In 2006, we saw restaurants opening and restaurants closing and more than a few chefs shuffling. In other words, it was business as usual. Here are some highlights:
Midtown seafood restaurant Anderton's opened the year by closing its doors on New Year's Day. Diners who enjoyed Anderton's oysters -- prepared countless ways and just $4 per half-dozen! -- are out of luck, but they should keep their eyes peeled for the restaurant's much-loved nautical-themed bar, which could be resurfacing in another location soon.
Russian restaurant Café Samovar closed early in the year, with Mediterranean-inspired Meditrina, Ben Smith and Thomas Boggs' latest venture, opening at the site. Working the stove at Meditrina are executive chef Demitri Phillips and chef de cuisine John Pearson. Erika's, another downtown landmark and Memphis' only German restaurant, closed its doors during the summer. The downtown Pancho's also closed.
In February, we noted seven new Mexican restaurants downtown and in Midtown. So how are they faring? El Pollo Grille and Mexican Cantina is now the Complex Grille -- similar fare, expanded menu. Sgt. Jalapeno's Tortilla Factory Co. inside the Comfort Inn on Front Street is closed. Quinto Patio on Beale Street across from the New Daisy Theatre seems to be in limbo as is Las Margaritas Mexican Bar and Grill inside America's Best Inns & Suites on Union and Garcia Wells Southwestern Grill in Overton Square. Rio Loco's on Union and Happy Mexican Restaurante & Cantina on Second Second are still open.
Among the new barbecue restaurants are the Alabama-based Jim 'N Nick's BBQ; Tango & Murf's Place, run by Memphis In May Barbecue Cooking Contest champs; and Whole Hog Café from Arkansas. Opening a second, much larger location on Summer Avenue was Central BBQ. When President George W. Bush feted Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi about town, the pair took their ribs at the Rendezvous.
Local restaurateur Jimmy Ishii took on yet another project, turning Elvis Presley's on Beale inside out. He re-opened the restaurant, now E.P. Delta Kitchen & Bar, in the late fall. Patrick Reilly, formerly of Swig, opened Majestic Grille in June in the old Gordon Biersch/Breckenridge Brewery space. The Viking Culinary Arts Center closed its downtown location to re-emerge farther east as Viking Cooking School. La Tourelle closed for re-modeling and re-opened under the culinary leadership of Tom Schranz, who also heads Café 1912.
Follow that chef: After close to 10 years in Memphis, Jorge Noriega (Erling Jensen The Restaurant, KOTO, Wally Joe, Meditrina) left the Bluff City to take a sous-chef position at the Bistro at Santa Barbara's Bacara Resort; Robert Green came to Memphis in the spring to take charge of the kitchen at Boscos Squared; The Peabody's new executive pastry chef Konrad Spitzbart came to Memphis by way of Austria (his home country) and more recently Hollywood, where he reigned over the sweets at the Beverly Hilton; Benjamin Vaughn, a Miami native and most recently of Yia Yia's Eurocafé, took over the kitchen at River Oaks; Scott Lenhart left Dish -- in his place is Scott McQueen from Automatic Slim's; Penny McCraw vacated the executive-chef position at the Brushmark, which was filled by Wally Joe and Andrew Adams. For a few months, McCraw wore the chef's hat at McEwen's on Monroe but has recently left. David Johnson of Jarrett's will take her position at the beginning of 2007.
On a sad note, Blues City Café's longtime chef and local legend Bonnie Mack passed away in August. Harry's Detour owner Harry Nichols, one of the more colorful figures on the Memphis dining scene, died from injuries he received after being hit by a car while crossing Poplar.
A reason to celebrate: Pancho's marked its 50th anniversary in the area; Jim's Place East hit 80 and opened Jim's Place Grille in Collierville; and Automatic Slim's Tonga Club recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. The Memphis Farmers Market at Central Station downtown had a successful first season and will likely return in May.