In 2008, with a sure sense of aesthetic wisdom, Memphis interior designer Jim Marshall rescued a load of charming nautical relics from the beloved Midtown seafood restaurant Anderton’s and installed them at a bar in the center of the developing Broad Avenue Arts District.
Anderton’s colossal mural of sailors working a ship’s deck under blue skies became a series of grand-scale paintings on one wall at The Cove. The bar that anchors the opposite wall is shaped like a ship and has masts.
Besides looking cool, The Cove focused mainly on fine cocktails. And it attracted many fans.
“I often joke that I spend more money at The Cove then I do on food, but to be honest, even if that was true, I’d have no regrets,” Bryan of Germantown wrote for an online directory. He told of taking a date to The Cove and spending $200; a friend told him later that she didn’t like the place. “Anyone who thinks The Cove is a (crummy) bar is not someone for me anyway,” Bryan wrote.
So when Mary Tanner and her son, Taylor Tanner, took over from Marshall in August, they knew they would alter The Cove at their peril. Mary says the biggest change they made, one guaranteed to offend no one, was to “carry more liquor.” There are 50 “artisan cocktails,” listed in alphabethical order, from the $15 Absinthe Pernod to the vodka Woo Woo. They cleared the patio and installed fans and an air ionizer to reduce smoke. Something’s working: A woman was smoking a cigar at the bar one night, and we couldn’t smell it.
Evan Potts is still the bartender, making superior cocktails; Taylor Tanner is also tending bar. Adam Petrofsky is still making small dishes that go well with drinks in the galley-size kitchen.
At about 10 one recent Friday night, the tables were filled, mostly with youngish hipsters. The absurd American comedy Western “Three Amigos” with Steve Martin was on TV, with subtitles. After one of The Cove’s stellar $10 Sazerac cocktails, you might have felt like you were at one with the universe — that is, if you are a smoker.
The Sazerac started more than 150 years ago with cognac, but now it calls for rye, and The Cove’s bartender is not timid in his use of absinthe, which supplies hints of anise and fennel to the drink.
The Cove’s version of the early 20th-century New Orleans concoction called the Vieux Carre (which costs $10.50), is surprisingly smooth given the chaotic list of ingredients — cognac, bourbon, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, bitters. Still, the nuanced simplicity of a well-made Manhattan — The Cove uses Buffalo Trace bourbon with sweet vermouth and bitters — is the ultimate, stylish way to relax.
The menu marshals a relatively narrow list of ingredients in a resourceful way. So, for instance, the Rockefeller spinach, an uncomplicated sauce typically made with garlic, cream, olive oil and Parmesan, shows up with artichokes in a dip; as a topping for bruschetta; and on a pizza that is garnished with bacon. Of course, it’s also part of the classic Oysters Rockefeller.
Marinated anchovies — fresh (the italics are the restaurant’s) — come on a pizza with shrimp and capers, in the Sicilian panino with artichokes and goat cheese, and as the featured ingredient in the “Bouquerones and Chips.” White anchovies, marinated in vinegar, lemon juice and salt then stored in olive oil, look like silver ribbons that arrive arranged like spokes on a Ferris wheel dotted with capers, their oil dripping onto a pile of kettle-fried potato chips. Check to make sure the white (italics, mine) anchovies are available when you order.
You use Fritos to scoop up the cream cheese and tomato Ro-Tel sauce on The Cove’s “Stoner Pie,” made with Memphis’ own La Rosa tamales, delivered in a boat-shaped skillet. It’s enough to make a minor meal.
Among the four choices for panini, substantial and firmly packed toasted sandwiches made with ciabatta, we tried “The Midtowner,” with eggplant, roasted tomatoes and goat cheese, and “The Cove,” with three salami varieties, provolone and an olive relish.
The pizza not to miss is “The Binghampton,” with pickles, potato chips, beef and horseradish. Connoisseurs may not consider The Cove a destination — the crust is limp, maybe because it’s made in a convection oven — but that crazy collection of ingredients works. It would be great with more than a trace of beef.
Food: 2 1/2 Stars
Service: 2 Stars
Atmosphere: 2 Stars
Address: 2559 Broad
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. until close.
Reviewer’s choice: Sazerac cocktail ($10); Bouqerones and chips, $8; Stoner pie, $10; The Binghampton pizza, $10.50.
Alcohol: Full bar.