Review: A Chef Returns, But Only Looks the Part
quinoa & tabouleh salad
“The dress should never wear a woman. A woman should wear the dress.”
I recently heard this saying and how it applies to fashion, and then how it should apply to Acre. There’s truth here, since no restaurant in Memphis is more beautiful than Acre. Full of tall windows, arching doorways and wide hallways, Acre uses natural lighting and wood like no other restaurant in Memphis. Boring, though, is the food.
Chef Wally Joe is trying again after his loss at “Wally Joe” (now Jackson Kramer’s Interim), but second attempts are not guaranteed successes, and in Acre’s picture-perfect dining room, the food is out of place. Uncharacteristically forgettable, dishes are quiet on all fronts. The spiced pork loin is tender, but has a one-dimensional affair with bacon, two-dimensional with the “stone ground grits” executed in an unappealing, literal way. There’s a creamy risotto at lunch, but mine was in need of heavy doses of salt and then flavor. Seared scallops — these served with fettucini noodles and a foie gras sauce — looked pretty, but were flat with a sauce as hokey as it sounded. I also remember a fish somewhere in there. I think it was spicy.
risotto at lunch
Chef Joe has cooked in beautiful dining rooms for much of his life. He began in Cleveland, Mississippi at KC’s, a fine-dining, family-owned affair inside of a cathedral with vaulted ceilings and tall stain-glass windows. I was young when I went, but I still remember that grand room, the joys of hollandaise and perfect French bread.
Chef Joe left the delta in 2002 and stormed onto the Memphis dining scene with a multimillion-dollar, open kitchen full of Viking and stainless steel at “Wally Joe.” Sadly, the vibe and the food didn’t catch, and he closed four years later. Chef Joe spent his next several years recessed in the kitchen at The Brushmark, but there’s no doubt he’s been plotting a return.
dungeness crab cakes
And with this return, not everything at Acre is a miss. There are flashes of excellence: the quinoa and charred avocado salad at lunch is a remarkable creation that makes all other restaurant salads trying to be special ordinary. Charred avocado sounds silly but has an edge that works with the fried tabouleh and light vinaigrette. Acre’s Dungeness Crab Cakes are also fantastic, plump full of crab and light on fillers.
Acre serves dessert, but only the sticky toffee cake is worth the calories. My friend described it as the “essence of toffee,” and, I truly believe it’s a perfect, moist ode to treat that often empties sugar mills. This one doesn’t.
The hype, the name, the expectation — the bars were set high at “Wally Joe” and have been set high again at Acre, possibly higher than one chef could ever reach in such a gorgeous dining room. The decor, among other forces, encourages us to want more out of the food and more out of the experience, and that want isn’t unfair if we care more about content than context. What matters now is what Acre cares about.
690 S Perkins Rd
Memphis, TN 38117