by Dakota Averett + Keaton Gilbert | photo courtesy of Molly’s La Casita
Growing up in small-town Tennessee, we’ve become accustomed to the sort of Americanized Mexican restaurants that are common in the South. No matter the name or location, the food and atmosphere of these restaurants are largely the same: the same salsa, the same music, and the same overall experience.
Molly’s La Casita in Memphis is not that. It is a charming and unique restaurant with a deep history. First established on Lamar Avenue in 1974, the restaurant now sits in Midtown on Madison Avenue where it has been since 1982. We sat down with Kelly Johnson, the general manager of the restaurant, for a 15-minute interview, which turned into 45 minutes of listening to colorful stories about the history of the restaurant, Kelly’s experience over the past 35 years, and a few anecdotes about encounters with customers and staff.
Molly Garcia, an immigrant from central Mexico, opened the first location on Lamar. This is where she met her long- time business partner, Robert Chapman, who facilitated the move to Madison and bought the restaurant from Molly. He always remained true to Molly and her vision, never adding a dish to the menu unless it had her approval and continuing to share the profits with Molly until she passed away. Robert himself passed away a few years ago, and his wife, Jamie Chapman, now owns the restaurant.
Molly’s has a history of LGBT support and patronage, due to its welcoming atmosphere and community engagement. They’ve given to Dining Out for Life, as well as in-kind donations to various other causes. Kelly told us of a time after the Pulse shooting, when she quite literally walked around the restaurant and asked patrons for donations for the Orlando community.
The staff at Molly’s have a family-like dynamic. Many of them have worked there for decades, and Kelly said that the staff have helped her through many challenges throughout her life, including the recent passing of her partner.
Before the interview even began, Kelly had already given us two of their award-winning margaritas. When we first arrived at Molly’s, there was not a table in sight without them. They were smooth and well- balanced, while also packing a welcomed punch of tequila.
We asked our server, who insisted we call him “Sunshine,” to bring us the best of the menu, and he started us off with appetizers. First was the Seven-Layer Bean Dip, a medley of refried beans, cheeses, guacamole, salsa, pico de gallo, and sour cream. The layers were well-balanced, but what made this dip special was the contrast of the cold ingredients on top and the warm refried beans on the bottom, which makes for a very pleasing bite. Second came their signature Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Shrimp. Butterflied and stuffed with spiced cheeses, the shrimp are then wrapped in bacon and fried to perfection. The crispy bacon exterior was cooked perfectly, and the cheese stuffing worked well to contrast the powerful bacon flavor.
We followed the appetizers with tamales. The restaurant’s tamales are made by one person, who was taught the recipe and method by Molly. These tamales were perfectly moist and accompanied by two sauces: a salsa verde and a seasoned sour cream.
Then came the entrées. First was Molly’s Chimichanga, which consisted of spinach, mushrooms, and cream cheese combined with pecans, all rolled into a chimichanga that is lightly fried and covered with Salsa Rosada, a tomato-cream sauce. The dish had an excellent flavor, and the pecans brought a welcomed texture. Second was the Shrimp Amanda, which consisted of shrimp sautéed in garlic butter and lemon, served with sautéed peppers and onions, with a side of spiced green beans. The shrimp had an excellent flavor of garlic, and a perfect level of acidity. The peppers and onions gave the dish a nice sweetness, which was contrasted nicely with the savory green beans.
The recipes for these dishes are locked up in a lawyer’s office for a reason. The flavor of the food is delivered by unique spice blends that vary according to the contents of each dish, and these combinations are exclusive to Molly’s. Every bite we had was phenomenal, and we cannot recommend Molly’s enough.