Beef at a farmers market? Well, I had always thought farmers markets were just for produce. The thought of buying locally raised beef had honestly never crossed my mind. I didn't even know it was an option; I thought that what was in the butcher's case at the grocery was my only choice.
The recent stories of added hormones, animal cruelty, E. coli and mad cow disease were almost enough to make me consider vegetarianism, except I just can't give up my craving for a juicy red steak no matter how hard I try.
So when I first met Mike Lenagar with Neola Farms, I have to admit I was a bit wary. Would his meat be any safer than what I was getting at the grocery?
He must have sensed my hesitation because he quickly launched into the story of how he raises his cattle. At the end, he pulled out a package and proudly pointed out "I put my name and phone number on every package. My wife and I take pride in our product. If you have a problem with my meat, you know who to call."
"Wow," I thought. I had never gotten a direct line to a rancher when I bought meat at a grocery. . . . Maybe I should give this a try.
That Saturday I took home some strip steaks and ground beef. My husband and I were amazed at the great taste of the steaks. Usually for burgers I "doctor up" the meat, adding a little of this and a little of that, but that night I just added salt and pepper since it was for the kids. When 8-year-old Kate starting going on about how this was the best burger she had ever tasted, her mom, Amy, and I had to give it a try. Kate was right.
Since that day last spring, I've have been stocking up on Neola Farms steaks and ground meat every Saturday.
Last month I went to a dinner hosted by Slow Food Memphis that featured Neola Farms meats.
Lenagar and his wife, Charline, explained how they raise their corn-fed Black Angus cattle from birth until time for the slaughterhouse. We learned that the oil in corn causes a calf to grow muscle and marbling at the same rate, thus creating a flavorful and tender product. The Lenagars even take the extra step to grow the corn that feeds their herd.
The focus on the Slow Food dinner was using the "lesser" cuts of beef, like skirt steak, oxtail, short ribs and brisket. I can tell you that there was nothing lesser about the dishes Stephen Hassinger prepared that night at the Inn at Hunt Phelan.
Local chefs are noticing the quality and flavor of Lenagar's beef. Jackson Kramer of Interim now uses Neola Farms ground beef for his signature burger, Hassinger at the Hunt Phelan is also using the ground beef for burgers as well as Lenagar's short ribs for a braised beef ravioli, and Ben Smith of Tsunami often picks up short ribs for his farmers market platter.
"It's good to know where the beef comes from," explains Smith, "and it tastes better, is more nutritious and supports our local economy."
Neola Farms beef is available at the Memphis Farmers Market every Saturday. Café Francisco carries a limited selection during the week. For more information, call 476-1867.
Molly Fontaine Lounge now open
Looking for a cool place to kick back and hang out? Look no further.
Karen Blockman Carrier has given her Victorian mansion that once housed Cielo a face lift. The new Molly Fontaine Lounge, 679 Adams, is dishing up small plates of Carrier's signature eclectic cuisine in a casual yet funky setting.
Happy hour is celebrated 5-7 p.m., and Di Anne Price plays at the piano bar Thursdays through Saturdays. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. The Molly Fontaine Lounge is also available for special event rentals.
Taste of the Town
The seventh annual Taste of the Town is Sunday, Sept. 30, 5-8 p.m. at the Agricenter International. Hosted by the Germantown Area Chamber of Commerce, the Taste of the Town will feature more than 40 Germantown and Memphis area restaurants and hospitality vendors who will provide samplings of their specialties while guests peruse the silent auction.
Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online at germantownchamber.com or by calling 755-1200.
Circa open for dinner only
Circa is no longer open for lunch. Instead of lunch service, they are choosing to focus on their executive catering business. The new dinner hours are 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information about Circa's catering, please visit circamemphis.com or call 522-1488.
Comings and goings
Brett "Shaggy" Duffee has left The Beauty Shop to be the new executive chef of Equestria Restaurant. Taking over the reins at The Beauty Shop is its former sous chef Robert Howay.
New Orleans landmark to open in Destin
Construction will begin in December of this year on a Destin location of the 61- year-old New Orleans landmark Camellia Grill. Anticipated to open May 1 in Harbor Walk, this diner will be a copy of the New Orleans institution complete with its popular chocolate freezes, pecan pie, chili omelets and Mardi Gras sandwiches.
Please share your fabulous food finds and restaurant news with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.