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VOL. 8 | NO. 10 | Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fresh Selection

Memphis’ food scene, which exploded in 2014, already poised for another breakout year

By Andy Meek

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It would seem I Love Memphis blogger Holly Whitfield was correct last year with a forecast that called for a “permanent Foodnado” in Memphis.

Lovers of good food and drink, innovative concepts and all things new were greeted with a banquet of news and fresh helpings of eateries arriving each month.

By the end of the year, neighborhoods around the city were packed with new offerings. East Memphis grabbed things like an additional location for Broadway Pizza, Skewer and Porcellino’s. Deeper into the city, new concepts included eateries like Bounty on Broad, Babalu Tacos & Tapas, Schweinehaus and Oshi, to say nothing of the food trucks and breweries that decided to make a go of it.

And Memphis’ foodies will be happy to know things aren’t slowing down. Only two months into 2015, the food news has come in a steady wave. No matter the taste or location, there’s a place at a table somewhere for Memphis’ foodies.

What’s new in the Memphis Foodnado?

Among the eateries on the way is one from Ermyias Shiberou, owner of the Stickem Food Truck. He told The Daily News recently that he’d been thinking about opening a restaurant before the city passed its food truck ordinance, leading him to consider shifting his ambitions to a truck. Now that he’s had plenty of time with Stickem under his belt, he’s planning to open Blue Nile Ethiopian Kitchen in a few months on Madison Avenue, near the Bar-B-Q Shop.

Meanwhile, restaurateur Jeff Johnson, owner of the two Local restaurants and Oshi, estimates that his Mexican-themed restaurant Agave Maria will open sometime in March.

“It’s kind of an upscale take on Mexican street food, but will be a price point lower than Local,” he said of Agave Maria, opening at 83 Union Ave., where construction is near completion. “You’ll definitely be able to come in and get full for 10 bucks.”

It will serve a variety of tacos and enchiladas, as well as small plates, soups and salads. Beyond Agave Maria, Johnson teases the possibility that he might open something else later this year, but will only say that he’s “working on a couple of different things, a couple of different spaces.”

Then there’s Cassi Conyers, whose Pink Diva Cupcakery and Cuisine opened in recent days at 394 N. Watkins St. It offers an assortment of cupcakes as well as juices, smoothies and teas.

And Rizzo’s Diner has reopened in its new Downtown home at 492 S. Main St., where it relocated from its original spot on G.E. Patterson Avenue. According to Chef Michael Patrick, the new space provides double the size, with the kitchen being a critical part of that. The restaurant previously had a 330-square-foot kitchen, but now it measures more than 700 square feet in the new Rizzo’s at the corner of South Main Street and Butler Avenue.

Customers ordering from Say Cheese! Food Truck in the Ridgeway Loop

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Other new arrivals on the food scene include the Say Cheese food truck, the product of husband-and-wife team Terry and Allison LaRue of Germantown.

Terry LaRue works part-time as an emergency room paramedic at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital.

“We’re foodies, always cooking, and the truck started as an idea,” he said. “Maybe we could do something at night for the hospital because the cafeterias close so early. We started brainstorming for something that would be unique and decided on gourmet grilled cheese.”

Also on the way is Crosstown Brewing Co., with the brewery’s founders eyeing the new Crosstown Concourse development as the place they’d like their brewery to call home. Founders Will Goodwin and Clark Ortkiese say they’d like to open by late next year, at which point they’ll arrive on a local brewing scene that includes Memphis Made Brewing Co., Wiseacre Brewing Co., Ghost River Brewing and High Cotton Brewing Co.

Over in Cooper-Young, City Market is preparing its second location at 836 S. Cooper St,, following its inaugural Downtown spot. Owner Hamida Mandani expects construction will last six to eight weeks. City Market will cater to the neighborhood’s “mixed crowd of young, urban people; the same customer base that comes to us for lunch and can pick up their groceries and pick up dinner from us.”

“And there aren’t many options available nearby that offer fresh ingredients, organic ingredients, salads, soups, sandwiches,” Mandani said. “There’s more of a restaurant-style dining experience in Cooper-Young.

The Cooper-Young City Market will be notably smaller than Downtown’s store: 2,100 square feet compared to 4,000 square feet, but Mandani plans to maintain similar menus, “as much as we can.” He also has plans for a patio.

Bloggers, foodies rejoice in new dining options

No wonder these and other announcements have some local bloggers excited, their appetites whetted.

Pan-roasted salmon with beet emulsion from Napa Café

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Blogger John Minervini, who runs a site called “The Fork,” said there’s never been a better time to enjoy food and drink in Memphis. Since January alone, he points out, the city has landed a variety of new restaurants, also noting the recently completed makeover at Napa Café in East Memphis, plus the revamped Rizzo’s Diner.

Said Whitfield: “As a Cooper-Young resident, I'm very excited for the opening of the Midtown locations of two of my favorite Downtown places: Aldo's and City Market. Aldo's should open ‘any day now’ on Cooper near the I Love Memphis mural. Their rooftop patio looks like my new hangout spot. City Market is moving in to the former Midtown Market building and I plan to personally keep them in business, especially if they have the same kind of extensive salad offerings and deli sandwiches that they do Downtown.”

Among the recent openings in the city is the Hot Mess Food Truck, which Brad Sheffield and Will Freiman opened at the end of September.

Freiman said they wanted to put out “filling food” that was also on the healthier side, striking a blow against any assumption that the only food that comes out a truck is the greasy kind.

Freiman said Hot Mess bakes everything and uses “as little oil as possible.”

“Also, we try to source our food as local as we can, which should get easier as the seasons change, but for now our catfish is Pride of the Pond out of Tunica County, and all our sweet potatoes come from Senatobia,” he said.

Hot Mess hand-rolls tortillas using unbleached, unenriched flour.

“We also make all the sauces – my favorite is the habanero – but most folks go for the roasted tomato,” Freiman said.

Hot Mess typically parks at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market as well as at local breweries like Memphis Made.

Over in East Memphis, “new” is the operative word at Napa Café, an anchor of Sanderlin Centre that has seen among its recent changes a new chef, new menu and a major renovation.

Owner Glenda Hastings, who bought the restaurant in 2002, said chef Ken Lumpkin came on board last summer and has spent eight months developing a new menu. The design makeover is nearly finished: Napa still plans to “spruce up” one of its private dining rooms and its wine cellar, Hastings said.

Among other things, the makeover has given the restaurant “a more open” feel, she adds, with an expanded bar that includes leather chairs, swivel chairs, seating along the banquette and “conversation pits.” Sometimes, people might not want to sit at a bar top, she said, but they might not want a table, either.

The menu updates have ensured the restaurant stays upscale but comfortable.

“We’ve seen a trend of lots of restaurants being very casual, and that’s not what we’ve ever been,” she said. “We wanted the menu to have the same feel to it. So, for something like the scallops with oxtail dumplings, we pour the broth tableside.

“I just wanted a menu that also spoke to things I like. Some days I want something homey and comforting, sometimes I want something that has a lot of flavor and depth. We’re kind of a neighborhood restaurant, but also a destination for special occasions.”

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