Two Memphis catering companies, Smokd and Memphis Pig and Pasta, set to open restaurants. 

Memphis Pig and Pasta

Justin Fox Burks

Memphis Pig and Pasta

When it comes to making smoked meat, Shane Boling has all the right credentials. He's worked at Erling Jensen and La Tourelle, and he's currently a research-and-development chef for Kraft Foods. But he says that everything he really needed to know about cooking, he learned from his grandmother, growing up in Pelahatchie, Mississippi.

"My grandma always said that you could stand beside her and make the same recipe, using the same ingredients. Only hers would turn out better, because she was making it with more love," Boling says.

"And by love," he adds, "she meant lard."

Along with Mike King, Boling is the co-owner of the catering company Smōk'd. The pair is currently working on opening a restaurant in Minglewood Hall. It's an audacious undertaking — but if you taste their pastrami, you just might become a believer.

Double-smoked and expertly seasoned, the pastrami is punchy without being over the top. Right now you have to order it by the pound, but if the guys at Smōk'd get their restaurant, you'll be able to try it on the kimchi reuben ($9).

What's a kimchi reuben? I'm glad you asked! This sandwich lover's sandwich is made with pastrami, Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, kosher dill pickles, and — in place of sauerkraut — spicy Korean kimchi. It's got just the right amount of zing to balance out the salt and spiciness of the meat. (In addition to pastrami, Smōk'd also makes smoked cheddar, bratwurst, and holiday hams.)

The space in Minglewood that King and Boling have leased is a large room formerly occupied by Christ City Church. In this appealingly rustic, high-ceilinged space, they envision a sandwich shop and meat market, plus some futuristic amenities: USB ports for charging cell phones at the bar, as well as a system of self-serve beer taps monitored by microchips in customer wristbands. They hope to have the restaurant open in February.

To help defray the costs of renovating, Smōk'd has launched a campaign on Kickstarter. In order to hit its target, Smōk'd will have to raise about $30,000 over the next month.

If they can get enough people to try that pastrami, they just might pull it off.

Smōk'd Meats, 1555 Madison Avenue, 246-3961

When cultures collide, one result is good food. Take the cronut — built like a croissant, deep-fried like a donut, or the bánh mì sandwich — a French baguette stuffed with Vietnamese cold cuts and veggies. And let's not forget that tomatoes were first brought to Italy from Mexico by Spanish conquistadors.

click to enlarge Tony Falasca of Memphis Pig and Pasta - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Tony Falasca of Memphis Pig and Pasta

Where and when these culinary collisions will take place is impossible to predict. But one may be going on now in a nondescript strip mall on Raleigh Lagrange. That's where Tony Falasca of Memphis Pig and Pasta is ruthlessly combining Italian food with Memphis-style soul.

Falasca is an interesting guy. At 6'4", with wavy white hair and piercing blue eyes, he might be taken for a culinary mad scientist. He learned to cook in the Navy, followed by a short stint at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts. But, like Boling from Smōk'd, he says his passion for food started much earlier, at the elbow of his Italian grandmother.

"My great-grandma Falasca came over from Italy with eight kids," Falasca says. "I couldn't understand a word she was saying, but I watched what she was doing."

For the past two years, Falasca has worked alongside his wife, Laura Lee Falasca, at her catering company, Laura Lee's Lunchables. About a year ago, he opened Pig and Pasta out of the same location. Now he's opened up a takeout counter, where customers can pick up both catering trays and single servings for lunch and dinner.

By far the best among their dishes involves the fettuccini noodles, which Falasca makes by hand, in-house. I was particularly fond of the barbecue pulled-pork pasta ($6.95), sweet and savory in just the right balance. Also good is the chocolate dessert pasta ($2.50), served with whipped cream and fruit compote, where the cocoa is cooked right into the noodle.

Barbecue pasta and chocolate noodles? They might sound far-fetched today. But then again, so did tomatoes in Italy, 600 years ago.

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