Teddy’s Aunt Hyacinth celebrated her 100th birthday in a bar. She wasn’t a drinker at all, but she sure loved a good party. At the event there was plenty of good music, generated by assorted talented family members. She danced a great deal, donning for the occasion one of the many hats she crocheted over the years. There was much laughter, as hers was frequent and infectious.
A month shy of 101, Hyacinth was felled by a massive stroke. Teddy’s brother and sister-in-law raced from their home in Carolina’s Outer Banks to her side in Evansville, Indiana until she passed.
Normally fliers, we decided to make the 800-mile trip to the funeral by car, given the cost involved. Memphis would be our halfway mark.
We’d learned about Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman on PBS’s Mind of a Chef. Located in downtown Memphis, their restaurant, one of five as I write this, Catherine & Mary’s is all about Nonna, aka Maw Maw.
Andy’s grandmother was Mary Spinosa, Michael’s, Catherine Chiozza. Both had roots in Italy; Mary was from Sicily and Catherine hailed from the north, in Tuscany. Both Andy and Michael trained in the U.S. and Calabria.
The chefs already had a notable reputation; they were named as James Beard finalists for multiple years, among other honors. In 2016, they made the step of embracing a famed building, The Chisca Hotel, built in 1913 and named for a chief of the Chickasaw Indian Tribe that once inhabited the Memphis area.
By the time the building was ready to be rehabbed, it had been boarded up for twenty-six years.
Long ago a bustling, traveling salesman’s counterpart to the prestigious Peabody Hotel. The Chisca also housed in its mezzanine radio station WHBQ, the first to play Elvis Presley’s breakout hit “That’s All Right,” and was the site of his first radio interview. The end of business rail travel, combined with urban decay, had almost claimed it. By the time the building was set to be rehabbed, it had been boarded up for 26 years.
Now its beautiful bones have been lovingly exposed, and evidence of earlier grandeur can be seen in the gorgeous patina throughout the lofty space. The bar is the locus, but the restaurant is divided into varied spaces.
Hang out by the window and watch passers-by, grab a four-top with a view into the hopping kitchen or find a quiet corner for two, as we did.
The wine list is wide-ranging and thoughtful.
The craft cocktail menu boasts 12 choices, including the memorably named “And Then Distortion.” (Old Dominck Vodka, Creme de Poire, Cilantro, Celery Bitters, Prosecco.)
All pasta is made in-house and, in our two visits (yes, we stopped on the way back) all of our samplings were unfailingly superb. The Cacio E Pepe was a particular favorite. Many dishes on the menu marry the Italian with the South. Think Cannelli beans with ham hock.
The staff were all warm and professional. So very young, but maybe a middle-age road trip to and from a funeral made it seem more so.
One of our servers told us she had been accepted at the University of North Texas in Denton, just up the road from our home in Fort Worth. She had plans to become an infectious disease physician. So full of promise was she, we figured she could steer us in the right direction on dessert. Chocolate gelato, and what a fine recommendation it was.
On our way back through Memphis, we snagged a river view room at The Peabody Hotel. Even if you can’t stay, stop and have a drink in the gorgeous restored lobby, and don’t miss the famous duck walk through it twice a day. Check out this Garden & Gun piece all about those lucky fowl.
At the funeral we caught up with Teddy’s immediate family and met extended kin. Again there was fine music, laughter and, of course, some tears.
To the visitation, his siblings and sister-in-law thoughtfully brought an assortment of Hyacinth’s handmade hats, complete with fetching hat pins. All of the ladies went home with one. I’d like to think in cooler months some wear them around town as reminders of a sparkling soul.