People always say you have to have a lot of money to enjoy New York. Not true. All you have to do is walk out of your front door. On one of my jaunts that involved little planning and a lot of wandering with my camera around Williamsburg, I stumbled upon Rough Trade Records, of London punk and post-punk fame and reported to be the largest record store in NYC.
Besides its size, what was most mystifying was the sheer beauty of the design. There were stacks of old rail cars, some of them suspended in the air, beautifully lit with proper windows installed, serving as coffee shops or an office stacked above the check-out counter. I wanted to curl up and live there. It was magical.
There are some groups in Memphis that are working to bring similar types of magical spaces to Memphis, namely It's Fine, the management group behind Rec Room, Loflin Yard, and, most recently, Railgarten.
With Railgarten, the group offers their own take of using old rail cars as creative spaces, such as a stage, a bar, a seating area, and on and on. That's just the beginning. Railgarten is a campus of "the largest sandbox in Memphis," depending on whether it's being used for volleyball or by a bunch of kids; a massive playground; quite possibly several hundred lawn chairs; a Ping-Pong bar with professional-level tables that is adults-only after 6 p.m. and can be used by league players or on a first date; a tiki bar with drinks conceived by cocktail artist Mary Oglesby, who also came up with the Jameson and coffee Slushee and the whiskey and Coke Icee for the Ping-Pong bar; as well as a traditional diner and an ice cream shop. Yes, that means boozy milkshakes, and they even have a gin-and-juice flavored ice cream.
But we're here to talk about food.
The group brought in Aaron Gardner of Monkey Train Grazing Co. food truck fame. Gardner served time at California's The French Laundry, New York's Daniel as well as La Grenouille, and Hillstone Restaurant Group, which eventually brought him to Memphis to help run Houston's.
"With the diner, I went with food I liked to eat, staples of any diner but with a twist," Gardner says.
What he means is, he puts pork belly on a burger and puts the burger on a Hawaiian bun.
By pot roast, he means short ribs, or rather double-milk stout-braised short ribs, over three-cheese pimento mac and cheese ($18.50).
And by French dip, he means Gotta Get Up to Get Down stout-braised short ribs, gruyere cheese, sriracha fried onions, horseradish cream, served on a French baguette with their secret au jus ($14.75).
They have a veggie burger that rivals any regular burger, according to director of operations Mason Jambon, who has worked at restaurants all over the country, including Commander's Palace.
"What we have here is finer diner food," Jambon says. "It's a twist on traditional diner fare, exciting but accessible. That's what we strive for throughout the property."
Next door to the diner they serve 16 flavors of gelato or sorbet by High Road Craft Ice Cream ("made by chefs for chefs," according to their website), with flavors such as the above-mentioned Gin and Juice, Bananas Foster, Thai Street Coffee, and Cheesecake Brownie. They also make their own toppings and even heat up cobbler if you so choose to add to your Caramel Pecan ice cream. I am anti-exclamation point, but they have a real SnoWizard SnoBall machine from New Orleans!
As you may have heard, parts of the property were shut down by code enforcement after the opening. As reported by the Flyer's Toby Sells, "The next council meeting will feature an evidentiary hearing on whether or not the council should take back the permit it gave Railgarten owners back in February to operate their entertainment complex in Midtown."
According to the council's attorney Allan Wade, Railgarten owners did not tell council members they were going to use parts of the property, and "the hearing will likely be a public review of the facts in the case in which council members will weigh the pros and cons of revoking the permit" given in February.
The next hearing will be held May 23rd.
"We are talking to valet companies to address any parking issues, and we've reached out to our neighbors and are talking to them," Jambon says. "We had no idea what we would do our first weekend open. We have a willingness to do what is necessary to be good neighbors and accommodate and make concessions to what code asks us to do.
"We want this to be a space that offers something to almost everybody. Families can walk here and bring their kids, or college kids can come and play games. We feel like there is a need for a venue like this," Jambon says.