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

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Evelyn & Olive

For A Special Lady

It's been awhile since I posted my last review, due in large part to the illness and eventual passing of my mother. Her death left me a bit distraught and even now, I'm still not completely feeling it with the blog. However, on my Mom's birthday, I decided to celebrate it by devoting this review to one of her passions, spicy food. Usually when it comes to that, it is about things ranging from hot wings to barbecue smothered in hot BBQ sauce from Cozy Corner. Occasionally, she would get a craving for something more exotic such as Caribbean food. Whenever that happens, she usually went to Bahama Breeze for entrées like Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Bahamian Seafood Chowder (not spicy but good nonetheless) that made Mama very happy.
Although Mama liked Bahama Breeze, I felt that she could have had better. Not to be a food snob, but I believe that most chain restaurants lack the charm and soul that most local eateries have. As an "Eat Local" proponent, I prefer to dine at restaurants where the owners have a sincere appreciation for their customers, knowing that they are the heart of their businesses. Nothing against chain restaurants, but I have yet to have a chef of a Ruby Tuesday ask me how my meal was. I love the relationships that I have with my favorite local restaurants, and I wanted my mom to enjoy a similar experience.
My first impression of Evelyn & Olive (aka "E&O") was what I expected. It is a small restaurant that has a bit of a romantic feel to it. Because I went on a Wednesday, the restaurant was not crowded so it was easy getting a table. The restaurant only had two servers, with mine doing double duty by bartending and tending tables. The place definitely had a "hole in the wall" feel to it that you can't get in a chain restaurant. If I took my mom to E&O, I believe she would really like it, although at times it was hard to tell with her. She is not an easy woman to impress but the charming Jamaican chef that greeted me would have swept Mama her off feet. Putting aside the food, Evelyn & Olive seems like the real deal in terms of atmosphere and service.

SIDE NOTE: I wasn't bullshitting about the chef. My first encounter with Jamaicans was during firefighter training with them at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. I tell you, those guys had serious game with the ladies. Remembering what Eddie Murphy said about letting your girlfriend go to the islands for vacation by herself, I don't think he was far from the truth.


With my mother in mind, I intended to order dishes that she would have wanted. In a random choice, I picked the Kingston Fish Stew, an entrée that I later found is very popular with the restaurant's regulars. It consists of fried tilapia that's cooked in Escovitch sauce that's unique to Jamaican cuisine. If my mom had it, she wouldn't have a need for Tabasco sauce because the blackened tilapia was very spicy due to the vinegar, peppers and onions that make up the Escovitch (thanks to Chef Tony for hipping me about this). The Escovitch was also present in the rice and peas that contributed mightily to a delicious meal that my mom would've kissed me for. Just for the hell of it, I added a twist of lime that came with a bottle of Red Stripe beer that made a great dinner even better (it seems Mexicans aren't the only people that mix citric flavor with spicy food). All around, the Kingston Stew Fish was marvelous, and I'm confident that my mom would have loved it if she had it. Maybe someday I'll take my dad to Evelyn and Olive, although he's more of a "Red Lobster" guy when it comes to seafood. Still, given what my parents mean to me, I want to show my gratitude whenever possible, something I didn't enough with Mama.


Prior to getting the entrée, I got the Callaloo. It is Jamaican greens "sautéed with scallions, pimento and herbs" (as stated in the menu). Similar to the greens I had at Cave's (now closed and is currently a catering company), the Callaloo was very salty. Even though it was also a bit spicy, the sodium factor was hard to ignore. While I ate it, an older Jamaican woman (likely one of the owners, maybe "Evelyn") asked me how I liked it. I told her it was okay and indeed it was, although my mom never cooked greens that way. If that's how Jamaicans do it, then more power to them. Although it's not for me, if my mother was alive, I wonder what she would have thought of it. When it comes to greens, the gold standard that I judge others by is my Mama's, and E&O's Callaloo didn't do it for me. I'm speaking as an African-American so my opinions are skewed by that. However, Callaloo is a Jamaican take on a classic American staple that others should try.


Now if I had dined with my mom at Evelyn & Olive, I would have gotten either a burger or wings. With that in mind, I paid another visit to the restaurant the following Saturday. Unlike the previous visit, the restaurant was full with only a couple of tables to spare. I was fortunate to get one and wasted no time in ordering. In deciding whether to get a burger or wings, I chose both, starting off with the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings. The wings met my expectations, for the Jerk seasoning made the wings spicy and very flavorful. The mango BBQ sauce added a fruity sweetness that really impressed me. Overall, the wings were great and I hope to have them again as part of a full course dinner. I'm sure my mom would approve.


While the wings were great, I can't say the same about my burger. The E&O Burger is probably one of the most underwhelming hamburgers that I ever had. Putting aside my wishes for something exotic, the hamburger was lame by even the lowest standards. The beef patty seemed to lack any seasoning and was bland overall. If the restaurant cooked it the way I wanted it (medium rare) as opposed to "well done," I might have had a more positive opinion. The burger comes with potato chips and Jamaican Boom Boom sauce, but I don't think Wile E. Coyote toting Acme dynamite could have liven it up. When comparing it to Jerk burgers I had at Automatic Slim's when Karen Carrier owned it, the E&O Burger is a dud. Fortunately, Evelyn and Olive's success doesn't depend on hamburgers, otherwise the restaurant would have gone out of business a long time ago.
Despite the lackluster burger, I enjoyed the food at Evelyn & Olive. As much as I liked it, the experiences would have been much better if I had my beautiful mother by my side. My mom was a caring woman who did her best to raise me and provide everything that I could dream of. Even as an adult who fell on hard times, my Mama took me in without any hesitation. Although my mother was a good woman, she was also tough on me whenever I needed it. Even though I didn't like it, I knew she was coming from a good place and would help me out of a jam, even when it could have been avoided if I followed her advice. With her being so good to me, I wish I could have been a better son to her. Despite never being her ideal son, I knew my mom loved me to the end and I the same. I'm not sure if heaven exists, but if it does, I hope she's enjoying a wonderful afterlife. After all she's done for her family, friends and the many students she taught and inspired as a 30-year school teacher, I hope she is rewarded with splendid paradise. She deserves nothing less.��

Thelma Lemons Rogers
August 13, 1939 - June 23, 2015

Website: EvelynAndOlive.com

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LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Caribbean, Commentary, Downtown , Seafood, Wings



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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!

Website: www.HogAndHominy.com

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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.

Website: www.BellyAcres901.com

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.

Website: www.beerknurd.com

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium on Urbanspoon

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



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