An old Sears distribution center is now one of the most ambitious mixed-use projects the city has ever seen
memphis crosstown concourse
Credit: Courtesy of Crosstown Concourse

For the longest time, if you wanted to know where to find the Memphis of the future, you pretty much needed a Sherpa. Sprawled halfway back to Nashville and only stopped by doing so in other directions by one, Mississippi (the river) and two, Mississippi (the state), modern Memphis—saying those two words together just feels, well, weird—is a vast patchwork of neighborhoods that feel as if they've never really gelled into a cohesive whole, never mind that they've had forever to get it done. (This city is old. You can feel it, almost immediately, when you get here.)

If you're looking for the heart of the action, well, there really is none—there's certainly plenty going on downtown, but it's mostly aimed at visitors. Let's be honest—when we talk about the best restaurants in Memphis, the conversation too often centers around places that might require long drives (sometimes up to a good half hour, or more) in the car from your city center hotel. In the process, you will leapfrog over all sorts of underutilized intown areas; the curious visitor might even wonder, as they go—why not here? Or here? And what exactly is wrong with this neighborhood?

For years, the art deco pile that began life in the 1920's as a Sears & Roebuck Co. distribution center was one of those skipped-past places. Just beyond downtown's furthest fringe, not far from the St. Jude campus, it's a thing you'd have thought Memphis might have found some use for, by now—finally completely abandoned in the early 1990s after years of footprint-shrinking within the one million square-foot facility, the building just sat there, like so much dead weight, yet another reminder of Memphis' distant relationship with things like innovation, and coping with change.

Turns out, all that was required was a little patience. Okay, a lot, the project has taken years and it's far from done, but now, the absolutely massive campus has been rebranded as Crosstown Concourse, and it's suddenly Memphis' hottest new address. There was a big grand opening in August to kick things off, and while complete build-out is a ways off, one of the most ambitious mixed-use developments the region has ever seen is now, among countless other things, a top draw for eating and drinking. From Mama Gaia, a smart vegan restaurant, to The Curb Market, stocking a well-curated selection of local foods, to a good mix of proven, better-than-average concepts (for instance, the Atlanta-based Farm Burger, specializing in grass-fed, locally sourced beef), things are already off to a strong start; this winter, the city's newest destination for hops appreciation, Crosstown Brewing Co., will join the mix. Cheers, Memphis—keep up the good work.