Downtown businessmen Ed Bell and Jonathan Byrd were frustrated with their lunch options, so they opened a restaurant two weeks ago across the street from their office.
Their restaurant, called Market Café, features a changing selection of seasonal food in a cheerful, casual setting. It serves lunch only, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"It's everything we wanted in a lunch place," Bell says. "The food is high-quality, fresh, and reasonably priced."
The cafe is located on the south side of Madison between Second and Third streets in the storefront formerly occupied by Smitty's Place Restaurant. Kjeld Petersen is the café's culinary consultant, and D.J. Pitts, formerly of Interim, is the chef.
"We don't know anything about running a kitchen, but we know what we like to eat," Byrd says, crediting Petersen's expertise in developing the menu. "We also want to support other local businesses and be sensitive to the environment."
To accomplish both goals, the restaurant is becoming Project Green Fork-certified and buying local when possible. A chalkboard near the front door lists daily soup specials (last Wednesday: mushroom barley) along with the restaurant's regionally sourced foods.
The menu's salads, plate lunches, and sandwiches are simple but sophisticated. Try an apple salad with petite greens, sweet onion, bacon, cheddar, and grit cake for $8; sweet-potato ravioli with sage cream sauce and toasted pumpkin-seed garnish, also $8; or a mushroom-stuffed chicken breast with prosciutto, roasted potatoes, and brioche toasts for $9. Sandwiches (chickpea fritter, chicken-curry salad, pot roast and cheddar, and smoked chicken and brie) range in price from $7.50 to $8.50.
On the way out, don't miss the baked goods by the register. I went for a marshmallow-topped brownie. Think granola bar meets s'mores, but don't think about sharing. You'll want every bite for yourself.
Market Café, 149 Madison (577-0086) memphismarketcafe.com
Last summer, when Jeff Corrigan and Les Carloss relocated Bluff City Bayou from the Medical Center to Midtown, they swore off lunch.
"We only wanted to serve dinner," Corrigan remembers, laughing. "But we underestimated how many of our customers would keep clamoring for lunch."
In early October, Corrigan and Carloss finally relented to customers and added lunch to their New Orleans-centric eatery. "It's been busy and fun, and it gets me out of bed in the morning," Corrigan says.
The lunch menu, available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., duplicates dinner fare, except for entrée and appetizer specials, offered only in the evening. Po-boy and muffuletta sandwiches, along with seafood soup du jour and gumbos, are popular at lunchtime, says Corrigan, especially during wet and cool weather.
"Every week or two for lunch, we also rotate in étouffée," Corrigan says, which is served with rice, like gumbo, but made with a lighter roux. Bluff City Bayou, 2117 Peabody (274-8100)
Click on downtowndiningweek.com, and the number of three-course dinners, all priced at $20.09, is a little overwhelming. How about this from Felicia Suzanne's: crispy Louisiana oysters in barbecue sauce, wild Gulf shrimp and andouille sausage sautéed in Creole sauce, and white chocolate and coconut bread pudding for dessert? Or maybe you'd prefer these yummy courses from McEwen's on Monroe: soup of the day, grilled pork loin with apple brandy sauce, and chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramel rum drizzle?
In all, 20 downtown eateries are offering two fixed-priced dinners for the Downtown Dining Week promotion. In addition to Felicia Suzanne's and McEwen's, participants include Bangkok Alley, Kooky Canuck, Automatic Slim's, Circa, Sole, the Pig on Beale, Wang's, Rendezvous, the Majestic Grille, Bluefin, Tug's, Bardog, South of Beale, Mesquite Chop House, Spindini, and Itta Bena.
The dinner specials only last a week, from November 8th through November 14th, and the $20 price tag does not include beverage, tax, or gratuity.