What's Cooking 

On the menu: free meals, a new culinary school, and the latest from Wally Joe.

Senatobia chiropractor Amanda Stone and her date Kevin Beard were ready for an evening out last week, so they drove to the Mesquite Chop House in Southaven and ordered dinner. They started with an appetizer (bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp), shared two entrées (crawfish-topped filet and Chilean sea bass), and split dessert (pumpkin cheesecake with pecan topping).

"We were waiting for the check when the server walked over and said we have a surprise for you," Stone recalled the next day. "[We were told,] 'Your meal is being taken care of. We are bailing you out.'"

Stone was flabbergasted by the offer, describing the free meal as wonderful and unexpected. "I was glad we ordered dessert," she added, laughing. "We almost skipped it."

The couple's dining "bailout" was one of about 50 free meals handed out last week at the seven area restaurants operated by River City Management. The promotion will continue through January and work like this: Every night at 8 o'clock, including weekends, a table will be selected randomly at each restaurant for a complimentary meal.

The promotion was developed by River City Management's Preston Lamm after the federal government's financial rescue of the banking and auto industries.

"I got tired of hearing about the corporations being bailed out by Washington," Lamm said. "So we decided to do something for the little guy."

In addition to Mesquite Chop House in Southaven, participating restaurants include Snowden Grove Pig in Southaven and Pa Pa Pia's, Rum Boogie Café, King's Palace Café, the Pig on Beale, and the second Mesquite Chop House, all located in downtown Memphis.

After a quiet opening in December, L'Ecole Culinaire, the city's new culinary school in Cordova, is ready to accommodate increased demand from new students with an early-morning curriculum that starts at 6:30 a.m. The next 10-week session begins February 16th, with classes also scheduled for mid-days and evenings.

"Our market research showed us that Memphis is a big food industry city," said Victoria Talley, campus director. "We're seeing tremendous support from restaurants and from students."

The 28,000-square-foot facility is similar to its sister school in St. Louis and includes eight kitchens, a computer lab, and a restaurant where students in the associate degree program are required to work.

"We've got our restaurant all ready to go," Talley said. "We're just waiting for our students to make their way to that part of the program."

The school offers a 60-week diploma program divided into six sessions and a more advanced associate of occupational studies degree in culinary arts. Students study all phases of food preparation and restaurant management, including safety, nutrition, baking, purchasing, serving, and international cuisine.

"We have students who have never picked up a knife, and we have students with 10 years of experience," Talley said. "We've been impressed with both the number of students and the wide range of their interests."

click to enlarge BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS

L'Ecole Culinaire, 1245 N. Germantown Parkway,

lecoleculinaire.com (754-7115)

Listen up, Memphis foodies, to a piece of great news: Wally Joe is opening a new restaurant in East Memphis.

The 75-seat restaurant, which is still unnamed, will be located on a spacious residential lot at 688 S. Perkins, where Impact Marketing and Media was located.

"We looked at this property some time ago, but it wasn't for sale," said Joe, who has been scouting East Memphis for a property to purchase since leaving Wally Joe Restaurant, now operated by different owners as Interim. "We were thrilled when we got a call saying the owner was ready to sell."

Joe, who directs food operations for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, is partnering with his longtime chef de cuisine, Andrew Adams, to renovate the 3,000-square-foot home, now painted white with wood-stained shutters. "We are still working on the design," Joe said, "but the look will be contemporary with a warm, elegant, and inviting atmosphere."

Renovations at the site should begin within four to six weeks and continue throughout the summer.

"We are hopefully optimistic for a fall opening," Joe said. "But construction is unpredictable, so that time frame could be delayed."

To maintain interest in the restaurant's renovation, design, and upcoming menu, Joe plans to blog regularly on porkbellyheaven.blogspot.com starting next week. "We think the blog will help keep the excitement going for our friends and loyal customers," he said.

Joe is particularly enthusiastic about the property's mature oak trees, which will provide a shady cover for the restaurant's lush landscaping and outdoor dining. "The first time we looked at the property it was summer and about 95 degrees outside, but the backyard was still quite comfortable," he explained.

When the restaurant opens, Adams will work as executive chef and Joe will oversee the operation as general manager. "I will have more of a presence in the front of the house," Joe said, "doing everything I can to make our guests feel important and pampered."

In addition, both Joe and Adams will continue working with the Brushmark at the Brooks. "We want to maintain the great relationship that we've built over the past two years," Joe said. "We are definitely going to stay."

click to enlarge Mesquite Chop House manager Josh Cobbs "bails out" one lucky couple. - BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS

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