South Main can be very lively.
However, it’s not New York City or Hong Kong. We’ve lived in those cities and comparably South Main is a very quiet urban habitat.
I opened Signature Designs here in 2001 and we moved in the loft in 2002. We’ve seen a lot of residents and businesses come and go. Besides the occasional sound of furniture being dragged across the floor above us or the loud hum of an air compressor next door and of course the trolley and Amtrak…we have a very peaceful living environment.
We have a new artist studio next door. Friday evening I went to bed around 10:30. I’d heard music all evening but wasn’t sure if it was next door or at Earnestine and Hazel’s. As I walked into our bedroom a little past 10:00 I immediately realized it was next door. It was not obtrusive or at an unreasonable volume. We haven’t met so there is really no reason for our neighbor to know our bedroom shares a wall with her studio or that the 100+ year old cinder block and brick has absolutely no insulation.
My music background and experience in the world of pageantry design has thoroughly destroyed my ability to enjoy music as most people. If music is playing…my ear and brain is turned on and tuned in. It’s literally a challenge for me to carry on a conversation if there’s background music. And, if lyrics are involved: forget about it.
Again, the music was faint but it was there. It was a cool vibe and my design brain was on. Thankfully, the music stopped around 10:45. I don’t remember anything until what felt like the middle of the night when my ears tuned in and brain turned on, again. This time the volume seemed to be a bit more energetic. Clearly, the artist was in her groove. Again, we know we live in a city. It was not a big deal. We love having an artist next door.
Saturday morning we heard voices outside…not just passing voices but it seemed they were working. I thought maybe this was my opportunity to introduce myself AND casually mention we share a wall…especially a bedroom wall…Yes, I realize all kinds of sounds travel BOTH ways…LOL!!! I think I said something to the effect of “you guys seem busy this morning”. They replied they were getting ready for a big dinner party in the studio. So I attempted to gently say we heard them Friday evening and mention our shared wall. They both were graciously apologetic but were quick to say they were hosting 100 guests and there would definitely be some energy beyond bedtime. I assured them we could handle it. One of the guys mentioned we should come over for a cocktail. I assured him that wasn’t necessary and wished them well.
Through the morning we heard them continuing the preparations for the evening. Then…a knock at the door…Chelsea’s assistant, Erica. She was so gracious and apologized again for the late night sounds. Then see invited us to join them for dinner. Again, we said that wasn’t necessary.
THEN…she starts telling us about the dinner. She had her details a bit topsy turvy but got my attention when she mentioned Blackberry Farm, James Beard Nominated Chef, Five Courses AND Wine Pairings. Yes, I absolutely want to be there but this was not the way I wanted to meet our neighbor. Brandt has been dealing with a cold so we really couldn’t join them but then like a true Southern Doll she said “can I bring you a plate”. I wonder if they say that kinda thing in North Dakota, Delaware or Utah. Erica is not our neighbor but she knew what to say to really let us know she was sincere. It didn’t hurt that her tone sounded so much like my Mom…there was sincerity tinged with a caring heart…so sweet. Again, we thanked her and stated it wasn’t necessary to include us.
We had breakfast and after a while curiosity got the best of me. Still, I had not met the artist AND I was extremely curious about the dinner. I actually changed out of my lounge attire to look relatively respectable, walked over and let myself in. There, I again met the two hard working guys…now I know as Josh and Stephen. Josh was the organizer of the event and Stephen is Chelsea’s husband…still no Chelsea. Nevertheless, what transpired from this point is extremely surreal and the purpose of this blog.
Josh, filled me in on exactly what the evening was and all the pertinent and totally amazing details. He, too invited us to dinner. I told him about Brandt’s crud. He, too offered to “bring us a plate”. However, he made an offer I couldn’t refuse. He actually said, “may we serve you from the back door”. It just sounded way to exotic to refuse. Then he said, “all five courses?” At this point I was ALL IN!!! I said, “Sure”. ! Finally, he said, “And, wine pairings”? I paused…only because this is where it really felt surreal…but it was a brief, very brief pause and then I responded “Of course”! He said, “okay, we’ll see you about 7 o’clock”.
I walked out of that building thinking what the fuck is going on. I told Brandt what just happened and I don’t think he really believed it was going to happen until we were eating!!!
Here are the details…
From the website…”Etowah is dedicated to and inspired by seasons and places. Anchored by written and photographic content as well as unique events, we celebrate great stories, fine food and drink, adventure and beauty. EHC is committed to donating a portion of all profits to efforts that support the protection of wild spaces. The brand is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.”
Josh Conley and Cole Jeanes are the creators and curators of Etowah Hunt Club. Etowah is a Muskogee (Creek) word for town, people, tribe or in this iteration City. It’s a City Supper Club rooted in the Hunt Club traditions of people coming together to enjoy the bounties of earth, air and sea. I interacted with Josh early in the day and during dinner and Cole after dinner…outside our door. I understand the speakeasy vibe but last night the back alley vibe was alive and well on South Main.
We think these guys are brilliant. As I’ve said, we hear through the walls. During cocktail hour the sound was lively…like a cocktail party would be. Then there was silence…obviously welcomes and introductions. But, when they started serving dinner the sound didn’t return to the cocktail volume. It was extremely obvious the guest were engrossed in a dining experience which was all consuming…and we soon found out why.
EHC Dinner Series No. 2…Guest Chef Hunter Evans
The guest chef was recently announced, James Beard Semifinalist, Hunter Evans chef/owner of Elvie’s in Jackson, MS.
I literally hear about Hunter almost every day. There are numerous posts from Elvie’s on the Facebook page Cooking and Coping…usually by Bill Lee, an Elvie’s regular. I was out of town this week and haven’t listened to the podcast but Hunter was on Deep South Dining with Malcolm and Carol this past Monday. I was totally gobsmacked when Josh told me Hunter would be cooking next door to us. Hunter Evans is a native Jacksonian and studied at the University of Mississippi, in Oxford where he cooked in one of John Currence’s kitchens. He then trained at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York, staging at restaurants like Le Bernardin, Cafe Boulud, Daniel and other notable New York restaurants, ultimately landing a position at NYC’s North End Grill. He moved back to Jackson in 2015 and in 2020 opened Elvie’s, a restaurant inspired by his grandmother from New Orleans, LA. I mean, how can it help but be award winning. He is a relentless supporter of Mississippi farmers and his menus invariably showcase these beautiful ingredients. Since opening Elvie’s, he has been featured in Garden & Gun, named a Chef to Watch by Plate Magazine, included in the Taste of the South Magazine’s top 50 people, included in New York Times top 50 favorite restaurants of 2022 and on January 25th was named a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best Chef: South award. Then, last night he cooked on South Main for Tim and Brandt and our neighbor we haven’t met and a 100 other very lucky people.
Think about it…
I stepped outside to mention we share a wall to ultimately find out we are having a Hunter Evans dinner brought to our back door. If Chelsea hadn’t turned up the volume we wouldn’t had this once in a lifetime experience….Lord Have Mercy!!!
We were ready at 7 but nothing happened. As I mentioned it seemed they were having dinner so I walked down to the door and found 10ish chefs/cooks/runners hanging out. I mentioned Josh’s offer but they knew nothing of it. But, one of the guys found Josh and assured me they would be “bringing our plate when service started”. I came back to the loft and sure enough shortly thereafter Josh knocks on the back door. The creator of the brand is at our back door with the first course and wine pairing. He’s wearing the coolest apron I’ve ever seen and I’m telling you if I had a company which needed a front man I would move heaven and earth to hire him. He didn’t throw the food down and run out but went out of his way to give us the best dining experience possible including bringing us the artfully designed menu for the evening.
The cover was created by @chelseaflyart. Notice the quality of the printing to capture the textile she worked on, as well as the subtle deckle edge. I do LOVE a detail!!! The sepia tone of the piece immediately helps the guests feel the natural aesthetic of the artist and serves to amplify the warmth of her studio environment. The brand font is bold while also reflective of the etymology as well as nodding toward a celebration of the bounteous goodness of earth, air and sea.
I love tartare but a little goes a long way. This was absolutely perfect…possibly my favorite course. Also, shrimp chips can be “fishy”…not so much here…prefect crisp and a great Ying to the beef Yang. The companions were delicately crafted served only to elevate the flavor profile of the dish. The composition certainly warned the palette this was not going to be a typical evening of Soul Burgers on South Main.
Remember, I said “possibly”. This dish was so simple and simultaneously so incredibly complex. Admittedly, I eat too fast. However, one bite of this made me instantly slow down. It was sooooo good I wanted to eat it in three bites…but I didn’t. I wouldn’t call the salmon mi cuit (half cooked) which was fine with me but it was basically cooked enough to take the chill off. The quality of the salmon was…well, extremely high…think Thai silk or French Butter. Then there is this gorgeous chartreuse accompaniment full of earthy goodness and touched by the energy of wasabi and the simplicity of chive. The first two courses were definitely strong enough to have been a complete meal.
We were savoring the last bites of the salmon and Brandt says, “I think they took the cover off of the grill”. I’d told Josh they could use it but they seemed to have everything they needed. Come to find out they did not have the grill surface they needed. I walked out to help because I knew I hadn’t used it since fall. Indeed they did need it and we needed to change out the propane tank. So, again, outside our back door, which all of our chosen family and friends think of as our front door, a James Beard Chef and his crew are cooking dinner. I see they are all set and as I turn to walk away Chef Hunter Evans follows me into the loft with the next course.
I’m sure you can tell I’m still beside myself. Brandt says I was like a kid at Christmas. He just walked in like he was “the help”. And, what did I do but sit down and let him serve me like the Diva I am.
He places this gorgeous plate of food in front of us and stands at the end of the table to tell us exactly how it was created. I’m telling you it might as well have been Thomas Keller…we felt so honored and actually a bit overwhelmed. Brandt looked at me and said, “is this real” to which I responded, “I can’t believe that just happened”. As he was walking out the door Josh walked in with more wine. Josh said as Hunter passed him he said, “that place is amazing”…and we were not expecting celebrity guests…not a single stem of fresh flowers in the house.
Unfortunately, at this point the wine had a slight effect on my photography skills. I’m so sad this doesn’t show how truly gorgeous this culinary work was.
Chef described it as taking the meat from a ham hock and making something akin to souse or head cheese. They cut it into cubes battered and deep fried it. Yes, deep fried…there was a deep fryer outside our door. I have no idea how they got the oil to temperature AND still served it warm. It was the best succulent pork goodness wrapped in a crust that crackled when bitten into one could ever imagine. We were really excited about the mousse and it did not disappoint. Again, Hunter Evans understands texture…it was silky smooth and not fatty…but just the perfect companion to the richness of the pork. This takes pork chop and peas to a level far, far beyond Saturday night supper. Brandt stated it was different from the peas and ham hock we have on New Years 🙄
So, we are licking our fingers and sopping the last bit of mousse and Brandt says go out there and take a picture “of those boys”. I turn around and in his defense it truly looks like three boys getting ready for a tailgate. Again, in his words…”they were just adorable”.
Of course, we don’t have a clue who these guys are but they are working feverishly on the fourth course. I walk out there and the guy closest to me turns and smiles just in time for me to snap the photo of him holding the flashlight. I walk over to them and the guy manning the grill is like a Ninja…turning the duck with his hands. Yes, he has on gloves but they look like blue hospital gloves. They must be disposable kevlar. Flames were flying and he was turning. The third guy was running the finished pieces to be plated.
When the evening was complete they were all in our “backyard” having bourbon. I walked out to thank them and tell them how much we enjoyed the evening and that’s when I met Cole Jeanes. He gave me the low down. Josh is the producer/logistic/beverage guy and Cole manages the food and kitchen staff. Then he tells me about “our” three “boys”…
John Jordan Proctor [homeplacepastures.com] was “the boy” holding the flashlight. He’s the Chief Marketing Officer for Home Place Pastures. He and I reconnected from the days when he would come to Memphis Farmers Market…clearly before he was “chief”. Another one of those guys I would hire in a minute. It’s been several years since I’ve seen him and he still remembered conversations we had. Yes, last night he was holding a flashlight for duck to be cooked on our grill. If Brandt hadn’t said go take a picture I don’t think anyone would believe us.
Schuyler O’Brien [📷@schuylerobrien] was “the boy” flipping the duck. He’s also “the boy” in the photo with Daniel Boulud during his stint at Blackberry Farm. Currently, he’s Director of Food and Beverage at City Silo Table + Pantry. Interestingly enough, I watched him flipping the duck and instinctually knew it wasn’t his first rodeo but didn’t realize he could’ve literally helped prepare our meals in 2016 when we went to Blackberry for our Honeymoon. Schuyler…FYI…our grill is available any time you need it.
Harrison Downing [📷michael donahue] “this boy” is the Executive Chef at Grey’s Fine Cheese. Just this past Christmas he turned me on to Tater Tots, Jasper Hill Farms Harbison and Caviar. Yes, he has that kind of creative palette and was running food from our grill.
And, then the duck. I would love to know if there was any seasoning on the duck. I know you’re thinking, “of course, there was”. I don’t know. There was absolutely nothing which enhanced and certainly nothing which got in the way of the depth of natural duck flavor. The temperature and color were perfect. Then there were the lusty notes of the foie gras, the sass of the the strawberry and the tang of the muscadine which did a Bolshoi worthy dance with every bite. There was a simple cabbage accompaniment for a bit of texture.
Brandt: This cabbage is great.
Me: You don’t even like cooked cabbage.
Brandt: I like this!!!
Josh is our hero. They thought they were going to be short of the duck and he had warned us that we might be finished after the Ham Hock. After watching the “the boys” on the grill I would’ve eaten the scraps. This compares closely to our friend Robert’s “burn the house down steak” where the grill flavor is the seasoning….truly spectacular!!!
The final course was just as curated and unexpected as the others. I truly expected a decadent dot of hand crafted chocolatey goodness with a salted caramel swoosh. But no, it was lemon curd, orange and cheese. WHAT??? Yes, a dessert and cheese course in one. And, I tell you the truth…it was addictive. Each bite had sweet, sour and salt…now it can’t get any better…well, I did wish for one shortbread cookie but that’s just me. It became more of a palette cleanser…but a damned good one. Like with the pea mousse we stopped shy of licking the plate.
South Main brings us so much joy. It has given us a chosen family which we cherish. It has given me clients who are a joy to design for. And, it has afforded us more memories than we can count. I would say this goes in the memory vault but it will stay on the top of the list for quite some time to come. It’s still surreal how it all happened. But then the experience kept building and building to an incredible climax which we will treasure forever.
Should you be looking for an amazing dining experience the Etowah Hunt Club Dinner No. 3 is…
Featuring the culinary skills of Jordan Rainbolt of Winston-Salem, NC. The location is yet undetermined but you’ll need to make your reservations soon. Sign up for the mailing list.
I can’t promise you the experience we had but I do know the food will be lovely and a good time will be had by all.
3 Comments Add yours
I think this is your best post ever!! I love all your posts but this was so welcoming and relatable, just the best. Downtown Memphis has such a family feel. Glad you had a wonderful experience. We love Harrison.
Unbelievable good fortune. What an amazing dinner.
…As I live and breathe! Now they are coming to you and your back door. I can imagine they were also quite surprised and happy to find out they were serving a talented food writer…😊 Can’t wait to taste some of your Etowah inspired dishes that you will create.
BTW, Etowah was what I named our wooded area on the lake. I love the images and inspirations the concept brings to mind…❤️