"We needed refreshing," says Ben McLean of Old Venice Pizza Company on Perkins Ext. in East Memphis. On November 19th, Venice Kitchen was unveiled.
McLean says that Venice Kitchen is a whole new concept, that they are expanding beyond their Italian roots and embracing their Creole and Mediterranean sides. The 20 pizzas that were offered at one time have been narrowed down to 11. One new pizza is the Hog Wild, with pork tenderloin, barbecue sauce, gouda, and pepperoni. While the World Famous Lasagna and the Rasta Pasta (with Caribbean jerk sauce) remain, Shrimp & Grits has been added, as has a veggie zoodles dish with squash and zucchini noodles with pesto, cherry tomato, almond slices, and grana padano.
- Photographs by Justin Fox Burks
Among the new salads are a grilled shrimp panzanella and steak & cabbage. New on the sandwich menu are the VK Burger with bacon, Fontina, and roasted garlic aioli, and crispy chicken with a spicy slaw.
- Shrimp & grits; meatballs
Heading up the kitchen is Rob Ray, who worked with McLean at Belly Acres and at McEwen's in Oxford. He is described as progressive and an innovator. Ray emphasizes high quality and fresh ingredients. "We are broader than just pizza and pasta," he says, noting that the new grill is for cooking steaks and salmon.
David Buescher, who is partnering with McLean on this project, agrees it was time for a change when it comes to Old Venice. He says with the opening of Novel and other developments nearby, the timing is perfect for such a restaurant.
Both McLean and Buescher emphasize that they've ditched the "old" of Old Venice.
"We've really enjoyed the opportunity to take a Memphis staple and put our twist on it, give it life for the next 10 to 15 years," says McLean.
368 Perkins Extd. (767-6872), venice-kitchen.com
The third Little Italy will open in South Main Downtown sometime in December, according to owner Giovanni Caravello. It will be in the old Scoops site at 106 GE Patterson.
"It was a good opportunity," says Caravello, noting the coming movie theater and hotel. "In that part of Downtown, there's not really authentic pizza."
By authentic, Caravello means New York-style, which is what he specializes in. He says what makes their pizza so good is their high quality ingredients — the best cheeses and finest flour. His lasagna, he swears, is "like my mom made it."
Caravello says that the menu for the Downtown restaurant will be smaller. He's thinking of offering fresh mussels with marinara sauce, imported cold cuts, and a cheese platter.
There will be seating for 35 to 40 inside, with an additional 20 to 25 seats outdoors. Caravello hopes to host games outside.
Ultimately, he's feeling pretty confident about this latest venture.
"We've been in business 15 years," he says. "People know what we can do."
106 GE Patterson, littleitalypizzamemphis.com
The Nine, in the old Bangkok Alley space at 121 Union Downtown, opened November 1st. Owner Chalee Timrattana says the Burana family, Bangkok Alley owners, helped him by providing the space free of charge and have been supportive.
Timrattana worked for Bangkok Alley for 16 years and has served as kitchen manager for all the locations.
The nine of the Nine refers to the king of Thailand, who recently passed away. Timrattana is using it as a lucky number.
Construction and the upgrade took longer than expected. The inside looks much like it did before, with a bar at front with some seating and banquet seating along the walls in the back.
Also similar is the menu, with such favorites as Pad Thai and Drunken Noodle.
Timrattana says he doesn't have a specialty. "I can do it all good," he says.