When the bookstore now known as The Booksellers at Laurelwood was saved last year, book lovers rejoiced.
Food lovers had less to celebrate, as Brontë Bistro had become tired and all but irrelevant to anyone who cared about food instead of convenience.
Lucky for everyone, the revamped café, Booksellers Bistro, is doing a very good job.
The most notable changes are the dinner menu, and the hugely expanded wine and beer selection (although they can't actually serve the beer just yet). Brontë offered dinner entrees from various cookbooks as specials, but these were the weakest items on the menu. If they'd been books, they would have been in the remainder bin. At Booksellers, they're best sellers.
Chicken piccata with rosemary polenta, a Barefoot Contessa recipe, is both delicious and a bargain -- even if it deviates from a typical chicken piccata. A thin breast is lightly breaded and sauteed, served over a simple polenta and topped with a lovely lemon-wine sauce with green olives and artichokes.
The flavor profile is much like an Italian chicken piccata; it's tangy from the lemon, and the chopped olive fills in for the brininess of the traditional capers. The polenta could be better -- it's soft but not creamy or silky, but it's not off-putting in any way. It's just sort of there, a bed for the chicken. A salad of mixed greens on the side is all it takes to make this a nice dinner for a reasonable $13.
A decadent choice is the seafood Orleans. The catch of the day is topped with an enormous portion of deeply caramelized bits of vegetables, shrimp and crab meat, highly seasoned with a Cajun butter. Corvina was the fish when we tried it, which gave it a particular New Orleans flair.
Fish can get complicated, and the folks in New Orleans tend to make it simple. Drum is a common fish on menus there, but it's a salt water fish, not the drum of Mid-South lakes that tend to get thrown back when caught. And corvina is actually drum, also known as croaker. It's a mild white fish with a tender texture. On my last trip to New Orleans, a cook there told me that home cooks often flake the fish and use it to stand in for crab in salads or stuffing.
Mild as it was, it held up to the topping.
Like many of the dinner dishes, this one made a periodic appearance as a special before it earned a spot on the menu. Bistro manager Debbie Durso explained that new dishes were tested to make sure they're suited to the kitchen, which has some limitations (no open fire is the main one).
The trials paid off, and while cookbook specials will continue, Durso said they will also be tested to assure they can be easily managed.
The lunch menu is available from 11 a.m. through close. New items have been added, but favorites from Brontë have remained.
The tomato blue cheese soup is still available, as is a homemade quiche of the day, the spinach-artichoke quesadilla and the grilled ham and brie sandwich. The soup is the same as ever, and the sandwich better. I believe more blue cheese is on it now (in addition to the brie) than in times past, which makes for a delightful burst of flavor -- combined with the peach preserves -- in every bite.
New additions include a cornmeal-encrusted tilapia sandwich with lime aoli, which was a decent if not spectacular fish sandwich; hummus; Asian lettuce cups; and perhaps the best item on the menu, the Mediterranean platter.
The platter is an appetizer, but would make a lovely (even virtuous) meal. A salad of roasted beets, toasted walnuts, feta and marinated red onions is ringed by olives, pita wedges, a dollop of hummus and a matching one of an excellent, garlicky white bean and feta dip.
Breakfast is served daily, though I did not review it. Because of the name change, beer sales are still pending. The beer list, which even includes a few high-alcohol selections, includes perhaps a dozen bottles. There are about as many white and red wine selections, beginning at $4 for the house wine (a perfectly drinkable Folonari pinot grigio is the white and a Folonari pinot noir is the red).
The interior has been updated a bit, but the floor plan remains the same: Booths and four-tops in the front and four-tops with a few two-tops by the windows.
The location is excellent for East Memphians, and easy for most anyone to get to. The updated menu should be reason enough for folks to make a trip for a meal and to take a look at the new store.
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
Address: 387 Perkins Ext.
Telephone: (901) 374-0881.
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Lunch service begins at 11 a.m. daily and dinner is available after 5 p.m.
Reviewer's choices: Mediterranean platter ($10.95); grilled ham and brie sandwich ($9.25); chicken piccata with rosemary polenta ($12.95); seafood Orleans ($22.95).
Alcohol: Wine, and beer soon.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars