By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Karen Ott Mayer
Overlooking the Mississippi River, The Lookout at the Pyramid offers stunning panoramic views as well as authentic Southern cuisine.
As the elevator ascends 300 feet above the Pyramid floor, stomach butterflies could be attributed to a new love, or in this case, a fear of heights. Once the doors open, however, all doubts about getting to The Lookout at the Pyramid vanish against the sweeping backdrop and a swanky full bar encircling a huge fish tank. When Bass Pro opened the massive retail store in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2015, the restaurant opened as well.
The lofty dining area serves up more than average fare. With a signature cocktail like the Duck Blind or Sunrise in hand, the brave can step onto the glass-floored observation decks to view the Mississippi River or downtown Memphis at sunset before sitting down to choose from a menu reflective of the great outdoors–and the great South.
The first thing to understand, however, is how to actually reach the restaurant. Anyone stepping into the elevator pays a $10 fee to reach the top. Bass Pro credits dinner bills, but not lunch, so it’s a good idea to keep the receipt or ticket. Anyone just taking in the sights simply pays $10 for the ride.
Tables circle the perimeter around the bar, and lucky couples can dine with 200 others. With an open layout and lots of glass, privacy is a rare commodity as is the “corner table”.
Another delightfully rare gem is the head chef, Pinky Tuggers. A slight African-American woman whose real name is Leontyna, she nonetheless prefers to be called Pinky. A native Memphian who has worked at other restaurants in town, Tuggers joined The Lookout on opening day. Her clientele runs the gamut.
“Most of our guests are from out of town so they’re not familiar with Southern cooking or dishes,” she said.
And thus, the great barbecue debate began – to put ribs on the menu or not? “Most people don’t because there are a lot of rib places and they don’t want to compete. But, we added them because everyone’s ribs are different,” said Tuggers.
Either she’s brainwashed the staff or they agree, as most everyone said, they love the ribs which are smoked in-house.To properly educate the visitors, Tuggers also has fried chicken and plenty of sweet tea, even together.
“We have sweet tea-brined chicken,” she explained.
The great irony of the menu is that downhome cooking rates right alongside the exotic. In the mood for elk? The game meat pairs nicely with potato fennel hash with pan gravy.
It’s hard to carry on a conversation with Tuggers without including her grandma. Long gone but ever present, Lilly Bell Young worked for a country club as a chef.
“My grandma taught me the things I needed to know,” said Tuggers.
Without giving away every delight, Tuggers dwells on her favorites but doesn’t reveal the exact recipe. As a starter, the homemade pimento cheese served on crusty French toast might be considered an ordinary appetizer if it weren’t for the homemade, charred red onion jam.
“That was Lilly Bell’s recipe. I use only sharp white Wisconsin cheese with a little cheddar cheese.”
For special occasions like Valentine’s Day, The Lookout offers a four-course set dinner. Last year, guests dined on selections such as grilled quail with fennel and orange marmalade, roasted parsnip soup or Chilean sea bass. On regular evenings, the menu is still widely diverse.
“We have a little bit of everything. You can get blackened redfish or rainbow trout. I try to create something for everyone,” said Tuggers.
Recently, when two guests professed to be vegans, Tuggers created two vegan dishes. She’s also sensitive to gluten-free diets and those with allergies.
Wrapping up the meal is just as fun as starting it. Tuggers recommends the gooey butter cake or bread pudding. “They are both my grandma’s recipes as well.”
It doesn’t take long to forget that The Lookout is really part of the largest outdoor retail chain in the country when sitting atop the world. Far from being contrived or serving only expected or common fare, The Lookout promises an interesting, authentic experience born from Southern women dedicated to their culinary heritage.
Open seven days a week, the restaurant takes drop-ins although reservations are highly recommended on special occasions. “We rent the whole restaurant to parties and companies, too,” said Tuggers.
The chef can be tight-lipped when it comes to her grandma’s recipes but there’s always hope. “She left me her recipes and said to publish them one day in a book. Maybe I will,” she said with a smile.