After one visit, this pretty much sums up my opinion of Acre, Wally Joe‘s gorgeous new restaurant in East Memphis that opened this week. It was worth the wait.
Nestled midway in the block of houses behind Theatre Memphis, Acre is the result of a two-year long renovation that at times moved painfully slow. “We wanted to get it right,” Joe said Wednesday night, with his million-dollar smile. “We have a great crew, and we are very excited.“
You couldn’t possibly meet a nicer person than Joe, and if you doubt me, consider the staff he has pulled together. His executive chef at Acre is Andrew Adams, Joe’s chef de cuisine at the Brushmark and at the former Wally Joe Restaurant in Memphis. In addition to Adams, there’s a constellation of other stars in the kitchen: Ken Lumpkin, formerly of Umai on Madison (one of my all-time favorite Memphis restaurants) is Acre’s sous chef, and working alongside is David Schrier, formerly the executive chef at Currents, and Kendra Robinson-Ginibre, who worked with Jose Gutierrez before heading to France to cook.
At the bar is Bart Mallard, a native Memphian who returned about a year ago from Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the highly regarded farm-to-table restaurant in Tarrytown, New York. Mallard is planning to extend the kitchen’s seasonal focus to the bar for such concoctions as fresh-squeezed rhubarb margaritas, peach-infused vodka, and cosmopolitans made with blackberry puree. Here’s another example: When Mallard stopped by the farmers market at the Botanic Garden, he was thrilled to find garlic scape, the tender green shoots the grow from the garlic bulb.
“I’m thinking a garlic scape martini,” he said, clearly enthused. “Whatever the kitchen is excited about, I’ll be excited about.”
Mallard waited on us in Acre’s beautifully landscaped patio. Shaded by mature oaks and a stacked stone wall, our table was comfortable despite the evening heat. In fact, the setting was so lovely (“We are calling it rustic elegance,” Mallard said), we opted to stay outside for dinner, which for us included four different plates from the appetizer menu.
We started with “Chop Salad,” a nice-size mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce with Mandarin oranges, Jerusalem artichokes, cashews, broccoli, and green goddess dressing, and “Tomato Tartar,” small cubes of fresh tomatoes, Berber spices, and a scoop of warm goat cheese framed by slices of fried chickpea panise. This dish was so satisfying it could turn a meat lover into a contented vegetarian.
We followed these plates with a soft shell crab crusted with root vegetable tapioca and fried in Acre herb butter. The crab rested on plump roasted tomatoes, which added a lovely depth to the crunchy crab legs when eaten together. We also tried the scallops, a succulent trio served with a colorful mix of halved cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, baby artichokes, and two squash blossoms stuffed with cheese. The scallops were plated with zucchini mousse and topped with a spring of mint.
The appetizers range in price from $7 to $12 dollars, and entrees are in the $20 to $30 range. Joe said he still tweaking the menus, but the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. He was expecting his liquor license by Friday, so you might want to check when making reservations. In the meantime, the restaurant is serving beer or you can bring your own wine to accompany dinner. Acre, 690 S. Perkins, acrememphis.com (818-2273)