Posted: Jun 7, 2002 10:21 pm
this guy is insane!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!By Fredric Koeppel
June 7, 2002
I ate lunch in a place recently at which patrons are greeted at the door with a sign that says "You May Be Asked To Be Searched." And by the mirror in the restroom is a sign that says, "Please: No Drugs or Paraphernalia Here!"
You won't see that at Chez Philippe or Erling Jensen.
But then this is The Orchid Club & Restaurant, down at the far east end of Beale Street and as far in spirit from that Disney World of the blues as an aged Stilton is from a bag of Cheetos. The club heats up, especially on weekend nights, and runs full throttle through what we call, as if there were something extra cute about them, the wee hours. It possesses the requisite atmosphere, a combination of grunginess and hope, that we think exemplifies authenticity and sincerity, but unfortunately authenticity and sincerity don't always add up to a good dining experience.
The Orchid Club started serving lunch five days a week about two months ago, offering, as is typical, a revolving menu of meats and vegetables from Monday to Friday. Two visits to the restaurant, which stands just behind The Commercial Appeal's offices, convinced me that the true calling of the establishment must lie in the DJ's booth and not in the kitchen.
My colleagues and I were sorely disappointed.
There's no excuse for greens so carelessly washed that they're gritty - this happened twice - or "creamed" potatoes as loose and powdery in texture and cardboardy in flavor as any that ever emerged from a box, or peach cobbler and sweet potato pie that taste almost alike because they are so overwhelmed by baking spices.
I will recommend the smothered chicken, a breast that was tender and tasty covered with a mantle of rich light-brown sauce, and the catfish, a single crisp crusty fillet. I also liked a side-order of spicy spaghetti.
But a fried pork steak seemed meager and overcooked (it took some mighty chewing), and flavorless fried chicken sat uncomfortably within a dense but slightly soggy coating.
The problem is that everything at The Orchid Club seems accomplished by short-cut. Sure it's easy to cook macaroni and cheese in a pan on top of the stove, but it will never be as good that way as it would be baked in the oven to a nice brown crust.
Other vegetables - green beans and pinto beans, okra and corn - were as thoroughly standard as any that might be spooned out of the steam table in a franchise cafeteria, which isn't why we go to soul food restaurants in Memphis.
- Fredric Koeppel:
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