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Graceland: Hong Kong's Answer to Deep South Grub and Hospitality
February 28, 2022
Graceland: Mong Kok pronounces itself as the answer to Hong Kong’s hunger for the crispy, salty, and fried snacks of Southern American cuisine. The Kowloon diner is equipped with sound culinary expertise on how to translate the history and diversity of the South.
Taking its nod from the classic Paul Simon song and Elvis Presley's mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, Graceland opened its Mong Kok doors in October 2021 to an F&B scene that has previously lacked bona fide Deep South tastes.
The soul food Southern joint in the heart of Kowloon is the formidable creation of young restaurateur Nikolai Smirnoff, co-founder of Sai Kung’s Momentai and Joe-San, seeking to export the flavours and congeniality of America’s salty-sweet southern delicacies.
Sandwiched on Sai Yee Street between east Mong Kok and Ho Man Tin, Graceland is afforded a sizeable space to pack 46 seats indoors and semi-outdoors for boozy tastings and sippings.
Light pink walls and dark green sofa -seating ooze vibes of your Southern grandmothers’ kitsch kitchen facades, an homage to the classic diner-style of the south U.S.
As per the lyrics of the Paul Simon song, Niko says “it is the journey to the [Graceland] mansion, a guy getting lost and ‘finding’ himself along the way,” that is important. “I want to create a mythos around calling this place Graceland. Have you heard about Graceland in Mong Kok, people will ask. By putting it in a funky location, it sticks in your brain, people will travel to have this food.”
Food and drink
Graceland’s menu holds a melange of snappy and spicy dishes from the kitchens of South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Ketchup-lathered burgers, bar snacks, classic sides, smothered meaty mains, hot dogs, and wings and tenders are designed by Tennessee-chef, Jake Johnson.
On my feast down South, I kickstarted my culinary travels savouring the Arkansas Fried Pickles (HK$75), a pack of in-house brined pickles, coated in a light cayenne and paprika batter, and served with homemade ranch sauce.
Whilst foreign to a non-American palate, the fried pickles remain an addictive snack for late-night revellers aiming to balance out the kick of a strong drink at the bar. The toughness of the pickle oozes out a delectable sour juice that pairs well with the creaminess of the ranch sauce. The batter itself uses the same spice mix from Graceland’s signature Nashville-style hot sauce.
Following the list of Southern creations, I got my hands dirty with the Nashville Chicken Sandwich (HK$135), a fried chicken glazed in a Nashville hot sauce, topped with ranch dressing and dill pickles in a potato bun, with Tater Tots and Memphis Style Coleslaw (HK$20).
Glazed and dusted in Graceland’s Nashville brown sugar-paprika-cayenne spice blend, this chicken sandwich packs a punch, driving heat through the nostrils and roof of the mouth. Every bite involves a sharp tang from the ranch sauce and crunch of the pickle, cutting the heat of the spice, with the potato bun soaking up the juices for a lip-licking finale. The red-cabbage coleslaw and flaky tater tots balance out the meal with a soft creaminess and crunch.
Next: a dish that many non-Southern Americans will never encounter in a lifetime but is oh-so delectable. The Country Fried Steak (HK$165), a flank steak tenderized, battered, and deep fried, coated with a juicy sawmill gravy singed with bacon drippings, cornmeal, and milk. I had the Collard Greens and Old School Tater Salad (HK$20) on the side.
Woah, I can only say. This dish is fire. To a British reporter, this combination of a creamy sauce poured over a thin slice of steak wrapped in a milky batter is weird to say the least, but it is the unusualness that makes this steak work. It is sweet with the sauce, salty with the steak, and has a slight umami flavour in the batter. Niko suggests a dash of Louisiana Hot Sauce to introduce a nice fiery and salty crunch to each bite. I loved the tater salad as a side, which introduced a bit of freshness to the salty steak with diced pickles, onions, and peppers, along with potato chunks that melt in your mouth.
Heading east from Arkansas to neighbouring Mississippi state – in the Mong Kok diner – my final entrée for savouring is the Mississippi Fried Catfish (HK$120), a salty, crunchy cornmeal-battered catfish bass, served with a sweet ketchup-base comeback sauce, and my choice of Granny’s Creamed Corn and Collard Greens (HK$20).
The catfish, battered with the same Nashville spice mix used religiously in Graceland, follows the same recipe Niko’s grandfather constructed during his childhood fishing trips: a crisp, thin cornmeal batter, fried delicately, which steams the fish inside, leaving it flaky with a slight salty aftertaste. The fish itself is subtle to flavour, so I recommend dunking each bite into the tangy and tomatoey comeback sauce. For the sides, the creamed soon oozes with flavour, leaving a great buttery and sweet aftertaste that beckons for another scoop.
Graceland, in the words of Niko, is constructed as a meeting point for questioning foodies to explore a Southern cuisine that renounces the greasy stereotypes of American dining, instead paying homage to the fresh flavours, upbeat tunes, and collective schmoozing of a boozy Memphis diner.
The Mong Kok diner is outfitted with Hong Kong’s only vinyl-spinning jukebox, a DIY-custom build imported from California by Niko, playing 45 records of The Beach Boys, Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Dolly Parton. Something this special deserves a visit to groove to the ‘70s finest rhythmists.
Niko carries a smile and a wealth of knowledge catering to customers’ queries. Bar manager James is generous with his pours of Graceland’s litany of alcoholic beverages, elevating the serotonin on brunch weekends and buzz in east Mong Kok.
Graceland delivers a wholesome experience in the form of simple, yet powerful Deep South dishes that blend heat, sugar, and sour. Only 13,000 kilometres from Presley’s Graceland mansion, this Mong Kok restaurant beckons eager foodies with the allure of fried salty treats that will fill your heart and stomach.
Savouring the very best of Graceland and its honest Southern selection, I recommend sharing the Nashville Chicken Sandwich (HK$135), Chicken ‘N’ Waffles (HK$155), Country Fair Baby Corndogs (HK$75), and the Old School Tater Salad (HK$20) and Peach Cobbler (HK$20). Go hard on the drinks, they serve all the American classics.
This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by Graceland: Mong Kok in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.
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