Jeff Johnson has a hard time sitting still.
In 2010, he opened Local Gastropub in the old Sauces restaurant space downtown. Two years later, he expanded the concept to Overton Square. In 2014, he introduced a burger bar with an Asian twist in the form of Oshi Burger Bar on Main, and last year, Agave Maria opened its doors, offering Mexican-style dishes in an enchanting setting downtown.
Also in there are his recent event and pop-up restaurant space the Green Room on Overton Park, the Lousiana-style food truck Parish Grocery, forming the consulting group RFJ Concepts, assisting other restaurateurs with menu designs, traveling, and other stuff.
Recently Johnson sunk his teeth back into Agave Maria, and this week the industrious restaurateur launched a new menu at the establishment on Union.
"It's exciting the direction we're going back to," Johnson said at the Brown Burch-prepared fund-raiser for Best Buddies hosted at Agave March 1st.
The direction is east, as in Vietnamese and Thai, while maintaining the Latin American base.
"We're getting away from heavy Mexican and going for more of a fusion idea while still pulling from Latin American influences," Johnson says.
He plans on keeping the crowd-pleasers, including his tacos, tortas, and the very popular build-your-own burritos, but patrons can plan on dining on Pork Belly Confit in soy barbecue broth with black bean puree, radish salad, and chili oil ($9) or Seared Tuna Tataki with chili lime salt, crisp garlic, radish jalapeño, ponzu, and cilantro oil ($12).
He's most excited about offering small plates for sharing.
"When I go out to eat, the best part is being able to share things. With three people, rather than having three entrees, you order a bunch of food and share it," he says. "How many bites do you need to say you tried something?"
There will be a few changes to the interior, replacing sconces, adding bar stools to the window to create a patio feel, and, of course, some new saints.
"We might have to retire one of our saints," he says of the prayer candle-inspired poster and candle designs honoring Memphis saints such as Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and B.B. King.
He's launching an online store to purchase said merch, along with several other items from his various projects.
"My intent is to be an awesome restaurant first with amazing dishes made with fantastic ingredients that you don't see that often," he says.
"I travel quite a bit. I have a thirst for knowledge, and I want to offer something fun and exciting."
Agave Maria, 83 Union, 341-2096
Kelly English spins a lot of plates. Has his fingers in a lot of pies. Wears a lot of toques. You get the idea.
There's his repeat award-winning Restaurant Iris, its more casual counterpart the Second Line next door, Magnolia House on the Gulf Coast, and, most recently, a second Second Line in the town of his alma mater, Oxford, Miss.
This Friday, English will fulfill a long-time dream of his — to offer casual New Orleans dining for lunch at the Memphis Second Line location.
"When I opened the Second Line, one of the things I really wanted to do was to present outside of New Orleans what you can get every day at your average casual restaurant in New Orleans," English says. "I've been thinking about that for years."
The O.G. devotees of this world can now have a roast beef gravy and French fries po'boy before 5 p.m. In fact, they can have one between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. on the weekends, and 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. on school nights.
English will first offer his menu for lunch Friday, March 11th and Friday, March 18th, then officially open for lunch every day on Friday, March 25th.
"I think the Second Line screams lunch," English says.
The Oxford site has offered lunch since it launched in August, another dream from way back fulfilled.
"I'm an Ole Miss boy. That's what brought me here," English, a Louisiana native and 2001 graduate of the University of Mississippi, says. "Getting to open a Second Line there has been so cool for me personally. It's great to be able to go down there and be a part of that community like I'm a part of this community."
English plans on offering lunch specials; a $10 po'boy special, which includes half a po'boy — either the O.G., the Fried Mississippi Catfish, or the Verno (chicken) — a grocery (side), and a soft drink, tax included; cups of gumbo; and red beans and rice.
"The restaurant I grew up in [R & O's] inspired what the Second Line is. It's my baseline. It's just really good casual New Orleans dining. It started in my eyes there," he says. "I'm really excited about us doing this. One of my favorite things about the Second Line is showing people what an everyday restaurant in New Orleans is, without any pretense and not putting a spin on anything. The Second Line says a lot about who I am."
The Second Line, 2144 Monroe,