From Indochine to Ink, Maxwell’s to Melange to Dish to Cortona , Cooper-Young’s most visible corner has seen at least half a dozen restaurants come, and inevitably go, since the 1990s.
Josh Steiner knows the corner’s reputation. But the owner of the new Sicilian restaurant Strano, which officially opens for dinner May 30, isn’t scared. He’s embracing it, while confidently promising to “reverse the curse.”
“My theory is, if we run it right, which we are, it can’t be cursed,” Steiner says.
Since quietly opening its doors May 14 for a soft opening phase, Strano has been drawing 60-100 diners a night based on word of mouth. The restaurant takes its name from his mother’s family name, but it also translates as “strange,” a reflection of the quirky 1923 building where it’s located, with its façade curved to accommodate the neighborhood’s long-gone streetcar line.
Steiner, a Memphian who attended Lausanne (where he played basketball with a young Marc Gasol), trained at L’Ecole Culinaire and studied under Sicilian home chefs before working in the kitchen at nearby Beauty Shop and DKDC.
Strano! plays up his family’s Mediterranean roots in Sicily and Morocco. He started cooking as a kid with his Sicilian grandmother, then with his Moroccan grandmother as a teen.
While similar to Italian, the food at Strano is lighter, he says, using olive oil, fresh fish and pasta, couscous and citrus flavors, rather than heavy tomato sauces and melted mozzarella on family-size portions. Herbs are grown on the patio, vegetables in Steiner’s garden and many of the rest of the ingredients are locally sourced.
He touts his dessert menu and wine list, picked by the restaurant’s sommelier, full bar with local beers on tap, and the restaurant’s pork shank, which roasts in Sicilian wine for 8-10 hours.
Steiner says he thought first about becoming a doctor, but he channeled his early love of science into cooking. At Strano!, he’ll be infusing science into his food, injecting carbonation into fresh fruit for cocktails and smoking artichokes under glass to add some showmanship to the meal.
And while the building may have its quirks — “spirits,” Steiner calls them — you can’t beat the Cooper-Young corner location, he says.
“This is the location,” Steiner said, facing the large bay windows that look out onto crowds on the sidewalk and bands in the gazebo. “This is the spot. You can’t get better than this.”