Even though we are pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country, Memphians love their seafood. And luckily for us, one of our local chefs has a love affair with oysters.
“I have always loved oysters, and I have always had a love for the concept of the oyster bar. Whether I’m in New Orleans, the coast of Carolina, Chesapeake Bay or Boston, it is my favorite place to post up at a restaurant,” says Sweet Grass chef and owner Ryan Trimm. “There is nothing like enjoying some incredible oysters, cold beers and cocktails.”
Thanks to Ryan’s passion for bivalves, local oyster fans can rejoice — there is a new oyster bar in town! To make room for the oysters, Ryan extended Sweet Grass’ existing bar to cover the entire north wall of the dining room. Doubling its size, the bar now seats 20 guests.
“I always wanted a neighborhood bistro and local watering hole. The oyster bar is a great way to add more of that element,” says Ryan. “It also gave us a chance to share something that I am so passionate about. I always want to give our guests what they want — it is a customer service business after all — but I think it is important to do that in a way that showcases our own interests in the kitchen.”
So what can you find on the new oyster bar menu? Raw oysters on the half-shell, of course, available by the half-dozen or dozen. “We get our oysters from all over the country, from Boston to Virginia to North Carolina to Florida to the Gulf and even the Northwest Coast. Most of our oysters are shipped overnight directly from the oyster farm due to our landlocked location, but some of our fishmongers bring them in as well,” says Ryan. “The most important thing is the freshness of our oysters, so more often we buy in smaller amounts.”
The raw bar also serves up two hot oyster options: A riff on a New Orleans favorite, Ryan’s chargrilled oysters are smothered in butter, garlic and grated Parmesan cheese. “Chargrilled oysters are always some of my favorite when I’m in New Orleans,” adds Ryan of the dish he expects to be the favorite on the oyster bar menu. The signature Sweet Grass baked oysters are not to be overlooked. With leek, cream, bacon and potato in the mix, the hot oysters are reminiscent of a Boston clam chowder. “A couple of years back, we started reducing our oyster stew recipe and pouring it onto half shell oysters,” says Ryan. “It’s another level of good. Smokey with cream and leeks and a hint of salt, it really makes a pretty good bite.”
After enjoying your oysters, stay for dinner. Sweet Grass has been a fixture in the Midtown dining scene since 2010. After a few years of culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, Ryan decided to marry his high school sweetheart and move back to Memphis. A few short years later, the opportunity to open a spot in Cooper-Young came calling. “With my experience working in Charleston and my love for classic Southern food, we decided to open a neighborhood bistro where you could frequent often for some good grub or a glass of wine,” says Ryan.
The chef’s love for the Eastern seaboard and its coastal fare made its way onto the menu at his first venture into the Memphis restaurant scene. Sweet Grass is known for its classic yet inventive lowcountry dishes. Crab deviled eggs, oyster stew, roasted redfish and Hoppin’ Johns are a few of the South Carolina-inspired plates you can find on the menu. Ryan’s shrimp and grits rival any you will find at Charleston’s most popular spots: perfectly sautéed shrimp in a sauce with smoky sausage, country ham and tomatoes, served over a bed of creamy grits from the local Hanna Farm.
“In the past couple of years, I have noticed a trend towards our guests wanting to order a lot of appetizers and shared plates for the whole table to share. We want to embrace this trend by evolving our menu to accommodate for more and more shared plates, and the oyster bar is just another example of that,” says Ryan.
Oysters, baked or raw, are perfect for sharing. So are most of the small plates that Ryan has on his menu — aptly renamed from “appetizers” to “snacks.” Southern cheese straws, crawfish and boudin fritters served with comeback sauce, and steamed mussels with chorizo are ideal to split. With a bite for every Southern palate, the picnic platter includes an assortment of treats perfect for a large group: freshly grilled bread and chips to pair with crab salad, green chili Andouille dip, ham salad and egg salad.
Turning the bar into an authentic oyster bar has helped make Ryan’s initial dream for his neighborhood bistro more of a reality. “We hope our customers feel like they can celebrate important memories with us, and also feel they can stop by for a cocktail or snack,” says Ryan.
Ryan’s passion for oysters and coastal cooking combined with his passion for providing locals with a comfy watering hole have helped Sweet Grass evolve into the popular spot it is today — a place where great food and camaraderie mingle … now with succulent briny bivalves added to the mix!
Sweet Grass is located at 937 South Cooper St., Memphis, TN 38104. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday, starting at 5 p.m. Happy Hour at the bar is Tuesday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., during which time Gulf oysters are just 50 cents each. Sunday brunch is served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the restaurant is closed on Mondays. To make a reservation, call (901) 278-0278 or visit sweetgrassmemphis.com.
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