Very quietly and without a lot of fanfare, the definition of dining has changed over the last few years in Memphis.
While barbecue will always be to Memphis what a good deli is to New York City, there's suddenly so much more when it comes to eating out here. Inventive chefs and their excellent eateries have popped up all over town, from Wally Joe's Acre in East Memphis to Itta Bena above B.B. King's on Beale Street.
But Midtown is where you'll find the biggest changes in Memphis dining. Kelly English opened Restaurant Iris in a small house near Overton Square and quickly began stacking up awards. In 2012, he scored as regional winner of the prestigious COCHON555 competition, winning him a spot at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival. English has also earned the Memphis Restaurant Association’s “Restaurateur of the Year” award and was named a James Beard Award Semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2012.
Further south in Midtown's Cooper-Young neighborhood, chef Ryan Trimm opened Sweet Grass with a focus on Low Country cooking. He was nominated as one of the 2011 'People's Best New Chef' by Food & Wine magazine. Trimm followed up the mind-boggling success of Sweet Grass by opening Next Door, a more casual eatery and bar right next door to Sweet Grass. Trimm is now expanding to East Memphis, where his new Southward will open in summer 2013, much to the delight of further flung Sweet Grass fans.
Next Door, Ryan Trimm's more casual follow-up to Sweet Grass. Both restaurants are in the Cooper-Young section of Midtown. — Photo courtesy of Memphis CVB
In early 2012, across Cooper from Trimm's establishments, Alchemy opened its doors. Opening up and marrying the cavernous space of two former restaurants in that space, Alchemy opened to rave reviews for its design, which features a big, U-shaped bar in the center of the restaurant. The result is a lively dining scene in which the bar serves as the entertainment for diners, yet doesn't compete with the food - a great selection of small plates with an international focus. Also in CY, Karen Carrier, who can pretty much be credited with starting the resurgence of the local dining scene in Memphis when she opened the Beauty Shop, has opened Bar DKDC, a small Mexican lounge and restaurant.