The Best of 2009




Maybe it's because it was an election year and you guys were used to voting, but you came in droves to vote in this year's Readers Restaurant Poll. Well, cyberdroves, that is. This year was our first to post the "best of" ballots online only, and we were a bit worried about our pals who prefer the old paper-and-pen method.

We needn't have.

The number of voters we had this year was nearly triple that of years past (we knew this "Internet" thing would catch on). And yes, we still had all the checkpoints — one vote per person — in play. In fact, it's easier to spot "stuffers" on the 'Net.

Congrats to the winners. We're pleased to see that voters are supporting locally owned businesses in a time when they (and we) need it most.

Congratulations to the winners, and bon appetit!

Rules

• To take the gold, winners had to receive at least 10 percent of the total votes cast.

• Silver and bronze winners had to draw at least 5 percent of the total votes.

• Readers Choice Awards were given to establishments that drew the most votes but failed to meet the percentage requirements.

• We called it a tie if the results were within two votes.

• Ballots had to be at least 50 percent complete to be counted, and only one ballot per computer IP address allowed.

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Currents

Take me to the river

Harbor Town has always been a model — literally at times — for smart growth and creative development. But with a small grocery and café and a pizza joint, the island oasis lacked a true restaurant. It got its due in October when Currents, the restaurant accompanying the boutique hotel the River Inn, opened on the island. Residents had high hopes, and they haven't been disappointed. Under the watchful eye of executive chef David Schrier, Currents has satisfied the high expectations of an eatery located on some of the city's most coveted real estate. This chef knows how to treat a choice cut of meat, whether a New York strip, braised pork belly, or a double rib lamb rack. Crab cakes — far more crab than cake — are also a standout, as are the homemade rolls. Skip Schrier's lavender honey crème brulee and you're doing yourself a great disservice, trust us.

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El Porton

South of the Border Simplicity

It seems that Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants pop up overnight these days, and plenty offer amazing, authentic dishes. But when it comes to your favorite place to dip a chip, El Porton is the clear favorite. Anchoring the Poplar Plaza shopping center for years, the original location garnered enough of a fan base to edge its way east, and now boasts five locations. The basket of salty, warm chips and spicy salsa greet diners almost instantly, and it's nearly impossible to shy away from the gooey white cheese dip to make the starter complete. Order a sizzling pan of fajitas and dive in, or stick with the basics — quesadillas, burritos, and enchiladas — all of which are served in more-than-generous portions. You won't leave hungry, and if you choose to partake in the restaurant's famous margaritas, you might just leave a little bit happier

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Circa

Plenty to Bragg About

Maybe it's Circa's "Wall of Wine," or the regional/Continental cuisine with French accents created by chef and owner John Bragg, or maybe it's just the consistently fine fare and service. Maybe it's a gumbo of all of these, but whatever it is, it's working. Many new restaurants have tried to make it in the downtown dining scene and fallen short, but Bragg seems to have his finger on the pulse of what makes diners happy — and coming back for more. The restaurant has a hip, edgy vibe without coming off cold or industrial — not an easy combo to reconcile — and a menu that is as creative as it is constantly evolving. Bragg knows when to keep things simple (crawfish beignets served with a spicy remoulade or the earthy wild mushroom risotto), and when to add his own flair to an otherwise pedestrian dish (sorghum cured rack of lamb with sweet potato shitake flan and cranberry rosemary jus). The menu's suggested wines for each dish take the worry out of pairing, and the desserts, well, they're worth every minute on the treadmill the next day

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CENTRAL BBQ

Rubbing us The Right Way

Here in the Bluff City, the rib business is as competitive as it gets. So it was with a raised eyebrow we welcomed newcomer Central BBQ to the grilling fields. We needn't have worried. Memphians' insatiable appetite for all things 'cued had room for one more purveyor of pork, and Central BBQ impressed from the beginning. Wet and dry ribs, four types of sauces, chopped sandwiches, chicken, wings, heck, even their signature barbecued potato chips had mouths watering from the minute the doors opened. The original location — on Central Avenue — has one of the best patios in town and the service is always spectacular. Now boasting two locations, the new guys can add "Best Barbecue Sandwich" to their resume. In this town, that's really saying something.

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High Point Coffee

A Break From The Daily Grind

Does anything taste better than that first sip of freshly brewed gourmet coffee first thing in the morning? How about the steaming, foam-topped latte cup warming your chilly winter hands? For local coffee lovers, High Point Coffee is the destination of choice. From creamy cappuccinos to chocolate concoctions with a caffeine kick to a simple cup of joe, High Point has you covered. With two locations — one in Midtown and one in East Memphis — the locally owned and operated coffeehouse has conquered the über-competetive coffee market with its cozy atmosphere, friendly staff, and of course, the free WiFi. Whether you choose to kick back with your laptop or a good book or grab-and-go, a trip to this bean-laden nirvana just might be, well, the high point of your day.

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Restaurant Iris

Blossoming Into its Own

When we heard that perennial French/Continental Memphis institution La Tourelle was closing its doors, many a foodie's heart broke. What could possibly take the place of the little Midtown house-turned-hometown favorite? We got our answer in April, when Louisiana native Kelly English opened the doors of Iris. The Queen Anne's interior has been simplified, and its warm, chocolate-hued interior and simple art belie the complexity and elegance of the carefully crafted menu. A believer in the "shop local" school of thought, English highlights what's grown in the region seasonally, and as a result, the menu changes often. But if you're lucky, you'll get to sample the Gulf Jack, an amberjack steak served with red, ripe tomatoes and Creole-seasoned shrimp. The real showstopper here is the broth, a mixture of coconut milk, lime, and African spices, created at the table with a French press. One of our favorite aspects of Iris, in addition to English's flair for Cajun-inspired classics, is the wine list— an eclectic collection of little-known wines from little-known places. Thankfully, the servers are happy to guide you through unfamiliar territory, even offering tastes of the exotic vino with the enthusiasm of a school kid with an ace-in-the-hole on show-and-tell day. Casually elegant, bold and inspired, Restaurant Iris has succeeded where anything less would surely fail.

Best Mexican

Gold:El Porton Silver: Los Compadres Bronze (tie): The Happy Mexican, El Mezcal

Best Italian

Gold: Ronnie Grisanti's Silver: Pete & Sam's Bronze: Bari

Best Chinese

Gold: Wang's Mandarin House Silver: A-Tan Bronze: P.F. Chang's

Best Japanese

Gold: Sekisui Silver (tie): Do, Sakura Bronze: Bluefin

Best Indian

Gold: India Palace Silver: Mayuri Bronze: Golden India

Best Vietnamese

Gold: Saigon Le Silver: Pho Saigon Bronze: Lotus

Best Thai

Gold: Bhan Thai Silver: Bangkok Alley Bronze: Sawaddii

Best Home Cooking

Gold: The Cupboard Silver: Blue Plate Cafe Bronze: The Little Tea Shop

Best French/Continental

Gold: Currents Silver (tie): Paulette's, Restaurant Iris Bronze: Circa

Best Burger

Gold: Huey's Silver: The Belmont Grill Bronze: Tugs

Best Steak

Gold: Folk's Folly Silver: Ruth's Chris Bronze: Fleming's

Best Seafood

Gold: Tsunami Silver: Bluefish Bronze: The Half Shell

Best Oysters

Gold: The Half Shell Silver: Pearl's Oyster House Bronze: Bluefish

Best Barbecue Sandwich

Gold: Central BBQ Silver: Corky's Bronze: The B-B-Q Shop

Best Ribs

Gold: The Rendezvous Silver: Corky's Bronze: Central BBQ

Best Service

Gold: Restaurant Iris Silver: Huey's Bronze: Circa

Best People Watching

Gold: Spindini Silver: The Flying Saucer Bronze: The Peabody Lobby Bar

Best Atmosphere

Gold: Circa Silver: Restaurant Iris Bronze: Currents

Best Salads

Gold: Houston's

Readers Choice Awards:

Napa Cafe, The Majestic Grille, Boscos, Cafe Piazza

Best Late Night Dining (after 10 p.m.)

Gold: Huey's Silver: The Belmont Grill Bronze: The Half Shell

Best Fries

Gold: Huey's Silver: Young Avenue Deli Bronze: Houston's

Best Fried Chicken

Gold: Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken Gus's swept this category, plain and simple. You guys love your Gus's, and so do we.

Best Outdoor Dining

Gold: Boscos Silver: Cafe Olé Bronze: The Majestic Grille

Best Brunch

Gold: Owen Brennan's Silver: Boscos Gold (tie): The Peabody, Restaurant Iris

Best Breakfast

Gold: Brother Juniper's Silver: The Blue Plate Cafe Bronze: The Arcade Restaurant

Best Deli

Gold: Bogie's Deli Silver: Fino's From the Hill Bronze: Lenny's Sub Shop

Best Desserts

Gold: Paulette's Silver: Sweet Desserterie Bronze: The Cheesecake Corner

Best Coffee

Gold: High Point Coffee Silver: Otherlands Bronze: Cafe Eclectic

Best Place for a Business Dinner

Gold: Folk's Folly Readers Choice Awards

Circa, Fleming's, Napa Cafe

Most Romantic Restaurant

Gold: Restaurant Iris Silver (tie): Folk's Folly, Paulette's Bronze (tie): Chez Phillippe, Currents

Restaurant We Miss the Most

Gold: Justine's Silver: Anderton's Bronze: Lulu Grille

Best Wings

Gold: D'Bo's Silver: Central BBQ Bronze: Buffalo Wild Wings

Hippest Bar

Gold: Spindini Silver: Mollie Fontaine Lounge Bronze: The Cove

Best Dive Bar

Gold: Ernestine & Hazel’s Silver: Alex’s Bronze: The P&H Cafe

Best Martinis

Gold: Side Street Grill Silver: Circa Bronze: Sweet Desserterie

Best Bloody Marys

Gold (tie): The Bayou Bar & Grill, Owen Brennan’s Silver (tie): Boscos, The Majestic Grille

No single establishment received enough votes to earn a Bronze award.

Best Margaritas

Gold: Cafe Olé Silver: Molly’s La Casita Bronze: El Porton

Best Wine List

Gold: Circa Readers Choice Awards

Fleming’s, Folk’s Folly, Restaurant Iris, Napa Cafe

Best Beer Selection

Gold: The Flying Saucer Silver: Boscos Bronze: Young Avenue Deli

Best Happy Hour

Gold: The Flying Saucer Silver: Chili’s Bronze: Bardog

Best Place to Watch the Game

Gold: Fox & Hound Silver: Buffalo Wild Wings Bronze: Tug’s