Going to the Memphis Farmers Market with Mike Patrick is a bit like walking around with the mayor. Everybody knows him, and we end up stopping every few feet to talk feed with pig farmers and chanterelles with mushroom hunters. And, you know, kiss babies.
"I've been coming here since day one," admits Patrick. "I used to have a piece of ribbon from the ribbon cutting on my refrigerator."
Patrick is the owner and chef at Rizzo's Diner, which will open at its new location on South Main in the next week or so. Today he's taking the Flyer's Farmers Market Challenge, where I team up with a local chef, we go shopping at the farmers market. Then we make something delicious with what we buy.
Patrick is a good-natured guy and built like a house. This is a good thing, because today the temperature is 49 degrees, and the wind is howling. Here and there, shoppers in heavy overcoats pick through the last of the year's harvest, while at one end of the market, a valiant guitarist plucks out the chords to the Beatles' "Eight Days a Week." Searching through a crate of winter apples, Patrick sings along.
"Ooh, I need your love, babe," he croons, "guess you know it's true."
Patrick's road to the kitchen has been an interesting one. He says it all started at age 15 when he got kicked out of high school for fighting. Never one to sit and sulk, he went out and found a job as a dishwasher, simultaneously enrolling in a culinary arts class at a vocational school.
"What made up my mind was the teacher," he confesses. "She was 32 and super hot."
From there, he went on to work with chefs Mac Edwards and Erling Jensen, before opening Rizzo's in late 2011. At the time, he described his menu as "comfort food, uncommonly comfortable," and it wasn't long before people started taking notice. To cite just one example, Food Network's Guy Fieri, for his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, stopped by in 2012 for a taste of Patrick's Chorizo Meatloaf with Green Tomato Gravy ($18).
"You get a completely blindside shot from that green tomato gravy," raved Fieri, through a mouthful of meatloaf. "That green tomato gravy is nuts."
To warm us up on this chilly Saturday, Patrick is planning to make a grilled bratwurst sandwich with green tomato chutney. I'm all for it. We get the brats from Lazy Dog Farms and the tomatoes from Jones Orchard — then round out our shopping bag with a loaf of ciabatta from Cucina Bread, barbecue pickles from Old Apple Hill Brine, and some herbed goat cheese from Bonnie Blue Farm. Then, it's time for lunch.
Patrick lives in a cozy, one-bedroom apartment in a converted hotel on North Main. It's a grand old building with crown molding and a marble lobby, but the best part is definitely the view. When we head up to the roof to grill the brats, it's all there: City Hall, the M Bridge, and the Pyramid.
"I like to come up here in the summer and watch the fireworks," says Patrick, while the brats sizzle on the grate. "I'll grill up some steaks and make margaritas."
Back in Patrick's kitchen, we start slicing the tomatoes. And if you've never seen the inside of a green heirloom tomato, let me recommend it to you. They're like little works of art in there — little paintings by William Turner, grading in color from pale green to peach to gold to pink.
We sauté the tomatoes with apples and pears, then add a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and pickle juice. While the chutney reduces, we slice the pickles, goat cheese, and some kale. Then it's go time.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are moments in life when the planets align, the clouds open up, and the sandwich gods smile down on us. This was one of those moments. The green tomato chutney was sweet and tart, beautifully cutting against the heartiness of the brats. And the goat cheese added just the right note of herbed creaminess to the blend.
To make a sandwich that good, you have to believe in what you're doing. You have to mean it. Fortunately, that's not a problem for Patrick. As we finish our sandwiches, scraping the leftover goat cheese off our plates, he confesses that for him, cooking isn't just a job — it's a calling.
"I'm not gonna be a doctor," he says. "I'm not gonna find a cure for cancer. But I can cook. And by being able to serve somebody a dish that came from my heart, I'm doing my part to make Memphis a little better."
Editor's note: The print version of the story had the opening date as Saturday, December 20th. Unforeseen delays have pushed the opening for another week or so.