When Interim Restaurant and Bar opened in 2007, it was so named because the plan was that it would just keep traffic -- and revenue -- flowing through the former Wally Joe restaurant until a permanent tenant was found.
Interim flourished under the lead of chef Jackson Kramer, and there was no need to look for another tenant. Two years down the road, Kramer left and Josh Belenchia took over the open kitchen. Flash forward to 2011.
Belenchia left to open Buon Ciba, his restaurant in Hernando, and Kramer returned -- but only to keep the restaurant moving along while a new chef was found. He came back for the interim, but, well, we know how that goes.
We're the lucky beneficiaries of all these temporary plans that went permanent. With Wally Joe clearly at home in both the front and back of the house at Acre, just a mile or so away, it now seems OK to say the fancy Viking kitchen on Sanderlin is Kramer's.
He turns out a fine dinner from that kitchen, too.
Kramer has always had a deft touch with pork, and of course he's not the only local chef with this skill -- the pig reigns in all manner of kitchens in Memphis. But the hefty bone-in pork chop he's serving on the current menu makes for a very, very good meal.
The 14-ounce cut is succulent and well-seasoned, flavorful throughout. It's served with perfectly cooked collard greens (firm but not even a hint of toughness), an excellent spoon bread, and a sofrito so hearty that it serves more as a third side than a condiment.
The sofrito is a tangy and slightly sweet mix of onion and tomato, cooked to soft but not to sauce consistency.
Spoon bread is a bit complicated for such a humble food. Certainly we can agree that it is wetter than cornbread, but what then? To some, spoon bread is something like a corn casserole. To others, it's more of a souffle, and others still will insist that it's heavier than both of those. No one I know would describe it as a pudding, though my trusty book "The Food Encyclopedia," (Robert Rose, 2006) disappoints me by doing just that.
Whatever your preference, Kramer's spoon bread should be the standard. Think of it as a dense, moist cornbread with the addition of savory spice and aromatics -- salt and pepper, perhaps a touch of garlic, a little cayenne, onion. It's good like it is, but even better when sliced and grilled. After all, isn't cornbread best when it's got a great crust?
It's an excellent meal, satisfying for diners who want an interesting plate and for those who simply want a lot.
All portions at Interim are generous, even if this dish does stand out. The enormous and popular Interim burger remains on the menu. I've eaten it many times, but not on these visits. We opted for the Cuban sandwich instead, and I was happy with the pressed sandwich with ham, roasted pork, pickles and mustard. My dining companion thought the sandwich was heavy on the mustard. I believe it was more the tartness of the pickle combined with the mustard that seemed strong to him, but the sandwich is supposed to be full of salty and bold flavor.
The fries are even better than I recall: hand cut, fried until dark, then sprinkled with salt, pepper and an herb I'm certain was thyme, though the menu says rosemary. They couldn't be better.
There were disappointments here and there. The tomato salad was promising: lump crab, arugula, green tomato relish and bacon vinaigrette. The crab was tasty enough, but more shredded than expected. There wasn't much flavor in the tomato, and the green tomato relish had a touch of bitterness that seemed too harsh.
The fried oysters were very good, though. They were nestled in a narrow bowl, plump and snug, and served on a buttermilk-dressed sweet-and-sour coleslaw that should be available as a side. (It's delicious.)
Interim serves Sunday brunch with Dusty Springfield and Paul Simon playing in the background. At night, the restaurant buzzes with the busy-ness of the kitchen and the happy sounds of friends visiting. Lunch was not exactly somber, but it lacked the punch of nighttime dining. Brunch is in the middle, festive and leisurely.
On Sunday, families were out together, in small groups and large, and all the children were well-behaved inside the elegant but never stuffy dining room.
We chose eggs Benedict and a croque madame. Both were good, and the latter was excellent. A thick piece of brioche was topped with rolled pieces of ham, mornay sauce, fontina cheese and a perfect over-easy egg. Served with those fries, it was an ideal way to start a Sunday.
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
Interim Restaurant & Bar
Address: 5040 Sanderlin
Telephone: (901) 818-0821
Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m; dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday dinner, 5-9 p.m.
Reviewer's choices: Bone-in pork chop ($28, dinner); classic Cuban sandwich ($11, lunch); fried oyster appetizer ($12); Interim burger ($12); croque madame (brunch, $14).
Alcohol: Full bar and excellent selection of wine.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars