The High Point Terrace neighborhood south of Summer between Graham and Highland is anchored by a 1940s-era shopping center with a mauve fieldstone facade. When you step out of your car in front of the collection of stores -- a pub, a grocery, a barber shop, a laundry -- it's a little like taking in the view of the Old West Front Street in Dodge City, Kan., or the Victorian mining town of Silverton, Colo. It's a backdrop from another time, the image of post-war middle-class contentment.
This illusion is immediately dispelled when you enter Cheffie's Café, a cavernous space that is intensely contemporary, with exposed brick walls and polished concrete floors, slabs of light wood for tables and chairs, and a brightly lit display of fresh ingredients for assembly in sandwiches and salads.
The café opened in March, a joint project of Jennifer Chandler, the food writer, chef and entrepreneur described as Cheffie's "culinary partner," and Matt Wilson, owner of Swanky's Taco Shop, another fast-casual dining site.
The café was inspired by a previous venture of Chandler's, Cheffie's Market and More, which opened more than a decade ago in the Sanderlin Shopping Center. That restaurant and grocery in a 12,000-square-foot space, adapted from such models as Dean & Deluca and Balducci's, ultimately wasn't sustainable in Memphis, but its many fans will find a little solace at Cheffie's.
On our first visit, we were fairly dazzled by the brilliant interior renovation and the array of fresh ingredients. We had a hard time zeroing in on our orders because there were so many possibilities: You choose lettuce -- romaine, spinach, arugula. Then bread -- "artisan" wheat and white and ciabatta are possibilities. Or both, for a salad-sandwich combination of bountiful proportions that is a bargain at $8.25.
Then you "pick your protein" -- chicken, ham, turkey, roast beef and salads of egg, tuna and curried chicken. Add fruit and vegetables -- options include cranberries, Kalamata olives, marinated artichokes, and black bean and corn salad (but, sadly, no avocado). Then cheese -- Parmesan, feta, goat cheese and blue cheese are available along with cheddar and Swiss.
There's a "crunch" category: almonds, candied Delta pecans, sunflower seeds, etc. Six dressings include an excellent lemon vinaigrette and a nice buttermilk ranch, and the eight condiments range from mustard and mayonnaise to "schmears" of horseradish, pesto and roasted garlic.
So, although the café concept seems simple, the choices are almost overwhelming. You sort of want it all and feel a little disheartened when you finally choose, for instance, the salad with a big scoop of curried chicken studded with walnuts, to the exclusion of the Nioise, with the aptly named "lemony tuna salad." This Nioise is not the classic version with green beans and red potatoes, and if you prefer your chicken and tuna salads dry, as I do, you might want to skip the Cheffie's versions.
I got a satisfying club sandwich stacked nearly 2 inches high with Black Forest ham, roasted turkey, smoked bacon and sliced cheddar -- Boar's Head is the provisioner at Cheffie's. One of my fellow diners ordered the crunchy roast beef sandwich, in spite of the "French's French Fried Onions" and because of the horseradish schmear, but it lacked the likeable bite of horseradish.
The French's trademark is a pervasive presence on the Cheffie's menu as Chandler is a national spokeswoman for the brand, and I felt a little resistant to the product promotion. However, the café more than compensates for that corporate influence with its allegiance to local products. For instance, the coffee is from Ugly Mug, and draft beers are from Ghost River, Memphis-area blenders and brewers of admirable quality goods. The café's hydroponic tomatoes are from Micmak Farms and honey is from Peace Bee Farmer, both Arkansas operations, and Cheffie's manager Kelly Jones said Chandler intends to expand the local focus of the menu at farmers' markets.
Cheffie's best connection is with the Michigan-based Palazzolo's Artisan Gelato and Sorbetto. There are 14 beautifully made flavors to choose from daily: Our favorites last week were the ethereal honey gelato and a caramel-ly dulce de leche. Jones says Palazzolo makes its products to order, so, for instance, when Cheffie's asks for blueberry gelato, fresh blueberries are cooked down just for the Memphis business.
Service at Cheffie's was sweet, friendly and slightly funky. At a Sunday lunch, we ordered two sandwiches that required a pass through the electric grill. They were delivered one at a time, and the rest of us were well into our meals by the time the second arrived. As the server placed the tray in front of my friend, the top of his sandwich fell onto his lap and into his hands. "Good catch," the server said affably, then ambled away.
Cheffie's has Project Green Fork certification, which means it uses compostable and biodegradable products and supports local and organic farmers. Its co-tenant in the shopping center near the Greater Memphis Greenline is the Cruiser's High Point Hub bike shop.
Address: 483 High Point Terrace
Telephone: (901) 343-0488
Hours: Open daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Reviewer's choices: Club sandwich ($7.25); BLT classic, $6.50; honey or dulce de leche gelato, $3-$4.
Alcohol: Draft and bottled beer, wine.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars