Four years ago, during La Tourelle's 25th anniversary dinner, owner Glenn Hays looked around his little French restaurant and talked about its humble beginnings. He mentioned the straightforward, no-fuss approach of the food; the days when he and his wife Martha worked double and triple shifts in the kitchen and the front of the house; the 12 chefs who had run the restaurant so far; the "Queen Mother" cake that got dropped from the menu after a 20-year run as the chocolate dessert in Memphis.
But the years since that dinner have felt like another 25 to Hays. There were periods when it was difficult to keep the restaurant running.
Longtime chef Justin Young left to work with Erling Jensen (himself once a chef at La Tourelle) at Jensen's restaurant on Yates. Hays opened Café 1912, a second, more casual restaurant on Cooper. Cullen Kent followed very briefly in Young's footsteps before heading to Café Society. Chris Dollar, who had been working for Hays at Café 1912, took charge of the stove at La Tourelle but recently left. Then Hays retired from his "real" job as the track coach for the University of Memphis and seriously thought about retiring La Tourelle too.
But Glenn and Martha Hays are not ones to give up on a restaurant that they grew and nurtured from a simple appreciation of French food into a Memphis landmark. After being closed for a month, La Tourelle reopened for business last week. The dining area has lost its bright colors, oversized chairs, and lacy curtains in favor of a more muted and contemporary look and a completely reworked menu designed to match.
Tom Schranz, chef at Café 1912, is taking the executive-chef responsibilities for both restaurants, and Jason Idleman will assist him as the sous chef at La Tourelle. Schranz has been working in restaurants since his first job as a busboy while he was still in high school. He went to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and then spent years under what he calls "big and mean European chefs" in the kitchens of hotels and conference centers. Schranz eventually jumped ship to pursue his career in the more traditional restaurant business.
Being responsible for the food and operations at two restaurants doesn't seem to worry Schranz. "When you work at large hotels, you're typically responsible for more than one unit," Schranz explains. "So this is really not much different, except that I'll have a sous chef who is going to be a great help."
So what to expect from the madeover La Tourelle? "We want to provide the same standard that people might typically only find at a fine-dining restaurant but with a smaller price tag," says Hays.
La Tourelle is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday 6 to 10 p.m. and for Sunday brunch.
La Tourelle, 2146 Monroe (726-5771)
Penny McCraw, former food and beverage director and chef of the Brushmark at the Brooks Museum, has taken the lead at the McEwen's on Monroe kitchen. McCraw, who has worked both front and back of the house in several area restaurants, wants to focus on the culinary side of the business and feels right at home with McEwen's approach to Southern food. Diners can be sure that McCraw will make her mark on the menu with such dishes as grilled lamb chop over rosemary polenta with black currant beurre rouge and pork tenderloin with jalapeño grits and smoked cilantro crème fraîche.
You can join the McEwen's team on Sunday, October 15th, for its third annual Canadian Thanksgiving International Open at the Links at Pine Hill to benefit First Tee programs, a World Golf Foundation initiative dedicated to providing young people of all backgrounds with an opportunity to develop, through golf, life-enhancing values such as honesty, integrity, and sportsmanship. "Last year, a lot of the money that we raised was used for travel expenses so students could get to the places that had awarded them scholarships," explains McEwen's owner Mac Edwards.
For more information, go to
McEwen's on Monroe, 122 Monroe (527-7085)
Saturday kicks off soup season at the Memphis Botanic Garden when Fratelli's in the Garden brings back its popular Soup Saturdays. Throughout the fall and winter months, proprietor and kitchen chief Sabine Baltz will offer diners a variety of soups every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. This week, it's split pea soup, Hungarian goulash, or vegetable minestrone. Next week, it's a choice of lentil, French onion, white chili, or spicy pumpkin soup.
For more information, go to
Fratelli's in the Garden, 750 Cherry (576-4118)
This Saturday you can buy farm-fresh goat cheese at the Memphis Farmers Market downtown. Jim and Gayle Tanner of Bonnie Blue Farm, Tennessee's only licensed, Grade A goat dairy, will sell plain and coated rolls of chèvre, plain or garlic-and-chives-flavored soft chèvre as well as feta plain or marinated in olive oil. Since receiving the Grade A designation, the Tanners have been making cheese from the milk of their 18 pure-bred Nubian and American Saanen dairy goats.
Go to www.memphisfarmersmarket.org for more information.