Once upon a time, there was a car company that designed a car they thought would revolutionize the car industry. Through heavy marketing and great PR rumor mongering, the American public waited on the edge of their seats for this earth-shattering new car to roll off the assembly line and take the highways and byways of the American republic by storm.
The car did roll off the assembly line and American collectively stared in shock and disbelief. The car was called the Edsel.
Now, the car was very stylish in many respects and had a push-button transmission and other interesting features, but, in the end, it was ugly. Sadly, the Edsel was off the Ford Motor Company list of products in a couple of years and the only thing people really remember about them was the front grill that looked like someone’s face as they ate a lemon.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a great concept that went horribly wrong.
After my restaurant gulag experience at The Burger Place That Shall Not Be Named, I decided to go on the hunt for a new and creative luncheon experience. So, I got into my non-Edsel car and drove around before remembering that there was a new place near 16th Street and Indian School that took over the old Turk’s Fish and Chips location. That location was a tiny building built many decades ago and was a biker bar before it because a fish and chips eatery.
I drove over and noticed the place had a new, bright orange paint job that really made the building stand out. I pulled in the back and parked and entered into darkness. The lights were fairly low, so my eyes had to adjust. I entered to find stanchions separating the ordering area from the seven tables that are there for the patrons. I stood on the far side of the stanchions to allow my eyes to adjust and to review the menu that was posted on the wall over the ceiling.
Memphx Cafe has been mentioned around town as of late because of its Southwestern/Southern fusion attempt. Basically, we are talking beef brisket tacos and fried chicken enchiladas. Since I had been to Chino Bandito and seen how fusion attempts can be successful, I was hopeful that I would find something interesting on the menu.
After a few minutes, I had made up my mind and placed my order with the pleasant cashier. I decided to have two tacos. The first was the Memphis Taco ($1.99), which featured shredded smoked pork, and the Phoenix Taco ($1.99) which contained smoked beef brisket. I also threw in an order of Beef Brisket Enchiladas ($2.99 for 2) and a side of Macaroni & Cheese ($1.65). Seeing a cold case harboring cans of Diet Coke ($1.50), I had one of those as well.
I paid my bill and the total was $10.94 which included tax. I then took a seat and waited for my meal. The interior of the place was nice with a mix of normal and high-top tables with various art on the walls. The place is tiny, however. It is also quite dark because the place doesn’t really have much in the way of windows, which would have brought in some sunlight and opened up the place so it didn’t feel so stuffy.
About 10 minutes passed and my meal arrived. I decided to go with the tacos first. I grabbed the Phoenix Taco and was immediately turned off by the fact that the flour tortilla was not fresh. I knew these were soft tacos from the description on the menu, but the outer edges were stale and hard, creating a terrible texture on my teeth. The brisket was pretty good and I liked the taste of the onions and cilantro that were liberally used. Still, the temperature of the taco could have been much hotter. Overall, this missed the mark.
The next item I tried was the Memphis Taco, which featured a soft flour tortilla, shredded smoked pork, BBQ sauce and jalapeno coleslaw. Like the first taco, the tortilla was lacking freshness. While the pork and BBQ sauce were palatable (thankfully, the sauce wasn’t sickeningly sweet), the coleslaw was devoid of spiciness and was overly dressed. I like the dressing on coleslaw just as much as the next person, but I hate it when cabbage is drowned by it. The wet slaw had the unfortunate effect of bringing the entire taco to below room temperature.
I then proceeded to the Macaroni & Cheese. I had to take multiple bites of this because the first one had no taste. I figured I got something on the fringe, but sure enough, the entire side dish was awful. It wasn’t Macaroni & Cheese at all. It was pasta in hot water with some cheese shreds on top. Blech. The pasta was still sitting in water that was murky from the flour in the pasta. There was a smattering of melted cheese on top. And that was it. No seasoning. No creaminess. No gooeyness. How this even got out of the kitchen an onto a plate is beyond me.
So, I turned to the two Beef Brisket Enchiladas as my last hope of making this meal shine. Inside the ubiquitous Styrofoam container were two enchiladas, perfect twins sitting side by side. They smelled decent and I was hopeful that the tortillas for the enchiladas were going to be different from the tacos. Unfortunately, they were not. I just didn’t know what to make of a kitchen that doesn’t know how to keep tortillas from drying around the edges. This shouldn’t take a culinary science degree.
I took a bite and was turned off instantly by the enchilada sauce. It was a simple mixture of tomato sauce and chili powder. I love chili powder as much as the next person, but there is much more to an enchilada sauce than two ingredients. About the only thing decent within the Styrofoam was the beef brisket that was savory, tender and hot. Too bad it found its way into a lousy tortilla and a boring sauce.
I finished my drink and then bid my goodbyes to the cashier. The service was friendly and the people seemed very nice and eager. However, that doesn’t make up for what I thought were little things that turned a potentially good lunch into a disappointment.
I had such high hopes for Memphx Cafe. I would like to chalk it up to grand opening jitters, but they have been open for several months and things like dried out tortillas and oceans of slaw dressing are a bit over the top. I liked the concept and a beef brisket taco could have been really good, in theory.
But like the Edsel, it was a great concept that has gone wrong.
I guess I should be lucky there weren’t any big, red velvet hand chairs in the place.
1650 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Notes: Parking is in back. Closed Mondays. Fish Fry on Fridays (5-9 PM).
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 11 AM - 3 PM (and Fish Fry)
Additional photos can be seen at www.feastinginphoenix.com