Have you heard of the South African pepper "piri piri"? If not, head to Humdingers in East Memphis, where piri piri is the star of the restaurant's family-friendly menu.
A Swahili word for pepper, piri piri was first discovered along coastal Mozambique by Portuguese explorers. But Memphis native Chris Smith only had to travel to Atlanta, where he happened upon the pepper at a restaurant franchise called Boneheads.
"Piri piri has been popular in Europe for some time, but it is not so well known in the States," says Smith, who owns and operates Humdingers with longtime friend Alan Schlesinger. "The pepper has a unique flavor and is very versatile."
At Humdingers, which opened in early April, a mild piri piri shows up in the restaurant's lemon-herb topping, while spicier versions season condiments at each table. (The extra-hot sauce is extra-extra hot!) The dry seasoning also is used as a rub on the restaurant's grilled chicken and fish, served as sandwiches, tacos, or entrées.
Fish entrées (salmon, tilapia, mahi-mahi, shrimp, and Pacific snapper) come with toppings (pineapple salsa, cucumber lime and yogurt, or sautéed mushrooms), seasoned rice, and a choice of sides (zucchini, sweet-potato fries, Asian slaw, black bean and corn salsa, and chilled marinated broccoli). Chicken entrées are flame-grilled and served with the same sides.
"Our concept is strictly fish and chicken — no hamburgers," Smith says. "People want to eat lighter and healthier even when they are in a hurry."
6300 Poplar, Suite 101 (260-8292)
Flight, a new downtown restaurant offering a unique concept for serving food and wine, has opened at Monroe and Main in the former location of Stella.
The restaurant specializes in "flights," a trio of small portions plated or poured for sampling. The term typically applies to samplings of wine, but at Flight, sampling combinations also are offered for salads, soups, entrées, and desserts.
"Guests want more options for smaller portions in terms of food and drink, especially with the downturn in the economy," says Russ Graham, a local restaurant veteran who co-owns Flight with Tom Powers. "There's a reason the most exciting thing on an appetizer menu is the sampler platter."
Soup and salad flights range in price from $8 to $10, combining soup selections such as lobster bisque, seafood gumbo, and French onion or salad options such as feta and watermelon, orange and avocado, and baby spinach.
Entrée flights (fish, pork, veal and lamb tenderloin, beef, "feathered," and seafood) are even more exotic. Here's a description of the seafood flight, which sells for $29: seared sea scallops served with black-bean ginger beurre blanc and red-pepper basmati, Maine lobster tail served with artichokes, fingerling potatoes, and roasted red pepper salad, and jumbo shrimp served with vine-ripe tomato saffron fondue and parmesan polenta.
Confused? No problem. Flight also offers dinner selections as traditional entrées or as single, small plates. For lunch, the restaurant serves soups, salads, and sandwiches ranging in price from $8 to $12.
39 S. Main, flightmemphis.com (521-8005)
Petra Café describes its menu as "a taste of the Mediterranean," but no one knows paninis like owners Lisa and Jamal Bouba.
"We have 19 different kinds," Lisa says. "I think that's more than any other restaurant in the Mid-South."
So why are paninis so popular at Petra's in Germantown and at the café's newest location in Cordova, which opened this week? "They are grilled, hot, and delicious," Lisa explains. "They are like comfort food between two pieces of crunchy bread."
The couple sold their Collierville location last month before opening the new café near Dexter Road. The Cordova café is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and focuses on sandwiches: paninis, pitas, and classic deli fare, along with Mediterranean sides like hummus and tabbouleh.
"Ever since we closed our first location in Bartlett, people have been asking us to reopen," Lisa says. "Hopefully, some of those customers will find us at our new location."
1649 N. Germantown Parkway, Cordova (754-6650)
6641 Poplar, Suite 101, Germantown (754-4440)