In 2010, Ryan Trimm partnered with Glenn Hays and opened Sweet Grass in Cooper-Young. The Low Country cuisine resonated with Memphis diners, who quickly learned to make reservations well in advance of a craving for shrimp and grits.
About a year later, the space next door was available, and they opened Sweet Grass Next Door. The restaurants share more than ownership and name, as they share a kitchen, a signature dish or two and even a front door.
But don't confuse them.
"They are completely different places," Trimm said. "They have completely different menus, and you can't order it unless it's on the menu."
That means if you want a pimiento cheese burger, you've got to go to Sweet Grass Next Door, where the items available reflect the purpose of the place.
"It wasn't meant to be anything other than a watering hole," Trimm said. "We weren't trying to be anything special."
So you can get a burger, sandwiches, fries, and from time to time, a corn dog. But saying it's nothing special is a stretch worthy of an election year.
Take the burger — and good luck prying it from my lunch partner's hands. It's not just a monster, but it's served on house-made bread, with pimiento cheese made daily for the sole purpose of topping the burger, and served with bread-and-butter pickles made right in the kitchen. The pimiento cheese has bacon in it (even the intensely flavored browned bits of bacon left in the bottom of the skillet).
Of course the patty is hand-formed, and you can order the burger with a choice of additional toppings such as avocado and a fried egg (one of the most popular choices). It's superb, and not what you'll find in many "watering holes."
The fries? Straight from a potato, cut and fried to order.
We'll get back to the corn dog, but suffice to say that there are benefits to sharing a kitchen with a moderately upscale restaurant where great care is taken to ensure each dish is made with top-quality ingredients and so many items, from the pickles and relishes to most of the charcuterie, is made in-house.
Still, Next Door is definitely a bar. There's a sign that declares "Water's for Washin'," large televisions tuned to sports (the Olympics, at present), and a full bank of liquor bottles along the south wall in case you're in doubt. The vibe is quite different from Sweet Grass, which also, it should be noted, boasts an excellent bar. But it's a bar in a restaurant; at Next Door, it's the reverse.
Next Door is clearly used hard, too. It's been open just over a year, but the walls are a little beat up. When it's dark, the scratches go away and a bar buzz fills the place — it can really get hopping and it's fun — but during lunch or a dinner before sunset, it feels a little like, well, being in a bar during the day. If the restaurants were a home, Next Door would be the man cave.
TVs are tuned to football and basketball games in season, and the menu changes a bit on game day. A corn dog that made an appearance to honor (or maybe to diss — I'm not really sure about team loyalty among the owners or staff) LSU football was such a hit that it's usually served during college ball games and even makes the occasional appearance out of season, as last week.
This is a special that needs a permanent spot on the menu.
I've never liked a corn dog, and I'm not going to change my mind about the general appeal of a battered hot dog on a stick. But I'll order it anytime I see it on the menu at Next Door.
Forget every corn dog you've ever tasted. Pretend such a thing doesn't even exist. With a clean slate, imagine a plump Nathan's all-beef frank, enrobed in a batter with fairly smooth interior, but with a crust as brown, crunchy and savory as the bottom of your grandmother's iron-skillet cornbread. It's served with potato chips (house-made of course) and a mustard-based, Carolina-style barbecue sauce.
One of the items you can order at Next Door that's also on the Sweet Grass menu is the shrimp and grits. Trimm's are Low Country, not Louisiana, style. The most notable difference is the amount of liquid in the shrimp and grits at Sweet Grass and Next Door. This stuff is alive with a peppery kick and flavored from ingredients served in such abundance on top of the grits: Fat shrimp, Allen Benton's country ham, house-made sausage.
It's mighty good for a watering hole.
Sweet Grass Next Door
Address: 937 S. Cooper
Hours: Monday through Thursday,
3 p.m. until midnight; Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-around midnight.
Reviewer’s choice: Corn dog when available ($8); shrimp and grits ($17); pimiento cheese burger ($9).