Wording Their Eats: Nationally, LA Weekly writer Jonathan Gold's 2007 Pulitzer Prize in the criticism category — the first Pulitzer ever presented to food writing — was a great accomplishment. Not so great was Colby Buzzell's Esquire article about the tamale trail, which presented a disappointingly stereotypical view of the South.
Locally, Commercial Appeal food critic Leslie Kelly departed the Bluff City in early 2007 and now freelances for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. During her three-year stint at the CA, Kelly's enthusiastic, stranger-in-a-strange-land approach drew her share of both loyal followers and angry detractors. And steadily building a following of its own is local-foods quarterly Edible Memphis and the local chapter of the Slow Food Movement, both spearheaded by newcomers Melissa and Kjeld Petersen.
Waffles: When Interim opened in early 2007, owner Fred Carl Jr. intended for the restaurant to be a short-term replacement for the restaurant Wally Joe. Interim, under the direction of chef Jackson Kramer, did well, and Carl decided to stick with it. More recently, Carl, who is the founder and CEO of Viking Range Corporation, has partnered with Amerigo's former owners Bill Latham and Al Roberts. No change in concept or food is expected for Interim, but the group plans to develop other restaurant concepts in the Memphis and Mississippi areas.
La Tourelle was another Memphis eatery that couldn't quite decide what it was going to be for 2007 — opened or closed, a French restaurant with white tablecloths, or a laid-back Italian bistro. In August, La Tourelle, after 30 years in business, changed flags to become Tuscany. But then, just a few months later, owners Glenn and Martha Hays sold the restaurant to Kelly English, who will be opening Restaurant Iris early in the new year.
While Marena's Gerani was long-rumored to be for sale, owner Mortez Gerani declared back in June that the restaurant would remain open. A month later, Marena's was sold to Kevin Rains, former executive chef at Equestria. Rains opened Roustica and has kept much of the Midtown restaurant's charm intact. Meanwhile, Gerani has opened a new restaurant, Marciano Mediterranean and Italian Cuisine in East Memphis.
Opening Acts: After much anticipation, Judd Grisanti opened his Italian restaurant Spindini in the South Main Historic Arts District in early 2007. Grisanti's approach is not just old-school, it's the oldest-school: cooking with fire. In his case, the fire is smoldering in a $30,000 custom-built, wood-burning oven that is the focal point of every seat in the house.
John Bragg, who had relatively brief stints at La Montagne and River Oaks, opened Circa by John Bragg last spring, vowing to "provide a culinary taste adventure centered on the freshest food ingredients and a very interesting, welcoming, and sociable atmosphere." The restaurant is a current downtown hot spot.
Also, Memphis got a little sweeter this year with the openings of Sweet, the Exquisite Desserterie in Cooper-Young and Blues City Pastry in the former Viking space downtown.
The Westin Hotel, also downtown, opened with Penny McGraw as its executive banquet chef and the Daily Grill, a California-based eaterie, as the hotel's restaurant.
The opening of the River Inn of Harbor Town added two new restaurants to the downtown dining scene: Currents, a fine-dining restaurant, and Tug's, the inn's more casual alternative. In charge of both is executive chef Brian Flanders.
And there's more: Pearl's Oyster House opened in the South Main arts district; Karen Carrier re-invented Cielo by turning it into the Mollie Fontaine Lounge; and Ken Lumpkin, a Jose Gutierrez protégé, opened Umai, a small French/Japanese restaurant on Madison where On Teur used to be located.
RIP: Memphis bid farewell to Romulus Morgan Hammond Jr. — the "Buster" of Buster's Liquors and Wines. Hammond, who died September 8th at the age of 97, was the face of Buster's for more than 50 years.
Among the restaurant closings in 2007 were Meditrina, Lulu Grille, Café Francisco, and Garland's.
Also departed from much of the Memphis restaurant scene: smoking. The Comprehensive Workplace Smoking Act became a reality on October 1st.