Ed. Note: I just read that The Kitchen is closed. We only just discovered it!
Welcome our new guest blogger, Gary Bridgman! Gary is a Vollintine-Evergreen resident, former fine-dining headwaiter, bartender and limo driver. He is the dad of a six-year-old monkey and has co-authored Lonely Planet's Louisiana & the Deep South as well as having food and travel articles published in Utne Reader, Nightclub & Bar magazine, Restaurant Marketing, Memphis Flyer, Oxford Town, and Fodor's Tennessee. Look out!
The Kitchen on Brookhaven
715 W. Brookhaven Circle
My two goals for this past Black Friday: One: don’t go shopping. Two: find an impressive restaurant for a very early (5 p.m.) dinner that’s both reasonably kid-friendly and located close to the Malco Paradiso in East Memphis. My wife’s (Melissa) aunt and uncle were in town, from Nashville, for Thanksgiving ant they wanted to return our hospitality by taking us (including our own “monkey,” age 6) out to see a matinee of Fantastic Mr. Fox and then on to dinner somewhere. I had never heard of “The Kitchen at Brookhaven” before that afternoon, but that became our selection after a bit of Web research. (Note: I had no idea that I would be writing this review until a couple of days later.)
Risk factor: We chose it over our visiting host’s stated preference. Melissa’s Uncle Bruce was blown away by the Beauty Shop the last time he was in town, and hinted that he’d like to take us there again. He’s a pretty suave Chicago native who loves good food and interesting restaurants, and he’s always taking us to out-of-the-way Nashville spots when we visit. There’s no way he’s going to enter a chain restaurant in Memphis on my watch, so I am honor-bound to steer him to something authentic, local, unique or all of the above.
His initial suggestion, returning to Beauty Shop, had problems. One, I didn’t want to repeat on him. Two, Cooper-Young was way out of their way. Three, we were going to be ready to eat right a 5 o’clock. Hell, some of the service staff at Beauty Shop are probably still asleep at that hour! Our prior visit to Beauty Shop had been 5 p.m. on a Saturday, and we were not only the first table of the evening, we actually finished dinner and left before the second table of the evening was even seated! That was mildly awkward on different levels.
So, looking for alternatives, I consulted an online restaurant finder (not the CA’s, which can’t really search by neighborhood) for options near that theater (Poplar/White Station). Fondly remembering the late Chef Raji Jallepalli-Reiss’ original Indo-European fusion restaurant, which was around the corner on Brookhaven Circle in the 1990s, I paused over the choices on that former residential drive. When I read that the new “Kitchen” had low-priced continental cuisine and a children’s menu, I had to try it.
-Our dining experience-
The Kitchen stays open throughout the afternoon, so our party of six wouldn’t be catching the staff flat-footed when we arrived just before 5 o’clock. The servers were prepared and cheerful, even when the wind-chilled ladies in our party ordered hot tea -- a scourge to some hardboiled dinner waiters, who can open and serve an expensive bottle of wine and smoke half a cigarette with the dishwasher faster than they can muster all the crockery and condiments for tea service, an item that will net them 30 cents in tip revenue.
The dining room looks dark, but that's a neat interior design trick, as the tables are well lit. The attractive, natural-finish wooden tables and chairs take the pressure off parents for drink and sauce spillage. Unlike some of the restaurants I’ve worked in, the Kitchen didn’t pack the dining room with too many tables, so parents who insist on stylin’ the scene with their $900 Stokke or Bugaboo strollers will only cause minor bottlenecks. The restrooms passed muster on cleanliness and fixtures being in working order.
The only downside to the dining room is that its surfaces don’t absorb sound very effectively, despite the acoustical panels on the ceiling. There were two other parties of six near us, and it was often impossible to hear what anyone was saying two seats away even though I was hearing plenty of details from conversations at the other table.
The food was an across-the-board hit with everyone, including the boy, who selected chicken tenders from the $5 kids’ menu. We got them to substitute his French fries with broccoli (which is a side item on the main menu). The breading on the tenders had a faint Asian spice whiff, but not enough to raise a kid’s ick factor. He chose the chicken over “deconstructed” chicken pot pie, shepherds pie and pasta. The kids’ meal comes with a soft drink and one of those little institutional plastic tubs of ice cream.
The rest of us ordered items from all over the menu as our entrees: A Portobello burger with balsamic dressing ($8), shrimp cake appetizers with roastd red peppers ($8), a wonderful sautéed goat cheese salad straight out of the Wolfgang Puck playbook ($9), a classic eggplant parma ($11) that Uncle Bruce really enjoyed –- score! -- and my wonderful “boxty of the day” ($12) plus a small dinner salad for a modest $2 upcharge. The boxty (a Gaelic derivation) is a griddled potato pancake stuffed with different fillings. That night’s boxty was chicken with a cream sauce, forming what could well be the ultimate comfort-food dish.
We will return, as the restaurant kept its promise of well prepared European comfort food on a budget.
Epilog: Uncle Bruce admired my reasoning in selecting The Kitchen and he enjoyed the food and service, as did his wife and the rest of us. But as we stood between our cars in the parking lot, he said he’d still like to return to the Beauty Shop the next time. At that point I confessed how awkward I felt the last time when we were the only table there, and that I wanted him to experience the scene there when it’s busy. He grinned and explained that he just loved the food and the décor and that having such a cool restaurant all to himself (without the noise) was part of the charm.
“Like Elvis used to do or a Mafia don?” I asked, and he gave his “there you go” gesture. So Bruce's next meal in Memphis will be at Beauty Shop, but my next meal in East Memphis will probably be at The Kitchen.