A Thyme and a Season

Comfort food with a European influence delights diners at a new East Memphis bistro.

Duck breast pan seared and topped with braised red cabbage, apple bacon chutney, and apple cider gastrique.

I love the idea of frequenting my kind of neighborhood restaurant: locally owned, of course, with reasonably priced food and a relaxed atmosphere. I've imagined having this ideal place right around the corner every time I undertake a painfully long trek just to eat somewhere.

I think I found my new (nearby) destination, Thyme Bistro, chef-owner Rick Saviori's venture on Quince. A European theme permeates the menu's varied dishes, and fun riffs on comfort food abound. The emphasis on local produce and meat from small, reputable farms feels natural and unforced. (During dinner, we noticed right away that many of the ingredients being used were on sale at the market that very week, and slight seasonal changes seem to be the norm.)

On a recent Friday night, I stopped by Thyme Bistro for dinner and was seated at a tall corner table in an intimate room away from the bustling center of the restaurant. First, we each ordered a glass of Trapiche pinot noir and Cycles Gladiator cabernet sauvignon. Some inventive choices are on the restaurant's well-edited list; in addition, prices are shocking in a good way with wine by the glass starting at only $5, and bottles ranging from $19 to $33.

Soon, our appetizers arrived, and what easily could have been simple, one-note dishes won me over me in an instant. It's fun to see deviled eggs back in style, and the Spanish version that we ordered featured shrimp, slivers of roasted red pepper, and capers and olives for a welcome salty kick. The eggs were slightly chilled, which I liked, and they even made a believer out of my deviled-egg-averse dining partner. White bean hummus, another hit, was accompanied by warm pita bread and peppers.

Next, I have to mention that the salads at Thyme are standouts. They're varied, balanced, crisp, and creative. First, I tried the BLT Salad with a perfect buttermilk-pepper dressing. The Primavera was a healthy choice full of roasted summer vegetables and dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.

Entrées all came across as hearty and comforting on the menu, but once I heard our server's description of the fish of the day, redfish with orzo, grilled corn, pesto, and sherry vinaigrette, I had to try it. When it arrived, I marveled over the large portion of fish — two generous pieces — and the whirl of colors on the plate. The interesting addition of pesto complemented the smooth texture of the orzo and the flakiness of the expertly cooked fish.

The Saviori pizza was heavy on thyme — an underused herb that I really love. The pie was topped with sweet caramelized onions, smoky roasted garlic, spinach, mozzarella, pancetta, and marinara. We also ordered a side of mashed potatoes, and they didn't disappoint: light as could be with a spark of intriguing sourness and an unexpected depth of flavor.

Desserts were creative and unique. The seasonal fruit crisp with peaches and plums featured a sweet and nutty topping. The vanilla gelato that arrived with it, however, stole the show; flecked with vanilla and creamy as all-get-out, it was perfect by itself. I also enjoyed hearing about the Italian cream cake's origin, a treat that was often made by the chef's sister and enjoyed at family gatherings. Our buttercream-frosted piece was dotted with pecans and had a hint of coconut.

The atmosphere at Thyme Bistro on the Friday-night dinner was lively but not annoyingly loud, with people leaning over to introduce themselves to others and compare notes about the food and service. I liked the small touches in the room, such as the sprigs of thyme in tiny vases on the tables and the window-like paintings on the wall. Before I left, I walked onto the side patio and imagined myself on a late-fall evening surrounded by its flowing greenery and festival lights. Afterward, I rambled around the interior of the restaurant and attempted to look innocently lost instead of just very nosy. What I gathered during my surreptitious rounds is that many separate rooms and alcoves give Thyme Bistro a feeling of enclosure and privacy, and the earth tones on the walls glow soothingly at night.

Having lunch at Thyme Bistro struck me as very different from my dinner there; maybe that's because the light isn't as warm and moody, the crowd is quieter and a bit older, and service seemed attentive but sweetly inexperienced.

Our appetizers and salads arrived quickly. The bruschetta was crisp and redolent of good olive oil; it tasted salty — possibly due to the punch of a strong olive tapenade — but a small green salad with a sweet dressing in the middle of the dish nicely balanced the flavors.

As soon as I tried it, I could not stop thinking about my half-portion Thyme Salad. I knew I would want to come back again to order it, and figure out how to make it myself. The right notes were hit by creamy goat cheese, spicy pecans, acidic tomatoes, and a punchy apple cider vinaigrette, all atop crisp Bibb lettuce.

The sassy name of the Adult Grilled Cheese made me laugh, and, well, it was what it promised. Not many children could cope with bacon, Gruyere, smoked salmon, and apple on brioche, but my grown-up palate enjoyed the over-the-top aspect of this combination. We also sampled the frittata of the day and a pizza, but neither was that memorable. The Margherita pizza especially puzzled us; maybe it was the crust. It was airy and crunchy but lacked chewiness and char.

The chocolate hazelnut dessert had an excellent crumbly, buttery, cookie-like crust and a coating of dark chocolate ganache so shiny that it brought to mind a swatch of black patent leather. I knew that I probably should have been sharing it with three other people instead of just one, but I relished the richness and sophistication of the dessert and enjoyed the moment.

Thyme Bistro is definitely a place I'll look forward to visiting again; I like the use of local ingredients and the chef's knowing tweaks of traditional flavors. The atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed, and service is sweet; because of these things, it may just be my new neighborhood haunt.

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