Bon Appétit 

Foodies, farmers, and chefs make the best of tough times.

A plate of Grace, Ben Vaughn's new restaurant in Cooper-Young

Justin Fox Burks

A plate of Grace, Ben Vaughn's new restaurant in Cooper-Young

Think back to the start of 2009. The forecast for restaurants was glum, thanks to the spend-less mantra of the recession. But thriftiness wasn't all bad. Families rediscovered their own kitchens and embraced locally grown food. Restaurant owners tweaked menus and lowered prices, while adventurous chefs pushed ahead with new restaurants, despite the economic doom and gloom.

In Memphis, and across the nation, the film Julie & Julia introduced a new generation of foodies to Julia Child, America's first celebrity chef. And so, in homage to Child, here's a look back at local food news that spells "Bon appétit!"

"B" is for bars, specifically the trio that opened this year in downtown Memphis. Silly Goose came first, bringing specialty cocktails and "Bloody Mary Sundays" to the ground floor of the Peabody Place office tower. Nearby was Primetime, offering big-screen televisions and a remarkable assortment of sports memorabilia. And in August, the gastro pub South of Beale opened on South Main, serving food not typically found on late-night menus.

"O" is for only open for lunch Monday through Friday, the operating hours for the Market Café on Madison. But don't let the lunch-only format keep you from this downtown café, where a seasonal menu from chef Kjeld Petersen offers dishes such as sweet-potato ravioli with sage cream sauce and caramel apple cake.

"N" is for new restaurants that opened this year, including: Beignet Café, a New Orleans-centric eatery downtown; Overton Park Pizze Stone, a rustic café serving Italian-inspired pizzas in Midtown; Grace, Ben Vaughn's innovative twist on Americana in Cooper-Young; Sharky's Gulf Grill, a coastal seafood restaurant in East Memphis; The Kitchen, Angie Kirkpatrick's restaurant specializing in European home cooking; Humdinger's, a fast casual restaurant serving chicken and fish seasoned with the pepper piri piri; Pizza Shack in Berclair, where the hearty pizzas are made "Memphis-style"; and Stella Marris, Steve Cooper's glitzy mega-restaurant in Cordova.

"A" is for artisan, as in the local bakers who turned out small-batch baked goods in the kitchens of local churches. Four of our favorites are the sweet and flakey Kalli's Baklava from Carolyn Bredosky; the whole-wheat bread and cinnamon rolls made by Melinda Shoaf and Sarah Tinkler at Shoaf's Loaf; the rich and flavorful pound cakes made by Hilda Osarogiagbon at Cake Bliss; and Sarah Moske's distinctive cupcakes at Monkey Bread Bakery.

"P" is for Pat and Gina Neely, who parlayed their barbecue restaurants in Memphis and Nashville into a popular series on the Food Network called Down Home With the Neelys and a new cookbook released this spring by the same name.

"P" is also for produce and the farmers markets that opened this year in Collierville, Olive Branch, and Cooper-Young. In addition, the Downtown Farmers Market continued to thrive and published a cookbook on seasonal produce, while the markets at the Botanic Garden and the Agricenter attracted new vendors. Community and urban gardens popped up everywhere as well. Even at the Flyer, we are patiently watching a half-dozen baby cucumbers grow.

"E" is for Kelly English, chef and owner of Midtown's Restaurant Iris, who was named one of 10 "Best New Chefs" for 2009 by Food & Wine magazine. English's menu emphasizes seasonal ingredients in an imaginative mix of French and Creole cooking.

"T" is for teaching, as in this year's mini-explosion of classes for both culinary professionals and family cooks. L'Ecole Culinaire in Cordova, offering a diploma in culinary arts and a more advanced associate degree, added an early-morning curriculum to accommodate demand. The Cooking at the Garden series at the Memphis Botanic Garden and continuing education at the University of Memphis expanded food, wine, and cooking classes. And many chefs turned their kitchens into classrooms, including David Thornton at Cordelia's Table, who conducts cooking demonstrations on Thursday at 6 p.m.

"I" is for the innovative menu at Flight, a downtown restaurant that opened last spring at Monroe and Main. Owned by Russ Graham and Tom Powers, the menu serves food and wine in trios of small portions that are plated or poured for sampling. Soups, entrées, and desserts are served in "flights," offering flexible choices and a range of prices.

"T" is for the tough economy, which forced a number of restaurants to close, including Jarrett's, the East Memphis eatery operated by chef Rick Farmer since 1994. Other restaurants that closed were Roustica, Orleans on Front, El Chico, Café Tuscana, Sweet, Hephzibah, Encore Restaurant and Bar, and Ronnie Grisanti. Fortunately, some of the closings prompted new beginnings. Roustica's chef, Kevin Rains, is now reinventing the menu at Clark Tower's Tower Room. Encore's Jose Gutierrez is the new chef at River Oaks in East Memphis. And Judd Grisanti has opened a new restaurant at the site of his father's much-loved restaurant on Poplar.

To find out more about any of the above restaurants, including hours, addresses, and reader reviews, head on over to our Flyer restaurant listings.

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