Catherine & Mary’s combines family heritage with modern creativity
Before putting pen to paper for this article, I dug into a bowl of buttered radiatore pasta. The simple dish was all I could wrap my head around for dinner. I had just put our six-month-old baby, Hudson, to bed, our fridge was bare, and my to-do list was extra long.
Buttered noodles are my comfort food. While not particularly nutritious, a bowl of pasta is nourishing, no-fuss, and often nostalgic.
As it turns out, pasta is also the comfort food of choice for award-winning chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, the founders of Enjoy|AM Restaurant Group.
“Pasta is our favorite thing to eat. And it’s Andy’s love language,” jokes Michael. Their restaurant group includes Hog & Hominy, Bishop, Catherine & Mary’s, Josephine Estelle down in New Orleans, and their flagship Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen.
“Pasta has given us everything we know,” says Andy.
Catherine & Mary’s, which celebrates seven years in downtown Memphis this fall, is named for Andy and Michael’s nonne (grandmothers), who introduced their now-chef grandsons to cooking. Catherine Chiozza was Hudman’s grandmother from Tuscany, and Ticer’s was Mary Spinosa of Sicilian heritage.
“Any time we talk about food, especially pasta, it’s always them, that Sunday afternoon tradition,” says Andy.
The Sunday scene is artistically interpreted on the walls of the restaurant, where colorful swirls and strokes fill two oversized canvases. The almost-psychedelic scene boasts bowls of pasta and faces of the two who fueled Andy and Michael’s culinary careers.
A production in itself
Currently at the helm of the Catherine & Mary’s kitchen is Mustafa Shirazee, who has been with the restaurant group since 2018. Known among the team as “Mus,” he sees pasta “as a form of art in itself.”
“My favorite part of pasta production is actually making the pasta,” says Mus.
“I’ve always found the process extremely fascinating. You start with some flour, eggs, and olive oil and knead that together into this beautiful bright yellow color. From there, turning it into all kinds of shapes, some with a beautiful filling, all the way to cooking it off and pairing it with an amazing sauce, all the way to the customer.
I do it every day, and I will always love it.
Pasta will always be special to me.”
That production is artfully spotlighted in Catherine & Mary’s architectural design. As you approach the restaurant, its floor-to-ceiling glass windows envelop the bottom floor of the historic Chisca Hotel. Standing on the sidewalk, you can look through one of the windows and watch pasta being made. And arguably the best seat in the house is in the center of the restaurant, where you can see into the heart of the kitchen.
By letting passersby and diners alike watch the pasta-making process, Catherine & Mary’s puts the focus on this classic Italian art. At the same time, they’re paying homage to the small Italian villages where Catherine and Mary each were raised, where you could see through windows dedicated women working all day long to knead and shape and repeat.
“We designed the kitchen window so that the diner or downtowner can put themselves in our process,” says Michael, “And especially at night, with the hustle of the team and those heat lamps over us, it’s like a romantic view of what’s happening in there.”
“You can’t hear anything,” adds Andy. “But you can see the commotion.”
A menu centerpiece
“Pasta is what keeps people coming in every day,” says Mus. “And it is a dish that will make anyone happy.”
As such, both by demand and by design, pasta has always had its own section on the Catherine & Mary’s menu. While coursed and portioned to precede the mains, pastas are considered the centerpiece.
With eight menus per year—in addition to a monthly waitlisted wine dinner—the opportunity to test new techniques and collaborate with the restaurant group’s chefs keeps the pasta menu fresh and revolving year-round.
“From a new agnolotti filling to an amatriciana sauce Andy puts love into for four hours—or a new flour we are milling in house and a crazy laborious trofie shape our chefs will only tolerate for a special wine dinner menu—pasta really allows us to keep reinventing,” reflects Michael.
One pasta element that diners can rest assured will never be adjusted or omitted is Maw Maw’s gravy. While the noodle shape will rotate from a rigatoni to a bucatini or even a ravioli, the classic sauce remains an anchor of both Catherine & Mary’s and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen.
Personally, I love treating the pasta as a shared course, where we can explore the various techniques, shapes, and sauces that make the cut each season. Michael agrees.
“Everyone digs in, and it’s that same feeling of family,” he says. “That’s how we learned hospitality.”
Andy says he relies on that sense of ancestry when he’s cooking: “Anytime we’re in the kitchen, we feel like they’re with us. It’s very comforting.”
Comfort food, indeed.
Catherine & Mary’s
272 South Main Street, Suite 105
Cara Greenstein is the founder of Caramelized, an award-winning food and lifestyle brand that inspires readers to create, explore, gather, and elevate the everyday. @cara_melized
Houston Cofield is a photographer and artist living and working in Memphis. He received his MFA in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago and his BA in journalism from the University of Mississippi. He is a fourth-generation photographer, all of which have photographed the American South. @houstoncofield