All across town, new signs, new menus, and new designs are springing up in old spaces. Lorenzen Wright's Sports Bar changes from a neighborhood tavern into a casual East Memphis lunch spot called Rambert's. A group of friends upgrades a Grady's to Vina Bistro. Cuban goes Mexican as Sabor Tropical moves out and Los Compadres moves in.
At first glance, it may not seem like much has changed at Rambert's. A giant plasma TV still hangs over the bar where an ESPN announcer shouts the latest scores. The dining room looks the same, with the exception of a few feminine touches not likely to be found in most sports bars.
The biggest surprise is in the back, the Nathaniel Room. The door may look like it leads to a closet -- because it did before husband-and-wife team Eileen and Anthony Collier transformed a storeroom into a VIP lounge.
With its burnished-wood bar, white tablecloths, and fireplace, stepping through the door is like stepping into a 1920s speakeasy. This little room, available for private parties, even has a separate entrance, sound system, and gated private parking.
Since the restaurant opened April 19th, the Colliers have used the room to host a special Mother's Day brunch for Anfernee Hardaway and his family and a little girl's English tea party.
Chef Eddie Spivey, who brings more than 20 years experience with the Radisson hotels in Chicago and Memphis, creates everything from home-cooked Southern soul food to baked salmon and grilled steaks.
Rambert's, 3101 S. Mendenhall, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the week and until 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
What makes Vina Bistro special is not the food, though Chef Todd Mallin draws on classical training, 13 years experience, and even a little humor to create a menu that would delight the most finicky epicure. No. What makes Vina Bistro stand out is the staggering variety of wines served by the glass: 93.
A group of friends, who worked together at Yia's Yia's in Germantown, wanted to create an upscale wine and cigar bar. They found financial support from Jara International, Inc., represented by Steve Baker, his wife Renata, and partner Maria Jara, and Vina Bistro rose from the ashes of Grady's, 6080 Primacy Parkway.
The interior looks much the same with the exception of subtle color changes and a newly added sitting area in the bar. The group plans to add a humidor and will offer a limited late-night menu until 2 a.m.
Presentation is as important as flavor for Mallin, who sees the white linen tablecloths as a blank canvas, where he can build layers of color with food as his medium of choice. Some dishes are even served on artwork. Order the baked brie, and it comes with Chardonnay-poached pear, Granny Smith apple, lavender honey and toasted baguettes on a leaf-shaped plate made by local potter Susan Crenshaw.
Mallin, a New Jersey native, trained at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, South Carolina, and likes to add his own twist to recipes. For example, Todd's Twisted Cobb Salad features fried chicken, and the potato-wrapped shrimp is served with Pepper Jack grits.
Open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily, the restaurant offers reasonably priced food and wine with entrées ranging from $8 to $28 and wines from $6 to $14 a glass.
"We wanted to offer the attitude of fine dining without outrageous prices," says manager Sean McClenden.
Los Compadres, 2617 Poplar, kicked off Cinco de Mayo with its grand opening. Once partners Roberto Ferie and Arturo Herrera (they also have two other partners) chose the location, the former site of Cuban restaurant Sabor Tropical, it took less than a month to renovate, add personal touches, and open for business. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., except Friday and Saturday when it closes at 11 p.m. n