When a favorite restaurant closes, I experience a sense of loss: loss of place, loss of ambiance, loss of familiarity, a loss of relationships with the people who made and served the food and the people we enjoyed eating with.
I recently asked a question on Facebook which explored that loss and attracted lots of responses:
Are there particular dishes you remember fondly from Memphis-area restaurants that have closed that you can’t have anymore? What was the name of the restaurant and the dish? What do you remember about the ingredients in the dish?
The post generated lots of memories of places, foods and people whom my friends and family still hold dear.
If a restaurant menu featured dishes prepared in a unique way or with special ingredients, it usually means that those dishes are lost forever. Certain foods help me remember moments with family or friends who shared or prepared those foods. Eating with others creates special memories.
The numerous comments on my post led me to search online for traces of restaurants that are no longer around. That search led me to a treasure trove of menus collected by Fredric Koeppel of the Memphis Commercial Appeal archived by DIG Memphis – The Digital Archive of the Memphis Public Library & Information Center. This collection of 1050+ menus represents a snapshot of culinary and cultural history for our community. The collections contain several revised menus from the same restaurant over time. The Restaurant and Menu Collection may make you salivate with memories of foods served long ago in Memphis area restaurants.
The restaurants I miss the most include 61 On Teur (located at 2015 Madison Avenue in Midtown and now occupied by Crazy Noodle), KOTO (the joint venture in Overton Square of Sekisui owner Jimmy Ishii and Erling Jensen which united Japanese and Danish cuisine now occupied by Bari) and Marena’s which featured Mediterranean cuisine from the shores of Europe and North Africa (owned by Rena and Jack Franklin at 1545 Overton Park Avenue where the Evergreen Grill is now). Many of these restaurants paved the way for the more sophisticated food scene we know today in Memphis.
Koeppel stopped writing reviews for the Commercial Appeal in 2008 and has made no contributions to the collection of menus since the donation of the bulk of his records. I learned from Wayne Dowdy, Senior Manager of the History Department at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, that no one is actively contributing to the Restaurant and Menu Collection aside from the occasional menu found in someone’s attic or closet. I hope to add to this collection as I dine and write about food in Memphis. How, what and where we eat is an important expression of who we are as a community and is worth preserving.
If you are interested in making contributions to this collection, contact the Memphis and Shelby County History Room at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library at 901-415-2742. If you possess really old Memphis-area menus from before 1970, please let me know. I’d love to look at those.
Here’s a link to the thread from Facebook that led to this interesting find: