Shortly before Jim's Place East closed, co-owner Costa Taras said he was going to miss looking at the azaleas in bloom each spring.
The pain is surely mitigated by looking at the hordes of people crowding the new location at Poplar and Perkins Ext.
Jim's Place, sans the east, opened the day after Thanksgiving and has had a steady stream of diners clearly eager to try some of their old favorites in a new spot.
Many squeeze in the bar for after-work drinks; from Wednesday on, it's a popular spot for martinis and mingling. It's got the sizzle, that certain energy that accompanies laughter, chatter and anticipation when
combined with good food, generous cocktails and the familiar faces of friends or old acquaintances.
It's hard to say if the weekend bar patrons are there just for the drinks or if they're whiling away some time before dinner: Last Saturday the wait at 6:30 p.m. was about 1 1/2 hours.
No one seemed to mind, as the diverse crowd -- couples of all ages, large groups and families -- enjoyed the seeing and being seen. And though it remains a place for a fine steak at a reasonable price, there is the calf's liver...
Let's be clear: The Greek-style liver, with a light lemon and oregano sauce, is nothing like the stuff you forced down as a child. It's thinly cut, cooked just until done and meltingly tender. Yes, it tastes like liver, which is what it's supposed to taste like, but the flavor is mild, the texture delicate. It's also available Southern style -- with onions and gravy -- and maybe one day I'll try that.
If the menu has changed at all, it's unnoticeable. The main dishes remain excellent: Steaks, the French-cut pork chop, the souflima dish and the mousaka, which I was surprised to realize I'd never tried, are stand-outs. The dish of highly-seasoned ground beef and eggplant, topped with a thick layer of creamy bechamel, is Greek soul food.
The beef layer was so browned and spice-laden with cinnamon, garlic, onions and other herbs and aromatics that it was the color of chocolate and captured the essence of a grandmother's kitchen.
The calamari is the best fried version in town, light and crisp in a cornmeal batter and served atop a spicy remoulade with few pieces of fried green tomatoes in the mix. The bacon-wrapped scallops, also an appetizer, are plump, simply grilled, and a delight.
Both the house salad, with Jim's dressing that is similar to Thousand Island but a thousand times tastier, and the Greek salad are fresh and crisp. All salad dressings are made in-house. In fact, just about everything is done in-house.
Meat is hand-cut. Bread is baked fresh daily. Desserts, including the excellent Key lime pie, are made in the kitchen. There are, truly, family recipes being used every day. The souflima is lemony pork tenderloin grilled to perfection, which is to say there are bits of brown on the outside and the lean meat is tender and moist inside.
But a change with the sides is in order. While they're fine for what they are, they need updating.
The answer is in the grill, which is always going, anyway. How about a side of grilled squash instead of a squash casserole? Or grilled asparagus with a squeeze of lemon instead of the asparagus mousse? I realize the latter is a sacred cow -- most members of the ladies who lunch crowd seemed to have the light green square on their plates -- so how about a choice? Offer the existing items and a few new ones.
I think the home-style vegetables such as turnip greens, the casseroles, hash browns and so on suitable for lunch, but with a growing wine list, updated, lighter sides at dinner would be welcomed.
Jim's is a family-owned and operated restaurant, and you can tell it, from the food mentioned above to the service. Both restaurants have a knack for hiring servers that add to the dining experience. They're friendly, and sincerely so. They make diners feel welcomed, valued and in capable hands. I heard diners greet their servers by name, and the light bantering makes for a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
The new place is similar in design to Jim's Place Grille, but with three dining rooms, shotgun style, instead of two. Wood on the walls and bronze table coverings instead of white cloths lend warmth, but glass partitions (and windows, in the bar and front dining room) keep it airy.
I briefly mentioned the French-cut pork chop. It's a tender and succulent hunk of meat (two bones), far more than most people will finish (all portions are exceedingly generous at Jim's). The signature lemon, garlic and oregano sauce is brushed on during grilling and before serving. Do yourself a favor and listen to your server: Let the kitchen serve it medium or medium-well. Many people want pork well done, but please don't risk it with this nice cut.
The Taras family made a wise decision to move to Poplar and Perkins. While the Shelby Oaks location was probably no farther for many East Memphians than the new spot, this one is in the center of the beaten path, not off it. And it's got folks beating a path to the door.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Address: 518 Perkins Ext.
Telephone: (901) 766-2030
Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.; opens at 5 p.m.for dinner Monday through Saturday.
Reviewer's choices: Louisiana-style Calamari ($9.50); French-cut Pork Chop ($19.95 with two sides); Mousaka ($15.95 at dinner, $10.95 at lunch); grilled calf's liver ($16.95 at dinner, $12.25 at lunch); New York Strip (not included in this review, but an excellent steak; $28.95 with two sides).
Alcohol: Full bar
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars