Memphis Chef Readies Cooper-Young Location for New Italian Restaurant

Chef Josh Steiner with a just-unwrapped vintage map of Italy for his new restaurant.

A young Memphis chef with Sicilian roots is bringing a new Italian restaurant named Strano to the corner of Cooper and Young.

Chef Josh Steiner hopes to open the restaurant by June 1, following renovations of the space formerly occupied by Cortona. His menu will feature Sicilian cooking, which is an Italian amalgam of Arab, Greek, Spanish, and North African cuisines.

“Sicily is close to Africa, so it’s influenced by the Mediterranean and lighter than other Italian cooking,” Steiner said. “We use lots of fruit and ingredients like couscous and shaved fennel.”

A recent graduate of L’Ecole Culinaire in Cordova, Steiner spent a year-long externship at Karen Carrier’s The Beauty Shop and visited Sicily to study with home cooks. Strano’s ambience and menu plays off his Sicilian travels and heritage.

“Look for new-style cooking with old-school flavors,” he said. “It’s going to be great.”

An Italian word for “strange,” Strano is a light-hearted nod to the location’s somewhat tumultuous history, a trend Steiner plans to change with fresh produce from his garden in Germantown and family recipes from his Sicilian grandmother. “These recipes have been in our family for years,” he said, listing sauces, salads, lasagna, spinach pie, and arancine, fried saffron rice balls stuffed with peas, meat or cheese.

A peek at Steiner’s still-evolving menu promises an ambitious mix of small plates (artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic, rosemary, and lemon zest); salads (blood oranges tossed with raisins, onions, fennel, toasted pine nuts and olive oil), and hand-thrown pizzas (house-made caponata with mozzarella and prosciutto). More substantive dishes look equally appealing, including beef tenderloin, wood-grilled swordfish, and slow-roasted lamb with herbs and couscous.

Steiner plans to keep entrees in the $18 to $25 price range. “We want our customers to come here and eat twice a week,” he said. “But we also want them to think of Strano as something special.”

Already, the restaurant’s renovation is well underway. Look for walls painted a pretty fern green, sealed concrete floors, and rustic adornments, such as a 7-foot gilded mirror for the bar, which will serve wine, cocktails, and eight local beers on tap.

Strano, 948 S. Cooper St. Opening about June 1.

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