Memphis' historic music room returns with soul food

The scene: Memphis is renowned as one of the top cities in the world for enjoying live music, and Lafayette’s Music Room combines this with a historical trip back in time. Before the famous Beale Street Entertainment District was created as a pedestrianized cluster of bars and venues, Overton Square was the city’s beating heart spot for live music and theater. After years of decline, the neighborhood is suddenly hot again, arguably the trendiest in Memphis, with new restaurants, shops and brewpubs. Back in the '70s, the last heyday of Overton Square, Lafayette’s was the place that up-and-coming acts wanted to play and the likes of Billy Joel, KISS, Barry Manilow and Styx all took the stage here. The bar closed for 38 years before reopening in 2014 amidst the neighborhood’s resurgence. It has since become one of the city’s hot spots for live music fans again.

The new Lafayette’s is in the heart of Overton Square and spans two levels with outdoor seating and dining on both. The interior of the ground floor is one large room with the main stage on one side, a long bar on the other and floor tables across the room. Upstairs there's a horseshoe-shaped balcony with seating wrapped around and views of the stage below. The stage itself is a serious setup with state of the art sound and light systems. The entire place has exposed wooden walls, dark wooden tables and chairs, and a worn but upscale club feel. Lafayette’s’ features two live acts nightly, with a focus on promoting local talent.

Reason to visit: Live music, Pimento cheese waffle fries, po’ boys, southern pizzas

The food: Not surprisingly for Memphis, Lafayette’s Music Room serves a modern and slightly upscale version of traditional southern and soul food, with both upgraded classics and creative inventions. For an example of the latter, one of the more popular appetizers is a sort of southern spin on poutine, the classic Montreal comfort food of French fries with gravy and cheese curds, in turn a potato-based riff on nachos. Here they top crispy waffle fries with house-made pimento cheese, a southern staple, and your choice of crawfish or bacon. The crawfish was too unusual for me to pass up and the use of waffle fries, and their crispiness, helps a lot, as one of the major problems with any poutine-style dish is sogginess. Not here — this is a winner; it's really good, with the pimento cheese just spicy enough to have a kick but not so hot as to make it a challenge. The crawfish is a nice touch, as is serving it in a cast iron skillet, though I think it would be just as good with bacon. Another top starter with lots of regional flair is the fried green tomatoes, topped with corn maque choux, sort of a Cajun take on creamed corn with corn kernels cooked in lots of butter and cream along with chopped bell peppers, onions, garlic, herbs and spices, all drizzled with a Cajun remoulade — a very New Orleans spin on the classic fried green tomatoes. The tomatoes themselves were good, not the best I’ve had, but the topping was delicious and made the dish. Other notable starters include sweet corn and jalapeno hushpuppies, char broiled oysters and New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp.

See the full post at USA Today.