Memphis has been abuzz for months about Lyfe Kitchen, watching the construction progress with much anticipation. A new restaurant on prime Poplar real estate that hits all the hip trend buttons was sure to cause a stir, and the anticipation has finally been rewarded now that Lyfe Kitchen is open. A small chain of fast-casual, healthy eating restaurants, Lyfe Kitchen started in California, and also has locations in Illinois and Texas. The company, which recently moved its headquarters to Memphis, has its local flagship location on Poplar, and they will soon open a location downtown in the former Chisca Hotel, now renovated as apartments and shops.
Everything about Lyfe Kitchen is right on-trend. Organic, healthy food; modern design; vegan and gluten-free options; a focus on sustainability, and locally sourced fruits and vegetables. The interior is unique, bright and fresh, with a room divider growing fresh herbs and a sizable outdoor seating area. Lounge in casual chairs at the front of the restaurant, or find a snazzy orange booth or sustainable bamboo table in the two adjacent rooms.
What to Drink & Eat?
First, a word about the beverage choices: there are no sodas or sugary drinks on the menu, and you will not miss them a bit. The flavored Lyfe Waters are delicious. Cucumber and mint, lightly sweetened with agave, is so refreshing that I had to pace myself to avoid drinking it in one giant gulp. Orange ginger chia has a subtle flavor, with just the right balance of citrus and ginger, with chia seeds for added nutrition. Lyfe also offers juices, smoothies, wine and local beers.
On to the food … the edamame hummus is well-balanced and creamy and served with a wide selection of dipping options, including pita chips, cucumber rounds and broccoli florets. Celebrity Chef Art Smith (once Oprah’s personal chef) is a Lyfe cofounder and executive chef for the chain. Art’s Unfried Chicken is a signature dish, and it is delicious! A thin chicken breast is lightly coated with whole-grain panko, Parmesan and spices. It’s perfectly crispy and tender, served with a lightly spiced cashew cream sauce and a generous portion of roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cranberries in a Dijon vinaigrette. I’ll be perfectly honest here, I don’t like Brussels sprouts, but I enjoyed this plate immensely, if that tells you anything. I’d love to see this chicken preparation in other dishes, as well, like sandwiches or wraps.
The Thai red curry bowl is not the most attractive dish on the menu, but looks aren’t everything in this case. This bowl is bursting with flavor, is not too spicy and comes packed with eggplant, broccoli, peppers and wheatberries in a coconut curry sauce, not at all heavy in the way curry dishes can be. Unfortunately, my side order of garlic and Parmesan sweet potato fries with chipotle aioli fell a little short—the aioli was very good and the fries well seasoned, but they were noticeably undercooked. I’m guessing that was a one-off at a busy time, and I will definitely give them a second try on my next visit.
After all this healthy food, I felt just fine ordering a dessert. I opted for the chocolate budino, which is a creamy dark chocolate pudding with a sweet-tart pomegranate and chia purée with the magical capability of making me feel indulged and virtuous at the same time.
Lyfe is still quite new, and the community’s curiosity abounds, so expect to wait in line, as well as for a table, until the newness subsides. As I mentioned, Lyfe Kitchen is a fast-casual place, meaning you order at the counter and have your food brought to the table. As such, the entire order is delivered at once, which is admittedly awkward. I ordered a starter, a main and a dessert, and with all coming out at the same time, I felt I should eat my hot main course first to enjoy it to the fullest. I followed it with the starter, which was originally intended to be shared with my dining companion as we both waited for our mains. Ah, well …
All in all, I think Memphis is lucky to have Lyfe Kitchen in town, and I know it will be a regular stop for me, though I may wait for the initial enthusiastic crowds to die down.
Lyfe Kitchen is located at 6201 Poplar Ave. Hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. To learn more, visit lyfekitchen.com or call (901) 684-5333.