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Fresh Start

The Beignet Cafe, Whitton Farms, Downing Hollow Farm, and the Dudie Burger Festival.


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Beignet Café, downtown's newest eatery off South Main, is an ideal marriage for Nashville transplant Norma Crow. "I love to cook and I love to restore old buildings," she says.

Crow purchased the two-story brick building that is now Beignet Café about a year and a half ago. She was attracted to the building's history (it was built in 1946 as the Tri-State Bank) and its location near the South Main arts district, Beale Street, and the National Civil Rights Museum.

As with most restorations, the project hit snags along the way. "We gutted the building, redid the plumbing, removed three ceilings, put on a new roof, and built a condo upstairs," Crow says, with a good-natured shrug. "And that was before we got started on the restaurant."

Located at the corner of G.E. Patterson and Mulberry Street, the cafe showcases Crow's careful restoration along with the Southern/Creole cooking she loves best. Several of Crow's favorite recipes are on the café's menu, including a cobbler called "Chocolate Jewel" and macaroni and cheese balls.

"The cobbler is an old recipe with a fudge center," Crow says. The macaroni and cheese combines jumbo macaroni, mozzarella, American cheese, Italian bread crumbs, and a little parmesan into balls that are deep-fried.

While Crow is happy to contribute recipes, she leaves operations to Charles Duke, the café's owner, and cooking to chef Michael Collins, formerly with Brennan's in New Orleans and Bari in Memphis.

The café's menu mixes sandwiches (muffuletta, shrimp po' boy, salmon BLT) and salads (spinach, Caesar, cranberry) with a heavy emphasis on coffees and desserts. There are two kinds of beignets: the Louisiana variety, fried and covered with powdered sugar, and a European style made with layered puff-pastry dough. Wine and frozen daiquiris are waiting for the café's liquor license next month.

Operating Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., the café begins Sunday brunch this weekend, served until 3 p.m.

Beignet Café, 124 G.E. Patterson (527-1551)

First, the bad news: The two local farms offering community-supported agriculture (or CSA) are sold out of shares. Next, the good news: Both growers — Whitton Farms in Whitton, Arkansas, and Downing Hollow Farm in Olive Hill, Tennessee — are maintaining e-mail lists for mid-summer, when fruits and vegetables are most plentiful.

"We're hoping to include everybody who wants to join by mid-July," says Whitton Farms' Keith Forrester.

At Downing Hollow Farm, the e-mail list won't promise a CSA share, but it will provide notification about informal front-yard markets near the University of Memphis organized by grower Lori Godwin-Greene. "We'll sell different canned goods and breads as well as produce from our neighbors in Olive Hill," she explains about the markets, tentatively set for July.

The reasons for supporting CSA (buy local, eat more veggies, save the planet, feel like a chef) are convincing, but the real clincher is the surprise assortment of fruits and vegetables every week. This is what was in my first bag of the season: radishes, apples, tender asparagus, a large bundle of kale, tiny but flavorful garlic bulbs, mixed salad greens, and two quarts of strawberries.

Starting in the late 1940s, folks in Tupelo, Mississippi, could eat a dough burger any day of the week at a downtown burger joint called Dudie's Diner. Owner Truman "Dudie" Christian learned to make the burgers (a mix of meat, flour, and water) when meat and staples were rationed during World War II. But neither the burger's appeal nor the charm of the diner's converted Memphis streetcar could compete with fast-food chains. The diner closed in 1986, and the streetcar ended up at Tupelo's Oren Dunn Museum, where the town's beloved dough burger is celebrated — and served — once a year.

The Dudie Burger Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 2nd. In addition to $5 combo meals (Dudie burger, chips, Moon Pie, and drink), the free festival showcases life in the late 19th century with reenactments and historical memorabilia.

689 Rutherford, Tupelo (662-841-6521)


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