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!
• 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.[image-1]
CurrentsTake 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.[image-2]
El PortonSouth 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[image-3]
CircaPlenty 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[image-4]
CENTRAL BBQRubbing 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.[image-5]
High Point CoffeeA 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.[image-6]
Restaurant IrisBlossoming 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 MexicanGold:El Porton Silver: Los Compadres Bronze (tie): The Happy Mexican, El Mezcal
Best ItalianGold: Ronnie Grisanti's Silver: Pete & Sam's Bronze: Bari
Best ChineseGold: Wang's Mandarin House Silver: A-Tan Bronze: P.F. Chang's
Best JapaneseGold: Sekisui Silver (tie): Do, Sakura Bronze: Bluefin
Best IndianGold: India Palace Silver: Mayuri Bronze: Golden India
Best VietnameseGold: Saigon Le Silver: Pho Saigon Bronze: Lotus
Best ThaiGold: Bhan Thai Silver: Bangkok Alley Bronze: Sawaddii
Best Home CookingGold: The Cupboard Silver: Blue Plate Cafe Bronze: The Little Tea Shop
Best French/ContinentalGold: Currents Silver (tie): Paulette's, Restaurant Iris Bronze: Circa
Best BurgerGold: Huey's Silver: The Belmont Grill Bronze: Tugs
Best SteakGold: Folk's Folly Silver: Ruth's Chris Bronze: Fleming's
Best SeafoodGold: Tsunami Silver: Bluefish Bronze: The Half Shell
Best OystersGold: The Half Shell Silver: Pearl's Oyster House Bronze: Bluefish
Best Barbecue SandwichGold: Central BBQ Silver: Corky's Bronze: The B-B-Q Shop
Best RibsGold: The Rendezvous Silver: Corky's Bronze: Central BBQ
Best ServiceGold: Restaurant Iris Silver: Huey's Bronze: Circa
Best People WatchingGold: Spindini Silver: The Flying Saucer Bronze: The Peabody Lobby Bar
Best AtmosphereGold: Circa Silver: Restaurant Iris Bronze: Currents
Best SaladsGold: 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 FriesGold: Huey's Silver: Young Avenue Deli Bronze: Houston's
Best Fried ChickenGold: 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 DiningGold: Boscos Silver: Cafe Olé Bronze: The Majestic Grille
Best BrunchGold: Owen Brennan's Silver: Boscos Gold (tie): The Peabody, Restaurant Iris
Best BreakfastGold: Brother Juniper's Silver: The Blue Plate Cafe Bronze: The Arcade Restaurant
Best DeliGold: Bogie's Deli Silver: Fino's From the Hill Bronze: Lenny's Sub Shop
Best DessertsGold: Paulette's Silver: Sweet Desserterie Bronze: The Cheesecake Corner
Best CoffeeGold: High Point Coffee Silver: Otherlands Bronze: Cafe Eclectic
Best Place for a Business DinnerGold: Folk's Folly Readers Choice Awards Circa, Fleming's, Napa Cafe
Most Romantic RestaurantGold: Restaurant Iris Silver (tie): Folk's Folly, Paulette's Bronze (tie): Chez Phillippe, Currents
Restaurant We Miss the MostGold: Justine's Silver: Anderton's Bronze: Lulu Grille
Best WingsGold: D'Bo's Silver: Central BBQ Bronze: Buffalo Wild Wings
Hippest BarGold: Spindini Silver: Mollie Fontaine Lounge Bronze: The Cove
Best Dive BarGold: Ernestine & Hazels Silver: Alexs Bronze: The P&H Cafe
Best MartinisGold: Side Street Grill Silver: Circa Bronze: Sweet Desserterie
Best Bloody MarysGold (tie): The Bayou Bar & Grill, Owen Brennans Silver (tie): Boscos, The Majestic Grille No single establishment received enough votes to earn a Bronze award.
Best MargaritasGold: Cafe Olé Silver: Mollys La Casita Bronze: El Porton
Best Wine ListGold: Circa Readers Choice Awards Flemings, Folks Folly, Restaurant Iris, Napa Cafe
Best Beer SelectionGold: The Flying Saucer Silver: Boscos Bronze: Young Avenue Deli
Best Happy HourGold: The Flying Saucer Silver: Chilis Bronze: Bardog
Best Place to Watch the GameGold: Fox & Hound Silver: Buffalo Wild Wings Bronze: Tugs