After a brief close, the restaurant in downtown's Westin Hotel has reopened with a new executive chef (Matthew Crone), a new name (Sole Restaurant & Raw Bar), and a group of not-so-new owners from Interim in East Memphis.
"We are bringing something different to a fantastic location," says Ben Brock, Sole's managing partner. "People will see big changes in the restaurant's food."
Some of the first to sample Sole's scrumptious menu attended a hip-and-happening preview party last week for media, downtowners, and restaurant insiders, including Rick Farmer of Jarrett's, one of Crone's mentors in Memphis.
"I'm a Southern boy who lived in Spain, cooked in the Northwest, and was classically trained in French cooking," Crone says. "I've picked up a lot of influences, but I like bringing all of it back to my roots."
More specifically, Crone started cooking as a youngster with his family, who had an award-winning barbecue team for Memphis in May. After working locally at Jarrett's, Erling Jensen, and Grove Grill, Crone headed for Europe to cook and travel in France and Spain. Next up was the New England Culinary Institute and jobs in Portland, including one as executive chef at the historic View Point Inn.
Family lured Crone back to Memphis, where he teamed up with Interim chef Jackson Kramer, a longtime friend. "We have tremendous respect for each other," Crone says. "Jackson cooked at my wedding, I cooked at his wedding. We share the same philosophies on food."
For instance, both chefs favor food that is sustainable and locally grown. At Sole, the field greens salad is tossed with local pecans, goat cheese, and crispy yams; the jumbo shrimp is served with local grits, Vidalia onion, smoked marconi pepper, and pan jus; and the artisan oysters on the half shell are harvested from the Florida panhandle or the Chesapeake Bay.
"Artisan oysters are a step above the rest," Crone says. "They are briny and delicious. When you eat one, it's like taking a little sip of the ocean."
About three-quarters of Sole's menu features seafood, such as seared scallops carbonara with fresh pasta, pearl onions, and prosciutto.
"Our food is regional American with European influences," Crone explains. "We won't be serving sashimi, but we will have tuna tartare with black truffle, watercress, and verjus vinaigrette."
Sole Restaurant & Raw Bar, 170 Lt. George W. Lee at Third (334-5950)
A few blocks north of Beale Street, another new restaurant called On the River offers seafood with a more typical regional twist: catfish po-boys ($7.99), Miss Kim's gumbo ($4.99), and shrimp dinners with a choice of sides ($8.79).
"Our customers can't get enough of our gumbo, now that it's cold outside," says manager Don Scott, whose mother, Willie Bell Scott, is the restaurant's owner. "We use chicken, crab meat, Italian sausage, and shrimp in the gumbo, but the rest of the recipe is Miss Kim's, one of our cooks."
There are a number of family recipes on the menu for On the River, including Don's Cajun mayo and the seasoning for the restaurant's chips. "We deep-fry our potato chips and then use a mixture of Old Bay and our secret house seasoning," Don explains. "The chips taste like the ones at the fair, and they go great with Ranch dressing."
The restaurant's chicken salad is another family favorite, perfected by Willie Bell, who also taught her son to cook. "When I was in college, I bought a house," Don recalls. "Since I didn't know how to cook, I'd call my mama, and she would talk me through everything, step by step."
Located on South Main near Monroe, the pair's more recent collaboration also offers homemade carrot cake, cheesecake, and pies and a small seafood market.
Don hopes to expand the restaurant into a jazz club by the middle of next summer, but for now, he's focusing on a grand opening December 4th. The restaurant will offer specials on import and domestic beers and introduce a new menu item: Hoppin' Hot Frog Legs.
"The frog legs come with sauces like hot wings: hot, garlic, lemon pepper, and honey mustard," Don says. "You will love them. They taste exactly like chicken."
On the River, 51 S. Main (522-0052)