Earlier this year, restaurateur Ben Brock took home the Restaurateur of the Year award from the Memphis Restaurant Association.
Brock owns 11 restaurants in Tennessee and Mississippi, including Amerigo and, most recently, Char, a seafood and steakhouse in the Highland Row development near the U of M.
This is the second Char location after 15 years of success in Jackson, Mississippi. From floor to ceiling, kitchen to table, it is no surprise that Brock can add the MRA trophy to his mantel.
"It's unlike your typical steakhouse," Brock says. "It has a little more personality, a little more Southern charm."
It's a perfect mixture of old and new, with dark wood and white tile, big open spaces and large windows, and a menu that will inspire a following of regulars who will want to check off every item.
Brock says their gumbo won a Jackson, Mississippi, gumbo contest, with its thick, dark roux and generous chunks of crab, sausage, and chicken ($5/cup, $7/ bowl).
"It's stirred a lot," Brock says. "It gets a lot of love."
The Cornbread Dusted Redfish, which has been getting a lot of attention from the clientele, is served with Delta Grind grits, spinach, and Abita Amber crab pan sauce ($15 lunch, $28 dinner).
"That's a recipe from [chef] Steven Howell," Brock says. "He's newer to our concept, so he gives everything a new spark."
Char-Jackson veteran Anthony Hatten is the other half in the kitchen, the brains behind the longtime favorite, the filet, a cut of tenderloin served with two choices of sides ($36/eight ounces, $51/12).
And Brock swears by his pecan pie.
"We also sell them whole during the holiday season," he says. "[In Mississippi], we'll sell up to 150 during Thanksgiving week. It's one of the best, and we make it in-house, every day."
Char is located at 431 S. Highland, #120. Brock owns the restaurant along with three partners through his company 4-Top Hospitality.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mon. through Sat., and Sun., 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. 249-3533, memphis.charrestaurant.com.
Childhood friends, co-chefs, and business partners, Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman have done it yet again.
The pair behind Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy, and Porcellino's Craft Butcher have branched out of their familiar Brookhaven Circle multi-digs and headed west with their latest edition of traditional Italian cuisine with a Southern flourish, Catherine & Mary's.
Housed in the ground floor of the Chisca on Main, this iteration of their brand of distinct Italian food would make their grandmamas proud.
It is named for them, after all — from Hudman's grandmother, Catherine Chiozza and Ticer's Mary Spinosa.
The approach can be bracketed between Andrew Michael and Hog & Hominy, according to Ticer and Hudman.
There are no shrinking violets on the menu, with oysters served with spinach, brandade, paddlefish, caviar, and panna gratta; radiatore served with pistachio pesto, mint, basil, and smoked ricotta salata; monkfish; cassarecce served with foie gras and giblets; and yes, they have Maw Maw's gravy ... with meatballs.
With a menu like that, you need a knockout setting, and the Chisca delivers.
Full windows flank the northwest walls with enviable views of Main Street.
Walls are left rough, and I kind of want to take all of the furniture home with me.
A 27-foot bar seats 20 along the north wall, and they offer a private dining room with access to a Chisca event room.
In 2008, they opened their flagship restaurant, Andrew Michael, followed by the more casual Hog & Hominy in 2012. Porcellino's, which, in my opinion, offers some of the strongest coffee in town, made its debut in February of last year, and early this year New Orleans hipped themselves to the Memphis duo with the opening of Josephine Estelle in the new Ace Hotel.
Catherine & Mary's is located at 272 S. Main. Open Mon.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m., and Fri. and Sat., 5-11 p.m. 254-8600, catherineandmarys.com.