Last February, when the lovely and talented Pam Denney handed me the reins of this beast of a column, I was condemned to spend my days poring over restaurant news and — worse! — sampling food around town. It has been excruciating. Yet, somehow I've managed to power through it, and now, as we near the end of the year, I'd like to look back on how much has changed in Memphis. From local farm to greasy spoon, 2010 was a busy year for us foodies, and here are some highlights:
We greeted new upstarts and said goodbye to old friends. Sweet Grass brought coastal Carolina cuisine to Memphis and also snagged the Flyer's "Best New Restaurant" designation. Lunchbox Eats put a gourmet spin on the grammar-school cafeteria. Au Fond called us all to the farmtable. EuroStyle gave Memphis a place to get pierogi (finally!). Trolley Stop Market closed the gap between farmer and restaurateur. Three Angels Diner made diner food epicurean and Broad Avenue foodie-friendly. Cockadoo's, Ferraro's Pizzeria, the Old Church, the Presentation Room, Thyme Bistro, Vietnamese Bistro, and City Market all opened their doors to Memphis diners. There were a few changes of address as well: Circa moved out east to Regalia Shopping Center, Swanky's opened a second taco shop at Poplar and Colonial, and Jim's Place East left its storied location on Shelby Oaks Drive for a new space at Poplar and Perkins Extended.
Unfortunately, we also had our final taste of Umai, Grace, the Reef, Dish, Crumpets, and Quetzal. After multiple restaurant closings in only a few weeks, Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen posted a poignant response on the restaurant's website, lamenting the loss of these local establishments in light of the full parking lots at chain restaurants. "There are new shopping centers opening," he writes, "then the first thing to pop up is an eyesore of a steakhouse that offers steaks for $4.99 and you can throw your peanuts on the floor. Is this where we really want to eat?"
We drank a lot of beer. Beer festivals really took off in 2010, from the River City Brewers Festival to the Memphis Brewfest. Cooper-Young also introduced its inaugural Cooper-Young Regional Beerfest. Ghost River continued to churn out tasty local brews, and the possibility of a Yuengling Brewery in Memphis was introduced.
We grew home businesses and went crazy for fro-yo. This year we met La Chica Bakerita, local teacher Leslie Ginn, whose signature Cinco Chocolate Chunkies have stolen cookie-loving hearts around town. BFF Cupcakes drove onto the scene in a bright pink jeep, bringing quirky custom-made cupcakes to Memphis weddings, birthday parties, and pantries. Ladybugg bakery's Heather Bugg introduced us to her triplets, her mother, and her sister — proving that keeping it in the family can produce sweet success. And Mary Durham of Mary's Gluten-Free Goods gave gluten-free gourmands something to cheer about.
Of course, who could forget the way fro-yo swept through our city, making us wonder how we lived without it for so long? TCBY finally reopened in Midtown, and YoLo, a locally owned and operated yogurt shop, officially stole the show in 2010. With one location on Erin Drive, another on the square in Collierville, and a third on its way to Midtown, YoLo won our hearts with fresh yogurt flavors, a self-serve set-up, and enough toppings — including locally sourced baked goods — to make our eyes pop.
We gave vegetarians a reason to dine out. More than ever, menu options other than grilled cheese and veggie burgers have started to coax vegetarians and even vegans out of their home kitchens and back into the restaurant world. To wit: tofu scramble and veggie sausage at Brother Juniper's; DéjàVu vegan soul food; mock egg salad and marinated tofu at Three Angels Diner; vegan entrées at Fuel Café, dairy-free cheese at Mellow Mushroom, vegan night at Trolley Stop Marke; and this January, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen will host its first all-vegetarian "No Menu Monday."
We became locavores. Local food not only became a priority for Memphians, it also became more available. South Memphis got a new farmer's market, as did Cooper-Young and Millington. Urban Farms also enjoyed a hearty welcome from the city. The full-fledged farm (with worms, a tilapia tank, and goats!) on repurposed land in the heart of Binghamton provides a model of what sustainable urban agriculture can be.
We lost some icons of the food industry and skilled restaurateurs. This year, we celebrated the lives and contributions of two restaurant legends. Charlie Vergos, founder of the Rendezvous and the man credited with developing Memphis-style ribs, passed away leaving a legacy of restaurant celebrity and national acclaim. Robert Chapman, who saved Molly's La Casita from closing and moved it to its current location in the 1980s, passed away last spring.
We also mourned the loss of Jay Uiberall, partner and manager of Alfred's on Beale, Automatic Slim's, Dyer's, Ubee's, and Catering For You. He began at Alfred's and worked his way up to become a leading restaurateur in Memphis.
We will remember them all.