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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips

An Apology

Earlier this year, when I wrote about the places I ate at in Olive Branch, Mississippi (a Memphis suburb), I briefly mentioned Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips at SideStreet Burgers. My initial take was that the potato chips were "mildly spicy" and that "Hot Ass" was "a bit of an exaggeration" (in other words, a marketing gimmick). I formed my opinion after eating a couple of chips, so I didn't experience the full force of the "Hot Ass." Meanwhile, my laborer cohorts said the chips were the hottest they ever had. Them telling me this made me think they were puss... err, girly men who couldn't handle a little heat. In hindsight, those guys knew what they were talking about, for they had the equivalent of a small bag of chips to go with their burgers. They opted for the chips because they were free, setting in a bowl near the restaurant's cash register. Following the "if it's free, I'll take three" philosophy, my cohorts thought they were getting over by not having to pay for potato chips. However, human physiology intervened and kept their indulgence in check. Now, fast forward to the recent Best Memphis Burger Fest that took place at Minglewood Hall where I had my encounter with a bag of Nikki's HOT ASS chips. Unlike eating a couple of them, attempting to eat an entire bad had me whimpering like a baby. It seems that it takes more than a chip or two to get the burn that it's known for.

SIDE NOTE: Seth, the man who established Best Memphis Burger Fest and talks about burgers on his blog, should find time to make the trip to Olive Branch for a burger from SideStreet. I'm very confident that he will like it and give it at least four stars. By the way, I'm not the only one recommending the burger joint, as fellow blogger Memphis Que also suggested it to Seth. Also, he should visit the P & H Cafe that is across the street from Minglewood Hall. Given his love of the "Juicy Lucy" (a burger with stuffed meat, aka "Jucy Lucy"), I believe Seth will like it and even incorporate the grungy dive into future burger fests, provided the venue doesn't change.

When I got the bag of Nikki's chips, I didn't think much of them other than as something spicy to eat with the many burgers I tasted at the festival. Nikki's Hot Ass (why do I feel pervy whenever I type the company's name) was handing out free bags from its booth at the festival. Like my cohorts in Olive Branch, I took advantage of it without giving it a second thought. Like the last time, the first couple of chips didn't hit me that hard, but the pain exponentially worsened as I ate more of them. By the time I got a third of the way down the bag, I was desperate for water. Eventually, I scrambled to Squeal Street BBQ's tent to put out the fire in my mouth with water, beer or anything liquid. After regaining my composure, I turned the bag around to read the chip's ingredients. In a bit of an eye opener (literally), I discovered this:

Ingredients for Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips that includes Ghost Peppers

Discovering that the potato chips had Ghost Peppers as a part of its seasoning was quite a surprise. The peppers are the hottest on Earth, rating at a million Scoville Heat Units (a scale that measures a pepper's spiciness). That's far hotter than jalapeños (2,500-8,000) and Habanero peppers (100,000-350,000) that are also hot to handle. Had I known this beforehand, I would have been more cautious in eating the potato chips. Unfortunately, my arrogance literally burned me (specifically my tongue), forcing a reassessment of the fiery chips. I am now convinced that Nikki's Hot Ass lives up to its name, for its potato chips are the spiciest in Memphis and possibly all of America. That said, I apologize for undercutting the chips in my initial review. This is one mea culpa that I don't mind giving. Respect the "HOT ASS."


Website: www.NikkisHotAssSeasoning.com

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As for the Best Memphis Burger Fest...

Best Memphis Burger Fest entrant - At The Bistro
After gulping bottles of water and beer, I eventually recovered and enjoyed the rest of the burger fest. With my capacity for burgers limited due to my liquid consumption, I only ate a few sliders and missed out on delicious burgers like those from Slider Inn's tent. Of those that I had, my friends at Squeal Street had one the best burgers at the festival. Now, before you call me a biased "homer," I was objective in approaching the burger fest. With that in mind, the best burger I tasted came from At The Bistro, a Soul Food restaurant located on Brooks Road in Whitehaven. It had a lot of seasoning for a peppery burger that might have been a standout at the burger fest. Overall, nearly all the burgers I tasted were great and the competing teams did an excellent job for a noble cause.
Sticky Rice
Sadie
The Best Memphis Burger Fest benefits local animal rescue organizations like Streetdog Foundation, Tunica Humane Society and Fayette County (TN) Animal Rescue with donations that help homeless and abused animals get the help they need. As someone who has a stray cat, I appreciate the efforts of everyone associated with the festival and hope it has much success in the future.

Website: www.BestMemphisBurgerFest.com

Labels: Burgers, Commentary, Snacks



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Friday, September 26, 2014

Al-Rayan

A Change From The Usual

In an effort to focus the blog on overlooked restaurants, I want to talk about a place I visit often. Although it's not on par with personal favorites like The Majestic Grille and Bardog Tavern, Al-Rayan is a neighborhood restaurant that I often go to when I crave for a good, inexpensive meal. Typically, I go there for a pita wrap of shawarma or a gyro for lunch. While a wrap is good enough most of the time, I went all out with a full blown feast about four months ago. To satisfy both my hunger and curiosity, I got the beef shawarma plate with a salad, hummus and naan bread as appetizers.

SIDE NOTE: I'm sorry for not having a more current review. Lately, I haven't eaten out a lot, so I'm relying on experiences from the past. Fortunately, I have enough "reserves" to last me to the end of the year.


To start things off, I got a salad with hummus, naan bread, and chili and garlic sauces. The salad had the typical stuff like lettuce and tomatoes, but it also had a lot of black pepper in it. The spice wasn't something that I am accustomed to in a salad but it made a good impression on me. The salad is better with the garlic sauce, the mayonnaise-looking stuff in the upper right corner of the above picture. Although the salad was good, the best part of the first course was the hummus. Not that I'm an expert, but Al-Rayan's hummus is the best that I've had in my limited experience with the legume-based sauce. It ranks ahead of places like Cooper-Young's Green Cork and Downtown's Silly Goose Lounge in terms of taste. Speaking of that, the hummus sort of tasted like blue cheese despite an assurance from my server that I was sensing the tahini in it. Nevertheless, I really liked it and look forward to having it and the salad again.


As I was finishing my salad and hummus, the beef shawarma arrived. Thoroughly broiled on a vertical spit, the chopped beef was somewhat dry while possessing a hint of vinegar aroma. The accompanying rice tasted similar to many African restaurants where I had it. The beef shawarma and rice were good together, but are better with chili and garlic sauces. Rounding it out with the restaurant's fresh naan bread, my lunch at Al-Rayan was very nice.
Although Al-Rayan isn't in one of Midtown Memphis trendier neighborhoods (i.e. Cooper-Young, Overton Square), it's a cool restaurant that's worth checking out. With the dining room adorned with Middle Eastern furnishings, the restaurant has a cultural vibe that sets the mood for something special. For me, that's good enough for more visits in the future.

Check out Al-Rayan on


Al-Rayan on Urbanspoon

LabelsMiddle Eastern, Midtown, Pita Wraps



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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Asian Palace

Finally! (Part 3)

Sticky Rice
Sticky Rice
If there was ever a reason for using the "Finally!" theme, it is for one of my favorite Memphis restaurants that I've taken too long to write about. Asian Palace is one of the best and most genuine Chinese restaurants in the city, something that most of my friends agree with. In fact, a former "temping" cohort inspired my first visit by eloquently exclaiming "Yo! 'Dem spring rolls is fresh!" (yep, true story). One of the reasons for Asian Palace's accolades is for its Dim Sum, which is (according to Wikipedia) "a style of Cantonese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates." In short, it's tapas Chinese-style that is traditionally served during the weekend, although Asian Palace offers a limited menu during the week. As one of the few restaurants in the city to offer it, I try to advantage of it whenever I'm in Memphis' Shelby Oaks neighborhood.

 Clockwise from the top - Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns and Steamed Pork Buns
Clockwise from the top: Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns, Steamed Pork Buns
During a recent weekend "temping" assignment, I got the full array of Asian Palace's Dim Sum menu. I started it off with plates of Chicken Feet, Steamed Pork Buns and Steamed Pan Fried Buns (somehow, that last one doesn't make any sense). The "chicken feet" were actually dumplings stuffed with meat (presumably chicken feet) that had the mushy texture of seafood while retaining some poultry flavor. Asian Palace's version of the poultry staple wasn't what I expected (I wanted "feet") but it was good nonetheless. The Steamed Pork Buns were doughy and a bit sweet, with a good amount of tasty pork in the center. A unique variation of a pulled pork sandwich, I'm surprised that I didn't see something like this at last year's Cochon Heritage BBQ competition at Beale Street Landing. The Steamed Pan Fried Buns (steamed and fried? How is this prepared?) were nothing more than sweet pastries that work better as a dessert than as either a main course dish or an appetizer.

Steamed Shanghai Dumplings

When the Dim Sum cart came to my table a second time, I got the Steamed Shanghai Dumplings. Stuffed with shrimp and immersed in what I believe was soy sauce, this Dim Sum dish was the best of my lunch. The shrimp was tender and flavorful, and I wanted to get another plate. Unfortunately, time and budget constraints prevented me from indulging further.


For my third and final go-around, I got something that I was familiar with. In getting the quail, I was curious about how I would like it as a Chinese dish. I have had it two other times in my life: as a roasted gourmet entrée at the former Lolo's Table (served by the lovely Alyssa, who is currently working day shift at Chiwawa) and a breaded and fried plate at Old Timers Restaurant in Millington. Asian Palace's version was fried (sans breading) and topped with lettuce, jalapeños and a lot of minced green onions. With me not being into raw onions, I separated them from the quail and ate the birds by themselves. In hindsight, I should have given it a try, for the quail didn't have the Asian pizzazz that I expected. I'm not saying the quail was bad, but I hoped for something more in line with the other wonderful dishes that I had at Asian Palace. If I was eating it as part of a blind taste test, I would've guessed it came from a Soul Food joint as opposed to a Chinese restaurant. Despite that minor disappointment, I was satisfied with the Dim Sum and I look forward to returning to Asian Palace for more of it.

SIDE NOTE: The next time I go for Dim Sum at Asian Palace, I might take my friend John D. In addition to being a good dining companion, he's also fluent in Cantonese and possibly Mandarin (he taught English in China for a few years). With many of the restaurant's servers not knowing much English, having a translator could make things go a lot smoother with regards to understanding the menu.

Kung Pao Chicken

In addition to Dim Sum, Asian Palace offers many other wonderful dishes. One of my favorites is the Kung Pao Chicken with fried rice and an egg roll. Loaded with tender chicken and lots of vegetables such as red and yellow peppers, the entrée is very spicy yet delightfully delicious. It's even better with the fried rice that has bits of scrambled eggs and onions that make it very good on its own. Throw in a good egg roll into the mix and you have an extremely scrumptious meal that will have you coming back for more.

Website: www.AsianPalaceMemphis.com

Asian Palace on Urbanspoon

Labels: Asian, Chinese, Shelby Oaks, Summer Avenue, Tapas



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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Raffe's Deli

One of the Best Beer Stores in Town (and the food is good, too)!

In another effort in fulfilling goals set in the past, I've finally gotten around to talking about Raffe's Deli. Like my last post about The Silly Goose, this doesn't qualify as a "Finally" themed review because it was never a top priority for the blog. However, because of unique circumstances that required my attention in East Memphis, I took an opportunity to follow up on something that I started 3½ years ago (if foursquare...errr "Swarm" (an unneeded evolution of the app) is correct).


For my first visit to Raffe's in years, I thought about getting a sub or some other type of sandwich. But with the likelihood that my next visits being far down the road, I made the most of my lunch by getting something unusual as it relates to the blog. I got a gyro with a Middle Eastern twist, something that doesn't have the typical Greek tzatziki sauce that usually is associated with it. Instead, along with the vertically roasted lamb, the Syrian Gyro has hummus and a mix of vegetables, herbs and spices. Collectively called a tabbouleh salad, it mainly consists of parsley (a lot of it), chopped tomatoes, mint, onions and bulgur, a grain indigenous to Syria and other countries near it. According to Wikipedia, bulgur has more fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals than white rice, meaning it is a healthier alternative. Within the tabbouleh salad, the bulger is one of many components that make the gyro salty and zesty, balanced by the sweetness of the lemon juice in it. Overall, I like the Syrian Gyro because it is savory and much healthier than what I normally eat. For anyone looking for something different yet tasty, I suggest giving the pita sandwich a try.

SIDE NOTE: The tabbouleh salad is available as a stand alone entrée and is one of Raffe's vegetarian dishes. Speaking of that, the deli's "grape leaves" (aka sarma, not to be confused with dolma) is another vegetarian/vegan dish that is worth trying. The leaves are stuffed with rice and herbs and boiled with lemon juice and served with tzatziki sauce or a yogurt. By the way, sarma isn't technically a vegetarian dish, for it's traditionally stuffed with minced meat like beef, pork and veal. Although I haven't had the Middle Eastern dish at Raffe's, I had a plate of them at Sean's Cafe several years ago that amounted to an interesting experience. From what I could remember, the stuffed grape leaves were decent despite being a bit bland without the tzatziki sauce. Of course, I'm not prejudging Raffe's sarma but it's something that I will keep in mind if and when I get them.


The muffaletta that I had during my last visit was pretty good, too. For some reason, I thought it would be bigger (when comparing it to sandwiches from places like Kwik Chek). However, the muffaletta was hearty enough to satisfy my appetite, even without sides like potato chips. It has the usual stuff like salami, ham and cheese (in this case, Provolone). However, the one ingredient that really makes it tasty is the olive salad dressing with its strong and robust flavor. Compared to other muffalettas that I've had, Raffe's version is one of the better ones.


Lastly, I want to mention the wide variety of craft beers that Raffe's Deli offers. Whether you're looking for something local or an exotic export, it's likely that Raffe's has it. Among them are beers from Rogue Ales that includes the yummy Hazelnut Brown Nectar. However, it's hard to offer everything to everyone (for example, the deli doesn't carry Rodenbach, a Flemish sour ale and another favorite that's sold at Cash Saver and bars like The Flying Saucer) but a beer lover can get a lot of satisfaction from Raffe's offerings. By the way, any beer bought at the deli can't be consumed on the premises, but that shouldn't be a problem for most (although Lucchesi's Beer Garden next door can meet the need for instant gratification with its beer menu).


Regardless of whether you want food or beer, Raffe's Deli has you covered. Owner Sean Feizkhah (who's not involved with Sean's Cafe) is doing a great job with the deli and has big plans for its future. According to the Memphis Flyer, he plans to expand the menu to include Persian (Feizkhah is of Iranian descent) and Turkish fare and add a growler (as in a big jug) station to sell beer by the gallon. Given the improvements that he's already made in terms of the deli's decor, I'm confident that he'll transform it into something sensational.

Check out Raffe's Deli on


Raffe's Deli on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeer, Deli, East Memphis, Greek, Middle Eastern, Pita Wraps, Salads, Sandwiches, Vegetarian/Vegan



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