Dishing on the Inaugural Dishcrawl Memphis

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Last night was the second chance, after Tuesday's event, to catch the inaugural Dishcrawl Memphis, a walking tour of four restaurants in Cooper Young. Dishcrawl began in San Jose, and over the last few years, has spread to cities across the country and into Canada. Future Dishcrawl Memphis events will explore restaurants downtown, in east Memphis, and in other restaurant scenes around town.

Our group, about 45 Dishcrawlers, met our Dishcrawl amabassador, Paige Laurie, at Alchemy for some cocktails and a small plate to kick things off. Dishcrawl guards the element of surprise closely, so all we knew was to meet at Alchemy where we would then follow the tour to three other mystery eateries.

Most of the folks there were coupled up or in small groups of friends, but I was fortunate enough to find a group of kindly ladies who invited me to tag along with them for the evening. Before settling in, I had Parks the bartender make me "anything with vodka" and he came back with a delightful, off-the-cuff concoction that was equal parts tart lemon, sweet pear, and smooth vanilla. And a lot (a lot) of vodka.

The actual Dishcrawling got started right on time at 7:15. There aren't too many pictures from the evening because it was dark and, frankly, I was too hungry to play photographer. But here's a glimpse of what Alchemy served us, so you can get an idea of the portion sizes:

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That's a Donnell Farms beef and pimento cheese slider, Louisiana crawfish mac and cheese, and an adorable, teeny-tiny chili roasted fish taco with toasted cumin slaw. Alchemy's new chef, Nick Seabergh, came out to introduce himself and see how his dishes were going over. (They were going over quite well at my table.) This is a regular part of the Dishcrawl experience: sampling select items from the menu and then meeting the chef or manager behind the magic.

Things move at a reasonably fast clip, so after about 35 minutes, we were up and on our way to Cortona, where we met the brand new manager, Jennifer Dickerson, and had a sampling of truffle chicken meatballs over house-made tagliatelle, shrimp and grits with Arancia Rossa (blood orange) sauce, foie gras on toast points with strawberry compote, and a small salad of bitter greens.

About 35 minutes later, we were heading across the street for a more casual bite at Cooper Young's oldest restaurant, Cafe Ole, where we sampled their famous bacon-wrapped shrimp, skewered jerk chicken, and black bean soup. Some among us washed this down with a margarita, but I was still feeling that cocktail from Alchemy, so I opted out. (Look, ma! So responsible!)

The final stop — the fourth restaurant is apparently the dessert stop — took us to Imagine Vegan Cafe for an array of mini vegan cupcakes and Devil's Food whoopie pies. Only a handful of Dishcrawlers had ever been to Imagine, and everyone remarked on how tasty the vegan treats were.

This is obviously one of the biggest draws for participating restaurants: a chance to bring in new customers, some of whom may have never heard of your establishment, and introduce them to your menu. For $45, it's not a bad deal for diners either, especially when you take the fun atmosphere into account.

Dishcrawl is looking at doing another event, called "Neighborfood," in April, with as many as eight restaurant stops over a longer period of time. Keep your ears open for more on that and visit the Dishcrawl Facebook page for updates.

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