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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

My Day As A Judge

Helping A Good Cause

As you might have noticed (or not), I haven't blogged about anything this year. Well, that's not entirely true, for I have posted some thoughts on my "mini-blog" on Tumblr, along with a few tweets. Part of the reason for my absence is my schedule, which this year has been very hectic. Although my spare time is scarce, I couldn't resist the call to be a judge at a hot wings contest. And especially if the contest was a benefit for the black... errr, "jubilee" Catholic schools of Memphis. As an alum of two parochial schools, I felt it was my way of giving back to the institutions that helped mold me into the person I am today.
The contest was the centerpiece of the Wings of Jubilee Hot Wing Festival, which took place on September 9, 2017 at the campus of Memphis Catholic High and Middle School, my high school alma mater. The festival is similar to others in that in addition to the hot wing teams, other attendees were either engaged in various recreational activities or checking out the live music acts. At the last festival, I felt awkward when I encountered one of my forgotten former classmates despite them knowing who I am (I was never social and a bit of a wallflower in school). This time, I was there for a purpose, so I headed directly to the judges' tent to get my instructions. Initially I was nervous, but after meeting some of the other judges (including fellow blogger Seth of Best Memphis Burger) who explained the formula for judging, I felt confident that I could do a good job of it. Speaking of the formula, the judging was "blind" in the sense that the competitors were assigned random numbers in order to prevent bias. I like that because the last thing a fundraising hot wing contest needs is a bunch of douchebags tilting the scales toward certain teams that they want to curry favor with. After all, the goal is for everyone to have a good time while helping a great cause, and if a few teams can take home a trophy and cash, then that's extra gravy (or wing sauce) for them.
Among the wings that I judged, there was a lot of variety in terms of wing sauce (or lack of it), cooking technique and presentation. The criteria used to judge the wings were appearance, taste, and texture. The categories were scored on a scale 1 to 10 which could lead to a top score of thirty for a really good team. For the most part, all the teams put in good efforts although some wings were a lot better than others. While I won't talk about every wing that I tasted, there were a few exceptional wings that really impressed me. The best among them was the hot wing that I posted in this post, a wing that could hold its own with some of the best wing joints in town. As you can see in the picture above, the chicken wing is breaded and that might not conform to the "naked" wing that most are accustomed to, but I had no problems with it (I'm not a purist about stuff like that). The breading was doused with enough sauce to make it soggy but not too messy, so its "appearance" points didn't take a hit with me. The taste was sweet and spicy, sorta like (according to one of my fellow judges) General Tso's Chicken in a good way. Again, I wouldn't say it was a genuine Buffalo wing, but from a creative standpoint it was outstanding. To whomever made those wings, I tip my hat to you for doing an awesome job and regardless of your standing in the festival, I wish you much success in future contests or other endeavors related to hot wings.
As for the winners, I was a little surprised at the results, given the participants. In third place, the winners were Central BBQ, purveyors of some of the best barbecue in Memphis. When I saw that, the first thought I had was "here we go again" with the same old barbecue/cooking teams winning everything. Even with blind judging, I assumed the same teams that I see at other contests would dominate the "amateur" competitors who don't compete regularly throughout the year. However, when the Jubilee officials announced the second place winner, the team taking it wasn't who I expected. The runner-up winner was an East European team (I believe they were from Poland) with a foreign name that simply meant "Hot Wings." The champions of the event were a team sponsored by a local Northwestern Mutual insurance agency, whose wings must have been outstanding if they beat out teams like Central BBQ and 901Q, a frequent competitor in many cooking contests. I'm not sure if the wings I raved about earlier were made by the Northwestern Mutual team, but if enough of my fellow judges felt the team was worthy, then it was the best. I want to extend my congratulations to them and I hope to see them again at the festival next year.
Overall, my first judging experience was a lot of fun and I look forward to other opportunities to do it again. I want to thank Angela Justice Fox for organizing the event (that included inviting me to judge) and for all the work she does as a fundraiser for Memphis' Catholic schools. With the rise of charter schools and other alternatives (such as families fleeing to the suburbs) for getting an education, attracting kids into the parochial system is getting harder than its ever been (by the way, why are most charter schools in jubilee... errr, "urban" neighborhoods). My hope is that the Catholic school tradition lives on, leaving a legacy for children yearning for a quality education that will benefit them throughout life.

Website: WingsOfJubilee.wordpress.com

LabelsCommentary, Midtown, Wings







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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cafe Pontotoc

For A Friend

In the spirit of Christmas, I decided to write about a place that one of my friends is fond of. Cafe Pontotoc is a "wine bar" whose owner is friends with a man that I've been tight with for well over a decade. "Captain Sparkles" is a good man whose opinion I respect a lot, so when he asked me to check out the cafe, I knew I had to do it. Granted, it took a while before committing to it, but with a week before Christmas, I made the trip to South Main to check out the restaurant.


Knowing that Cafe Pontotoc is a "tapas" restaurant, I knew I couldn't order a single plate if I wanted a complete meal. So, I started off with the Vietnamese Spring Rolls that I usually eat at Pho Binh. The spring rolls holds its  the quality of my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, the spring rolls were nice appetizers. Stuffed with shrimp, cilantro, lettuce and other veggies within rice paper wraps, the spring rolls were quite refreshing. My only gripes were the cilantro being a bit strong and not enough hoisin and chili sauce to dip the spring rolls in. The cafe's dipping (as in soy) sauce was okay, although it didn't pair as well as the other sauces. Overall, the spring rolls (which someone like my Dad might see as a salad in wraps) were quite good and made me anxious for my next plate.


For my next and final plate of the evening, I went with tacos. Because it was my first time having them at Cafe Pontotoc, I wanted to try a little bit of everything in order to survey the menu. I got one each of the blackened shrimp, blackened catfish and steak tacos (there's also a vegan option for those who prefer that). Of the three tacos, the steak was by far the best of them because of a combination of the quality of the meat and the sauce (probably hollandaise) it was garnished with. The other tacos were decent, but if I ever visit Cafe Pontotoc again, I'm loading up on steak tacos.


After I finished dinner and got home from Cafe Pontotoc, I did the usual in doing follow up research before writing this review. I do this to limit mistakes such the mispelling of menu items and to confirm what I ate. While doing this for Cafe Pontotoc, I came across the cafe's brunch menu on its website. At the time, I had no intention on writing about the cafe's brunch, but there was something on the menu that changed my mind. Before I go on, I want to preface this by stating that I love Mexican food, which was bolstered by my current employment at a Summer Avenue business near a lot of taquerias. In visiting many restaurants near my job, I noticed a few offer "desayuno" (Spanish for "breakfast"). Unfortunately, I never took advantage of getting a genuine Mexican breakfast, so I was delighted when I saw that Cafe Pontotoc offered a "Desayuno Mexicano" on its online brunch menu. So I decided to return to the cafe for what I hoped would be a unique experience. However, when I got a hold of the cafe's current brunch menu, the Mexican entrée wasn't on it. The disappointment of not getting a "desayuno" hit me like a Jim Rome manual buzzer, and left me at a loss as to what to do. Eventually, I settled for the Pontotoc Omelette that I saw other diners get. As a consolation, the omelet was okay, for it was cheesy despite supposedly having a lot of meat in it. I also liked the hashbrown casserole that I got with it, for the cheese and diced bell peppers really tasted great with the omelet. Although the omelet and hashbrown casserole were good, it didn't lessen the disappointment of not getting the "desayuno" that is listed on restaurant's website. Maybe this is much ado about nothing, but I hate being misled by something or someone that doesn't deliver on marketing, advertising or any other kind of promotion. Having said that, I don't regret going to Cafe Pontotoc for brunch, but I might have eaten somewhere else if I had better information. Now that I know what's on the menu, I might try the Steak Benedict if I visit the cafe again, provided if it's still on the menu (both online and at the cafe).
Well, my dining experiences at Cafe Pontotoc were pretty good overall. Although I like it, it's probably not a place that I could regularly frequent due to my penchant for sexy ladies serving beer (which unfortunately isn't the Flying Saucer anymore; there are many reasons why it lost favor with me and others). Even though I won't become a "regular," it's likely that I could stop there occasionally, especially if it's to rap with my friend Joe, aka "Captain Sparkles." Joe is one of my best friends that I currently have now, a man who has always been supportive of me and has had my back during both the best and worst of times. As I said earlier, he is a good man who I respect a lot and wish nothing but the best for him. As an extension of that, I am also rooting for the "Captain's" friend to have much success at Cafe Pontotoc.

Website: CafePontotoc.com

Cafe Pontotoc Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Brunch, Commentary, Downtown, Tacos, Tapas/Small Plates







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Monday, October 31, 2016

Catherine & Mary's

Chisca Chic

With October coming to an end, I felt it was time to explore another restaurant on behalf of the blog. In doing that, a lot of places came to mind, so I sorted them out by using personal interest as criteria. At first, I thought about reviewing Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, a popular East Memphis restaurant that has received many accolades from organizations like the James Beard Foundation. Eventually, I will go to the restaurant to satisfy my curiosity, but instead of going to East Memphis, I settled for its new sister restaurant that opened in the Hotel Chisca building (now known as "The Chisca"). Catherine & Mary's, named after owners Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's grandmothers, specializes in dishes inspired by the Italian-American women (for the rest of this review, I'll refer to the restaurant as "C & M"). The restaurant boasts a menu that is upscale (as in expensive) that features a mix of pasta dishes and exquisite entrées. Last week, I double-dipped on both and liked with what I got.



On my first visit, I got the Chitarra (Italian for "guitar"), a thick egg pasta originating from the Abruzzo region in Southern Italy. In C & M's version, the pasta is infused with squid ink and mixed with arrabiata sauce, diced lobster and other ingredients. Traditionally, the arrabiata sauce is spicy, but C &M's sauce tasted more like marinara sauce. The chitarra, even with squid ink, was nothing more than a typical wheat pasta that many restaurants serve. As far as seafood pasta dishes go, I've had much better than C & M's chitarra. That said, the pasta was decent but I'm not sure if I want a small bowl of it for $16 when I can find better pasta elsewhere.


A few days later, I returned to C & M for an entrée that I hoped would be better than the pasta that I had earlier. Going for something that's atypical for me, I chose the Newman Farm Lamb. Setting atop of a pool of farroto (similar to risotto expect that it comes from wheat instead of rice), sun dried tomatoes and other vegetables, the lamb I got was a nice hunk of bone-in meat about 1½ times the size of a softball. Because the bone was horizontal in the meat, I pretty much attacked it like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Fortunately, the lamb was very juicy and tender, tasting like well cooked roast beef. Overall, The entrée was very good and it more than made up for the pasta that I had earlier.
By the way, for anyone who likes wine, I recommend Le Monde, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Friuli region in Northern Italy. I didn't pick this by chance, but rather because Friuli (a part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region) was where I was stationed at (Aviano Air Base) during my four years in Italy. Aside from it being a good pairing with lamb, the Le Monde allowed me to reminisce about the good times that I had in the Air Force.
The wine is good for chilling out at a bar, which I did at C & M during a long wait for my lamb. Given that it was a Saturday Night and I didn't have any plans, I didn't mind. However, the staff at Catherine & Mary's were well aware of my situation and constantly reassured me that my order was coming. I was cool with it, for it allowed me to surf the Web on my smartphone that was plugged into one of the bar's electrical/USB outlets (I would love to see more bars offer this). Given their attentiveness, the service at Catherine & Mary's is excellent. Putting aside the food, the service there is very friendly and professional in a setting that is very accommodating. Although it won't replace my usual hangouts, I look forward to going to C & M often in the future.


After waiting well over twenty minutes, one of the bartenders offered a free appetizer to compensate me for my time. I accepted it along with the bartender's suggestion of what I should get for it. She recommended the Caesar salad, which I nonchalantly agreed to. What I ended up getting was not what I expected. Instead of getting a traditional Caesar salad, I got C & M's version of it that featured Brussels Sprouts. When I saw this, the first thought I had was "FUCKING BRUSSELS SPROUTS!?" (Needless to say, I'm not a fan of the vegetable). However, it was part of an overall salad that had lettuce, Parmesan, croutons and dressing that turned out tasting very good. In combination with the lamb I had, the salad made for a very good side dish that contributed mightily to my dinner. While I still will never be a fan of Brussels sprouts, I will keep the salad in mind whenever I go to Catherine & Mary's again.
In all, I will say that the food (despite the mediocre pasta) and service at Catherine & Mary's is great. The restaurant is a nice addition to Downtown Memphis as a whole and to The Chisca in particular. With its close proximity to The Orpheum, the restaurant is the perfect launching point (along with one of favorite restaurants, The Majestic Grille) for a dinner and a movie or whatever. As for The Chisca itself, I am glad that after years of being a blight (thanks, COGIC), smart and entrepreneurial people took over the building and turned it into something beneficial. It goes to show that things are looking up in Memphis.

Website: CatherineAndMarys.com

LabelsCommentary, Downtown, European, Pasta, Salads, Upscale







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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Great Burgers To Try In 2016

More Burgers, More Burgers

In leading up to the 2016 Best Memphis Burger Fest, I thought it would be a good time to explore some of Memphis' "hidden" burger treasures. When I say "hidden," I don't mean that the burgers are unheralded, it's just that most of them hasn't gotten the spotlight they deserve. So, as a tiny contribution to the conversation, I've pointed out a few cheeseburgers that impressed me.



The Rock Star Jalapeño Burger at Sammy Hagar's Red Rocker Bar & Grill

It's not often that I venture into West Memphis for anything. Whenever I'm there, the last place that I consider going to is the Southland Park Gaming & Racing track. Not to be judgmental, but I believe there are better ways to spend your time than betting on dog racing or playing the slots. That said, Sammy Hagar's has built a reputation for serving great food. So, despite my misgivings about gambling, I drove over the Mississippi in the hopes of getting a good burger. Once I got there, it took a short walk through the rows of slot machines to get to Sammy Hagar's. For a sports bar, it has the typical stuff like big screen TVs and hot girls serving food and drinks. Being a loner, I sat at the bar and perused the many burger options from Red Rocker's menu. After initially choosing the bacon cheeseburger, I went to the restroom to wash up. While doing that, I thought about why would anyone reading my blog have interest in a mere bacon cheeseburger? If the point of this blog is to "find" unique food from interesting places, then writing about something ordinary would be a disappointment to my readers (including a charming young lady who allegedly smacked a despicable Downtown Memphis blogger because of his obnoxious douchebaggery; I know that mentioning this is a bit gratuitous, but I fucking hate that guy).


Anyway, once I returned to the bar, I changed my order and got the Rock Star Jalapeño Burger that has stuff in it that would make the original "King" rocker Elvis Presley proud. The burger has, in addition to lettuce, tomato, onions and a hunk of pickle (all stacked on top), it has Cajun ranch sauce, jalapeños and fried pepper jack cheese shaped in the form of a star. For anyone that likes jalapeño poppers, the "Rock Star" burger combines the best of both with the gooey cheese flowing into the seasoned beef and jalapeños, culminating in a unique and tasty experience. Surprisingly, given the cheese and sauce in the burger, the brioche bun held everything together so I didn't make a mess while eating this delicious burger. I'm not sure if the jalapeño burger will convince me to become a regular at Sammy Hagar's, but the burger is compelling enough to make me consider it whenever I'm looking for something out of the ordinary.

Website: www.SammysBeachBarAndGrill.com



The Forest Burger at The Country Corner Deli (in Shelby Forest)

In preparing to write this blog post, I thought about all the great hamburgers that I've had over the years. One of the few that really stood out was the burger I got from a convenience store near Shelby Forest. If you're saying to yourself "why would Ken go out to the sticks (literally) for a burger," it's not as crazy as you think. Back several years ago, I worked for a print shop in Shelby Forest, a business that used to be on Presidents' Island before the owner decided to move it near his home. So, from having dining options like The Port and Blue Monkey, my choices for a quick lunch were limited to the Shelby Forest General Store and a convenience store at the end of Watkins Street. While the general store is a cool place to visit in terms of nostalgia, the food is just decent and its burger a bit boring. Meanwhile, the Country Corner Deli at the Shelby Forrest Corner Store served up the best burgers in Shelby Forest. I wasn't sure if the deli had the same magic that it had then, but I took a leap of way (or rather, a long drive up Watkins) to see if it still had that grilling touch. Indeed, the Country Corner hasn't lost its touch when it comes to making burgers, which are just as good as they were before. Unlike in the past (at least as far as I can remember), the deli's menu has more than one option for burgers. So, unlike in the past when I ordered a simple cheeseburger, I picked the Forest Burger that comes with Swiss cheese and sautéed green bell peppers and onions. It's not often that I get a burger like that, but I like mixing it up occasionally. I'm glad I did with the Forest Burger, for the huge beef patty was very juicy and good enough to stand on its own. Combining that with the other components in the burger (along with a bottle of peach tea Snapple) made for a good, very enjoyable lunch. Was the burger worth a trip to Shelby Forest? HELL YEAH!


SIDE NOTE: Having said that, I will slow my roll in returning to County Corner Deli. The reason for this stems from past experiences in Shelby Forest. As a black guy, I am constantly aware of my surroundings and try to conduct myself accordingly. In doing that, I don't normally go places where I stand out because I don't like drawing unwanted attention to myself. Having said that, working in Shelby Forest, an area mostly consists of rural white people, had drawn notice of law enforcement. Needless to say, I got pulled over a lot by Shelby County Sheriff's deputies for driving just a little over the speed limit. It seemed that they were more about checking me out than speed enforcement. Once, in a classic case of "Driving While Black," deputies pulled me over when I was driving under the speed limit. With experiences like that, I am reluctant to make constant trips to Shelby Forest, especially at night where things could get more tense. However, I'm anxious to return to Country Corner Deli for either another Forest Burger or its spicy Steamin' Meeman burger (partly named after Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park). In doing that, it would be nice to get fair treatment by cops regardless of where I am, be it in Shelby Forest, Memphis, Millington or anywhere else. I hope no one reading will misconstrue my words and conclude that I'm anti-police, but rather see this as a tax-paying citizen who respects law enforcement and wants it to be the best it can be.

Check out Shelby Forrest Corner Store on








The Saucer Burger at (obviously) The Flying Saucer (Cordova)

As anyone who either reads this blog or knows me personally, knows that I am a denizen of the Flying Saucer in Downtown Memphis. I started going there several years ago after a fire burned down The Blue Monkey, the first of many Downtown bars that I've gotten acquainted to. One of the first things that I ordered from the Saucer's menu was the taco burger that was basically a beef patty and veggies wrapped in a sheet of tortilla bread. It was something that I really liked and wished for its return (if its kitchen is ever expanded, that might be possible). Fortunately, Memphis has more than one "Saucer" to choose from so occasionally, I venture out to Cordova for a good beer in a laid-back suburban atmosphere. Whenever I'm there, I usually reminisce about the "taco" by getting one of the Saucer's many burgers.


My favorite burger at the Cordova Saucer is the Saucer Burger. For the most part, the burger comes with typical stuff like lettuce, tomato, mustard and onions (and a slice of pickle on top), but the difference in this Angus burger is the cheese. One can choose either American or Swiss, or for a dollar extra, get one of the Saucer's artisan cheeses. In the past, I've had the pleasure of trying some of them at the Downtown Saucer with bratwurst and various deli meats, so I knew I was in for something interesting. Helping me make my decision was Rachel, a former Saucer girl at the Downtown location who is a manager at the Cordova bar (or at least I hope so, given the Saucer's high turnover; I'll talk more about that later). Taking her advice, I chose the Red Dragon, a cheese spiced with mustard seeds and tastes like horseradish. On the burger, the Red Dragon really made the Saucer Burger delicious. Also contributing to that was the bar's kitchen cooking a near perfect (as in "medium rare") beef patty with tasty seasoning. Whenever a restaurant or bar can cook a burger like that, you know there's excellence in the kitchen. Overall, the Saucer Burger, with or without artisan cheeses, is an awesome burger that won't fail to impress.

SIDE NOTE: Okay, now that I talked about the Saucer Burger, I will now say a few things about the Saucer. By the way, this pertains to the Downtown Saucer although "regulars" at the Cordova location might be able to relate. For a long time, I was a frequent visitor to the Downtown Saucer because it was a fun place to be. The reason I and many others liked the Saucer wasn't because of the numerous (as in over two hundred) beers that the Saucer offers, but because of the ladies who served them. We all became accustomed to seeing familiar faces who brought our beers with charm that made us happy (and their short skirts definitely didn't hurt in that regard). Over time, many of the Saucer Girls left to pursue bigger endeavors and I can't fault management for not holding on to them. Nor can I fault the Saucer for occasionally firing personnel that it feels is detrimental to its business. However, speaking as a former "regular" (if that is possible), it would be nice to see some continuity as far as some of the staff is concerned. With all of its turnover, it's hard for anyone to develop a relationship with its bartenders and servers. By the way, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not talking about any particular server/bartender (or to put it another way, I'm not obsessing over a particular former Saucer Girl). I'm saying that as a frequent bar patron, I and many of my friends prefer going to bars that have familiar faces and cold beer, particularly the inexpensive Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) that most Downtown restaurants and bars serve, ranging from Hooters to The Majestic Grille to the Silly Goose, (where many former Saucer "regulars" go nowadays). I know that saying this might make me "persona non grata" with the Flying Saucer (just like I am with a barbecue team that needed a cooking lesson to compete in a burger contest), but I wanted to express my concerns about a place that I hope will be fun again.

NOTE: This is not the only reason why I visit the Saucer less. Even if management fixes the problem I mentioned here, there are other issues that need to be addressed.

Website: www.beerknurd.com



Well, those are some of the many burgers that I've had this year. Tomorrow (August 28, 2016), I hope to get more great burgers at the 2016 Best Memphis Burger Fest that's taking place at Tiger Lane. Many teams will be competing for titles while fundraising for Memphis Paws, a nonprofit that promotes good animal ownership and provides support for animal care and rescue for animals that need it. I encourage you to go out and support this effort by giving whatever you can to any of the burger teams that are helping in this effort. Although I will visit many teams there (with the exception of one team where I'm unwelcomed), I want to give a special shout out to my friends at Squeal Street BBQ who I hope does very well at the festival. Regardless of how they do, I'm sure they and the other teams will have a lot of fun while helping a great cause.

Website: BestMemphisBurgerFest.com

LabelsBurgers, Commentary, Cordova, Downtown, Shelby Forest, West Memphis







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