Chef Ryan Trimm (Sweet Grass, Next Door) is taking his talents eastward with Southward Fare and Libations, a new concept set to open in the former home of Circa in East Memphis' Regalia Shopping Center this summer.
Situated outside the I-240 loop, in the heart of a large business community, Southward will cater to the business-lunch scene and happy-hour crowds, with space for dinner meetings and private dinners. Trimm is expanding the bar, which will include wine and craft beer and will focus on "interesting and unique" cocktails with plenty of infusions.
Last January, John Bragg announced he would be moving Circa to the Chickasaw Crossing shopping center, with Sekisui leaving its Humphreys location to move into Regalia. In February, Bragg closed Circa instead. The arrangement with Sekisui fell through.
Now Trimm and his team, Shady Grove Restaurant Group, are set to open a restaurant in the 3,700-square-foot space by mid- to late June.
Fans of Sweet Grass will find Southward somewhat similar in style and technique but with a more executive bent and a menu that moves beyond Trimm's familiar low-country cuisine into a wider "tour of the South." Dinner should run around $20 to $30 and lunch around $15 or less.
"It will be a lot of Southern staples with our twists on them," Trimm says. "Instead of just low-country food, we'll be covering the South in general."
Southward will serve lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday.
Southward Fare and Libations, Regalia Shopping Center, 6150 Poplar
In the summer of 2011, David Johnson opened Southern Belle at 1329 Madison as a catering kitchen and small workweek lunch operation. Now, this former executive chef at McEwen's on Monroe is moving his catering operation downtown and reopening his restaurant as Belle Diner.
"I did a really good lunch business for that small location, and catering was always good," Johnson says. "But this opportunity presented itself, and I was looking for a good spot to do lunch and dinner."
Johnson found that in the former location of Rio Loco at 117 Union downtown. Rio Loco, a local Mexican joint, closed about two months ago, and Johnson swooped in to take advantage of the larger kitchen and dining areas.
Belle Diner will be open for lunch first, Monday through Friday. Shortly after, Johnson will add dinner Monday through Saturday, then brunch on Saturday and Sunday. While they were hoping to be open by May 1st, Johnson says mid-May is more likely.
Building on the success of Southern Belle on Madison, the menu at Belle Diner will be a revision of the upscale, Southern soul-food staples and Cajun classics from Johnson's former outfit.
"It's all Southern but with a nice twist. Instead of getting a cheap top round to pound out and country-fry, we'll take a nice cut of meat and country-fry us a big rib-eye," Johnson says. "And for desserts, we'll do stuff like a banana tart — a spinoff of banana pudding with a vanilla wafer crust, banana cream, and caramelized bananas on top."
Dinner will ring in under $20 and lunch under $10. For lunch, diners choose a meat and two sides, with different blue-plate specials each day. Think braised collard greens, baked mac-and-cheese, squash casserole, and fried catfish, as well as crawfish étouffée and red beans and rice. For those who aren't in the mood for a plate lunch, Johnson will add sandwich offerings to his menu, made from locally sourced meats whenever possible and roasted and sliced in-house and served on Johnson's own bread.
Belle Diner will have craft beer, wine, and some liquor drinks — brunch without a Bloody Mary is sacrilege — but Johnson is adamant about the diner staying a diner and not becoming a bar.
"We're not trying to have a big bar crowd. We don't want to be three or four people deep at the bar. But if people want a nice drink with their meal, they'll be able to do that."
Moving from his tiny, soul-food shop on Madison to a sizable downtown diner will be a definite upgrade for Johnson, but he says he's prepared to grow.
"I'm going from 20 seats to about 150 seats," he says. "But I'm excited. I'm not worried about it. McEwen's had about 100, so I've run a kitchen that does that volume."
Belle Diner, 117 Union