Tag Archives: local dining

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!


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.

Arguably the Most Consistent Dish in Memphis…

…McEwen’s on Monroe’s Seabass.

The orange soy glaze & miso broth combined with the risotto usually results in a frantic mopping of the plate to ensure not a drop is missed. Every single time I go to this restaurant, I order this dish (hey, if ain’t broke, why fix it?), and every single time, I’m extremely happy with my choice.

If you haven’t tried this dish, I highly recommend booking a reservation ASAP. Or, go sit at the bar and enjoy with one of the amazing glasses of wine available.

What’s your go-to, consistent entrée in this fine metropolitan area?


Restaurants Embrace New Normal / via Memphis Daily News

Memphis Daily News reported yesterday that though Memphis restaurants are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, they are not rolling over so easily. They are simply learning to do more with less. Whether they are lowering prices or creating smaller portion menu items, local restauranteurs are being smart about their efforts in order to regain business that once was so abundant. Take a look at what some local chef/owners are doing to fill the seats and get you dining out again.

And, let us know how your habits have changed with the economy.

Restaurants Embrace New Normal

By FREDRIC KOEPPEL | Special to The Memphis News / January 4, 2010

LOOKING UP?: Jeff Dunham, chef and owner of The Grove Grill in the Laurelwood Shopping Center, is hopeful for business in 2010. — PHOTO BY BOB BAYNE

“For 2010, I’d like to see a 20 percent increase in revenue,” said Jeff Dunham, owner and chef at the popular Grove Grill in East Memphis.

For Dunham, that goal might be attainable, but for many others, a rough 2009 has carried into the New Year.

From September 2008 through September 2009, the restaurant industry in America suffered one of its most intense downturns since the late 1980s.

Yet as much as the economic recession brought major banks to their knees and hurt the country’s dining-out segment, this dismal period appears to be the culmination of a steady decline in the public’s interest in eating out at every price level and style of cuisine.

Where bread is buttered

Over the past five years, the percentage of lunches and dinners eaten away from home declined from 53 percent to 45 percent, according to a report released in December by The NPD Group, a marketing research company in Port Washington, N.Y. Traffic for such ubiquitous national chain restaurants as Chili’s fell for 21 consecutive quarters.

The Current Situation Index, part of the Restaurant Performance Index issued by the National Restaurant Association, has registered below 100 for two years, indicating a contraction in business activity. It stands right now at 96.

Will the situation improve in 2010?

“I think we can go into 2010 with optimism tempered by a sense of reality,” said Mike Miller, owner of Patrick’s Steak & Spirits on Park Avenue and president of the Memphis Restaurant Association. “Coming from the end of 2008, when the economic situation started to get bad, and into 2009, it was a tough year. But everything I’m hearing for the last four to six months sounds better in every price range, from burgers and family restaurants to fine dining. From a pure business standpoint, we have a little momentum.”

Karen Carrier’s optimism is tempered.

“January is going to be really bad,” said Carrier, owner of Do Sushi, the Beauty Shop Restaurant and Lounge, Mollie Fontaine Lounge and the catering company Another Roadside Attraction.

“By the beginning of 2009, things fell apart,” she said, “and 2010 may still be a little rough. I don’t think things will start to ease up until the summer,” an assessment that agrees with The NPD Group’s report, which estimates the restaurant industry “will remain weak, at least through the first half of 2010.”

“First, I think the days of $28 to $32 entrees in this town are over, except for very special occasions,” Carrier said. “Second, your waiters represent the restaurant, and they can’t be rude or pretentious or argumentative. You can’t act like a celebrity, either in the kitchen or the dining room. The customers pay us, not the other way around. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make them happy.”

A strategy Dunham uses at Grove Grill is the “small plate” concept, in which a dish is more generous than an appetizer but smaller than a main course.

“We introduced this in September, and it’s done very well,” Dunham said. “The concept offers a great opportunity for customers to spend less and to eat less.”

The point, said Dunham – and this includes good-quality wines at lower prices – “is not to cut staff or reduce service at any level, but to make things as affordable as possible for the customer.”

He cited the difficulty independent restaurants have in competing with chains: “They have money to put into marketing that we just don’t have. We rely on word-of-mouth and reputation.”

Still, Dunham said, “barring the other shoe dropping, I don’t see why the circumstances won’t get better sometime next year.”

‘Open to change’

The latter months of 2009 saw several surprise local restaurant closings, primarily Jose Gutierrez’ Encore in Peabody Place, which folded in September and, just before Christmas, the closing of the long-running Jarrett’s, owned by Rick and Barbara Farmer.

Then, just last week, The Kitchen on West Brookhaven Circle closed after being open since April. It had replaced Caspian, a Persian restaurant that lasted a couple of years.

Angie Kirkpatrick, who talked to The Memphis News a week before closing The Kitchen, seemed optimistic at the time, but did express frustration.

“We’re affordable. The menu doesn’t break the bank,” she said. “But it hasn’t turned out as I expected; it’s much harder.”

After a hiatus of more than a decade before launching The Kitchen, Kirkpatrick worked as manager of The Half-Shell during the 1990s, owned Maxwell’s and In Limbo, in Cooper-Young, and Ithaca in the Holiday Inn Select at Union Avenue and Second Street.

“I’ve never been in a situation that was so unpredictable,” she said.

What seems to be predictable is the restaurant industry, which, despite how society idealizes its sybaritic qualities and prestige at some levels, is, after all, a consumer product business. It’s affected by not only economic factors, but cultural and social influences.

Nationally, the rate of personal savings is slowly rising – from 2.8 percent in August to 3.3 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis – meaning Americans are more reluctant to spend money during a recession that’s not over yet.

“Restaurants have to be accountable,” said Carrier. “They have to keep the doors open to change.”