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Woman's Exchange

88 Racine St., Memphis, TN - (901) 327-5681
Posted By Michael Stern on 4/11/2009 6:29:00 PM
The Woman’s Exchange was established in 1885 and started serving lunch in the 1930s. When you walk in today, it feels like the culinary past. Here is one of the last bastions of ladies lunch, where dainty meals are served quickly and efficiently.

The ordering system is archaic. When you walk in, past the handcrafts for sale on consignment, you are greeted at a desk by a couple of women who point your attention to a short menu written on a chalkboard behind them. There are listed the meals of the day. When we visited, the choices were seafood Charleston, chicken salad, and a four-vegetable plate. Take your pick, pay the women, then find a table, preferably in the bright “garden room,” where the windowed walls provide a view of nothing but greenery.

Once you’re seated, a waitress brings your beverage, then your meal on a round, wood-grain tray. The food is lovely to look at, carefully arranged. Three items on our vegetable plate were separated by thin strips of white bread, like the partitions on a diner plate, but nicer. The fourth item, escalloped squash, was too messy to be put on a plate so it came in its own little bowl. Accompanying the veggies was a deliciously sweet cornbread muffin.

We already knew what was going to be in the seafood Charleston, because back at the order desk the Woman’s Exchange cookbook had been opened to the recipe for it: a creamy, mild dish reminiscent of shrimp wiggle. And the chicken salad, my-oh-my, what a presentation that was! Around the salad on its plate were a tiny crustless pimiento cheese sandwich, a little array of fresh fruit, and a block of opaque red Jell-O.

For dessert, everyone gets the same thing. For our lunch, it was a bright and happy square of strawberry cake with sweet, pretty pink icing: the perfect end to a very ladylike meal.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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Chicken Salad Plate
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A staple of ladies' lunch, the chicken salad plate also includes fruit salad, asparagus, potato salad, a pimiento cheese finger sandwich and, of course, Jell-O!
"A staple of ladies' lunch, the chicken salad plate also includes fruit salad, asparagus, potato salad, a pimiento cheese finger sandwich and, of course, Jell-O!"
Cliff Strutz





Creamy, mild, and comforting, seafood Charleston is a dish that epitomizes ladies lunch.
"Creamy, mild, and comforting, seafood Charleston is a dish that epitomizes ladies lunch."
Michael Stern


Instead of using partitioned plates, the Woman's Exchange separates items on its four-vegetable meal by using bread crusts. This plate holds mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, and greens, plus a cornbread muffin. In the background is a bowl of yellow squash.
"Instead of using partitioned plates, the Woman's Exchange separates items on its four-vegetable meal by using bread crusts. This plate holds mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, and greens, plus a cornbread muffin. In the background is a bowl of yellow squash."
Michael Stern


Strawberry cake with pink frosting: like the best bake-sale cake you've ever eaten
"Strawberry cake with pink frosting: like the best bake-sale cake you've ever eaten"
Michael Stern


Each day's menu choices are posted at the register.  Choose your lunch, make your payment, and then be seated.  Your meal price includes tax and beverage.
"Each day's menu choices are posted at the register. Choose your lunch, make your payment, and then be seated. Your meal price includes tax and beverage."
Gregg Pill


Located on a side street in a mixed-use neighborhood, the Woman's Exchange is a destination lunch room NOT for women only.
"Located on a side street in a mixed-use neighborhood, the Woman's Exchange is a destination lunch room NOT for women only."
Michael Stern



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