First things first: The Elegant Farmer is not a ladies-who-lunch restaurant. Though it is situated in the back of an antiques shop in the former Crumpets tea room, Mac Edwards' latest venture is well removed from finger sandwiches and two lumps with lemon.
Edwards' solid landing with The Elegant Farmer, after a string of restaurant consulting and management work following the sale of McEwen's on Monroe in 2008, is good for all of us.
The food is excellent, and clearly the farmer is joined by The Generous Cook (chef de cuisine Gannon Hamilton). Portions are huge, more than enough to satisfy workman appetites.
Edwards, a founding board member of the Memphis Farmers Market, buys everything he can as close to home as he can get it, and he credits his local suppliers on the menu. It's nice to know where your food started.
We ate our first meal at dinner, and having been off work for a month, I didn't realize it was the first week of dinner service. We went early, at 6:30 p.m., and were asked if we had a reservation. That was sort of funny considering every table was empty, but what a difference a few minutes makes. While our server brought bread and wine (and explained that dinner service was brand new), tables began filling around us until only two remained.
The menu is small but well-rounded, offering a choice of three appetizers, three salads, one soup and five entrées, one of which is a vegetable plate. We quickly decided on the redfish and pondered the duck and sausage etouffée over grits. The server persuaded us to give the pork chop a try, and we were grateful.
Both dishes were well suited to our palates, even though the pork chop was served over a medley of roasted turnips, wild mushrooms and one of my least favorite foods in the world -- sweet potatoes. They were lightly caramelized and cut small enough to minimize the fibrous texture; I'd happily eat these little morsels any day.
The pork chop was moist (it was brined) and flavorful, generously coated in black pepper and topped with an onion marmalade. More than half remained, though we shared both dishes.
The redfish was certainly the more decadent dish. I had grits on my mind, stuck there from the etoufée dalliance, I suppose. When we switched dishes and I took a bite, I was both surprised and delighted to find pureed cauliflower instead of grits (and it was on the menu, so I'd been aware of this just 30 minutes earlier).
Pureed cauliflower is a fairly popular side dish, but this version stands out because it's roasted first. While the texture is slightly coarser than a true puree -- think of the appearance of stone-ground grits cooked on the dry side -- there is plenty of butter and cream here, making a lush and velvety bed for the pan-seared fish. Is the moat of brown butter necessary? I say yes, because the flavor brings out the roasted elements of the cauliflower, heightening the flavors and not just adding fat.
We finished with a fine piece of Key lime pie, topped with sweetened sour cream instead of whipped cream. All desserts are made in-house by Leslee Pascal, who runs the front of the house during the day.
Arrive early for lunch. After seeing how quickly tables filled at dinner, we arrived for lunch at 11:30 a.m. Still, we would have waited 20 minutes had we not chosen to sit outside. It's a lovely patio, filled with flower and herbs, and tables with umbrellas; torches light it at night. While our chairs were comfortable enough, we turned down the first table offered because the chairs were metal bistro seats. Those should probably go or at least be cushioned; an hour or so of sitting there would've resulted in a lot of squirming.
A friend strongly recommended the roast pork for lunch, raving about the cooking liquid that infused the meat and was served on top. While the pork was fork tender, there was no jus, and I wonder if she mistook it for the pot roast, which was just as tender and was served with cooking juices. (The pot roast was enough for one leftover meal, and the pork provided two.)
The excellent spoonbread -- called cornbread pudding here -- that came with the pork was cooked with onion and liberally spiced. The greens were pleasantly bitter (I can't stand to taste the sugar), and they were cooked to tender but not a bit beyond.
All this, yet it's the won ton crackers that came with the banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich served on a small baguette and topped with fresh herbs and pickled vegetables, that I can't quit thinking about. You know the little strips of fried won ton that come with your hot-and-sour soup? Well, all that gives you is a general idea, because full-size wrappers fried up fresh are untold times better. They're almost translucent, fried until crisp and freckled with tiny bubbles. They're liberally salted, and they are addictive. (I've been trying to come up with something similar at home that doesn't have to be fried; read about the results at whiningdining.com.)
I love that The Elegant Farmer serves a glass of wine for $6. The house wine is La Vieille Ferme, a bargain wine that is popular for good reason. The rosé remains in my refrigerator all summer; being able to enjoy a glass of that in a restaurant instead of paying $15 for a better glass suits me just fine.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
The Elegant Farmer
Address: 262 S. Highland
Telephone: (901) 324-2221
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and dinner beginning at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Reviewer's choices: Dinner: America's cut pork chop, $19; farm-raised redfish, $18. Lunch: banh-you, banh mi, $9; roast pork, $10; pot roast, $10.