There just aren’t enough words that mean delicious in the English language. We finally made it over to Restaurant Iris for a taste of what Kelly English has brought to the Memphis dining scene. If you haven’t made it yet, go. Go now. Have you gone yet? OK. Go again. Choose anything on the menu. Choose everything on the menu. Any way you do it, you won’t be disappointed.
For us, it’s been a short and torrid love affair. We went (sans Squirrelly, Jr.) with our dear friend Bon Temps Squirrel to sample the fare at Iris. The next night we were back with the Honeybee and Teh Boy. It was just too good to not share with someone else.
We all had a hard time choosing what we would try. You see, it all looked so good. We finally settled on a trio of appetizers both visits: the oysters three-way, the boudin, and the unofficial “house salad”. Our second visit also featured the lobster knuckle sandwich.
The oysters were a divine thing. Two beautiful crispy cornmeal breaded oysters rested on a pool of creamy buttermilk blue cheese dressing. Only two? Yes, only two. But wait. There’s more. A ramekin of savory oyster bread pudding rested in the middle of the plate. Oyster bread pudding is something that I really think has to go to extremes; it’s either going to be mouth-numbingly delicious, or it’s going to be a sad and soggy mess. This one is very firmly in the delicious camp. Could you be perfectly content with this pair of oyster goodness? Yes. But wait. There’s still more. The crowning moment of oyster happiness is a pair of oysters “polo”. These are two oysters on the half shell topped with a creamy horseradish-tinged sauce and buttery bread crumbs broiled until hot and lightly toasted. These oysters will literally melt in your mouth. It was a real shame to have to share a single bite of any of it.
The boudin made me mind the whole sharing thing a lot less since someone had to share it with me. Three crispy breaded boudin balls were served on a pool of creamy Creole mustard sauce and topped with caramelized onions. I’m not sure if the boudin is house-made, but this boudin could stand up to any of the best from Cajun country.
And then there was the “house salad”. Behold the humble Brussels sprout. Like the oyster bread pudding, Brussels sprouts are just one of those things can go beautifully well or horribly wrong without much space in the middle. These sprouts are nicely sauteed in butter (diet? what diet?) and paired with the most beautiful thing in the whole wide world. The one thing that could make even bad Brussels sprouts better. And what is this magical ingredient? But of course, bacon. Not just any bacon, though. Oh no. This is the epitome of all things bacon. A moment of reverence in the presence of the king, please. This is Allan Benton’s bacon. For those of you who have never met Allan Benton, he’s one of those quiet men who’s doing something he loves that just happens to have turned out to be something that everyone else loves, too. Allan Benton makes bacon (and hams) in east Tennessee. To quote John Fleer on this bacon, “you are struck with not only the magical aroma of pig and smoke, but the spirit of Allan Benton.” ‘Nuff said.
The knuckle sandwich was the chef’s take on an open-face lobster po’ boy. Toasted bread was topped with lobster claw meat, peeled gold tomatoes and micro greens. I would eat this sandwich any time.
Entrées? Do you even have to ask? Well, there was a bit of a hitch our first night there. Papa Squirrel just had to be different. He couldn’t just choose an entree like Bon Temps Squirrel and me. He had to be special and have the chef’s five course degustation. Of course, we didn’t really mind. That brought us two more appetizers: rich and creamy crab maison and a perfectly seasoned chicken liver terrine with champagne caviar. It also brought something equal in beauty to Allan Benton’s bacon. A scallop and truffle latte. A pan-seared U10 scallop rests in the bottom of a coffee cup topped with an absolutely decadent truffle-flecked jus and a light creamy foam. If any local coffee shop sold these… Let’s just say I’d have a little problem.
Now, about those entrées. Bon Temps Squirrel and the Honeybee both chose the duck confit with crispy pork belly and choucroute garni. This is a dish that layers complex flavors to create something really wonderful. The choucroute here is not pickled, rather, it’s a savory combination of cabbage and greens that complement the pork and duck very nicely.
I tried the Gulf jack filet with ratatouille the first visit and the scallops with gnocchi and citrus fennel sauce the second time around. The jack is a nice portion of perfectly cooked and tender fish that sits on top of a nicely balanced ratatouille. Three huge scallops are pan seared and pair well with the citrus and fennel combination. The gnocchi are fluffy and light. This entrée was my personal favorite.
Teh Boy decided on the chef’s signature dish: shrimp and grits. These are Delta Grind grits topped with a generous portion of shrimp and andouille sausage in a rich tomato gravy. I would tell you how good they were, but Teh Boy inhaled every morsel. I think it was only the barest scrap of good-restaurant-table-manners that kept him from licking the bowl clean.
Papa got a trio of pork on his first night. The pork was roasted, braised and smoked and then served on a bed of the best spicy, smoky greens and pot likker that I’ve ever had anywhere. The only thing missing was cornbread to get every last drop without tipping up the bowl. His second night choice was the New York strip stuffed with fried oysters and blue cheese sauce. Picture an oyster po’ boy only replace the remoulade with creamy blue cheese and replace the bread with perfectly cooked steak. The only thing that could make that better would be, yep, Allan Benton’s bacon. Chef English must have thought that too since the steak is served with a bacon and potato hash.
So what about dessert? We were pretty full both nights, so we really wouldn’t have if we hadn’t been sacrificing for the sake of you, our loyal reader(s). Papa had an apple strudel with homemade vanilla ice cream. Teh Boy had cinnamon and Chinese five spice ice creams. Bon Temps Squirrel had coconut and blood orange sorbets. The Honeybee decided on the bread pudding with brown butter caramel sauce. I just couldn’t pass up the cheese plate. They were all absolutely heavenly.
I will admit, we were torn. We were excited from the first mention of Kelly English bringing his food to Memphis. But we hated so badly to give up La Tourelle. I can now happily say that La Tourelle has a worthy successor in Restaurant Iris. We’ll look back with nostalgia, but we’re already craving our next Iris fix.
2146 Monroe Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
Tuesday – Saturday: 5 p.m.- 10 p.m.
Sunday Brunch: 11a.m. – 2p.m.