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317 N. Main, Memphis, TN - (901) 523-0200
Posted By Michael Stern on December 4, 2008 1:27 PM
Alcenia's is a modest lunch room decorated in a style that is an intriguing mix of 1960s psychedelic beaded curtains, primitive folk art, odes to African-American culture, and white wedding-veil lace strung up across the ceiling over the large table. Proprietor B.J. Chester-Tamayo, who named the restaurant for her mother and granddaughter and opened it as therapy to get over the untimely death of her son, is known to Memphians not only for her homey food but for her hugs. Everyone who eats here gets a squeeze from this good-natured woman, either on the way in or out, or both. "I feel so guilty if I haven't hugged you, I'll chase you down the street when you leave," she laughs.

B.J. learned to cook from her mother, who lives in Meridian, Mississippi, but comes to visit and makes tea cakes and egg custard pie and coaches B.J. on the phone when she is making chow chow or pear preserves. We discovered her restaurant on a mission to sample Memphis's best southern-style vegetables. Among the city's very best are B.J.'s cabbage, which we assumed on sight to contain collards or turnip greens. But she explained that the darker leaves among the white were the cabbage's outer leaves. "The best part!" she exclaims. "Most people throw them away because they are tough. They need an hour extra steaming; that makes them soft and brown." Flavored with a hail of spice that includes jerk chicken seasoning and lots of pepper, this is cabbage with tongue-searing punch. On the side comes a basket of hot water corn bread: cushiony-moist, griddle-cooked cakes that are the perfect foil for ecstatically seasoned vegetables.

We loved the lunch special of a fried pork chop, crisp-crusted and dripping with juice, as well as the gorgeous fried chicken. And dessert? It was hard choosing among egg custard pie, buttermilk pie, and bread pudding … so we had some of each, and each was superb.
5 star rating
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Posted By Jim David on January 9, 2009 2:28 PM
Home cooking at it's best. I had the fried pork chop with sides of mac-n-cheese and cabbage; my wife had the same with corn instead of the mac-n-cheese. The pork chop was deep fried to perfection; not a bit greasy and done just enough to still be very tender and juicy. The cabbage was very well seasoned, but not too hot. The mac-n-cheese was creamy and tender. The corn was delicious, slightly pickled and creamy.

The meals came with an order of corn cakes (cornbread) that were simply the best I've ever put into my mouth. The sweet tea we were served was just as good as the rest of the meal. The friendly service (be sure to get your hug from BJ) and unique atmosphere make this a "must eat" location if you are in the Memphis area.
5 star rating
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Posted By Barbara Southwell on March 25, 2007 6:38 PM
Just a couple blocks north from Poplar Avenue in downtown Memphis on the corner of North Main and Commerce is one of Memphis’s best kept secrets, with down home soul food good eatin’. That’s Alcenia’s.

The unpretentious ambiance is comfortable and welcoming. One can find people in suits and people in shorts, people from Washington D.C. and people from New Orleans; and people of all races and creeds who have come together for comfortable food served by comfortable people who have learned how to share that with all who come through the door.

Alcenia’s personal touches and down home welcome atmosphere offers a place where any one from anywhere can find something that appeals to them. That “something” is Alcenia’s grandmother’s love, captured by Alcenia not only in the foods she prepares, but in the good vibes and happy faces that satisfy both body and soul.
4 star rating
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