Here's a Memphis foodie trivia question: What did Rick Farmer finally add to the menu of Jarrett's after operating his East Memphis restaurant for 15 years?
Give up? It's a cheeseburger put together with Farmer's trademark finesse: Angus ground chuck, apple-wood smoked bacon, choice of cheddar or brie, smoked-paprika mayo, and fries, all for $12.
"I've resisted hamburgers, but I finally gave in, because I want people to understand that we are a neighborhood bistro, a come-as-you-are type of place," Farmer says. "I want the person in shorts and T-shirt to feel as comfortable at Jarrett's as someone in a suit."
Farmer says he's struggled over the years with the perception that Jarrett's is only a fine-dining restaurant: "I want people to know that they can have a fine-dining experience at Jarrett's without spending a lot of money."
Other menu choices offer more moderately priced options, including linguini with roasted eggplant, garlic, fresh herbs, and tomatoes and spaghetti with Italian sausages, baby Bella mushrooms, and fire-roasted tomato fennel sauce. Both entrées are $17.
There is also a rotating assortment of small plates, such as international artisan cheeses (French, Dutch, Spanish, and American) served with two salads: golden and red beets and spiced carrot and currant with balsamic glaze.
"The Humboldt Fog is unbelievable," Farmer says, describing a tangy, herbal goat cheese from Cypress Groves in California, included on the tasting plate, which costs $10.
Tough economic times mean independent operators must be creative and cost-conscious, Farmer says: "We have to work twice as hard to make guests feel special when they come in to eat with us."
To that end, Farmer is rolling out comment cards asking for customer opinions, along with names, birthdays, and anniversaries. "Tell me what you think, and I will buy you dinner," Farmer says. "It's something nice I can do for my customers."
Jarrett's, 5689 Quince, jarretts.com (763-2264)
Restaurant owner Felicia Willett is ready to party. Her downtown eatery, Felicia Suzanne's, is turning seven.
To celebrate the restaurant's birthday, Willett is orchestrating a weekend celebration with a four-course tasting menu and special wine pairings. The restaurant's regular dinner menu also will be offered, and all customers will be treated to a complimentary glass of bubbly.
So what's the chef, who hails from Jonesboro by way of New Orleans, serving Friday and Saturday night? Cultivated wild mushrooms will be followed by roasted escolar from the Gulf of Mexico (a buttery, white fish popular in Louisiana), panneed veal, and a tasting of goat cheeses from Bonnie Blue Farm, a regional producer in Waynesboro, Tennessee. The fixed-priced menu is $65.
"Even though we'll be full, I'll also put together a fun dessert, probably cupcakes and chocolates," Willett says. "I'm so proud of my staff and my customers that I want to do something nice."
Adding to the occasion are the evening's California wines: Patz & Hall Chardonnay (2006); Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir (2006); and Duckhorn Merlot (2005). "I'm excited about these wines, because usually they are too expensive to serve by the glass," Willett says.
Willett's birthday party showcases her classic Southern cooking style, a philosophy she says adds to her success. "When I started the restaurant, food was going very modern," Willett recalls. "I appreciate that approach, but I'm more classic. I found a different niche, and I stuck with it."
An avid cheerleader for downtown Memphis, Willett also praises the city's proximity to Gulf seafood and Mid-South farmers. She is getting revved up for warmer weather, when her menu will reflect the season's bounty of mushrooms (chantelle, black trumpet), baby greens, and spring onions.
"The squashes will come off; the asparagus and lamb will come in," Willett says. "I can hardly wait for all the spring vegetables."
Felicia Suzanne's, 80 Monroe, feliciasuzanne.com (523-0877)
Want a fun way to welcome the first day of spring? Stop by the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium downtown on March 20th or the Cordova location on March 26th for a final taste of winter.
Both Saucers are tapping casks of Wee Heavy, the Scottish-style ale brewed by Ghost River Brewing for the winter season. "It is heavy and full-bodied with a strong emphasis on malted barley," explains Ghost River's Chuck Skypeck. "The barley enhances the beer's depth and complexity of flavors."
Cask conditioning also adds to Wee Heavy's appeal, because cask beer is fermented a second time and tapped by gravity or a hand pump. "We pick someone to tap the cask, which adds to the excitement," Skypeck says.
If you miss the cask parties, stop by either Saucer location on Thursday nights, when all Ghost River beers are priced at $2.75 a pint.
Flying Saucer Downtown, 130 Peabody Place (523-7468)
Flying Saucer Cordova, 1400 Germantown Parkway, #114 (755-5530)