Well, 2018 can go ahead and take a flying leap. It was sort of a grim year in general and for the Memphis food scene particularly.
We'll start with the bad news.
Bud Chittom died in September. He was eulogized as a legend, the force behind some 50 area restaurants — Blues City Cafe and Earnestine & Hazel's among them. Gary Williams, chef/owner of the Creole restaurant DeJaVu, passed away in early December. He was remembered for his kindness and sense of community and was sent out in style with a second line parade in front of his restaurant.
- Photographs by Justin Fox Burks
- Gary Williams
A number of restaurant breathed their last breath or were on life support as of press time. Places that closed include: LYFE Kitchen, The Kitchen, Fino's on the Hill, Old Zinnie's, and Fuel.
It makes you want some booze, doesn't it? You're in luck as a new law passed last spring allowing wine and liquor to be sold in liquor stores on Sunday. Wine will be sold on Sundays in grocery stores starting in January.
Crosstown Brewing, selling their signature beers Siren and Traffic, opened in February at the Crosstown Concourse campus. Originally, they had planned to be inside the concourse, but logistics and those huge pillars made constructing a separate building to the west of the concourse a necessity.
Big River Distilling introduced its Blue Note Bourbon earlier this year. It's from the folks behind Pyramid Vodka.
Last spring, rumblings of a new media venture grew louder and louder. Details about the online-only nonprofit Daily Memphian came out slowly, as it was revealed that three big-name Commercial Appeal writers were jumping ship. Among them was the food writer Jennifer Biggs.
Jennifer Chandler, well-known in Memphis food circles, took over for Biggs at The Commercial Appeal.
- Edible Memphis
Also last spring came the news that the food-centric journal Edible Memphis was being revived by Bill Ganus. Ganus assembled a crack team, with Brian Halweil as editor in chief and Stacey Greenberg as managing editor. The first order of business was to create a social media presence for Edible Memphis. Its Instagram is newsy and has broken a number of stories. The first issue of the new Edible Memphis is set to hit the stands in January.
The Vault announced its new branding as a "gastropub." With the new moniker comes new hours and new menus. Sleep Out Louie's is back. The bar, known for its laid-back Sleep Out Louie character and its cast-off ties, opened in Peabody Place last spring. Caritas Village reopened with a new executive director Mac Edwards, formerly of the Farmer. Like a phoenix, Pete & Sam's emerged from a devastating fire, with a classy new look and a full bar. Judd Grisanti paid tribute to his late father by reopening Ronnie Grisanti's in the fall. Restaurant Iris unveiled its new look and new menu in August. Old Venice morphed into Venice Kitchen earlier this fall. The new name came with an updated look and a new menu. Strano ditched its spot in Cooper-Young for the old Jim's Place East site in East Memphis.
- P.O. Press
Collierville had its restaurant game upped with the addition of P.O. Press Public House and Provisions and Raven & Lily. P.O. Press is in the former site of the Collierville Herald and before that a post office. It serves upscale Southern food. At Raven & Lily, they serve what the owner describes as "modern Southern comfort" food.
- Mac Edwards
And, finally — finally! — Trader Joe's opened in Germantown after some doubt that it ever would. Its opening wasn't wrinkle-free, however. There was some tiny hoopla about the store handing out reusable bags printed with "Nashville."
There was a bit of an uproar when Gibson's Donuts opened its doors to and provided one of its precious donuts to the horrible Marsha Blackburn. The owners countered that they weren't hosting Blackburn per se, and, in any case, Blackburn was treated like any other customer.
Racks, a Hooters-like barbecue restaurant, opened in Southaven.
The Crosstown Concourse has been the source of a lot of food news over the past year. Opened this year were Elemento Pizza, which adheres to Neapolitan standards, and Global Cafe, which serves a delightful selection of foods from Nepal, Syria, Sudan, under the supervision of refugees from those countries. Lucy J's Bakery also opened. All its workers earn a living wage. Saucy Chicken took over the space once occupied by the all-organic, vegetarian restaurant Mama Gaia.
Also opened this fall is Today and Always, a plant-based cafe which feeds participants of Crosstown Arts' resident program for free. Chef Raymond Jackson has noted that working under the no-meat edict has stimulated his creativity, which shows in such dishes as its vegan pimento cheese dip and the chicken fried tofu. Bart Mallard is in charge of Crosstown's Art Bar, which serves creative drinks, such as the Meditation of the Copulating Lizards, in the loungiest of lounge spaces.
Milk Dessert Bar serves over-the-top desserts as well as sentimental favorites. Featured on the menu is a cookie dough flight. Fam, a casual noodle restaurant, opened Downtown recently, and Mahogany, an upscale Southern restaurant with a movie theme opened in East Memphis in November.
Gray Canary, the latest from Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer, opened in January in the same building as Old Dominick Distillery. Its m.o. is that everything is cooked over an open fire. The setting, with a river view, is smokin' hot, too.