Back to School 

Lunchbox Eats opens; Automatic Slim’s gets a new chef and a new menu.

Bully stole your sack lunch? No problem. Lunchbox Eats, a school-themed spot with plenty of lessons in good eating, is now open on Fourth just off Linden. This is one school cafeteria worth checking out: If not for its thorough adherence to the theme (the bathroom sink is set in a school desk; the menus are printed on loose-leaf paper), then for its selection of school lunches — way better than your elementary cafeteria fare but still served on a plastic tray.

If you're thinking cold mystery meat, you're way off. Try Homeroom Chicken and Grids with fried chicken, cheddar waffles, Muenster cheese, and green tomato relish or the Graduation Burger, made with pepperjack meatloaf, creamy mashed potatoes, tomato gravy, and crispy Tabasco onions. I can personally recommend the 3rd Period Smoking Birds, which puts pulled Cajun turkey, molasses chicken, duck, veggie slaw, and pan liquor between two slices of fresh baked bread. And I'll admit I have a bit of a schoolgirl crush on the mac and cheese, with its warm spice and perfectly crisp crust.

Kaia Brewer, owner and chef, attended Johnson & Wales before taking a job as the executive chef at the downtown Doubletree. Her lunchbox concept began as a catchy marketing vision. "I always wanted an easy name that people could identify and remember," Brewer says. "Then the school thing reminds people of growing up. I always felt like if you had a concept like that it would bring them back."

The concept might bring them in, but the food is what will keep them coming back. Lunchbox Eats is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and because of its proximity to FedExForum, Brewer hopes to stay open later on game nights.

Lunchbox Eats, 288 S. Fourth (526-0820)

Last Wednesday, Automatic Slim's celebrated their new chef, David Schrier, formerly of Currents at River Inn, and their new menu, which takes a farm-table approach to the restaurant.

"We've changed the concept," Schrier says. "We're highlighting local farms and ranches and stepping away from the Caribbean and Southwest style infusion that [Automatic Slim's founder] Karen Carrier was so great at. It was just time for a change."

The new menu is what Schrier calls "globally inspired with a little Memphis Southern flair." French, Asian, and Italian influences emerge with a local spin, as in the crudo style of raw fish paired with local watermelon. The menu is also geared toward small and shared plates. "We want people to come in and try as many things as they want to," Schrier says. "You can get three, four, or five things for under $35."

Entrées range from $15 to $25 and include lemon-oil poached corvina (a firm, mild fish) with spinach, grapefruit-fennel salad and dill hollandaise, and braised pork cheeks with collard greens, smoked onions, mustard potatoes, and bacon jus. Starters, which range from $5 to $7, include house-cured gravlax with salmon roe, fresh dill, and whipped brie; a spinach salad with candied Benton bacon; a pumpkin-truffle risotto; and veal sweetbreads with bleu-cheese flan, pickled carrots, and celery-leaf salad. Sunday brunch includes the delectable crab cakes Benedict. The soup will change daily.

Some familiar names pop up on the vendor list: Donnell Farms beef, Newman Farms pork, Springer Mountain chicken, Whitton Farms produce. As for the wine menu, Schrier says they're making improvements every day, and the martini list still features 56 varieties.

Automatic Slim's is open for lunch Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. The kitchen is open until midnight on weekdays and until 3 a.m. on the weekend, and Sunday brunch begins at 10 a.m.

Automatic Slim's, 83 S. Second (525-7948)

automaticslimsmemphis.com

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