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Table Talk: COVID comes calling; BBQ is back; new pizzeria in East Memphis
Pizza franchise owner Blaire Bobo is soon opening a Memphis-area Rotolo’s Craft and Crust. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

Pizza franchise owner Blaire Bobo is soon opening a Memphis-area Rotolo’s Craft and Crust. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian)

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

Last Friday I met a friend for lunch, but before I went, I took a COVID test. My throat was a little scratchy; I had allergy symptoms and a shelf full of tests. A little swab, a 15-minute wait and I was negative, so good to go.

But, on Saturday, I had a full-on cold. By Sunday morning, I figured I should test again before I met my family for Mother’s Day, and there it was: Double lines. Positive. I’d been down the false positive path before, so I took another test, from a different box, and got the same result.


A Freedom Preparatory High School teacher gets tested for COVID in early January 2022, after the school’s holiday break. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian file)

I made it more than two years without having COVID. A friend who is a doctor in Chicago says we’re in a silent wave. My doctor in Memphis says the real numbers are much higher than what’s being reported because people are self-testing, and Dr. Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department, says numbers are 5.5 times what they were three weeks ago, when she made her last report

It’s not just me. Restaurateur Kelly English recently recovered from his first case of COVID, and Tim Bednarski, owner of Elwood’s Shack, got it for the second time; both are fine now. Ben Smith shut down Tsunami this week because a staff member tested positive. Other staff members have since tested negative, and the restaurant will likely reopen this week; don’t cancel reservations or not show up.

Smith exercised prudence earlier in the pandemic, keeping his dining room closed longer than many and fostering a sensible balance between safety and commerce. He’s out of town right now and texted with me about closing for a couple of days.

“I feel like most people have fallen into a sense of complacency on this and have let their guard down a bit. No one wants to be reminded that there is still a pandemic going on. Even here in New York, none of the restaurants I have been to have enforced a mask code. When I was here in December, every place I ate asked for a vax card, ID and a mask,” he wrote.


“For the record, I HATE having to close right now. Business has been way up lately. But I also feel like we have built up a certain level of trust and confidence in our clientele over our COVID protocols and I don’t want to compromise that.”

I respect that. I know that I’ve been complacent. I stopped wearing a mask a couple of months ago. Yes, it was when we were told we could, but I knew it was a bad idea. Of course, I’m vaccinated and boosted but was waiting for the second booster to coincide with upcoming travel. Those errors in judgment resulted in me getting sick.


This year’s annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest will take a break from Tom Lee Park and move to Liberty Park. (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian file)

This week, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Contest returns, and Jasmine McCraven tells us that although the contest is at Liberty Park this year, the show will go on with Ms. Piggy Idol, sauce wrestling, the rib-eating contest and headliner Tone Loc will close it out. The park (it’s Tiger Lane) opens at 5 p.m. today and the fun ends at 10 p.m. Saturday, May 14; you can find out the in-betweens by clicking the link just above.

Here’s good news for everyone: Hugh Balthrop is back with a retail location of Sweet Magnolia in Crosstown Concourse. I’ve been a fan of Hugh’s and his gelato for years and planned to have dessert there on Mother’s Day, foiled by COVID. But I’ll be there soon and am looking forward to a scoop of fior di latte cozied up to one of brown sugar and bourbon. Yum. 


Rotolo’s Craft and Crust is coming to East Memphis and with it, something you haven’t been able to get around here for a while: Chicago deep dish pizza. You’ll have choices, because there will be other pizza styles at the restaurant opening at Poplar Avenue and White Station Road Monday, May 23. Christin Yates tells us how the small chain ended up in Memphis.

It seems like an age ago, but it was just last week that I told you about the lease situation with Mulan in Cooper-Young. The restaurant is on a month-to-month lease, signed with previous owner Charlie Ryan, but John Currence of Big Bad Breakfast, part of new owner group Fresh Hospitality, says he doesn’t want to kick them out to put his restaurant in. 


Blues City Bagels’ finished product is taken out of the oven by owner and cook Louise Paz. (Greg Campbell/Special to The Daily Memphian)

Louise Paz is a dancer turned muffin-maker turned bagel-baker, and she’s opened Blues City Bagels at Memphis Kitchen Co-op in Cordova. She’s offering home or office delivery to folks from the edges of East Memphis out to Collierville and hopes to increase that soon.

Nick Barbian will soon open Big River Market just a stone’s throw from the offices of The Daily Memphian, on Tennessee Street. The Austin transplant describes the upscale convenience store as a “small, compact urban grocery” and will offer the standards along with a coffee bar and grab-and-go meals.

I hope I satisfied a few requests with this recipe for Grisanti’s manicotti, which includes a red sauce from the Original Grisanti’s on Airways Boulevard. And while I wouldn’t normally direct you right back to last week’s newsletter, be sure to check out the comments on last week’s Table Talk. Folks responded with their strange food combinations and they’re fun to read: Cottage cheese with Dorito’s crumbs? Sweet pickles on boiled-icing coconut cake?

Have a read and add yours to the list. And be safe, friends; let me be your cautionary tale. We’re still in a pandemic, and we have to stay vigilant. I want you to stay well.

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