This blog is devoted to highlighting restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hog and Hominy

A Fine Culinary Experience

Whenever I decide to review a restaurant, the inspiration to do it can come from the most unlikely of places. In this case, it was the box office at the FedExForum where I work my second job. Actually, that last sentence is a bit of a misnomer, because I've had the "second job" much longer than my primary revenue source. Because of my full-time job, I can only work evenings at the FedExForum while many of my coworkers are available throughout the day. A lot of times, there aren’t any "seller" positions left when I arrive at the box office which in turn gets me reassigned to another job. Occasionally, I'm assigned to the "will call" section that is responsible for issuing reserved tickets to arena events. As this relates to this review, I was working this assignment on the day I met Andrew Ticer, one of the chefs/owners (along with Michael Hudman) of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. For some reason, I envisioned him as a pudgy, middle-aged guy like Emeril Lagasse or local chef Kelly English (or his partner, without the "middle-age"), not a young, good-looking fit man straight out of central casting. Upon meeting him, I thought of TV food shows like "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" that feature up-and-coming chefs and innovative restaurants serving unique dishes. Mr. Ticer, with his hippie-like long hair, struck me as a wunderkind that a TV producer might (and probably will) take interest in. Although my lowly blog will never obtain the stature of the Travel Channel, meeting Ticer (and handing him his Grizzlies tickets) inspired me to visit Hog and Hominy, the "Italian Kitchen's" lower-priced sister restaurant.

Hog and Hominy serves a hybrid of Italian and Southern dishes, specializing in pizza and small plates. In my opinion, the restaurant is a combination of a classic pizzeria like Aldo's Pizza Pies and a Southern eatery (McEwen's comes to mind). Hog & Hominy has a unique menu that demonstrates the creativity of the owners, such as beef heart with Vidalia kimchee, and biscuit gnocchi, something that sounds wacky (as in Foghorn Leghorn meeting the Mario Brothers) but is probably very good. In venturing into the menu, I got the Buffalo Pork Tails, which is an offshoot of traditional buffalo wings. Compared to them, the nuggets of pig tail are just as savory as wings from places like Kelvin's Hot Wings (which moved to Millington, news that should have been issued through its Twitter account). The sauce has a nice balance of peppery spices and vinegar for a moderately spicy taste that is very good. The pig tail is garnished with shreds of celery leaves and fried pig ears that has the same texture and taste of bacon. It seems like the guys at Hog and Hominy have some "black" in them when it comes to making the most out of what they have. Now before you accuse me of playing the dreaded "race card," what I'm saying is that Hog and Hominy are adhering to the "Soul Food" tradition of using unconventional pieces of meat (as in scraps similar to what African-American slaves ate) to make dishes that are not only palatable, but delicious. It's this kind of creativity that separates Hog and Hominy from most restaurants and will probably be the foundation for its long-term success.

SIDE NOTE: By the way, I know that poverty isn't the sole province of black people, as Granny and her "vittles" can attest to.

After having the Buffalo Pork Tails, I moved on to the main course, the pizza. I didn't know what I wanted, even after reading reviews on Foursquare and Urbanspoon (it folded into Zomato, which isn't blogger-friendly). I was at a loss on what to order even though most recommended The Red Eye. In a leap of faith, I settled on The Prewitt because it had something that I never had before, boudin sausage. Generally, most boudin consists of pork (I know what you're thinking, "duh") but beyond that, other ingredients depend on where you get it. Assuming that the sausage was made in-house (or at Porcellino's, Andrew and Michael's butcher shop that's adjacent to the restaurant) with locally sourced ingredients, my guess is that the boudin has pork liver, rice and pork heart stuffed in it. Boudin in the United States (especially in Louisiana) has that combination along with seasoning for added flavor. Bottom line, the boudin (along with the Fortina cheese) stood out in the brick oven-cooked pizza that I enjoyed every bite of. The pizza also has scrambled eggs on it, but the boudin was so good that I barely noticed anything else on the pizza. Overall, The Prewitt is an outstanding pizza that I want to have again.

While I ate my pizza, I thought about one menu item that people were raving about: Hog and Hominy's "collards" as in collard greens. I was going to pass on them but a recommendation from Memphis' other black food blogger (who lives in New York), Tiffany Langston of Tiffany Tastes, convinced me into getting a bowl of greens. I'm glad I did, for the "collards" are exceptionally good. Unlike most places not named "Mama's house," many restaurants serve greens that aren't appealing in terms of smell and taste. Hog and Hominy's collards have a good aroma to it with a taste that has a strong vinegar-like presence with just enough salt and black pepper to liven it up. I'm not sure if any "hog" is in H & H's recipe, but there is hominy in it that adds a nice, complementing touch to the greens. Summing it up, Hog and Hominy's collard greens are the best I've had outside of my family and is on a short list with The Little Tea Shop (who has the best turnip greens I ever had) as places to go whenever I need a "greens" fix.

SIDE NOTE: I know this is late, but I want to wish a belated Happy Mother's Day to all the ladies who are the backbone of families. If you haven't done it lately, tell and show your Mom how much you love her. I'm sure it will mean a lot to her.

After having a well-rounded meal at Hog and Hominy, I left with a great impression of the place. Given what I had, I'm confident in saying that the restaurant is excellent and I recommend it to anyone looking for an awesome culinary experience. The menu is creative and utilizes locally sourced meats and vegetables to provide high quality meals to its customers. To go along with the food, the restaurant has an extensive alcohol menu for those who enjoy their libations. That includes a beer selection that excludes domestics like Bud Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon in favor of premium craft brews (I started off with an Abita Andygator that gave me a really nice buzz). Overall, Hog and Hominy is an awesome restaurant and if you haven't been there yet, you are missing out. Go there!


Click to add a blog post for Hog & Hominy on Zomato

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Beer, Commentary, East Memphis, Pizza, Soul Food, Southern, Tapas/Small Plates

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Belly Acres

Farm Fresh Goodness

Recently, I stopped by Belly Acres in Overton Square to see what it was all about. Judging from the reviews, it appeared that Belly Acres made a great impression with its burgers. Most seemed to like the Southern Gentleman, a hamburger featuring a thick slice of roasted sweet potato in it. Notice that I said "hamburger" because the burger comes without cheese. For me, a burger without cheese is like corn flakes without milk because they complement each other perfectly. For someone to pull that off, he/she has to have all the right ingredients and expertise to make a great burger. The folks at Belly Acres have mastered their craft, exemplified by the Southern Gentleman.

The key to making a great burger is the meat. If you get quality ground beef, you could be a novice (or to borrow a term from a "fan" of this blog, an "imbecile") and make a somewhat decent and edible burger. That said, put quality grass-fed beef in the hands of Belly Acres' chefs and you're going to see some amazing burgers. In the case of the Southern Gentleman, the tastiness of the ground beef hit me at the first bite. Like some of my favorite burger joints such as Three Angels Diner and Local (whose Overton Square location has the best burger in the district), the meat (cooked a perfect medium rare) was flawless. Lightly seasoned, the beef tasted similar to ground sirloin in my non-expert opinion, although Belly Acres could be using 80/20 ground beef. Whatever it is, the meat really impressed me.
With great tasting ground beef as its foundation, the Southern Gentleman is a masterpiece of a burger. With a slice of sweet potato and pickled greens, the burger is more like a country dinner within a wheat bun. Add in bacon, lettuce and maple ketchup and the result is a unique burger that is really good. I'm surprised that more Southern restaurants don't serve this type of burger. To sum it up, the Southern Gentleman is a great hamburger that I can confidently recommend to others.
Belly Acres turned out to be a wonderful experience and I look forward to returning there soon. Whenever I revisit, I'm getting one of the restaurant's buffalo burgers that I believe will be very good. The restaurant also serves vegan burgers and numerous other sandwiches and entrees, so anyone with an appetite will likely find something that's appealing. Belly Acres prides itself as being "Citified Farm Fresh," meaning that everything it serves, from the vegetables to its free range chicken and grass-fed beef, comes straight from the farm to its little restaurant in Midtown Memphis. That pride extends to the restaurant itself, judging from the crop duster replica hanging from its ceiling and the huge mural of a farm displayed in its main dining room. It also celebrates Memphis, for you get a stand holding a miniature street sign that identifies you to the restaurant staff when your order is ready. I'm sure that kids love it because the signs kind of resemble Sesame Street's logo. Speaking of that, I felt like I was in elementary school when I waited in a long line before placing my order at Belly Acres' counter. That line (for a Saturday evening) extended to the entrance of the restaurant, so people who are in a hurry may want to consider that before dining there. Belly Acres has become very popular since its opening and will likely build on that in the years to come.


Belly Acres on Urbanspoon

It's Time

Memphis in May is just around the corner, meaning it's time for the finest BBQ teams to strut their stuff at next month's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest at Tom Lee Park on Riverside Drive. I want to wish all of them the best of luck as they compete for top food honors at the BBQ Fest. As someone with barbecue team experience, I want to point out that judging for best BBQ starts on Saturday morning (May 16) and lasts until late in the afternoon for teams that fare well. Alright, before you call me "Captain Obvious," let me say that at least one barbecue team didn't get the memo about that during last year's event and was a "no show" (as in no barbecue to present to the judges) during the competition. I cannot understand how anyone could be stupid enough to not know that, consequently wasting time and thousands of dollars (including money from sponsors) on basically a three-day party. So to this year's barbecue masters, don't be like that team but rather have your shit together for this year's festival. Also, I want to offer another piece of advice to one of the teams: make sure your "spokesman" is properly dressed during judging. After seeing him one night with his shorts hanging below his butt crack, I'm afraid that he might jeopardize your chances of winning at the BBQ Fest. With presentation being a part of judging, having your "spokesman's" exposed heinie near the food might prove distasteful. Anyway, good luck to you and all the other teams (including my boys on the Squeal Street BBQ Team) at this year's BBQ Fest.

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Commentary, Family Friendly, Midtown, Overton Square, Sandwiches

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New Menu Items at The Flying Saucer

Steppin' Its Game Up

Okay, what does Ryu Sushi Bar, Second Street Shoppers, Aldo's Pizza Pies, Adline's Hot Wings Express, Maria's Cantina, The Silly Goose, African Restaurant (formerly Kaloum) and Havana's Pilon have in common? Not much, other than the mentioning of the Flying Saucer in my reviews of them during the five years of this blog. Needless to say, the Saucer is one of my favorite places to chill out while drinking some of the world's finest beers. No offense to the other places that I've visited, but they aren't as much fun as a bar with hot girls in short skirts serving beer and bar food (okay, the "Goose" is the lone exception). As a guy who appreciates a woman with a rocking body, the Saucer is almost like heaven to me. So, when the "Draught Emporium" added new stuff to its food menu, I almost felt an obligation to highlight some of them on my blog. For the most part, just about everything the Saucer added has gone over well with the "regulars" that I hang with, who persuaded me to try some of the Saucer's new offerings.

The Loaded Rocket-Tots didn't make an initial good impression because they were, well, loaded. When I got them the first time, the spicy potato tots had everything that the menu listed, including a lot of green onions and goat cheese. Frankly, the onions were a bit much and the goat cheese didn't go well with the fried egg in terms of taste. Of course, this is only one man's opinion that I'm sure some will take issue with, but my first go-round with the Rocket-Tots didn't exactly win me over.
Normally, when I get an opinion about something that I'm going to write about, I don't go back for seconds. However, as the Flying Saucer is one of my favorite bars (along with Bardog Tavern, Slider Inn, Blind Bear and yes, the "Goose"), it was inevitable that I was going to get another "plate" (that being a skillet) of Loaded Rocket-Tots. I don't know if the Saucer's cooks were reading my mind or not but on the second time around, they hit the mark. The tots had more cheddar and less goat cheese and came without green onions (they also forgot the jalapeños, but made up for it with more bacon). Unlike its predecessor, these cheesy potato tots came off more like brunch than bar food. The Rocket-Tots seem more appropriate in a diner than a bar, but with a good beer (the Saucer has hundreds to choose from) as opposed to orange juice, this version of the Loaded Rocket-Tots is something that I look forward to having again (and unlike most places that I've visited, I actually mean it).

Another superstar among the Flying Saucer's new offerings is the IPA Mac & Cheese. Of all the fancy and gourmet mac and cheese dishes that I've had, I'm hard pressed to name a restaurant that makes the pasta dish better than the Saucer. That includes places like Alchemy and Blind Bear, establishments that got a lot of well-deserved praise for making excellent Mac & Cheese. In my opinion, I believe the Saucer's version is up there with them in terms of taste. The combination of tasty IPA cheese sauce, bacon, chives and bread crumbs gives the Saucer's macaroni and cheese a sophistication comparable to upscale restaurants. In case you're wondering, the IPA cheese sauce is not a bastardized version of a Wiseacre Ananda. To the contrary, the sauce has no presence of hops in its taste. Apparently, the Saucer managed to retain the better parts of an IPA and incorporated it into pasta that's heads and shoulders above most. Even for those who don't like beer, few will find fault with the Flying Saucer's excellent Mac and Cheese.

I want to finish this review with another "new" menu item that's been around for a few years. The Saucer's Mojo Cajun spiced hot wings (previously called "Mojo Wings") are a nice, no-mess alternative to traditional Buffalo Wings. Likely infused with cayenne and other spicy seasonings, the wings bring the heat without the mess that comes with hot wing sauce. An assortment of vegetables come with the wings that make them even better. The lettuce is my favorite, because it catches much of the wings' droppings of oil and seasonings that turns them into spicy sides for my wings. Overall, the wings and veggies are great and among my personal favorites in Memphis. Although the "Mojo Wings" won't supplant legendary favorites like Alex's Tavern and Ching's, I feel that they can hold their own with most Mid-South wing joints. If the Flying Saucer keeps the wings on the menu (and ladies in short skirts serving them), I can assure you that I'll have these wings again and again.

It seems that the Flying Saucer is making a huge effort in appealing to more people outside the beer-drinking demographic. While it won't bat a thousand with everything it does, I like the direction that the bar is going in and wish it continued success. Of course, even if it served terrible food, I will always be a "regular" at the Saucer for as long as I'm welcomed. A bar that offers great beer and pretty girls serving it is hard to beat (Hooters has nothing on the Saucer).

Don't Do Crack, Mr. Load-In..., I mean, Mayor Load Turd
Don't Do "Crack"
Before I go, I want to offer a fashion tip to one of the Flying Saucer's "esteemed" regulars, "Mr. Load Turd." The next time you go on a drunken bender at the Saucer, could you please not dress like a slob. Specifically, you need to start wearing a belt so that your fat boy shorts don't sag whenever you're slumped over the Saucer's bar like Otis the Town Drunk. I know you like making an ass out of yourself, but showing it is a bit much. If you're going for the ghetto boy look so that you can roll with your homies in "Norf Norf Memphris" (did you get that term from the David Duke racist book of Ebonics), your look is unbecoming. So please, pull your pants up and spare the public the unsightly mess of your ass. If necessary, you could replace the "Buy Me A Beer" button on your blog with a "Buy Me A Belt" link for something to wrap around your XXXL gut (and buy maternity blouses, because you look nine months pregnant). Just do something, because as much as I have to put up with your crap, please spare me the sight of your crapper. All I want to do is enjoy a Blue Moon, not a red-ass mooning from a Razorback-looking fatso.

SIDE NOTE: Although I despise "Mr. Load Turd," I agree with him on some things. For example, the hottie repping Mesquite Chop House in the "Queen of the Vine" contest at the 2015 Beale Street Wine Race was by far the hottest chick in the pageant. She's also talented, for she masterfully sung lyrics when answering a question about a song she liked (none of other contestants had the wits to do that). Unfortunately, she didn't win (neither did Alfred's lady, despite her best efforts), losing to a woman far less sexy and talented. Nonetheless, I might go to Southaven for a crappy overpriced steak just to check out "Miss Mesquite."

Anyway, despite some nuisances, I like the Flying Saucer. I have met great people there over the years who remain some of my closest friends. It's a place where I have partied hard and had really great times. Looking ahead, I hope to experience more of the same.


Flying Saucer Draught Emporium on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Beer, Brunch, Commentary, Downtown, Pasta, Tapas/Small Plates, Wings

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Elwood's Shack

Everything But Ribs

As a fan of barbecue, I'm always looking for new places to satisfy my fix. Fortunately, the restaurants of Summer Avenue offer much in that regard, ranging from dry rub ribs from Central BBQ to barbecue nachos from Big Mike's Smoke Shack (a food truck that usually sells at the Summer Avenue Farmers Market). Speaking of "shacks," I want to focus on Elwood's Shack, the tiny restaurant next to Lowe's on the corner (sort of) of Summer and Perkins. Formerly the Pizza Shack, Elwood's offers a huge menu ranging from quesadillas to quiche, although its best stuff comes from a barrel smoker behind the "shack." The restaurant serves barbecue in various forms like ribs and sandwiches and in unconventional ways such as pizza. The Shack smokes both pork and beef, with the latter being some of the best I've ever had (it also barbecues chicken, to a lesser extent). For anyone that isn't either a vegetarian or vegan (or averse to barbecue) can likely find something favorable from the BBQ menu of Elwood's Shack.

Texas Beef Brisket Taco
Brisket Taco
Because there are so many things to choose from, trying to cover everything for a review is a daunting challenge so I'll start with some popular favorites. Elwood's brisket and pork tacos are behemoths (possibly half a pound) that come with the restaurant's standard "field greens" (mostly lettuce), cheeses, Pico de Gallo, chopped onions, avocado and creamy horseradish. The meats in both tacos are rich in smoke flavor that didn't need barbecue sauce or dry rub to accentuate it. Pulled Pork TacoCollectively, the toppings made for a tangy alternative to coleslaw and helped make the tacos really good. Fortunately, the toppings and barbecue didn't weaken the sturdy flour tortillas that made eating them nearly mess-free (they're flexible too, as demonstrated by the pork taco pictured on the right). Overall, both tacos made a very good impression on me and I look forward to eating them often.

SIDE NOTE: In addition to barbecue, Elwood's Shack offers several other kinds of tacos. Among those, the overwhelming favorite is the Steel Trout Taco that comes with all of the things that I mentioned in the barbecue tacos and is probably one of the best fish tacos in Memphis. In fact, it was the first thing that fellow blogger Seth of Best Memphis Burger pointed out when I told him that I work across the street from Elwood's. For him to recommend the Steel Trout Taco over Elwood's burgers (which are good, not great) made it a must-have for me. The taco lives up to expectations and then some and it might be one of the best things on Elwood's menu. If you go to Elwood's and you're not into barbecue, I highly suggest getting the Steel Trout Taco.

Another menu item that I hope to eat often is Elwood's Texas Beef Brisket Sandwich. Comprised of nothing more than pickles, chopped onions and a lot of beef brisket doused in greasy barbecue sauce. I'm not sure if the grease comes from the mildly sweet BBQ sauce or the brisket, but there was enough of it to warrant a lot of paper towels. Not that I'm complaining (after all, I love greasy food) but I wonder if this is good for my health. Regardless of the consequences, the brisket sandwich is too good to give up and if it kills me, I'll die with a big, greasy smile on my face. Seriously, this is a very good sandwich that I recommend to health nuts, gluttons and anyone else who appreciates excellent barbecue.

With Elwood's Shack being a former pizza joint, it wouldn't have felt right to ignore Elwood's BBQ Pizza. Setting on top of a thick and fluffy crust, the pizza has lots of pulled pork and Mozzarella cheese drizzled with sweet barbecue sauce. Compared to the more famous Coletta's that probably made Memphis' first barbecue pizza, Elwood's pie is better because the pork is smoked, hot and fresh. Now, before you chastise me for my "brilliant" analysis, I will say that Coletta's pizza had none of those qualities and pretty much shied me away from barbecue pizzas for a long time. I've come around since then, and now I occasionally enjoy a barbecue pizza whenever I can get it. That said, Elwood's Shack stands shoulder to shoulder with Aldo's Pizza Pies as having one of the best barbecue pizzas in town. However, Aldo's has a slight edge in the number of hot chicks on staff (such as sexy bartender Cora) so I'll lean slightly towards it if everything else is equal. That doesn't diminish my feelings for Elwood's, for its barbecue pizza hits the spot whenever I need a nice diversion from work.

SIDE NOTE: On the day I ordered my pizza, I phoned it in fifteen minutes before I took my meager thirty-minute lunch break. With so little time to eat, I wanted to make the most of it by ordering ahead of time so that I could use my break for eating, not waiting. Unfortunately, Elwood's Shack is extremely popular during lunch so I ended up waiting several minutes in line before paying for my pizza. Luckily, I managed to get a rare table so I didn't waste time on that but I still had only fifteen minutes to scoff down my pizza and return to work. Despite doing my best Joey Chestnut impression, I couldn't finish my lunch in my allotted time and was five minutes late in getting back to work (which is across the street from Elwood's). I guess what I'm trying to emphasize here is that if you go to Elwood's Shack for lunch, set aside a lot of time for it. It's worth it.

Elwood's BBQ Burrito with pulled pork
If you want a taste of Elwood's barbecue but don't have either the time or the convenience of going to the "Shack" for either lunch or dinner, I would like to suggest getting Elwood's BBQ Burrito for breakfast. Filled with your choice of pork or beef along with scrambled eggs, jalapeños, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and a lot of barbecue sauce, the burrito is a dripping hot mess of goodness. I want to emphasize the "dripping" part of that because you will need a lot of napkins and a bib to eat this without messing up your clothes. The last time I ate it, I left Elwood's with a huge grease spot on my shirt that was a bit embarrassing. It was worth it, for the taste of smoked pulled pork, jalapeños, eggs and cheese in my mouth had me smiling when I went to work. Needless to say, you probably shouldn't eat the burrito while driving without wearing a plastic bag over your clothes. Whenever I get my next barbecue burrito, I might eat it with a fork and knife instead of eating it by hand. However it goes down, Elwood's BBQ Burrito is damn good!
As you can see, I really like Elwood's Shack for barbecue. Although the restaurant offers food beyond the barbecue realm, nothing that I had so far compares to its BBQ. Of course, I only had a sampling of it so I won't rush to judgment before trying more of it. My friends told me that Elwood's fish taco is really good so I might get that sometime in the near future but not before getting a half rack of ribs (slight update: both goals have been accomplished). For now, I will just regard Elwood's Shack as a top destination for barbecue because it is so, so GOOD! ☺

Half 'wet' and half 'dry rub' ribs UPDATE (May 12, 2015): Elwood's Shack will open a second restaurant in Downtown Memphis by Spring of next year. Owner Tim Bednarski said the new location will either be in The Pinch district (taking advantage of the opening of Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid) or in the vicinity of Peabody Place. No matter where Bednarski decides to move, Downtowners will get the pleasure of tasting some of the best barbecue in Memphis. As a guy who loves Elwood's barbecue ribs, I'm looking forward to it. To learn more about the move, check out Local 24's report about it.


Elwood's Shack on Urbanspoon

LabelsAmerican, Barbecue, Breakfast, Brunch, Nutbush/Berclair, Pizza, Sandwiches, Seafood, Summer Avenue, Tacos

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