Nestled above the lights, music and crowds of Beale Street, is one of the cities best kept secrets. It's a place that pays homage to the late great B.B. King. A crown, if you will, that sits atop the blues club below. It's the cherry that's on top. I'm of course referring to Itta Bena, which get's it's name from the hometown to the legendary musician.
This restaurant is in my top 3 in Memphis. The experience is simply magical. The blue tinted windows set a highly romantic and classy mood. The way the lights of Beale play with the tint makes this place seem otherworldly. The peaceful and elegant nature is such a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Beale Street. It's as if you've been transported to an entirely different place when you ascend the secret staircase. Oh yes, you read that correct! There's a secret staircase behind a mostly hidden door. How exclusive!!
Executive chef Kevin Quinnell, who's been there 5 years, oversees the kitchen and I could tell from our casual conversation and him explaining each dish, that he takes personal pride in his work and runs a tight ship. I always say you can tell a lot about the food by speaking with the chef. Not only did the food taste amazing, it looked absolutely incredible!!
The cuisine at Itta Bena is described as comfort food or southern contemporary for the overly fancy. Most of the ingredients are locally sourced or from farmers markets, except the seafood that's shipped in.
According to Chef Quinnell, the most popular items on the menu are the the BBQ Shrimp and the Sea Crab soup. Both of which are great, but my favorite item isn't even on the menu! Sorry, there's no secret menu, but I got it as a special on an earlier visit. It was a BBQ salmon that was everything! I'm sure if I asked nicely, I could get them to make if for me again. if you can get that dish, you will not regret it at all!
Above: BBQ Shrimp with Abita Beer Bread, Sea Crab Soup, Duck and Waffles, Bread Pudding
Ok, I was asked by Chef Quinnell which dish i liked the best and my answer changed with each dish I had! Can they all be my favorites? If so, then that's my answer! I have no clue which is better than the rest because they are all so different yet so amazing! I literally was dancing with each bite I took. I will say the Abita beer bread, which is baked in house daily, is certainly some of the best bread I've held in my hand! Being that I have an insatiable sweet tooth, I have to give the nod to the bread pudding being the best I've ever had and I've had lots of bread pudding. The BBQ shrimp were the size of my fist and i'm not the biggest guy in the world but far from the smallest. The duck was interesting. I've always had oily or gamy duck, but this duck was different. It was neither. It was moist and crunchy like chicken, yet with better flavor.
In closing, if you're looking for the ultimate date spot, Valentine's Day restaurant, or want to get all dressed up and go downtown, then Itta Bena is your place! They are open 5pm -10pm 7 days a week and the dress code is business casual, so fellas put on your nice shoes and ladies pull out that date night dress! Reservations aren't required but highly suggested. Itta Bena will give you a great excuse to get dressed up and go have an amazing dinner followed by a stroll down Main or Beale street! A truly awesome date night! Ladies, if he takes you here, he might just pop the question!!
Life is for Living,