Want a Great Night Out? Try…

McEwen’s on Monroe


Hit or Ms. is pleased to introduce our first GUEST BLOGGER, Kelly Daniel!! Whoo hoo! Kelly’s a fellow downtown resident that loves giving kudos to local restaurants and happily wrote about her recent experience to McEwen’s. So read on and enjoy!

Last Saturday night my husband and I, parents to 15 month old twin boys, had a very rare dinner out planned with another couple to celebrate my birthday and Mother’s Day. Since our nights “out on the town” are few and far between these days, we knew that we wanted:

a) some place special

b) somewhere we had never tried before.

After asking several other friends for recommendations, we were led to make a reservation at McEwen’s on Monroe.  And, yes, I would suggest making a reservation, more on that in a minute.

courtesy of TripAdvisor.com

Before booking, I went to their webpage, and I’m happy to report it is very easy to navigate, up to date, and lists everything from their dinner menus to lunch features to specials on their homepage to their wine list. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that they have a “Small Plates” menu. I absolutely love picking several appetizers to eat when I am at a restaurant; since we do not get to eat out that often, I find that this is one of the best ways to sample multiple dishes at a restaurant instead of selecting one large main course.

The ambiance of the restaurant (which is why I would suggest making a reservation) is perfect for anything from a weeknight quiet dinner for two to a larger celebration. Reservations are suggested if you would like to dine at a table– the main floor of the restaurant is relatively small, which is a huge positive characteristic in my book because it keeps the restaurant quiet and the service timely.

Courtesy of McEwen's website

Speaking of the service, our server ever vigilant– never letting a wine glass go empty or an finished plate sit too long on the table– but she was very personable; eager to describe the menu, tell us her favorites, and offer suggestions. The restaurant itself was nice and dark, which just emanates the feeling that you are actually having a fine-dining experience.

Side note: While I mentioned that reservations are suggested for a smaller table and necessary for a large party, they are not needed if you would like to sit at the bar. Our group of four moved from our table to the bar once the meal was completed since we were thoroughly enjoying our night out and just did not want to leave this welcoming cocoon in downtown Memphis. Sitting at the bar was just as comfortable as enjoying dinner at our table had been. In addition to serving the full menu at the bar, they have a full drink list as well. A vodka gimlet is a must taste here!

And heads up, McEwen’s is also terrific for private dining! If you are out to find a spectacular location for an intimate celebration or larger dining event, there is a downstairs part of the restaurant with a wine cellar that can be reserved for private parties.

Courtesy of McEwen's website

Moving on to the main course! The table started off with wine: Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz-Mourvedre blend, which is now one of my favorite bottles and a “must-find” on my next trip to the wine store. And, the food was out of this world! As I mentioned, I am one to order a couple of appetizers for my meal out instead of one large entree. After our order was taken, a delicious basket of miniature homemade biscuits was placed on our table, soon to follow were our appetizers. My husband and I split the fried oyster appetizer. The oysters were nice and crisp and, despite being drizzled with a very light sauce (which was excellent to soak the biscuit in by the way), there was absolutely no sogginess to the oyster at all.

My next selection was the Wild Mushroom Salad. Normally when I order a salad at a restaurant I am slightly disappointed because it is usually a small handful of some type of green with toppings that are not too exciting (I am a regular salad eater, make a lot of salads at home, so I can be very critical of eating them while dining out). This was an exception: a hefty base of mixed greens were topped with not just a handful of mushrooms, but a hearty serving of warm, marinated mushrooms, walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, and all drizzled with walnut balsamic vinaigrette. The salad could have almost been a meal itself: I even had to get part of it to go, worried that I might be too full to enjoy my dinner!

Courtesy of McEwen's website

For my main course I ordered the Southern Style Crawfish Cakes from the “Small Plates/Big Taste Menu”  (which is how they refer to it). And this was the truth: these were not small, palm-sized cakes. Instead I was served two large crawfish patties that were bigger than my fist, lightly fried, which gave a welcoming crunch on the outside that was the precursor to warm, smooth, meaty, tender crawfish meat on the inside. The cakes included no “fillers”–there was no extra breading or any other additions– the chef let the crawfish meat speak for itself. Truly providing a big taste! My husband ordered the Pan Seared Chilean Sea bass (editor note: we’re right there with ya!), which was truly the most succulent, melt in your mouth sea bass I have had in a long time, served with mushroom risotto and sautéed spinach. The risotto was creamy and the spinach was moist and well-seasoned.

The night out was one to remember and one to keep us going back to McEwen’s for special occasions and with visiting relatives because of these three spectacular parts to the “dining out” experience: ambiance, food and service. And because of that, McEwen’s is a HIT! Even though the restaurant has been successful in downtown Memphis for years, this experience is just another reminder for why Memphians need to keep supporting this local spot or try it out, if you haven’t been before! Cheers to a great first-time trip with many more to come!

Thank Kelly! We’re making a ressie ASAP!

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Fried Food Craving for the Weekend

Always thinking about our next meal, a strong craving for fried food hit us like a ton of bricks… luckily, Memphis has a plethora of AMAZING fried food options….

So we started thinking, what are some of the best, heart-hurting dishes in town?

Here are some of our top/recent faves in no particular order:

SOLE: Oyster Po’ Boy

Pearl’s Oyster House: Fried Pickles

Other dishes sans photos:

  • Gus’s: Fried Chicken Strips
  • Sekisui: Mushroom Tempura (I’m a sucker for anything fried + Sekisui Tempura Sauce, but the mushrooms are pretty solid)
  • South of Beale: Crispy Sushi Rice Cakes served with the Sesame Tuna
  • The Arcade: Fried French Toast

Now, we know you’re screaming at your computer and accusing us of leaving off the best options in Memphis. So tell us.  We’re hungry, so send over ideas ASAP 🙂

And you thought the above ideas were unhealthy…

Courtesy of This is Why You're Fat: The Flatline Burger- Double bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter deep fried and served with two sides of chipotle mayo. (submitted by Bryce via Blue Moon Burgers)

Loving Some Sweet Grass: New Cooper Young Restaurant

Hi folks! Had to write about a fantastic meal we recently enjoyed at one of Cooper Young’s newest eateries, Sweet Grass. Have you not had a chance to go? Well this spot definitely needs to be on your radar…

Two of us checked it out, and we kicked off the meal with craft beers that were delicious (forgive me, I can’t remember the names… guess that’s a sign of a good night out??).

Side note: When we went, Sweet Grass didn’t have a liquor license that permitted the typical beers– Bud Light, Coors, etc. However, the beers we drank were allowed because they had a higher alcohol content (a plus!). It’s possible that’s changed by now. And don’t worry, there’s a wine list.

Anyway, once  we were slightly inebriated, we placed our food order and out came an AWESOME bread basket: jalapeño cornbread, sourdough, and some sort of cheese (perhaps Asiago) and rosemary focaccia.

The bread was totally an indication of how the rest of the meal would play out… it was seamless and quite tasty. Our faves were the oyster stew (brings to mind New England clam chowder, but Carolina style) and the jambalaya that was actually a lot lighter than the typical kind.

Chicken Jambalaya, courtesy of Sweet Grass' Facebook Page

Additionally, the deep dish sour cream apple pie is to die for, really, it could be our last meal with the caramel on top reminding us of a praline.

Deep Dish Sour Cream Apple Pie, courtesy of Sweet Grass' Facebook Page

The service was spot-on. We had a terrific server who was prompt, knowledgeable, and courteous, and we happily tipped over 20%, see our thoughts on tipping here!

And quickly, the ambiance and decor had a calming effect with soft colors and sweet grass (what else?) tastefully decorating the interior.

This new Cooper Young spot is totally a HIT in our books. Make sure to visit asap. Oh, and check out the full menu here.

Restaurant Iris Contest

We’re sure you know by now how obsessed we are with Restaurant Iris… If you haven’t made it in, here’a an easy way to win a free meal!

IRIS Springtime Scavenger Hunt
On the Hunt: We’re looking for Irises around town! Take a photo of an iris you see and post it on Facebook by May 7. We’ll vote for our favorite Iris until May 14 by clicking the “like” button under the photo you choose. The winner’s photo will be framed and hung as artwork in the restaurant and treated to brunch for two! Ready, set, GO!

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Memphis-TN/Restaurant-Iris/45364912247?ref=ts#!/notes/restaurant-iris/iris-springtime-scavenger-hunt/393420175418

Shanghaied Irises from the Neighbor's Yard

Let us know if you enter, and we’ll vote for ya!

Potentially the Best Thing Ever…

Just looking at phone pictures and came across, possibly, the most amazing thing I’ve ever consumed:

Soft Shell Crab Sandwich

What is this monstrosity? Oh, the most delicious, perfectly fried, appropriately dressed Soft Shell Crab Sandwich….EVER. If you’re in New Orleans, make it a priority to visit Acme Oyster House. Take a seat at the bar, order oysters, an Abita and of course, this plate of fried, crabby goodness. Mouth is now watering…damn it! Happy hump day!

Thoughts on Memphis Tipping

Anyone catch this gem in the Flyer? At Hit or Ms. we’re BIG tippers… jar at Cafe Eclectic counter, done. Bad service and infuriating experience, still 15%. Typical dinner without any extraordinary snafus, 22% at least.

However, this article just pisses us off. Yes, Memphians need to tip and be conscious of the fact that servers are paid squat. But, do we really need to be lectured by the restaurant owners, particularly the ones that pay their servers $2.13/hr?

And though there are some fair statements from some of the chefs (we’re talking to you, Wally Joe), our biggest complaint about this article is that Memphis has a reputation for terrible service! Excluding several of the high-end restaurants like Iris, Bari, Erling’s, and yes Houston’s, we’re regularly annoyed while dining out… Tugs, Majestic, Do… Having lived and eaten in cities all over the country, sadly Memphis service just isn’t up to speed.

Case #1: Grace: Perhaps we’ll touch on this more at a later point, but Hit or Ms. had an awful experience at this “fine” dining restaurant. Going in on a Tuesday night with only three other tables occupied, our meal unnecessarily took 2.5 hours, the table seated after us received all their courses before we did (both tables had two diners) and the Chef was too busy hanging items in his kitchen to grace us with a “hello, thanks for dining in my brand new restaurant and spending a lot of money for a Tuesday night”. Yet, our dear server received a fantastic tip, despite this awfulness.

Case #2: Tugs on Mud Island: Without fail, every single time we eat at this restaurant, the order or check is messed up. Yet, we won’t penalize the poor server who can’t do addition… we just suck it up and tip.

Case #3: Carmela’s: In theory, this could be a charming lunch spot. It’s the type of place where you order at the counter and they bring it out to you. We popped in on a Saturday morning when it was fairly empty. Short story– the order took forever (it was just a panini), and it came out wrong. Admittedly, this may have been the kitchen’s fault, but no one was in the restaurant when the order was placed, so more aggravation resulted. Disclaimer: we’ve only been to this restaurant once, so we’d definitely be willing to give it another shot.

Bottom line, we will continue to tip because we realize how important it is for these waiters’ income. And, we will continue to support local restaurants because hey, the food usually rocks. However restaurant industry, listen up! Please don’t preach about tipping appropriately if your servers consistently provide bad service… train them better and hold them to these high standards. Then, when the service is top notch in MOST Memphis restaurants, Hit or Ms. will totally support a tipping manifesto.

What are your thoughts, dear readers? Sorry we’ve been MIA…

Hey, Big Spender

An insider’s guide to tipping.

by STACEY GREENBERG

One of my favorite things is the restaurant receipt that has the 15 percent, 18 percent, and 20 percent tip amounts printed on the bottom. It provides a quick and easy way to figure out exactly how much to tip. On the other hand, I’m not so fond of the gray area surrounding counter service and their leering tip jars. I always wonder how much I should tip, if at all. To get a handle on what’s appropriate, I talked to some restaurant insiders and frequent diners.

It’s no secret that people who have worked in the restaurant business are usually the best tippers. Margot McNeeley, the executive director of Project Green Fork, has waited tables and tended bar. “It’s not easy work,” she says. “I almost always tip 20 percent, if not more, unless the server is rude. If they’re in the weeds and super busy but nice about not being as attentive, I still tip well.”

Stephen Hassinger, the innkeeper at the Inn at Hunt Phelan, is also a chef with many years of restaurant experience. “Me, I tip everybody,” he says. This includes the dry cleaner ($10 every once in a while), the guy at the car wash who wipes the rims ($3 to $5), and the barista ($1 every time and $3 to $5 sometimes). “Basically anyone who performs any kind of service, I tip $1 to $20 depending on how much work it is and whether I plan on returning,” he says.

Hassinger believes that once you add some decent gratuity, that person will remember you and how you like your coffee or whether you like medium or light starch in your shirts … whatever. “As a rule, over-tip in the beginning, and you will receive good service from that point on,” he advises.

Ken Lumpkin, the chef/owner of Umai, wants people to understand that servers get paid very little and survive on tips. (The norm for servers’ wages is $2.13 per hour.) “I know that 15 percent is the standard, but it has not kept up with the increased cost of living,” Lumpkin says. “Tipping should start at 18 percent.”

He agrees that receiving poor service is cause for a smaller tip but suggests that diners take into consideration whether or not it was a server’s error or someone else’s. “Servers have to deal with backed-up kitchens, angry cooks, angry patrons, running out of supplies, co-workers’ attitudes, etc.,” he says, suggesting that if a patron is dissatisfied, it’s better to alert the manager to the problems instead of stiffing the wait staff.

Ben Vaughn is the chef/owner of Grace Restaurant, which offers fine dining. He says that 18 percent is the average tip. However, Wally Joe, the chef at the Brushmark, says that 20 percent should be the standard for fine dining. “Service is more refined, and extra attention is required and expected,” he says, noting that there may be small touches such as tableside serving of sauces and beverages. “A server should also have full knowledge of the menu and wine list,” he adds.

Joe is very outspoken when it comes to counter service and says that tip jars really annoy him. What am I suppose to tip them on? Handing me my order that they are paid to do? That requires no effort at all,” he says, equating it to a clerk handing him a pack of gum at a convenience store.

Helario “Harry” Reyna, who owns Elliott’s, a sandwich and burger joint downtown, says the standard tip for counter and pick-up orders is 10 percent. Elliott’s has never had a tip jar, but patrons may choose to leave a tip on the table. When Reyna was part-owner of Kwik Chek on Madison, they had a tip jar and split the tips. “That’s how I started a savings account for my daughter,” he says.

Elizabeth Blondis, part-owner of Central BBQ, recommends 5 to 10 percent for counter service and to-go orders. The tips are put into a pool for all employees and divided based on total hours. “That way, everyone — from the prep cook to the busser and everyone in between — shares in the rewards of doing a good job and working as a team,” she says. Blondis notes that no one at Central is paid less than minimum wage (most are paid more), but the additional tips can add up to an extra 50 cents to $1 per hour for employees.

Vaughn says that the staff at Au Fond, his market and cafe adjacent to Grace which offers counter service, is paid a higher rate than the wait staff at Grace. “It’s a nice thing to leave a buck or two to the guys and girls cleaning up and working their butts off, but it’s not expected,” he says.

Gary Bridgman, a former waiter who “carried trayloads of plates/drinks and tracked customer satisfaction throughout the meal,” says he has to be impressed before giving a counter tip higher than a quarter. “I’m more likely to slip a dollar under a dirty dish/tray if I’m not expected to bus my own table,” he says.

It’s important to consider whether your to-go order is being packed up by counter staff making minimum wage or by wait staff making $2.13 an hour. Former restaurant staffer Lauri Smith points out that to-go orders were included in her total amount of sales that she had to pay taxes on. In other words, the server has to pay tax on it whether you tip or not. If the restaurants do not report it accurately, the restaurant and the wait staff get audited by the IRS.

“The people putting together to-go orders [in restaurants] almost always get ripped off,” McNeeley says. “Think about this: They take time, sometimes away from their stations, to put the order together, check it, bag it, ring it up.” Tipping at least a few bucks on to-go orders should be required in her opinion. At the very least, it is always appreciated.

So what about alcohol? Joe does disagree with his servers when it comes to tipping on wine. “I’m probably not going to make any friends among servers for saying this, but there is a feeling that they deserve to be fully tipped 20 percent on expensive bottles of wine,” he says. Joe explains that whether the bottle of wine costs $200 or $30, the work is the same.

Ben Carter, author of the popular blog Benito’s Wine Reviews, says wine should be tipped 20 percent just like everything else. “The only time this becomes a real issue or argument is when you’re spending $500-plus on wine at a single dinner. And even then, there’s a big difference between 10 $50 bottles and one $500 bottle,” he says. The former is going to involve a lot of work and glasses and surely deserves 20 percent, in his opinion, and for the latter, he believes 10 percent might be appropriate without throwing off the overall balance of the bill.

At a bar, 20 percent is always safe, according to Wes Fowinkle, who has been bartending for over 10 years, most recently at the Cove. He prefers 20 percent to the generic “$1 per drink” rule. “If someone orders the most complicated, expensive drink on the menu that takes five minutes to prepare, keeping you from selling five quick beers, you made $1 instead of $5,” he explains. Fowinkle offers some advice for math-challenged and/or multi-drink imbibers who don’t have the luxury of a receipt with tip suggestions: “The easiest way to figure out 20 percent at the end of a night is to divide your tab by 10, then multiply by two.” (This trick works in restaurants too, any time of day.)

When it comes down to it, customers need to be aware of the nuances involved in the restaurant business and what constitutes good service. Hassinger sums it up: “Employees who work for tips appreciate someone who appreciates them.”

Tipping Cheat Sheet

Fine dining: 20 percent

Casual dining: 18-20 percent

Counter service: 0-10 percent

To-go orders in restaurants: 10 percent

Alcohol (including beer and wine): 20 percent

Really expensive bottles of wine ($500+): 10 percent

Mosa Asian Bistro: Two Thumbs Up

Mosa Asian Bistro is a locally-owned restaurant from the original owners of the well-known Formosa. Mosa has two locations in East Memphis: Poplar at Kirby and White Station between Poplar and Park. A casual dining experience and reasonable prices, Mosa offers a modern take on traditional asian cuisine.

For starters, there are traditional favorites such as potstickers, edamame and lettuce wraps; but we definitely recommend the basil rolls.

You choose the heat level and meat (or tofu) for your main dish. If you prefer rice dishes, the Fried Rice and Teriyaki Bowl are our favorites. If you are more a noodle fan, you can’t go wrong with the Mosa Pad Thai or Dan Dan Noodles.

However, if you are interested in trying something new, we recommend the Jiao Zhe Bowl. It is similar to Wonton Soup, plus vegetables and a kick – its own dipping sauce. But go easy on the dipping sauce, too much at once will light your mouth on fire!

We say Mosa is “A HIT” for consistency in service, price and quality!

If you have any other favorites, please feel free to let us know. We always love trying new dishes.