By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Chef Tim Barker
Combining his love for art and uncomplicated menus, Chef Tim Barker has created an innovative Memphis restaurant that is fun and edgy.
Sometimes things happen. Or more likely, someone like Chef Tim Barker makes things happen.
Edge Alley Restaurant in Midtown Memphis represents both what’s happening in this part of the city and perhaps a culmination of Barker’s own evolving talents. Chef or Entrepreneur? It depends on the day. With more than 25 years working in kitchens, Barker worked as sous chef under Andreas Kisler at the Peabody’s Chez Philippe and at the former Encore restaurant at Peabody Place. He then led the kitchen for four years at Karen Carrier’s Beauty Shop Restaurant.
Barker’s lifelong interest in the culinary arts began as a teenager growing up in Martin, Tennessee. “I was 13 and I wanted to save for a car, so my dad said ‘get a job’. I went to Shoney’s and got a job as a dishwasher.”
From those early years, his culinary pursuits took him to Kentucky, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Martha’s Vineyard, South Boston and eventually Memphis. He values mentorship and remembers his early experiences working with “tough but caring” chefs.
“Cooking is transformative,” he says.
His daily routine now is part culinary and artistic. Barker founded Table and Bar Consulting Group, a design service specifically for restaurants and the food industry. He’s helped design spaces from Tennessee to Colorado and his connection to Edge Alley originated through a design request.
“I left the kitchen, opened this consulting business and was asked to take a look at the space next door for High Cotton Brewing Company,” he says. The craft brewery opened in 2014 and has been a community builder through the neighborhood.
Edge Alley’s name reflects its historical location on Monroe Street, which was once the edge of Memphis and at the heart of the automotive row. The restaurant shares half of the building with High Cotton Brewery where Nash Motors, a national car dealership, used to fill the space. Investors began looking at restoring the building in 2010 with the tap room open in 2015. Barker’s vision even extended to the well-designed, street side patio, which connects the two separate businesses with an interesting combination of wood planters and a steel pergola.
The area around Edge Alley is experiencing a renaissance of sorts and poised for more growth. Just this spring, Orion Bank set up its headquarters in the historic Wonder Bread building, bringing more than 250 employees to the area. Plans for future residential growth include a four-story residential unit. It’s just the type of atmosphere that’s attracting dog walkers, craft beer enthusiasts, and baby strollers. Creating a place where community, art, and food come together has always been at the forefront of Barker’s mind.
Edge Alley attracts a diverse community for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Barker, who studied artistic photography at Murray State University in Kentucky, is also keenly interested in supporting artists. Inside the open-concept restaurant, he offers an artist-in-residence space with the intent of giving artists an opportunity to sell art. A former micro-retail space has been converted to another informal photography gallery, which opened in June 2019.
Behind the coffee bar, a large piece of shiny equipment draws quizzical stares. “That’s our coffee roaster,” laughs Barker. Fresh baked breads and hot coffee are just the start of Edge Alley’s menu which Barker makes it clear isn’t just a coffee shop. “We’ve fought that stigma from the start,” he adds.
The menu itself reminds customers that quality always ranks over quantity. Tailored with intention, the choices reflect Barker’s curated approach to food. He wants it accessible and true.
“I don’t want to price anyone out of dinner and we don’t plate food with tweezers,” he says. While the menu holds some classic Southern fare like shrimp-and-grits and chicken salad, the dishes take a veer with his unique style. Across the board, however, he strives for light, fresh offerings and informality. Sunday brunch, live music and to-die-for desserts also keep things hopping at Edge Alley.
Located within walking distance of Sun Studio and Memphis’ Medical District, Edge Alley sets its sights on being a place for everyone to drop in, from business executives to students. “We want to reflect all walks of life,” says Barker. With seating for more than 60, there’s room for everyone. And if full?
“We want people to have the option of strolling back and forth between the brewery and restaurant. Maybe they grab a beer and then eat here, or maybe have lunch and then head next door,” says Barker.
Edge Alley reflects Barker’s casual outlook and dedication to his community, inspiring both in and out of the kitchen.
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