In Memphis you never know where barbecue is going to turn up on the menu. Last night my wife and I went to dinner at the recently opened Skunx Chef's Pub on Young in Midtown's Cooper-Young neighborhood. The chef at Skunx, Duncan Aiken, was previously the chef at the Overton Park Pizza Stone. That restaurant, tucked into a residential section of Midtown's Evergreen Historic District, quickly built a following that frequently overwhelmed its small dining area. It closed with promises of reopening in a larger space Downtown, but that never happened. Instead Aiken brought his menu of specialty pizza's to a spartan pub in one of the city's busiest intersections for drinking and dining.
My wife and I live just north of the old Pizza Stone restaurant and were saddened by its departure, so we were eager to try Skunx. Where the Pizza Stone had a warm, inviting interior left over from the building's days as a high-end Italian restaurant; Skunx has plain, red-painted walls, a bar, a specials board and some wobbly tables that have stacks of coasters under their legs in an attempt to stabilize them. Aiken, who was our server on top of working in the kitchen preparing food, said that he gets a lot of late-night business from other people in the local restaurant industry. Since most food-service workers appreciate good food themselves and have a tendency to party hard after work until the early hours of the morning, a no-frills pub with simple but delicious food aimed at them seems like a great fit for what is already a booming restaurant district.
The menu only lists pizzas and salads, but definitely pay attention to the specials board. One of the specials on the night we visited was a divine serving of duck confit with goat cheese, polenta, cilantro and a pear reduction. We paired it with an arugula salad for our first course and the combination was outstanding. Don't write Skunx off as just a "pizza place." The luxuriously juicy duck was one of the best servings of meat I've had in this city.
From the pizza menu we ordered the "Memphis" which was topped with barbecue made from Newman Farm pork, goat cheese, caramelized onions, cilantro and jalapenos. Aiken said he smokes the barbecue at his house or, if he is running short on time, he borrows some space on the smoker at the nearby Central BBQ, where he is friends with the owners. The tomatoey barbecue sauce was a good match for the pizza, which had a tasty thin crust that was crispy on the outside, yet still pleasantly chewy. The toppings were well-balanced and the pizza tasted as good as it looks in the photograph. After sharing the duck and salad, half the pizza ended up being plenty of food for two people.We'll definitely be returning to try some of the other pizzas on the menu.
Our total tab was a little less than $40 before tip. I was happy to find such great food in a completely unpretentious setting. It reminded me of the kind of unassuming yet deeply satisfying restaurants that make New Orleans so special, which is something we need more of here in Memphis. Skunx joins the also recently-opened Next Door, which is just down the street from them, in combining a casual atmosphere with food that shows far more skill and creativity than your standard pub grub.
NOTE: We just had water with our meal since the restaurant is currently in a bit of limbo on its beer license, but they are allowing people to bring in their own beer until the issue is resolved. Aiken said he hopes to be serving alcohol soon, but if you plan on visiting in the near future and want to drink you may want to call ahead and see if you need to bring your own.