By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
As far as culinary training goes, Erin Davidson has run the gamut, from a mom and pop diner, to the Las Vegas strip, a Paula Deen buffet and fine dining.
At last, she has brought her culinary skills back to her roots in Northeast Mississippi.
On Nov. 1, Davidson opened Erin’s Off the Square in downtown Ripley in the building that previously housed Capansky’s Restaurant.
“I specialize in upscale, but approachable, Southern cuisine,” said Davidson, 28. “I have catfish, chicken and ribs on my menu. It’s everyday food that’s plated really pretty. It’s the same catfish and collards and pinto beans you’ve grown up eating. I just make it look different.”
Davidson, whose family has land in Falkner, had her first restaurant job at age 15 at the Blue Plate Cafe in Memphis. When she started college at the University of Memphis, she continued to work in restaurants, like Houston’s, Erling Jensen and Texas de Brazil.
“I was an English major and I realized I really wanted to go to culinary school,” she said. “I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do but cook.”
She received her chef’s designation from Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas in 2004 and soon headed to Richmond, Va., for a job.
“But I didn’t care for that area, so I came back to Memphis in ’07 and started at Owen Brennan’s,” she said. From there, she moved to Paula Deen’s buffet in Tunica and then to Sharky’s Gulf Grill.
“My mom found out this building was available, but she wasn’t sure I wanted to leave Memphis,” Davidson said. “I was working like a dog for somebody else, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Davidson admitted she’s made some mistakes along the way at Erin’s Off the Square.
“I have come down on my prices,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to be arrogant. I just didn’t know any better. I guess I got a little bit too big for my britches.”
Davidson, who grew up in Memphis and Collierville, soon found out the people in Ripley enjoy a good buffet. But she wanted to do something a little different than the traditional meat-and-three.
So she’s started a themed buffet that’s served Monday through Friday.
For example, on Mama Mia Monday, she’ll offer an Italian feast of dishes such as fettuccine alfredo, pasta marinara, meatballs, Italian spinach, some type of chicken dish, minestrone and salad for $7.50.
Fat Tuesday will be a selection of Cajun foods, such as crawfish pie, etouffee, chicken and sausage gumbo, muffuletta wraps and alligator chips for $8.
“Everything is made fresh,” she said. “I buy seasonal and buy local as much as I can. I don’t like to buy canned anything. All our meats are smoked out back. I’m going to try to change the menu out three to four times a year for seasonal reasons and to keep prices down.”
Another mistake Davidson made was taking too much time on lunch entrees.
“The only real complaint we’ve had is that our food was taking too long,” she said. “I have two sous chefs now and our lunch entrees are now coming out of the kitchen in 10 to 15 minutes. We had kinks to work out like everybody else.”
Davidson also removed the white tablecloths from the tables.
“People thought we were too fancy so we got rid of them,” she said. “We’re not stuffy; we’re fun. This place is for everybody, from Bubba to the president of the bank.”
Those who might not want to dive into a big, hearty lunch or dinner can try out Cutie Pies, a pastry bar that’s now open downstairs. That menu will offer quick sandwiches, like pimiento cheese, tuna salad and egg salad, as well as small salads, specialty cupcakes, pies, cookies, cold marble slab ice cream and premium coffees.
“If people want to feel us out or give us a second chance, they can come to Cutie Pies and get something small, and use the Wi-Fi,” she said. “The good thing about this town is that people are very forgiving. If you run out of something, they’re OK with it. There’s a lot of good support here.”
Erin’s Off the Square
– Where: 108 S. Commerce St., in downtown
– When: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.;
Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 2
– What: Southern cuisine; appetizers; salads;
sandwiches; daily buffet; dry county drinks
– Info: (662) 993-3746 or visit www.erinsoffthesquare.com