Bishop (CLOSED)

Treating Myself

It's not often that I go out and treat myself to a really nice dinner. Usually, a nice meal means a trip to one of my favorite restaurants like the Majestic Grille or Café 1912, but I decided to change it up. Making my way to Downtown Memphis' South Main Arts District, I dined at one of the city's newest restaurants, Bishop. It's one the many restaurants owned by Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, renowned chefs who also run Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Catherine and Mary's, Hog & Hominy and other restaurants. Although I have never had a bad meal at any A&M restaurant, I am particularly drawn to Bishop. Maybe it's because of the closure of Rizzo's Diner or the discontinuation of Sunday Brunch at the Majestic Grille or the fact that it's a really nice restaurant, I just love going there. The restaurant is located at Memphis Central Station, the boarding point for Amtrak train travelers going to either New Orleans or Chicago. The train station also has an upscale hotel (Central Station Hotel) that perfectly complements Bishop (as such, the restaurant is open most of the year even when other restaurants are closed). With my finances, I could never afford a night at the hotel but I can afford an occasional drink and/or meal at Bishop's bar. For the sake of this review, I decided to go all out with it by making a dinner reservation at Bishop.

SIDE NOTE: Although there might be some days when you can just walk in and get a table, it is best to reserve it ahead of time because more often than not, you won't get lucky at the last minute, especially on weekends.

Soon after getting seated, I was immediately greeted by my waitress... er, server (I feel weird using that term) who handed me a menu while informing me of the restaurant's daily specials. I pretty much knew ahead of time of what I wanted, trying to stay within the restaurant's French theme. With that in mind, I started off with escargot for an appetizer. The last time I had it was decades ago in Atlanta when I was hanging out with my family, where I learned that "escargot" is snails. From my fuzzy memory, I believe the escargot was served with the meat inside the shells, making it a nice and interesting treat. At Bishop, the escargots are served a bit differently, with the bits of meat (which along with the escargot, includes ham and chicken gizzards) immersed in butter and persillade, a traditional oil-based French garlic and herb sauce. By itself, the escargots were chewy and quite flavorful, and tasted better with French bread that I got later (the bread's butter was a bit salty). As an appetizer, the escargots were a great start to a nice dinner.

While I was eating my appetizer, I initially decided to get a beer. Shortly after I got it, I decided to get a shot of Japanese whiskey (more on that later). As I focused more on that, my server asked me if I liked my beer. I told that I did, although honestly, the beer was stale and not worth drinking. Of course, I thought nothing of it until my server asked me again if I was satisfied with my draft beer. This time, I was honest and told her what I really thought. She responded by getting me another beer (Wiseacre Tiny Bomb) that was much more to my liking. I'll admit that I didn't expect this, for most places (including a lot of upscale restaurants) don't care if you like your drink or not. For them, you order it, you pay for it. Fortunately, Bishop goes out of its way to make the dining experience enjoyable, paying attention to every detail. I appreciate that and look forward to more of Bishop's excellent service in the future.

After finishing off my appetizer, I was ready for the main course. Given Bishop's specialty, I wanted to order something that was definitely French. After looking over the menu, I realized that it wasn't that extensive. Mostly consisting of small plates, Bishop's menu isn't for people with huge appetites. So, choosing from the limited "Large Plates" menu, I decided to get the Beef Bourguignon.

The entrée is the French version of beef stew braised in red wine, although Bishop's version is an approximately eight ounce cut of beef sitting atop of mashed potatoes... er, "pommes puree" in a red wine stew of various vegetables. The beef was extremely tender and easy to cut into, resulting from hours of low and slow cooking. In terms of flavor, the combination of beef, bacon and the rest of the stew made for a uniquely flavorful meal. Although I liked it, I'm sure there are some who might have a more cynical take of the Beef Bourguignon, dismissing it as nothing more than a beef stew that could you find at any "greasy spoon" restaurant. I guess it depends on one's point of view, but I believe that Bishop's Beef Bourguignon (aka Beef Burgundy because of fact that the entrée originally came from Burgundy region of France) is a pretty good dish and far better than average. It's definitely an entrée that I would recommend to others looking for a genuine French meal.

After the Beef Bourguignon, I finished my dinner with a Gelato Sundae. I wasn't sure if I had enough room in my stomach to accommodate a dessert (taking into account the fries that I had with the Beef Bourguignon), but I willed my way into it. As you can see, the dessert comes with four scoops of gelato (Italian ice cream) that is drizzled with chocolate and a cherry on top, sitting atop a chocolate milkshake. As expected, the sundae was creamy and very filling, enormous enough for two people. The dessert pairs well with most beverages, but I would recommend eating it with a shot of Bailey's Irish Cream, a sweet milk-chocolate liqueur that is the perfect pairing to a dessert like Bishop's Gelato Sundae. In all, the dessert was a sweet tasty treat and a nice finish to a wonderful dinner. Of course, getting all this isn't cheap (my tab, including tip, was slightly north of my cable bill) but it was worth treating myself to something nice on occasion.

Beignet Saves The Day

Part of my interest in Bishop is that it's a nice place to have brunch. With the Majestic Grille shutting down its Sunday Brunch service, I'm in need of a new downtown dining spot for that (it would have been Rizzo's Diner but it recently closed for good; note that the Majestic Grille has since resumed its brunch service). Although I could have easily fallen back to Bardog Tavern, but I rather have my Sunday Brunch at a restaurant with some swank. Surprisingly, there aren't many downtown options to choose from, particularly from restaurants that aren't in a hotel. Given that reality, I went back to Central Station Hotel's restaurant for what I hoped would be a classy brunch. I didn't do my usual research before going to Bishop, so I had no idea what was on the brunch menu. I assumed (a dangerous thing to do) that the French brasserie would have a typical list of breakfast/brunch items along with a few French specialties. At first glance, I saw that most of Bishop's brunch menu consisted of sandwiches, either in traditional bread form or as biscuit sandwiches. As an old fashioned guy who is steeped in American tradition, I wanted something more familiar to what I like. Among the items on Bishop's brunch menu are a few familiar classics like the standard egg-based breakfast with bacon/sausage, grits and a biscuit (called the Bishop Breakfast), and the steak and eggs entrée. I opted for the latter, given how hungry I was and my desire to tear into some beef. My expectations for Bishop's version of the breakfast classic were low, for I didn't expect a huge ribeye being the centerpiece of my meal. However, I expected something that looked like, well, a steak. What I eventually got was a little underwhelming.

The steak and eggs that I got was a bit off the mark in terms of expectations. At first glance, I wasn't sure what to make of it. All I saw was scrambled eggs strewn across a medley of other stuff. Seeing this, I mentally asked "where's the beef" of my order, mimicking the old lady of that classic Wendy's commercial. Turns out that the "steak" is slices of meat topped with Béarnaise sauce and resting atop chopped Yukon potatoes, carrots and sautéed onions. Definitely a far cry from The Majestic Grille and the recently closed Rizzo's Diner (a former South Main eatery just a block away from Bishop), I knew that my entrée wasn't going to get the job done in satisfying my appetite. To it's credit, the "steak" was perfectly cooked "medium rare" and tender and tasty. Unfortunately, it left me wanting more. Eventually, I knew that I needed to order something else to satisfy my appetite (I should have went with my gut and did it from the start).

SIDE NOTE: I noticed a lot of people were getting the Bishop Burger during brunch. It seems that if I wanted something beefy, I should have chosen that. Maybe I could get it with a fried egg in the future. In the last segment of this review, I talk a lot about the delicious Bishop Burger.

Going back to the brunch menu, I ordered beignets as a "dessert" to my brunch. Reminiscing my time on the Gulf Coast, I have fond memories of the fried pastry. There was never a time when I didn't get full from eating a few of them, so I knew that a plate of beignets would more than make up for the lack of "steak" in the main course (to be fair, I shouldn't have expected much given that the "steak and eggs" cost $25, half the price of Bishop's filet). The powdery sugared beignets were sweet and, despite being fluffy, heavy in substance. The beignets were very good and didn't make much of a mess, finishing off a brunch that was unique. In subsequent visits, I probably won't order the steak and eggs again but for anyone looking for a light meal, the entrée is a good choice.

Sandwich This In

A couple of weeks later, I went back to Bishop for brunch again, this time with more realistic expectations. I decided to take the French approach to brunch by ordering a sandwich, of which there are many on Bishop's menu. Trying to keep it as "French" as possible, I got the Croque Madame. It's basically a ham and cheese sandwich that's topped with a fried egg, designed to be a light snack. Bishop's version comes with fries, which adds some heft to the thin sandwich. The sandwich consists of thin slices of ham topped with a Mornay cheese (Gruyére?) sauce and contained by thin slices of sourdough bread, topped by more cheese and the aforementioned fried egg. All together, the sandwich (which in my opinion resembles a panini) was a tasty light snack that was nutritionally satisfying while not weighing me down. For some looking for a more hearty (as in Hardee's), meaty sandwich, something like the Croque Madame won't do. However, for casual dining with cocktails on a Sunday morning, the French sandwich is a good fit.

Bishop Breakfast from the Central Station Hotel in Memphis, TN

UPDATE: I decided to get the Bishop Breakfast (formerly called the "Butcher's Breakfast") after all. Bishop's take on the classic breakfast features two eggs cooked anyway you like (as you can see, I got them scrambled), cheese grits, toast and either sausage or bacon. While nothing in particular stands out in the Bishop Breakfast, it collectively makes a great meal. The scrambled eggs has the perfect texture, being perfectly soft as opposed to being either runny or hard. The taste of it is almost perfect, with the eggs having the right amount of salt for flavor. The country sausage and cheese grits tastes great, which along the Texas-sized toast completes an appetite-busting breakfast. As a precaution against an under-serving breakfast, I ordered a hashbrown that wasn't needed, although it didn't hurt to have (by the way, I assumed it would be something fancy as opposed to something that I can get in the frozen section of a grocery store). So for anyone looking for a traditional breakfast from Bishop that hits the spot, its signature entrée is highly recommended.

SIDE NOTE: I eventually got my grub on later. After I left Bishop, I eventually made it to the Flying Saucer after a brief stop at Max's Sports Bar. To satisfy my hunger, I got one of the Saucer's delicious burgers (the Bleu Burger) while getting caught up with longtime Saucer Girl/bartender Christina. Speaking of Saucer Girls, former Saucer legend Jessica is now bartending at Local (in addition to Max's) while her former co-worker Nikki is now at Ben Yay's. It seems that their former employer made a "silly" decision in not retaining these awesome women.

Double Take

Although Bishop has earned a reputation as a fine dining establishment, it can also be a place to simply chill while grubbing on a burger. On my last birthday, I did just that. While my intention was to have a nice dinner, I didn't have the foresight to make a reservation so I ended up at the bar. Hoping to get a table that never came, I made the most of it during my pointless wait. Unlike a lot restaurants, Bishop doesn't serve a lot a "common" beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon so I classed it up a bit by getting a Crosstown Siren, a Blonde Ale that's one of my favorite local go-to brews (by the way, the Siren costs seven dollars, not exactly cheap). While sipping on my beer, I saw a bottle on the bar's top shelf of liquors that piqued my interest. It was a bottle with a Japanese character (or "kanji" for those in the know) on the label that stood out from the rest of the bottles. Being the adventurous man that I am, I asked the bartender about the bottle. It turned out to be a Japanese whiskey called Ohishi. Unlike other whiskeys that I've had, Ohishi is distilled from rice aged in Sherry casks for a smooth and sweet flavor. Definitely different from other whiskeys, the Ohishi tasted more like caramel than a sour mash shot of Jack Daniel's.  While enjoying my delicious libation, I never thought how much the Japanese whiskey cost (about $13 a shot) but rather let my inhibitions down and rolled with it (after all, it was my birthday). After waiting for about an hour, I decided to eat dinner at the bar. Although it wasn't ideal, I was enjoying my whiskey so much that I couldn't leave without getting some food to go with it.

So here I am, at a Downtown Memphis restaurant by myself, sipping on whiskey and beer. Obviously, I wasn't going to get the candlelight dinner that I wanted, so I got into "bar mode" and ordered something appropriate. Initially, I thought about ordering the Branzino from Bishop's "tinned" menu. Fortunately, a guy sitting next to me got that, with the Branzino fish served in a tin can. "Wow" (or rather "WTF"), an upscale restaurant serving meals in tin cans and even having a menu for that? Hey, far be it from me to tell anyone how to run a restaurant (least of all guys like Andrew and Michael) but that isn't something that I would serve if I had a dive bar like Earnestine and Hazel's. However, I can't knock Bishop's hustle too much, for the guy eating his "tinned" dinner really enjoyed it. As for myself, instead of going for a French "tinned" dinner, I opted for something more "American" in the form of a burger.

In getting the Bishop Burger, I wasn't going into this blindly. The burger is regarded as one of the best in Memphis according to publications like The Memphis Flyer. Also, many of my friends had high praises for it. After having one myself, it's no dispute that Bishop's signature cheeseburger is a first class gourmet masterpiece. In terms of taste, imagine an Oklahoma smash burger (which you can get Bishop's sister restaurant Hog & Hominy) on steroids. Although the burger includes tomato aioli and thick slices of bacon (all in a fresh Brioche bun), it's the onion flavor derived from the B1 sauce that makes the burger really stand out and absolutely delicious. By the way, the beef patties were cooked a perfect medium rare, which in itself made the burger awesome. It's been awhile since I've a burger this good, but Bishop more than exceeds my expectations. To add a bit a style, the Bishop Burger is served with a knife plunged on top of it with the B1 sauce oozing from the burger. Along with a cup of fries that tastes better when dipped in B1 sauce, the Bishop Burger is a complete meal that I look forward to having again and again, even on my birthday. Especially when I'm drinking Ohishi whiskey with it.

For dessert, I wanted something that I could put a candle in (after all, it was my birthday). The bartender suggested the profiteroles, a French pastry styled as a gooey ice cream slider. When the bartender brought it out, I thought he got me confused with a kid. The profiteroles looked more suited for children, but I can be a big kid on my birthday. After blowing out the candle on my plate, I cut into the profiteroles to cap off the night (I didn't eat them by hand because I didn't want to make a mess). The dessert was really nice, for the pastry was creamy and sweet (similar to an eclair). The chocolate and caramel blended nicely with both the pastries and vanilla ice cream, which along with the almonds made for a satisfying dessert. Although I would have preferred an actual birthday cake, the profiteroles was a savory substitute that made my birthday special.

Overall, I had a nice time celebrating my birthday at Bishop. Even though I was dining alone, the staff at Bishop made the night special for me. My bartender even led the bar (including patrons) in serenading "Happy Birthday" to me as I blew out the candle on my birthday "cake." And the best part was, despite the fact that I'm not a regular customer with the restaurant, Bishop comped my dinner. That was a pleasant surprise that I did not expect and it's certainly something that rarely happens at places where I am a "regular" customer. The night ended on a happy note, with me heading home standing somewhat upright, which isn't how I celebrated birthdays in the past. As I get older, I really need to cut back on drinking so I can enjoy the finer thing in life. After all, I don't have a lot of birthdays left so I should make the most of them.

Here's a better pic of the Bishop Burger

NOTE: My birthday dinner occurred almost exactly a year ago. With another birthday upcoming, I hope it's as memorable as my time at Bishop.

By now, anyone can correctly assume that I like Bishop. As much as I like the food, what impresses me the most is the place itself and the people who work there. The restaurant is classy with its historic architecture and artwork that I'm guessing is French-inspired. While it has that early 20th Century charm, it's chic enough to appeal to South Main residents. Combine that with the professionalism of the staff who goes out of their way to ensure that their customers are enjoying themselves, it's easy to see why so many people love Bishop. Even if the food was terrible, I could hang out at Bishop's bar for the drinks alone (even the Mimosas look cool). Speaking of the food, the Bishop Burger is by far the best and most popular item on the menu, so good that many get it for brunch. The burger alone is definitely worth a visit, but Bishop is so much more than that. Based my experiences, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a unique and wonderful time.

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