Last winter, Holly Whitfield of the I Love Memphis Blog announced that Memphis is in the midst of a spectacular "Foodnado." How apt! My cursory count of restaurants, breweries, and sundry food-related places that opened in 2014 adds up to 40, and not all of them in Overton Square.
But, then again, a lot of them are in Overton Square. Babalu Tacos & Tapas opened in June, offering tableside-prepared guacamole and lots of sharing plates. The place has been packed since. In August came Jimmy Ishii's Robata Ramen & Yakitori Bar with a fine menu of ramen noodle bowls and skewers. Lafayette's Music Room, an homage to the original much-loved, circa-'70s Overton Square bar named for the recently passed away ace bartender Lafayette Draper, opened in September and features wood-fired pizzas and a music schedule set at palatable hours. Schweinehaus, a cheeky Memphis take on German food, also opened in September. There's beer, brats, and the occasional lederhosen sighting — what's not to like? If you need olive oil, there's the Square Olive, and there's more music and fun at the Chicago-based Zebra Lounge.
The most recent addition to Overton Square is Belly Acres, a farm-to-table burger restaurant, the latest of three burger-centric places to open in Memphis. This trend has our full endorsement. Belly Acres has a fantasyland interior and a menu that demands to be gone through one burger at a time. Down the street, there's LBOE (Last Burger on Earth). Its menu raises the bar with such burgers as the super spicy Lava Me or Lava Me Not and the garlic-laden Love Stinks. Oshi Burger Bar downtown has something for everyone — beef burgers, tuna burgers, vegetarian burgers, gluten-free buns. They also have great milkshakes.
Plenty of glasses have been raised at the taprooms opened in 2014 at High Cotton Brewing Co. and Memphis Made Brewing Co., and Memphis promises to get buzzier still in the new year with Pyramid Vodka. Wine in grocery stores finally passed, and while that doesn't happen until 2016, local liquor stores are making the best of it with growler stations and more.
In grocery-store news: Whole Foods opened its expanded store in East Memphis, which includes a site-specific barbecue restaurant and a growler station. There's the new Fresh Market in Midtown, and Kroger continues to show its commitment to Memphis in updating its stores, most recently the one at Cleveland and Poplar. Plus, there's been some buzz about a Trader Joe's opening sometime somewhere. We shall see.
In coffee news: Everybody freaked out when Muddy's Bake Shop announced a new Midtown store in August 2013. Muddy's Grind House opened this fall and offers a little of everything, from coffee to breakfast eats and yoga. The Avenue, near the University of Memphis, has great coffee and treats with Christian fellowship. There's also Cafe Keough downtown in a gorgeous setting with a great cafe Americano. Tart offers quiches and more — a great go-to place when expectations are high. Ugly Mug took over the Poplar Perk'n space, and Jimmy Lewis, who founded Squash Blossom, returned to the scene with Relevant Roasters, selling wholesale, environmentally sound, and worker-friendly coffee with the motto "Every Cup Matters."
After a few false starts, the Riverfront Development Corporation came through with Riverfront Grill. It serves a sophisticated but not too syrupy Southern menu and also has some of the best views in Memphis. Also new this year to downtown are the Kwik Chek spinoff Nacho's, Marie's Eatery in the old Rizzo's Diner spot, and Cafe Pontotoc. Rizzo's moved into the old Cafe Soul site, and there's the Love Pop Soda Shop, a nifty craft soda shop.
In East Memphis, Skewer, serving Yakitori and ramen, opened in January. 4 Dumplings opened around the same time, and, as its name suggests, the menu is built around four dumplings. The vegan dumpling with tofu is not to be missed.
Since at least four people mentioned to me that Jackson Kramer's Bounty on Broad is "secretly" gluten-free, I'm guessing it's not really a secret. The dishes at this lovely farm-to-table spot are thoughtfully done and a delight to look at. The menu changes frequently, but at a recent dinner, there were mussels in fragrant coconut milk, charred broccolini, and creamed kale served over polenta. Also gluten-free is the Hawaiian import Maui Brick Oven, serving brick-oven pizzas and grain bowls.
At Ecco on Overton Park, Sabine Bachmann's cozy neighborhood restaurant, there are heaping dishes of pork chops, delicate pasta dishes, and artful cheese plates — something for every appetite. Strano Sicilian Kitchen & Bar serves a great roasted carrot soup and Italian classics from meatballs to pizza.
At press time, Porcellino's, Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman's latest venture, was due to open "any minute now." File this one under "This Should Be Interesting." This is a butcher shop/sundry/coffee spot/wine bar offering grab-and-go sandwiches, fresh pastas, cured meats, house-made pastries, and more.