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Full Steam Ahead

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Catherine Boulden never really cared for espresso until she got hooked on the brew in Paris. In Memphis, however, she had trouble finding that perfect little shot in a two-and-a-half-ounce porcelain demitasse — until now. Boulden and business partner/chef Mary O'Brien opened Café Eclectic in the Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood three weeks ago.

One could argue that Café Eclectic has been in the making for more than 20 years. Back in the mid-'80s, Boulden and her children made frequent visits to Overton Park and the Memphis Zoo. The outings had the family yearning for a neighborhood coffee shop.

"I've always felt that a place where parents can enjoy a good cup of coffee and children can get a scoop of ice cream was missing in this neighborhood," Boulden explains.

Even while she raised her children and worked as a nurse, Boulden continued to be drawn to the idea of a neighborhood café. Two-and-a-half years ago, with her children grown and with a desire to start something new, she set out to open Café Eclectic.

"I knew I wanted to serve coffee European-style, in the traditional thick-rimmed, single-serving cups, and I knew I wanted an old-fashioned soda fountain," Boulden says. "It took awhile to get all the components of the café just right, because we bought most of our equipment and furniture through the classifieds. But once I decide to do something, I'll find a way to make it happen."

Aptly named, Café Eclectic, located on McLean just north of the zoo, has a definite European feel that is only betrayed by the trademark-American booths along the front window. Misplaced Europeans and frequent travelers to Europe will rejoice when drinking their first sip of coffee at Café Eclectic. Espresso and espresso macchiato are available as "doppio," a roughly two-ounce shot. All other espresso drinks come in one size that is nowhere near the 12-ounce cup of many American chain coffee shops. Café Eclectic's coffee of choice is Illy, which originates in Trieste, Italy. Illy is one blend of 100 percent Arabica beans that comes in a variety of roasts.

"Serving Illy coffee is a big deal for us and for many of our customers," Boulden says.

Chef O'Brien worked most recently at Interim. Her breakfast menu offers omelets, pancakes, waffles, and more. The lunch menu is evolving and currently features a small selection of grilled paninis, soups, and salads. Available from the soda fountain are an array of sundaes, milkshakes, and ice cream sodas, as well as ice cream by the scoop and Bindi Italian gelato. A "robot" churns out fresh doughnuts every day.

While Boulden and O'Brien planned a "soft" opening, the place has been busy since day one.

"We were really anxious to open and are glad that everything finally seemed in place to take that step," Boulden says. "But it's still a little stop-and-go as we're trying to work out the last kinks. We're just grateful that the neighborhood has embraced us immediately and that our customers are so patient."

Café Eclectic is open Monday through Saturday, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Café Eclectic, 603 N. McLean (725-1718) cafeeclectic.net

On Friday, March 7th, Fredric Koeppel announced that, after 20 years, he would no longer be reviewing restaurants for The Commercial Appeal.

"Twenty years is a long time to review restaurants in one city that also happens to be my hometown," Koeppel says. "I really loved doing it, but The Commercial Appeal is restructuring some sections and I won't be part of the Playbook team anymore."

Instead, Koeppel will write non-food-related features for the paper's new "Lifestyle" section. Although a resurrection of the newspaper's wine column isn't planned, Koeppel anticipates more stories about the subject.

"Our wine tastings are very popular, and it's obvious that there is a demand for wine-related stories," he says.

Response to news about Koeppel's retirement as food critic was mixed. Some who left comments on the CA's Whining and Dining blog accused him of accepting free food and lacking knowledge. Others thanked him.

"I'm looking forward to not having to eat out when I'd rather stay at home and cook," Koeppel says. "But I also really like eating out in Memphis, and I will certainly be seen doing just that."

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