Michael] is to take black-eyed peas – your traditional Southern New Year’s Day special – and make a pasta with ham hock brodo and braised collards.

Black-eyed pea tortellini from Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Photo by Ed Anderson.

Black-eyed pea tortellini from Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Photo by Ed Anderson.

Sam: It’s Memorial Day weekend. What will your cookout taste like?

Michael: Andy and I will be manning the grill for sure. We like to keep it simple when we’re doing it at home – Newman Farm pork ribs; steaks, of course; smoking a shoulder and smoking vegetables to serve cold, like a smoked potato salad with red bliss potatoes, garlic mayo made with ramps and bacon folded in.

Then what?

  • In the next week, a dive bar will open out back from Hog & Hominy. It will open later (9 p.m., maybe) for drinks, oysters on the half shell, boiled peanuts and Andy and Michael’s take on the soul burger, which they’re naming after John T. Edge.
  • A dinner in conjunction with other Food & Wine Best New Chefs – details forthcoming.
  • A cookbook, Collards and Carbonara, due out Sept. 3 (with a release party to match).
  • And of course, the 6th Annual Swine & Wine dinner – look for details closer to winter 2014.

(For ongoing event info, follow each restaurant on Facebook or Twitter or sign up for email updates.)

In the meantime, just get there. In good weather, reserve a table on Andrew Michael’s back deck overlooking the herb and veggie garden (ask how the asparagus is coming in). Order one of the city’s most perfectly-crafted cocktails – I like the 2nd and Madison, made with Templeton Rye Whiskey, the aperitif Cocchi Americano and house-made orange bitters. Go with a group so you can order several plates and share them all. For dessert, gelato often comes in flavors like chocolate cinnamon or parmesan, but I’ve never tried it. I instead politely settle the bill, sneak across the street to Hog & Hominy, and tuck into the creamy, dreamy, banana-y peanut butter pie, born of a spontaneous discussion between Andy, Michael and Hog & Hominy chef de cuisine Trevor Anderson. If you hit Hog & Hominy for lunch or dinner (and you should), accompany your pizza with the romaine salad (dressed with chicken skins and pecorino vinaigrette) and a cup of keg wine.

What’s your favorite place to eat in my tasty town?

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

TAGS: Food, Memphis

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