Buster RIP 

Romulus Morgan Hammond Jr., better known as Buster, died September 8th at the age of 97. For more than 50 years, Buster was the face of Buster's Liquors and Wines.

The liquor business wasn't Hammond's first calling. In earlier jobs, he ran a full-service gas station on Madison, was a sales representative for MGM Studios, and opened a chain of drive-in grocery stores. In 1954, with the help of two investors and a start-up capital of $12,000, Hammond opened Buster's Whiskey Store on South Bellevue. After Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Buster moved the store, eventually opening its permanent home at Poplar and Highland in 1970. This is where many customers came to recognize Hammond as "the man in the chair."

Today, Buster's Liquors and Wines has more than 8,000 items in stock, the largest selection of wine and spirits in Tennessee. The 10,000-square-foot store, now led by Buster's son, Romulus Morgan "Rommy" Hammond III, specializes in hard-to-find specialty wines from around the world.

Buster's Liquors and Wines 191 S. Highland (458-0929)

In the push to offer customers more local products, select Memphis restaurants now offer Neola Farms' all-natural ground beef on their menus. Among the restaurants are the Inn at Hunt Phelan and Interim.

"I have been in farming practically all my life, but we have only been selling our beef to the public for 12 years and pursuing a wider customer base for only the past five years," says Michael Lenagar of Neola Farms in Brighton, Tennessee. Offering his beef to local restaurants is a logical step for Lenagar.

"Sixty-five percent of the beef that's sold in the U.S. is sold through restaurants. That's a huge market. We're just testing the waters," Lenagar explains.

"Our customers definitely taste a difference between a burger that's made with Neola Farms' beef and the standard ground beef," says Jackson Kramer, executive chef at Interim.

Lenagar tries to be competitive, but he can't sell for the same price as the giant food distributors.

"People are more conscious about their food," Lenagar says. "If they have a choice between a hamburger patty that they can trace back to its origin or a hamburger patty that might contain meat from five, 10, 20 different animals, they are more likely to pay a little extra for the product from the local farmer."

A challenge for Lenagar is to get customers interested in the "lesser cuts," such as eye-round roast, oxtail, and brisket.

"For many people, beef equals steak," Lenagar says. "But there are so many more cuts that make great dishes that often get neglected. Part of what we do with our animals is to use everything. We also want to get people interested in cooking and preparing those different cuts."

In addition to restaurants, Neola Farms meat is available at the Memphis Farmers Market downtown on Saturdays and at Café Francisco throughout the week.

For more information on Neola Farms' beef, contact Michael Lenagar at 476-1867 or e-mail neolafarms@aol.com.

Just in time for fall, The Grove Grill starts back its chef's-table dinners. At the first chef's table, on September 26th, Ginger Wilkerson of Athens Distributing Company will select wines for a fall-inspired menu, which will include tortilla-crusted shrimp with black-bean cake, red chili mole and avocado mousse, prosciutto-wrapped rabbit tenderloin with truffled mushroom risotto, and braised pork shank with smoked red-onion barbecue, Yukon Gold potatoes, and creamy slaw.

Cost for the five-course menu is $75 per person plus tax and gratuity. Seating is limited, and reservations are required. Additional chef's-table dinners are scheduled for October 24th and November 28th.

The Grove Grill, 4550 Poplar (818-9951)

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