Few neighborhoods in Memphis are fortunate enough to have a restaurant just down the street or on the next block. Most of us live in houses or apartments surrounded by more of the same, not in strolling distance of a nice little restaurant.
Now that Evergreen Grill has opened in the Evergreen Historic District, add another neighborhood eatery to the short list outside of Cooper-Young.
First it was Marena's, which operated for many years in the comfortable space at Overton Park and Willett. Roustica and Overton Park Pizze Stone both saw much shorter lives, and Evergreen Grill has been open only two months. But there's reason to believe this one might stick around.
The food is good, some of it very good (and a thing or two just so-so). It's a pretty little place at night, particularly in the back room with its sunny gold walls and endless-room effect from large mirrors placed north and south.
Evergreen Grill is owned by Marcus Dorris, but Bruno Russell runs the kitchen. Folks will remember him from Bruno's Italian Restaurant, a nice little spot on Madison that enjoyed a run of about two years before closing in 2009. The menu is mostly Italian at Evergreen Grill, though there are burgers, blackened catfish and even fish tacos among the selections.
The bruschetta is a hit and a miss — and it comes with a warning: You better be a garlic lover if you plan to start your meal with this. The bruschetta, or toasts, are served on a plate surrounding a dish of chopped tomato in olive oil, herbs, a bit of vinegar and a heaping helping of garlic. I loved it — and I know people who could not have eaten it.
The lasagna is served generously, with a thick brown meat sauce, cooked down dark and rich, spilling out on the plate. This is a good choice for dinner, and while the lunch portion is scaled back a bit, it's still ample, and the dish is heavy. Cool days are coming, though, and this is food that will keep you full all day.
Evergreen chicken is a boneless, skinless breast, lightly sauteed and served under a cream sauce full of fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, olives and mushrooms. It is a light sauce, as cream sauces go, and full of flavor. At dinner, you can order it with salmon for a small upcharge.
Entrees come with one side, and both the lightly cooked vegetables of the day (a mixed squash medley on the day we ate lunch there) and the roasted potatoes were very good. The latter were roughly diced, cooked until a bit crisp and brown at the edges, and served with red peppers and onion.
A fine pasta dish was the sausage arrabiata, penne topped with Italian sausage, onion and bell pepper in a sauce described on the menu as a "spicy, bold marinara." The manicotti could do with a bit of that boldness, as it was missing flavor from the cheese filling to the lackluster marinara on top.
There's plenty to choose from on the menu: Nine sandwiches, 10 or so entrees and about the same number of pasta dishes that serve as an entree. The restaurant is comfortable, the service friendly to the point of being warm, and efficient, to boot. Jazz music plays softly during lunch and dinner, and on Thursday nights, there's live jazz.
For dessert, order the excellent tiramisu if it's available. The cheesecake also is nice, though I was disappointed that it was served with a cloying strawberry sauce and that we weren't forewarned. But now you know, so you can ask that it be left off if you prefer.
Address: 1545 Overton Park
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Reviewer’s choice: Evergreen chicken ($9 lunch; $13 dinner); sausage arrabiata ($8 lunch; $12 dinner); bruschetta ($7).
Alcohol: Wine available. $3 stem fee if you bring your own.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars