STEPHANIE JANE CARTER
In 1948, a Justine Smith quietly opened a restaurant next to the first bottle club in Memphis, Th’ Sharecropper. The restaurant was originally located in what “never was and never will be the nice part of town.” Still, Ms. Smith brought all of her Baccarat crystal from home to Justine’s, a restaurant specializing in Southern and French cuisine that would go on to receive favorable reviews from The Washington Post and Town and Country; to become one of the most well-known restaurants in the United States; and to remain open for 48 years. Eventually, the restaurant moved to a 19th century Italianate mansion and was known as “one of the most happening places in the whole South back in the day.” Ms. Smith’s daughter, Janet Stuart Smith, says that her mother claimed she really only opened the restaurant to make some money because she was broke from playing poker, mah-jong, and bridge.
According to long-time Justine’s patron, Curtis Jeffries:
[I] first went in the 60’s with my grandmother and never quit. My daughters loved going there. Our 4 generations enjoyed it – unique and damn fine food. [It was] one of the best restaurants in history. [I] always felt like I was at someone’s home having dinner. Memphis lost its crown jewel of restaurants when the family closed it.
The restaurant closed in 1996 and two years later, Janet Stuart Smith published Justine’s, a book of memories, history, and recipes from the restaurant she grew up in. SoFAB board member, Randy Ensminger, passed along a copy of the book, which is full of delightful recipes, old menus, anecdotes, and photographs. This recipe is for Crabmeat Justine, a dish that people are still talking about.
(Hot Crabmeat Casserole)
For the Hollandaise:
1 pound salted butter
4 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
For the Crabmeat Justine:
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup cooking sherry
a couple dashes of Tabasco
a couple dashes of lemon juice
a couple dashes of Worcestershire
1 pound of the freshest possible lump crabmeat, rinsed and shell pieces removed
6 pieces of sliced French bread, toasted
1.5 cups Hollandaise
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make the Hollandaise: In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, whisk together the egg yolks. Be careful not to let the bowl touch the simmering water. As the yolks thicken, add the vinegar and cayenne. Continue mixing as you slowly add the melted butter. Once most of the butter is incorporated, you may increase the speed at which you add the rest of the butter. Set aside in a warm place until ready to use.
“[Justine’s] prepared everything from scratch and by hand. For an easier version, you could use a mixer and beat egg yolks, vinegar, and cayenne together until thick and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add the melted butter. Good luck.”
For the Crabmeat Justine:
Combine butter, sherry, Tabasco, lemon juice, and Worcestershire in a pan and simmer over low heat. When the mixture is hot, carefully fold in the crabmeat. Heat this mixture, being careful not to let it burn or boil.
Divide toasted French bread between 6 small ramekins. Cover the toast with the crabmeat mixture, using a slotted spoon to drain it. Top with Hollandaise sauce and place in oven.
Bake until the Hollandaise begins to brown, 8-10 minutes. Serve bubbling hot.