It's high summer in Memphis. The sun beats down without mercy. Your car is hot. Your pets are hot. You're hot — and not in a good, sexy way.
It's even too hot for silverware and dishes. You want your food fast and convenient. You want it on a stick. Don't lie. You know you do.
Your faithful Flyer staffers have combed the city to find the best foods on a stick in town. We may have missed a few — probably even some good ones — but we're too hot to care. And what we did find is good, spanning the gauntlet from savory to sweet, from meaty to seafood to vegan. Stick with us.
Lobster Pronto Pup at Rizzo's Diner ...
Mainers talk lobster like we talk barbecue, normally and informally. But lobster language needed a Memphis translator here, so Chef Michael Patrick stepped in. The Rizzo's Diner owner battered and fried lobster meat, put it on a stick, and drizzled it in mustard.
Yes, Memphians, he made you a Pronto Pup, something we can all understand.
Rizzo's Lobster Pronto Pup ($14) consists of two "pups" on a bed of mixed spring greens and a side of Creole mustard aioli. It probably would have made a nice salad, but, when it comes to pups, the stick is the shtick. So, I went with it still skewered.
The batter was light and perfectly fried, with brown hues ranging from Twinkie to Oreo. The meat delivered its delicate, briny-sweet flavor, though it was a bit chewier in the pup than pulling it straight from the claw or tail. The aioli was a luxurious blend of mayonnaise and enough coarse ground mustard to be present but not hot. The dish was two things at once: thrilling and familiar, just exactly like you think a Lobster Pronto Pup would be. — Toby Sells
492 S. Main, 304-6985, rizzosmemphis.com
Skewers at Skewer ...
Food-on-a-stick central in Memphis is Skewer. Come on, the name of the place says it all. So what's being stuck at Skewer? Beef, pork, salmon, chicken, shrimp, lamb, scallops, and all kinds of vegetables make up the yakitori section of the menu — some 32 choices in all. That's not to mention the kushikatsu — Japanese-breaded and deep-fried — options. There are also "sets" you can order that include a number of skewers plus sushi — Butcher Shop and Veggie-tation, among them.
The lightly breaded tofu kushikatsu is creamy inside and comes with a sweet and tart dipping sauce with a tanginess that recalls barbecue sauce. The okra yakitori is still slightly slimy when warm (deal with it) and is served with an umami-rich miso sauce. The pretty mixed-veggie yakitori with squash, red pepper, and zucchini looks like a lollipop.
... and Chiwawa
Chiwawa recently updated its menu. Out is the Bianca Dog (boo!), and in are skewers (yay!). You have four to choose from: chicken with blackened bell peppers and onion; steak with chimichurri sauce and peppers; grilled shrimp with purple onion; and herb-roasted red potatoes.
I went for the potatoes. There's nothing wrong with simplicity — just enough salt, just enough oil, the potatoes cooked to perfection and sprinkled with dried parsley. The plate comes garnished with an excellent aioli-like sauce with a deep pepper taste (chipotle?). It's more of a flourish, really. There should be more for dipping. — Susan Ellis
Skewer: 5101 Sanderlin, 682-9919, skewermemphis.com
Chiwawa: 2059 Madison, 207-1456, chiwawamidtown.com
Steak Stick and Grilled Chicken and Pineapple Kabob at Huey's ...
Besides the World Famous Huey Burger and the classic Brownie 'a la mode, the Steak Stick has been a staple of the Huey's menu since time immemorial. The bite-sized chunks of tender beef are inundated in a soy-based marinade before being grilled to order. It comes in snack or dinner size with your choice of side. Served with fries, it's a comforting variation on the classic European steak frites.
Huey's other stick-based delectable is a combo of chicken and pineapple that, like its beef-based menu mate, is marinated as a unit until it's tossed on the grill. But the marinade in this case is teriyaki-based. I surprised myself by preferring the Grilled Chicken and Pineapple Kabob to the Steak Stick. If you're into onion rings, Huey's makes some of the best, and they make for the perfect accompaniment to this delicious protein pylon. — Chris McCoy
8 Locations in the Memphis Metro Area, hueyburger.com
Holy Land Shish Kabob at Casablanca ...
Like everything else at Casablanca, the Holy Land Kabob is made with care. In the case of something as simple as chicken and onion on a skewer, attention to detail matters. The chicken chunks are uniform in size and cooked to juicy perfection. But the secret ingredient is the mango-based sauce that is a house specialty at Casablanca, which is brushed on just prior to the meat hitting the heat. Try this outstanding dish at Casablanca's second location, which will be opening on Madison by the end of August, Insha'Allah. — CM
5030 Poplar, 725-8557, casablancamemphis.com.
Tofu Kabobs at The Blue Nile/Stickem ...
As a vegan, I'm kind of a tofu connoisseur. And I can tell you that the tofu impaled on the kabob skewers at the new Blue Nile and its sister food truck, Stickem, is, hands down, the best in town. Each kabob is made with six or seven cubes of perfectly prepared tofu. It's crispy on the outside and peppered with black char-grilled marks, and the inside is chewy and firm in all the ways that tofu should be.
The flavor is hard to pinpoint, but it's savory and smoky from the grill. And there are no vegetables on these kabobs. Because let's be honest — that would just steal precious space on the stick for more tofu.
Besides, the Tofu Kabob Platter at the Blue Nile comes with a mix of sautéed broccoli, carrots, and squash on the side, as well as steamed white rice. If you're ordering the kabobs from the Stickem food truck, there's no rice on the side, but you can order veggies, or you can say, "To hell with health food," and opt for a side of fries. I mean, fries are potatoes. And potatoes are veggies, right? Add some ketchup for dipping, and you've got a balanced meal. — Bianca Phillips
1788 Madison, 474-7214, @StickemFood
Corn Dog at Oshi Burger Bar ...
If you're like most Memphians, when you see the word "corn dog," you think Mid-South Fair, and that evokes a bunch of other memories — olfactory, gustatory, and visual. The classic Pronto Pup fair dog usually features a generic hot dog wrapped in a smooth, doughy casing. You dip that tasty cylinder in mustard (or ketchup, if you're an inferior person), shove it in your piehole, and then head off to the Tilt-a-Whirl.
Oshi's corn dog ($9) is a different breed altogether. First, it's massive, coated with a rough-hewn, crusty, flour batter that's blended with jalapeños and cheese. The dog looks like it's covered in bark, and it's got bark. The meat itself has a nice pedigree — Waygu American Kobe beef — and it's accompanied by a side of tasty cheese mustard. It's a simple presentation, but this corn dog will fill you up and then some. — Bruce VanWyngarden
94 S. Main, 341-2091, oshiburger.com
Las Tortugas' Elote Con Cotija y Mayonesa ...
Sweet summer corn is nearly perfect on its own, but it's even better slathered in rich Duke's mayonnaise, rolled in salty Cotija cheese, and seasoned with lime juice, kosher salt, and crushed chilies — and it's all served on a stick to boot. This is Mexican street food at its finest.
The best local iteration of this Oaxacan dish can be found at Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana in Germantown ($4.50). "What makes our version unique is the freshness of ingredients, the care with which it was made, and the skill of the person who made it," says owner Jonathan Magallanes, who cooked at the James Beard House in New York City last year. "Our corn is steamed to order, so it's piping hot," he adds.
You either already love this dish, or you just haven't tried it yet. — Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence
1215 S. Germantown, 751-1200, delimexicana.com
Skewers at Robata Ramen and Yakitori ...
There is beauty in simplicity. Like a tasty Nasu dengaku or shishito pepper yakatori lightly charred on a hot robata. If you don't believe us, you must go try a few of the skewers at Robata Ramen and Yakitori.
"Yakitori" is simply the Japanese word for skewered food, and a robata is a traditional Japanese grill. So all we're talking about here is grilled food on a stick. If you're going to do something that simple, you'd better do it right.
Robata has an entire page of its menu devoted to yakatori, with prices ranging from $1.75 to $8.50. We tend to gravitate toward the vegetable skewers section, with prime choices like the aforementioned Nasu dengaku, which is umami-rich, grilled Japanese eggplant with miso, or eringi, which is commonly known as a king oyster mushroom. The one not to miss is the garlic skewer. The robata transforms the cloves into sweet, smoky morsels that are great on their own. And the Kewpie mayo on the side will skewer you over the top. — JFB and AL
2116 Madison, 410-8290, robatamemphis.com
SWEETS ON A STICK
Paletas at La Michoacana ...
On a hot summer day, there are few things better than a chili, cucumber, and lime-flavored paleta from La Michoacana ($2.13). It's a little sweet and a little sour and full of tiny refreshing chunks of frozen cucumber that explode when you bite into them. The chili pepper flakes aren't evident at first, but the more you nibble, the more your lips will start to tingle. It's a wild balancing act: perfection on a stick.
Paletas are Mexican popsicles, and the freezer at La Michoacana is an eye-popping wonderland of colorful handmade treats in flavors that range from coconut and avocado to pine nut, rice pudding, and mango with raspberry sauce. Occasionally they'll even toss in a special flavor experiment like rose.
On a recent visit I sampled a variety of flavors including a tart tamarind paleta, a tasty coffee-flavored paleta stuffed with Mexican chocolate, and a rich caramel paleta stuffed with dulce de leche.
La Michoacana can be packed even in the winter. In the summer months you'll be lucky if you can find a place to sit. But no matter how busy things may get at this family-owned business, service is always speedy. You'll be made to feel like you're the only customer in the joint. — Chris Davis
Several locations, including
4091 Summer, 590-1901
MEMPops All-Natural Handcrafted Pops ...
When we asked Chris Taylor, owner and pop maker at MEMPopS, why he struck out on his own after years of working for others in restaurant kitchens, he replied, "I just really wanted to make things that people love."
Well, he's certainly done that, with flavors like Roasted Peach, Sweet Cherry, Apricot Lavender, Watermelon Basil, Blackberry with Yogurt and Honey, and Spicy Pineapple. His handcrafted popsicles ($3) are all-natural and made with seasonal, often locally sourced ingredients. What started as a passion has grown quickly. "I figured I'd go for it, and I got a really positive response," he said.
Taylor began selling his creations from a cart at the Tennessee Brewery Revival this spring. Last week, he unveiled his newly renovated MEMPopS truck at the Memphis Made brewery on Cooper. — JFB and AL
MEMpopS (mobile popsicle cart and truck), 569-6293, @MEMpops
Rock Candy from Dinstuhl's ...
Rock candy is a sugar lover's dream, and it's been around since the U.S. was young, when its simplicity allowed early-American colonists to make it as a treat for the wealthy. It's literally sugar and water, heated to crystallize the sugar. At Dinstuhl's, where candy is a form of art, rock candy isn't just a series of heating processes — it's a delicious, old-as-time candy on a stick that folks can't resist. For $1.95, you get two sticks of original white rock candy in a bag. The only problem may be an upcoming visit to the dentist; make sure to floss. — Alexandra Pusateri
Several locations, including 436 S. Grove Park, 682-3373, dinstuhls.com
Cookie-on-a-Stick from Whimsy Cookie Company ...
Whimsy Cookie is locally famous for its Grizzlies-themed cookies, but the company offers a wide selection of other delights, including cookies on a stick ($4). The cookies taste just like your grandmother's, wrapped in tradition and sprinkled with love, soft enough to satisfy and firm enough to stand up for themselves, with or without frosting. Makes you wonder why we didn't start doing this a long time ago. — AP
4704 Poplar, 343-0709, whimsycookieco.com