Justin Fox Burks
The cheese plate at Ecco on Overton Park is a pretty dish served with crusty bread, seasonal berries, and broccoli rabe.
The best compliment I can pay a restaurant is to try to duplicate a dish in my own kitchen, which is how I spent a Sunday after tasting the orange-glazed Berkshire pork chop at Ecco on Overton Park. Succulent and manly, the three-inch chop hugs white-wine risotto on one side and apple-onion chutney on the other, turning each satisfying forkful into a trio of memorable flavors.
Created by Chef Armando Gagliano, the dish exemplifies the kind of Mediterranean cooking he grew up eating, thanks to his mom, Sabine Bachmann, who owns and operates Ecco along with Fratelli’s, the lunchtime cafe at the Memphis Botanic Garden.
Bachmann’s new restaurant extends her family’s penchant for fresh and simple ingredients. For Ecco’s pretty cheese plate, Chef Gagliano sprinkles raspberries and blackberries around olives, homemade tapenade, and four wedges of imported cheese. For Tuscan bean salad (a dish headed for my annual top-10 list), he combines northern beans, sage, sliced red onion, and crusty tidbits of pancetta tossed with lemon vinaigrette. For house-made pasta, he serves linguini with kale pesto and porcini ravioli fattened up with brown butter and freshly grated Parmesan.
And for dessert? Try a ramekin of panna cotta garnished with a single plump strawberry and a lazy river of mango puree.
Open since early May, a disappointment or two on the dinner menu — the spinach ricotta gnocchi, for instance — doesn’t wilt my enthusiasm for Ecco’s promise. Located in a 1928 storefront on one of the prettiest streets in Memphis, the restaurant’s charming personality is as friendly as its food. On my first visit, I chatted with people at three different tables, and this joie de vivre is exactly what Bachmann wants. “In Italy, food is about people getting together around a meal and having fun. I think that kind of eating is a wonderful thing.”
1585 Overton Park (901-410-8200) $$
Owner Sabine Bachmann and Chef Armando Gagliano are creating good food and a friendly, upbeat ambience at Ecco on Overton Park.
Entrees at Ecco include Chicken Legs with Marinated Lemon and Olives served with parsnip puree and quinoa.