Strano Sicilian Kitchen Tries To Break The Curse
Back in November, I asked y’all what should go in the empty space at the corner of Cooper and Young, which seems to be a tricky location for restaurants in the last few years. (Go here to read your answers.) Last week, a new place called Strano finally opened there, and my friend Allie and I went to try it out.
The menu has plenty of options – appetizers, soups, salads, fish, poultry, meat, pizza, and pasta, and there are daily soup, entree, pizza, and ravioli specials. The cuisine from Memphis-area native Chef Josh Steiner is Sicilian, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. It’s not a spaghetti-and-meatballs “Italian” place, for sure.
The bread, which comes served with your choice of infused olive oils from The Mighty Olive, alone is worth going for. Allie and I chose the pulled duck pizza special as an appetizer. Strano serves a “Goldilocks” crust (my term) that’s not too thin or too thick, with a tomato-y sauce that I loved. The ravioli special (keep in mind a full order is four or five ravioli, so a half order is just two or three) had a unique, tasty walnut pesto sauce.
We picked the rack of lamb for an entree, and presentation was unlike anything I’ve seen. Five ribs were nestled on a bed of sautéed spinach and yellow squash, tucked in with a blanket of microgreens and pomegranate rosemary reduction. But that wasn’t the crazy part.
On the corner of the plate sat a single artichoke heart, covered by a tiny glass dome. The server set down the plate in front of me and with the flourish of a magician, removed the dome, releasing a puff of steam. I was so surprised and amused that my response was to half-yell “Why?!” Apparently releasing the steam like that allows the aromas of the smoked artichoke to mingle with the aromas of the rest of the dish. Or something. Perhaps I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate the palette-enhancing elements of that experience, but I did think it was a lot of fun.
About the lamb dish: the sauce had a great flavor, the vegetables were cooked perfectly, and even though the meat would have been better at medium than medium-well, it was tender enough that we didn’t even think to send it back. Unfortunately, each lamb rib had only one or maybe two bites of meat on it.
We ordered almond tiramisu and chocolate fig gelato for dessert. The gelato came out in a whimsical little chocolate bowl. While it looked good, there was something wrong with the texture or the temperature. It just wasn’t quite right.
We forgot about that pretty quickly, though, because the almond tiramisu was the best I’ve had, ever.
Allie and I had a glass of sangria and a glass of wine each (four drinks total), a twelve-inch pizza ($16), a plate of five ravioli ($16), a rack of lamb ($29), and two desserts. With tip, our bill was $140. We took home more than half the pizza, but we weren’t overly stuffed. For a regular night, salads and splitting a pizza – maybe with a happy hour drink, if they end up adding a happy hour – will be the affordable option. I’ll have to save the full dinner for a special occasion.
In terms of price point, Strano is on the level of Tsunami, Sweet Grass, or Bari, but it’s in a location that is not associated with fine dining and the logo on the sign makes it look like a playful, very casual place. It’s a tad confusing, but so are many new things.
Strano (which means “strange” in Italian) is facing their building’s negative history head on, and I’m a huge fan of that philosophy, so I’m going to keep an open mind. Their Facebook page proclaims: “We are now ready to break the cycle of revolving restaurants in this space. We are here and we don’t plan on leaving.”
Strano is open for lunch and dinner from 10:30 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday. They’re still technically in their soft opening period, so keep that in mind if you go in the next few days. The official Grand Opening will be a “Reverse the Curse Party” on May 30. They have vegetarian options, and kids could find something on the pizza, ravioli, or antipastos sections of the menu. Strano is ADA accessible.
I know it seems impossible, but I had more to say about Strano’s food and concept. To read a more verbose, detailed version of this post, check out the I Love Memphis Tumblr, where I post extra stuff from time to time.
Strano Sicilian Kitchen & Bar
948 S. Cooper Street
Memphis, Tennessee 38104