Restaurants come and go, but there are some we wish had never closed. Memphis may not have always had as many wonderful restaurants as we do today, but the Bluff City has a long history of notable dining establishments. Here are nine of our favorites that we wish were still open. We are feeling a bit nostalgic about this list … and we bet you will too!
9 Beloved Iconic Memphis Restaurants We Miss
Justine’s first opened its doors in 1958. For the next 37 years, this Memphis institution was the premier fine dining restaurant in town. Owner Justine Smith served French cuisine with a New Orleans twist in a Victorian mansion at 919 Coward Place that had just as much character as the food. When talking about Justine’s, patrons recall the distinctive exterior — a light pink stucco house — as well as the charming and intimate dining rooms inside. While the restaurant was well known for its steaks and seafood, Justine’s iconic dish was an appetizer called Crabmeat Justine. Fresh lump crabmeat was lightly sautéed with butter and sherry and then topped with a creamy hollandaise sauce. Just before serving, the dish was popped under a broiler to make it slightly browned and bubbly. The restaurant closed in 1996.
The Grisanti name is synonymous with Italian food in Memphis. Since 1909, members of the Grisanti family have been serving their Northern Italian fare at various restaurants across town. In 1962, John Grisanti opened Grisanti’s Restaurant at 1489 Airways Blvd. Known as “Big John,” John Grisanti had a larger-than-life personality, and his restaurant quickly became a Memphis landmark. His meat sauce was considered the best in town. A wine connoisseur, he became famous in the late 1970s for spending the most amount of money on a single bottle of wine. The purchase landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records! Today, the site of his beloved restaurant is now a Walgreens.
Since its opening in 1956, Anderton’s East was the place to go for oysters and steaks. Opened by Herbert Anderton and later run by his son, this midtown institution was also known for its distinctive seafoam green color scheme and kitschy nautical decor. It was the second restaurant by Herbert – Anderton’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar originally opened downtown in 1945 at 151 Madison and closed 30 years later in 1975. “Mr. Anderton was a close friend of my father, so we ate there a lot,” says Nick Vergos, partner of Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous. “It was one of the few oyster bars in town. They only served Bon Secour oysters from Mobile Bay. At the time, they were considered the best.” Nick also loved to get the lobster dainties that the restaurant was famous for. “They also served the best prime filet in town,” he adds. Anderton’s East closed its doors in 2005, and the iconic building has since been torn down.
Gene and Juliana Bjorklund opened Aubergine in 1993 in a tiny spot on the first floor of a building on Black Road in East Memphis. Having trained in Europe, Gene created a menu that had a French flair. Juliana was a thoughtful host and ran the dining room with graciousness and attention to detail. Dishes such as osso bucco and mushroom pasta were customer favorites for dinner. For lunch, the crowd favorite was the lobster and white bean salad. Every dish was a beautiful work of art — and delicious. “I loved anything he did with asparagus,” Juliana reminisces. And you always had to save room for his pyramid chocolate cake. He was one of the first in town to serve a chocolate cake with a molten center. Aubergine closed in 2002, and the space is now the home of Mi Pueblo.
Located in Erin Way Shopping Center, Lulu Grille was a beloved neighborhood restaurant from the day it opened in 1991. Run by Don and Leigh McLean, this friendly café served up delicious American fare made by Chef Scott Delarme. “To me, Lulu Grille was the ultimate ladies lunch venue. I recall the intimate atmosphere. It was the perfect place to meet a friend or business colleague for a satisfying meal,” reminisces Valerie Calhoun, the anchor of “Good Morning Memphis” at FOX13, WHBQ. Lulu Grille’s house-smoked salmon with all the accoutrements was one of the best appetizers in town. And you always had to save room for dessert! Even though it’s been closed since 2008, Lulu Grille’s coconut cake remains the measure for all other coconut cakes in town. The site of Lulu Grille is now home to another beloved neighborhood restaurant — Ciao Bella Italian Grill.
Mantia’s International Market
When Alyce Mantia originally opened Mantia’s in March of 1996, it was meant to be a spot where adventurous epicures could get those hard-to-find ingredients. Quickly the café part of her business grew in popularity, and her beloved little East Memphis market also became a bustling eatery. True to her original concept, Alyce carried ingredients such as sauces, dried goods and desserts from around the world. What we miss most is her cheese case. When she opened, Mantia’s was the only place in town to find artisan cheeses from around the world. Alyce was knowledgeable about her offerings and could help you find the perfect cheese for any occasion. Alyce also taught classes in the back corner of the market, one of the most popular being the “There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Garlic” class. Mantia’s closed in 2009.
Rick and Barbara Farmer opened Jarrett’s in 1994. Located on Quince Road in the Yorkshire Square Shopping Center, this East Memphis bistro quickly became a favorite dining spot in town. Rick ran the kitchen, and Barbara was in charge of the dining room. “I still dream of Jarrett’s horseradish-encrusted grouper. It was the dish I ordered every time,” says Valerie Calhoun, the anchor of “Good Morning Memphis” at FOX13, WHBQ. “It was mouthwatering!” We fondly remember the mussels with black bean sauce, smoked trout ravioli, the pecan-barbecue rack of lamb and many other delicious meals. The restaurant closed in 2010. Rick is now the Executive Chef at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Jim’s Place East
The original Jim’s Place was founded in 1921 by Nick Taras and Jim Katsoudes in the basement of the William Len Hotel in downtown Memphis. After a few location changes, Jim’s Place moved east and opened on Shelby Oaks Drive in 1976 as Jim’s Place East. Located in a farmhouse that belonged to the Taras family, Jim’s Place East was a charming restaurant that quickly became popular for special occasions. The menu was a blend of American fare with Greek dishes from the owners’ families thrown in. “The roasted pork tenderloin souflima was one of my favorite dishes,” says Nick Vergos, partner of Charlie Vergos’ Rendezous. “The rice with the tomato sauce had a delicious flavor you could get nowhere else.” The Shelby Oaks location closed in 2010 and moved to a new location at 518 Perkins Ext., which sadly closed in 2017. The Taras family still operates a restaurant in Collierville called Jim’s Place Grille.
The Elegant Farmer opened its doors in March of 2011 in the small space behind Wellford’s Antiques on Highland. Proprietor Mac Edwards served upscale Southern farm-to-fork fare in this charming small dining room. Dishes like old-fashioned salmon patties, pan-seared Mississippi catfish and his mushroom báhn mì quickly became Memphis favorites and attracted national attention from folks like Guy Fieri of “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.” In 2014, Mac changed the name to The Farmer due to a trademark issue. In 2016, he moved The Farmer to a larger space in Chickasaw Oaks Mall and opened a second restaurant, Brooks Pharm2Fork in Collierville. Sadly for Memphians, 2017 marked the close of both of Mac’s restaurants. I don’t think we are alone in hoping he will once again open another.
It makes our mouths water and our eyes all teary!
Many thanks to historic-memphis.com for use of their photos. “The Historic-Memphis website is an all-volunteer, non-commercial, totally nonprofit, strictly labor-of-love website,” says Gene Gill, webmaster of Historic-Memphis. “We hope visitors will appreciate discovering the early history of Memphis as much as we have enjoyed discovering it.”
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