Stone Soup Café and Market, which opened two weeks ago in Cooper-Young, was inspired by a beloved folk tale: A stranger enters a town looking for food. When he is turned away, he lights a fire under a soup pot, throws in a stone and some water, and begins to make "stone soup." Soon, the villagers bring ingredients to add to the pot, until there is plenty of soup for all to share.
"We like to say that the secret ingredient isn't what goes into the pot but the community around it," says Emily Bishop, who co-owns the restaurant with Sharon Johnson.
You may recall Johnson as the woman behind Cooper-Young's beloved Buns on the Run. Fans of that erstwhile dining spot will be happy to hear that many menu items have survived, including Johnson's famous bread, salmon cakes, biscuits and gravy, quiches, and crepes.
The owners' love for Cooper-Young had them looking for a location within the neighborhood, and their vision of a restaurant and gathering space for residents made the house at 993 S. Cooper an obvious choice. Formerly the offices of Michael Hooks and Associates, the repurposed house, across the street from First Congregational Church, is a warm and welcoming yet spacious restaurant — with three dining rooms downstairs, room for two more upstairs, and room for patio seating in the front and back of the restaurant. They've also included a small market in the back of the building, where customers can dash in for a dessert to go, local honey, J. Brooks coffee, or Las Delicias tortilla chips.
To suggest that you'll feel right at home at Stone Soup is not just a cliché: Repurposed residence aside, the menu is full of classic comfort food. Breakfast includes omelets, quiches, crepes, blintzes, pancakes, French toast, biscuits, and hash browns. Lunch ranges from sandwiches to plate lunches to soups — including the eponymous Stone Soup, made with a light tomato base, ground meat, smoked sausage, cabbage, onions, celery, peppers, carrots, and kidney beans. The bread is vegan — just water, yeast, flour, salt, and sugar — and the vegetables are made without meat, a nod to all the vegetarians in the neighborhood.
The special brunch menu includes a quiche du jour, frittata, fried potato pancakes with red hot applesauce, and more. They don't have a liquor license, so don't expect any mimosas or Bloody Mary specials, but Johnson says they're looking into it. Stone Soup Café and Market is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
For now, though, Bishop and Johnson are settling into their new home away from home and invite you to do the same.
Stone Soup Café and Market, 993 S. Cooper (922-5314)
Just down the street from Stone Soup, in the former location of Grace and Au Fond, Bert Smythe is in the process of opening Alchemy, which he describes as a "sexy, fun" bar with a strong mixology menu and elegant small plates.
Smythe and the other co-owner of McEwen's on Monroe, John Littlefield, recently joined with Stewart Wingate to open a McEwen's in Oxford, Mississippi. Now Smythe and Littlefield are turning around to open Alchemy within 60 days.
"It's kind of insane, but you have opportunities that come along and you have to take them," Smythe says.
Karen Roth's decision to leave her post as chef de cuisine at Erling Jensen and go it alone was another fortuitous opportunity for Smythe.
"Bringing Karen on really allowed us to take the food to a whole new level," Smythe says.
The menu consists solely of small plates, ranging from $6 to $18. Roth describes the menu as a wide variety of options: "Irish car bomb" bread pudding, an assortment of risottos, and a trio of oysters all sprang to mind as Roth considered the 30 to 40 items she's planning.
The apothecary-inspired bar is the focal point of the restaurant when you enter, and this is Smythe's intention. He is consulting with mixology experts to help craft the bar menu, and though they will offer traditional drinks, Smythe hopes Memphians will branch out to sample some of their more unusual concoctions.
But beyond the front room, Smythe is equally enthusiastic about the open kitchen they're building. Ten or so barstools will line the counter, offering front-row seats to the kitchen action.
Keep your eye out for Alchemy to be open mid- to late October, from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. every day. The closing time could change according to demand, and they are currently considering opening for a Sunday breakfast.
Alchemy, 940 S. Cooper (726-4444)