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Table Talk: BBQ fest is here, Bhan Thai has gone
A member of Peg Leg Porkers takes a gift to the Hog Wild team during the first day of the 2019 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on May 15, 2019. (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian file)

A member of Peg Leg Porkers takes a gift to the Hog Wild team during the first day of the 2019 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on May 15, 2019. (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian file)

Welcome back to Table Talk, where The Daily Memphian’s food and dining editor Jennifer Biggs sends the latest food news (along with a dash of this and that) to your inbox every Wednesday.

We’re headed into the third weekend of May and as this is 2021 and not 2020, that means it’s time for the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. It kicks off today with a lunch for invited guests and opens to the public at 5 p.m. — and on a glorious Spring day, I’m happy to say.

It’s going to be a different beast this year, its size reduced to less than half the attendance of recent years and number of teams down not quite by half. But it will be a party, because when a crowd gathers at the river, parties happens.


And competition will be intense. As Memphis in May president and CEO Jim Holt said: “The big hogs are all coming out to play this year.” 

I took a little while to sit down (virtually, via Zoom, of course) with longtime Memphis in May volunteers John Lawrence and John Joplin, known around Tom Lee Park as “the Johns.” They’ve made covering the barbecue festival much easier, and also more fun, these past 15 or so years. Click here to have a listen.


Popular Midtown eatery Bhan Thai closed permanently earlier this month. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Moving on, this week we heard the sad news that Molly Smith has closed her beloved Bhan Thai restaurant. No Hail Mary will save it, no one will swoop in to buy it. As Smith told me after this story ran, if she wanted to keep it open, she would do it herself. It was just time, she said, and now we all have to find another place for pad Thai.

That’s doable, but I’m sure going to miss those cozy rooms and the lovely patios as much as I will the food. My fingers are crossed that another restaurateur will purchase the property and that the building that was home to Maison Raji before it was Bhan Thai will become another place we’ll love to eat and linger.


Meanwhile, if it’s Thai food you’re craving, Thai Bistro in Bartlett does a good job. Here’s a link to a review I wrote in 2019 about the place that first opened, then closed, in Downtown Memphis in 2011. 


A Whataburger restaurant, like this one in San Antonio, Texas, coming to Southaven. (Eric Gay/AP)

Good news for fast-food fans: Whataburger is coming back. Not exactly to Memphis — or at least not yet? — but to Southaven, and that’s closer than Jackson, Mississippi, which is where the closest Whataburger is for us now.

A few years ago, I would’ve whooped and hollered, and don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great. But since my daughter has lived in Texas, Whataburger visits have been more frequent and it turns out they’re not impervious to that quirk of human nature:

We most want what we can’t get. But sure, I’ll be there when it opens, and if another one opens, I’ll be there then, too. Pro tip: Get the double cheeseburger for the right meat-to-bread ratio. You don’t have to eat it all. And kudos to Southaven for reeling this one in.


If you have a heart, it must ache for restaurateurs during the pandemic. They’ve become pivoteurs, having to reinvent their business again and again as they’ve adjusted to Shelby County health directives since March 2020. This time, some of them feel the government has shirked its responsibility, effectively saying that people need to stay masked, but that it’s a suggestion, and forcing business owners to make the decision. They feel it puts them in a position of alienating people with either decision, requiring masks or not. 

And finally, here’s a $10 Deal you don’t want to miss. Panda Garden on Summer hasn’t reopened its dining room yet, but it’s open every day except Sunday for takeout, and the lunch special is a winner: Entrée, fried rice, soup, spring roll and a doughnut for less than $10.

Enjoy the beautiful weekend! I hope you have a chance to come down to the river and see what this different MIM Barbecue is like. I’ll be writing about it and you can find stories here and updates on Table Talk on Facebook

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