Marley's, the new Caribbean-themed restaurant on Beale, has quite a hurdle to clear. Taking over the space that once housed the Plush Club (shut down last spring for being a public nuisance) means fighting the considerable stigma surrounding the building. "We want to prove to the city of Memphis that this is a legitimate business, and we're reputable people here to do right," owner Shaundra Glass says.
After getting approval from Attorney General Bill Gibbons, Glass began an overhaul of the old space, including brand-new kitchen equipment, flooring, tables, chairs, plumbing, in addition to a new roof, new bathrooms, and a new stage. She even brought in a real palm tree as a centerpiece of the main dining room. The deck out front is the next project.
"A lot of homeless people sleep out there in the area where it is enclosed," Glass says. "We'd rather just take it down and set up a regular little patio where people can sit and listen to the music from Beale Street. We want to be part of Beale Street."
Glass assembled her team of chefs through recommendations from L'Ecole Culinaire in Cordova, including head chef Karen Barrett and an in-house pastry chef. They make all their dishes — even the ketchup and mayonnaise — from scratch. "Everything we make is original to this restaurant," Glass says. "When you make it all yourself, you can tailor everything."
Menu offerings, made spicy or mild upon your request, reflect their dedication to authentic island cuisine. Jammin' Lamb Skewers with cucumber sauce, Cayman Island Hot Wings, spicy jerk-seasoned tempura battered veggies, and more top off the appetizer portion of the menu. Soups include Ocho Rios Callaloo — a blend of spinach, coconut milk, okra, and seasonings — and Negril Pepper Pot Stew with andouille sausage, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and rice.
There is, of course, jerk chicken, as well as Kingston Jerk Ribs, a Barbados roasted pork sandwich, panko- and parmesan-crusted Bermuda red snapper, Rasta Pasta served with colorful vegetables and coconut cream sauce, and the exotic Guadalupe Oxtail Stew. They've also got an extensive dessert menu, from coconut carrot cake and fried, rum-glazed sweet potato pie to plaintains Foster and mango cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream.
Marley's is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday noon to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Marley's, 380 Beale
Grace is shaking things up: They've moved an open kitchen space into the bar area, added Friday lunch to their offerings, and completed their conversion to a fully farm-to-table restaurant. In other words, everything at Grace (and Au Fond next door) is made with ingredients sourced from farmers — bypassing outside vendors entirely.
"The most difficult things are the flours and butters and creams," owner Ben Vaughn says, "things you don't really think about when you make that move. It's the first of its kind in our area."
Menu specifics are tough to pin down because everything is based on what is available daily, but at this week's inaugural Friday lunch, Vaughn will definitely be working with a whole pig. All the other elements will be fresh, seasonal, and creative.
"It's like Top Chef in here every day," Vaughn says.
Lunch at Grace will be different from Au Fond — a little slower-paced, with more preparation time involved, and more like a chef's table. "We're going to blow it out, make it a celebration every Friday," Vaughn says.
Over the next eight weeks, the Friday lunch will be a taste of the farm-to-table approach, for somewhere between $9 and $15. Reservations are recommended but not required.
Grace, 938 S. Cooper (274-8511)