Old friends were replaced with new faces: Umai on Madison became Crazy Noodle; a number of CK's Coffee Shops became E's 24-Hour Café; Burly's Burgers became the Venezuelan eatery Arepa and Salsa; the former Zinnie's East became Frida's; the old Bookstar location in Poplar Plaza became an Osaka; a vacant storefront on the Main Street Mall became Aldo's Pizza Pies and a vacant building off South Main became another Central BBQ location; and Yosemite Sam's became the second Local Gastropub in town.
We wrote books: Local foodies dominated the presses this year with Angela and Paul Knipple's The World in a Skillet; the next installment in Jennifer Chandler's series, Simply Grilling; Bianca Phillips' guide to Southern veganism, Cookin' Crunk; Marisa Baggett's Sushi Secrets; and Pam Denney's Food Lovers' Guide to Memphis.
Cochon came. Twice: Pig-loving, bourbon-drinking gourmands took Memphis by storm this year with our very first Cochon 555 event in February and the first-ever Heritage BBQ event in September. In 2013, Memphis will only host one of these pig-n-whiskey fests, the Heritage BBQ event, but 2012 will forever mark the year Memphians learned how to say "pig" in French.
Hog & Hominy opened and wowed: Arguably the top new restaurant of 2012, this cousin of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen bridges the gap between white-tablecloth fine dining and standard Southern casual. The food is conceptually elegant and masterfully executed, but a bocce court on the side lot and a laid-back vibe keep things fun and unpretentious.
Whole Foods punked us: Whole Foods made an announcement on its Facebook page saying Memphis is getting a new store! Will it be in Midtown? Will it be in Overton Square? Can Midtown sustain a Whole Foods? How fast can they build it? This is so exciti — say what? It's just an expansion of the existing Whole Foods of off Mendenhall? Cool. Cool. No, that's cool.
Evelyn & Olive brought Jamaica to Memphis: If you haven't had a chance to check out this Jamaican-Southern gem on Madison, listen here: crispy-fried salt-and-pepper shrimp, Kingston stew fish, jerk chicken wings. Go forth.
The Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium took on barbecue: This year's annual gathering of foodies, writers, chefs, critics, and farmers from all over the country focused on barbecue. Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman headed down to the weekend-long event in Oxford, Mississippi, and honored Cozy Corner's Desiree Robinson with an impressive Memphis-barbecue-inspired lunch — proving that you can't talk about barbecue without talking about Memphis.
We celebrated Best Memphis Burger Fest: The inaugural Best Memphis Burger Fest at Minglewood Hall left us all thinking. Why didn't we have this already? A blend of local chefs and backyard grill masters went head to head for the title of best burger in Memphis, but with samples galore, festival-goers were the biggest victors.
Fast food got weird: Hardee's came out with a Memphis BBQ Thickburger and a racy, homoerotic ad to go with it. Chick-fil-a brought out the homophobes-for-chicken faction. We're still not sure what the connection is between fast food and sexuality, but if there were a year to find it, 2012 was that year.
Upstarts started: Each year, Memphians prove that a downturn can lead to an upstart, and so local-foods cottage industries keep churning away in the Mid-South. From Sweet Magnolia ice cream and Made From Scratch cookies, to Phillip Ashley Chocolates and Little Bites Bakery, small food businesses are making names for themselves on grocery-store shelves and farmers-market tables across the city.
Felicia Willett shined: The executive chef of downtown's Felicia Suzanne's restaurant had a banner year, including a trip to the James Beard House in New York and the launch of her line of Flo's pickles, tomato jam, chow chow, and pepper jelly.
The Flyer held a Hostess Taste Test: When news of the Hostess bakery strike and potential closure hit Memphis, there was a mad dash for Twinkies. The Memphis Flyer was right there in the mix, elbowing to get our grubby little hands on packages of Zingers, Sno-Balls, Honey Buns, and orange cupcakes. We did the dirty (dirty) work of sampling all the products we could find and came to few if any conclusions. Burp.