Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Courting Patrons

Restaurant space on Court Square; Rizzo's Diner.



Lincoln American Tower is in the heart of downtown, overlooking one of the oldest parks in Memphis. It is hard to imagine that the ground floor of the historic building isn't occupied. But developers of the former location of the Yellow Rose Cafe are looking for a restaurant to lease the space, after a host of setbacks and snags.

Yorke Lawson, of Court Square Center, LLC, explains that the redevelopment project had secured a tenant for the restaurant space back in 2005. Court Square Center was created to develop mixed-use properties in the Lowenstein Building, Lincoln American Tower, and the Court Square Annex. Lawson says the company invested in sweeping renovations to both Lincoln American Tower's dining space upstairs and the immense kitchen space downstairs, installing new lighting, a new vent-a-hood, and a large dumbwaiter.

But a fire in 2006 (started by an ember from the First United Methodist Church fire a few blocks away) destroyed the Court Square Annex next door to Lincoln American Tower and delayed work on the restaurant. When the time came to sign the lease again, tough economic times had changed the prospective restaurant's business, and the offer fell through.

Now Lawson has what he calls "a sleeping giant": a space that, if placed in the right hands, could become a staple of downtown Memphis cuisine.

"The Majestic Grille, McEwen's, Felicia Suzanne, Bardog. Those are all successful downtown businesses," he says, highlighting the strong leadership behind them. "We need an experienced operator we can look down the road with."

Giant windows looking out on Main Street and Court Square, Tennessee pink marble floors, 18-foot ceilings, and the patio space along the perimeter of the building are the beginnings of a gastronomical institution.

But until those culinary delights start making the trip up and down the dumbwaiter, Lawson and his partners will be one restaurant away from a fully redeveloped Court Square.

Lincoln American Tower, 60 N. Main,

The South Main Historic Arts District can tack another restaurant onto its list of eateries: Rizzo's Diner has taken over the former location of Harry's Detour, after it closed earlier in the summer. (The Harry's Detour location on Cooper is still open.)

Rizzo is a nickname for Chef Michael Patrick, formerly of McEwen's on Monroe and Itta Bena, who says he decided to either open a restaurant of his own or leave Memphis for good.

He chose the former, but only after some serious kitchen soul-searching did Patrick decide to open a casual, upscale diner.

"I have a background in fine dining but a passion for comfort food," Patrick says. "Rizzo's has Southern elements in a diner style with my fine-dining take on things."

What does that look like on a plate?

Chorizo meatloaf with green tomato gravy and garlic mashed potatoes; scallops and grits with lemon beurre blanc and seasoned greens; Cajun chicken pot pie with andouille sausage and peppers in a pastry shell; and a daily entrée and soup special.

Patrick slyly mentioned an appetizer he was going to add to the menu before officially opening last Friday: the lobster Pronto Pup. We reported on this novelty back when Patrick was at EP Delta Kitchen & Bar on Beale, and the one-of-a-kind treat has made a comeback.

"I take lobster claw and lobster tail meat," Patrick says, "skewer it, and batter it in authentic Pronto Pup batter, although I add a little sugar to the recipe. Then I fry it and serve it with Zatarain's Creole mustard aioli."

Vegetarians and vegans shouldn't shy away, however. The menu includes a vegetable plate with black-eyed pea hummus, house-made Cajun ricotta, and green chili polenta.

Rizzo's is open for lunch ($6-$10) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and dinner ($16-$21) from 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

Rizzo's Diner, 106 G.E. Patterson (871-1984)

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