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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Carbonara Done Right!

Finally! (Part 2)

Putting an end to another case of procrastination, I want to talk about one of my favorite dishes. Carbonara, a pasta dish consisting of an egg-based sauce and a form of Italian bacon (such as pancetta), is something that I had a lot of during a four-year stint in Italy as an Air Force serviceman. Since leaving Europe, my opportunities to indulge in carbonara have been rare. More times than not, the pasta was mediocre and disappointing. I'm not saying that the carbonara was bad, but it didn't meet my expectations for excellence. Nonetheless, I should have blogged about my experiences but the uninspiring pasta didn't move me to do so.


An example of the carbonara that I've had in America is the version served by Bari Ristorante in Memphis' Overton Square district. Other than the thick sauce, Bari's carbonara doesn't do much for me. It usually has modest amounts of pancetta, onions, parsley and garlic, along with other herbs and spices for something that's decent yet unremarkable (Parmesan cheese is optional). Compared to restaurants that I visited in Italy, Bari's carbonara gets a "C" for good quality that doesn't push the envelope for excellence. I hope I'm not being harsh, but I'm just calling as I see (and taste) it.
I also had Bari's calamari as a side dish during a recent visit. Actually, it was more like an additional "tapa" to the small plate of carbonara that I ate. For the most part, the calamari was good although I'm not used to eating it grilled (Bari's menu lists it as "calamari e polipo alla graticola" which translates to "squid and octopus on the grill"). The charred portions of it undercut the rest of what I felt was good calamari (I prefer to have it pan-seared). Of course, this is just an unqualified opinion based on numerous experiences with the seafood appetizer. For those who really like grilled foods, Bari's calamari might win them over. As it relates to carbonara, I believe that the restaurant's squid appetizer is a good match like grilled chicken and Alfredo pasta. All around, Bari's calamari is good as far as appetizers go.
After carbonara experiences at restaurants like Bari, I thought it was as good as it gets in Memphis and the rest of America, but a chef at one of favorite bars proved me wrong. While at Bardog Tavern during a weekday afternoon, Executive Chef John Haley asked if I wanted a plate of carbonara. He was following up on a request I made a while back after missing out on a special featuring the pasta. It wasn't something that I planned for, because I was content on chilling at the bar and listening to my favorite sports talk show host (Jim Rome) through my phone while getting beer from a beautiful bartender (Brittany). Of course, loving carbonara the way I do, I wasn't passing up an opportunity to try the bar's version of one my favorite pastas.


Bardog's version of carbonara is outstanding. From the second that I laid my eyes on it, I knew it was going to be one of the best things that I would taste in 2014. The carbonara had plenty of pancetta along with a lot of parsley, onions and grated Parmesan cheese. I was a little surprised that Chef John used a powdered (as in a can) version of Parmesan that, in my opinion, is more salty than an actual block of cheese. Fortunately, the Parmesan and all the other ingredients (including basil, if what I sensed is correct) worked well with the thick carbonara sauce and spaghetti pasta. Unlike carbonara at other restaurants, Bardog's pasta is vibrant and very flavorful in a way that makes it exceptional. The only other times that I've had carbonara this good were in fine restaurants in Italy, and Bardog's version (like all the other pasta dishes on the menu) is reminiscent of that. I don't know if the carbonara recipe is Chef John's or the man behind it all (Aldo Dean), but whoever came up with it is a genius. Currently, carbonara isn't on the menu at Bardog, but that could change if enough people ask for it. It's a great dish that I hope others get to know.

UPDATE (July 11, 2014): After talking to Aldo, I've found out that the carbonara recipe is neither his nor Chef John. It originated from a former chef for the bar (Dimitri) who passed it on to his successors. Last I heard, this chef was working at Double J Smokehouse & Saloon.

Unlike with Bari, I didn't get calamari with the carbonara at Bardog. If I did, it would have been fried and served with a topping of Sriracha aioli and a side of cocktail sauce. I won't try to compare the two squid appetizers because it would be the equivalent to an apple vs. orange comparison. However, Bardog's fried calamari is on par with most restaurants that serve it. That said, the calamari is a bit salty, which isn't necessarily a bad thing although my doctor would disagree. If paired with the carbonara, I believe that they would go well together.
After comparing the two restaurants, it's my opinion that Bardog Tavern has the better carbonara. With all the ingredients that make up Bardog's version of it, the pasta outclasses Bari Ristorante and many others that serve it. This isn't to say that I don't like Bari's carbonara, but eating it is like driving a Buick. By that, I mean it's a good experience but not exactly memorable. Chef John's (or Aldo's) carbonara is more like a Bentley (a car that I've never ridden in) that has all the bells and whistles to provide a ride unlike any other. If anyone is looking for excellent Italian carbonara without the hassles of going to an upscale restaurant, Bardog Tavern is the place to go (provided Chef John is in the house).
I'm glad that I "finally" got around to blogging about one of favorite dishes. I probably would have blown it off completely if I hadn't run into Chef John during this year's (2014) Memphis in May BBQ Fest. Seeing him reminded me of the favor he did in making the carbonara despite it not being Bardog's special for that day. I appreciate it and all of his other marvelous dishes. John Haley is a chef that deserves his due praise.

SIDE NOTE: Speaking of the 2014 Memphis in May World Barbecue Cooking Contest, I want address a comment from a "spokesman" for one of the participating BBQ Fest teams. As he said, you will never find me in the team's booth because I'm "persona non grata." While that's true, I also want to point out something else that will hardly be there: barbecue or anything else that's edible. It seems that $20,000+ (membership fees, sponsorships and other revenue) doesn't buy as much as it used to. Well, at least the team won a non-food trophy at the barbecue fest. All things considered, that seems about right for a group more suited for partying than 'cuing.

Speaking of "Finally..."

Part of the reason why I haven't blogged about carbonara, my favorite guacamole and other things in the past is that I've been pursuing more important endeavors. Especially, I've focused on a goal that has eluded me for 5½ years: full-time employment. After years of searching, I finally have good news (which you might have heard about via Downtown Memphis' Pathetic Retard's Journal): I GOT A JOB! Thanks to a friend who put in a good word for me, I'm working as a graphic artist for a company that sells flags throughout America. After years and literally hundreds of attempts of applying for jobs that would pay a decent wage, I came very close to giving up. Fortunately, I have a friend who had my back and made a big difference in influencing my new employer. I am very grateful for that and will do my best in promoting the interests of the company that hired me. The way I see it, I need to make the most of this opportunity because this is the last hurrah of my career. Not that I'm ready to retire, but I know that I probably won't find another job in graphics in the foreseeable future because of reasons that I won't elaborate on. Anyway, I'm happy for what I have and anxious to "Git R Done!"

Websites:
 Bari Ristorante: www.barimemphis.com
 Bardog Tavern: www.bardogtavern.com

Bari on Urbanspoon

Bardog Tavern on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Commentary, Downtown, Midtown, Overton Square, Pasta, Tapas, Upscale



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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Las Delicias

Finally! (Part 1)

In the four years that "Ken's Food Find" has been in existence, there are a few places that I haven't talked about despite my passionate feelings for them. I don't have a good reason for not writing about them other than my procrastination and distraction by whatever caught my eye. Whether it's a new and hip place on Overton Square (Chiwawa) or a restaurant that I stumbled across during my "temping" assignments (El Gallo Giro), I've tended to follow the crowds while ignoring my favorites. Ironically, I frequent those places often yet I've never took the time to write about them. Well, starting with this review of Las Delicias, I will try to make up for lost time.

SIDE NOTE: My inspiration for ending my procrastination was inspired by my friend Bob (aka "Bicycle Bobby") who is the president of the Squeal Street BBQ Team (the team was gracious to me during this year's Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (aka "BBQ Fest") and I'm grateful for that). I happen to know (thanks to a chance encounter with him a few years ago) that Las Delicias is one of his favorite restaurants. If a great cook like him is willing to travel from Downtown Memphis to Park Avenue at Getwell Road for Mexican food, then it's worthy of an out-of-character Saturday night visit by this blog (I'm more of a Midtown/Downtown guy in my leisure time).


When I arrived at Las Delicias, I wasn't sure about my choice for the main course but I knew what my appetizer would be. For the last few years, the Guacamole with Pico de Gallo has always been my go-to dish whenever I'm at Las Delicias or its concession tent at an event like the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival. Whenever it's available, the delicious appetizer never disappoints in putting a smile on my face. Comprising of chopped avocados, onions, diced tomatoes and cilantro mixed with other ingredients, the Guacamole with Pico de Gallo is the best that I've had in Memphis. What makes this better is that it uses chopped avocados as opposed to puréeing them into a messy sauce that requires extra napkins to consume. Another thing about chopped avocados is a person can enjoy the squishy and fatty characteristics of the tropical fruit while chewing it. In and of itself, the avocados alone don't make Las Delicias' Guacamole with Pico de Gallo the best in town. What also makes it great is the amount of lime juice that's in it. When it's mixed with the floral aroma of cilantro, the result is a refreshing dip that can stand on its own. Although the Guacamole with Pico de Gallo is splendid, Las Delicias's tortilla chips make the appetizer even better. The chips are crispy and tasty while not being too salty. I also love that the restaurant makes the tortilla chips so they are always fresh out of the oven (or fryer, evidenced by the oily sheen on its crust). Overall, I can't think of anything negative to say about Las Delicias' fabulous appetizer. For me, it's one of my favorite things to eat in Memphis, along with Roxie burgers and Cozy Corner barbecue ribs. Of course, this is only my opinion that anyone can disagree with although many others have praised the appetizer. The Commercial Appeal's Whining and Dining blog pegs it as one of the 100 Things to Eat in Memphis Before You Die and popular blog iLoveMemphis hails it as one of 365 Things to Do in Memphis (ranking it at a lowly No. 235). While I don't always agree with what others say about Memphis' best eats, I don't have any issues with the praises about my favorite dish at Las Delicias.


For the main course, I got my grub on with a meaty fajita that more than satisfied my appetite. In getting the Alambre with steak, my entrée had plenty of meat (including bacon), green peppers and onions beneath a topping of mixed cheeses. Like most Mexican steak dishes, the beef was likely chopped skirt steak that isn't known for its tenderness. However, when wrapped around a corn tortilla, the steak was chewy and very flavorful for a dinner that was worth the trip to East Memphis. Compared to the Guacamole with Pico de Gallo, the Alambre doesn't measure up (then again, not many dishes do) but it is something that I have no qualms about. In all, it's a solidly good entrée that I look forward to having again.
I'm glad that I "finally" got around to writing about Las Delicias, a restaurant that ranks among my favorites. As far as Mexican restaurants go, Las Delicias is second only to the Happy Mexican on my personal list of go-to places for "South of the Border" cuisine. Unfortunately (in a good way), I'm not in a minority in my feelings about the restaurant, for Las Delicias has many patrons dining during lunch and dinner. On the night that I went for this review, I waited several minutes for a table. It wasn't a big deal and I was happy to see the restaurant thriving. Despite the huge crowds, I got prompt and attentive service throughout my meal that was very pleasurable. It's another reason that I regret taking so long to write a review of it. Now that I've done that, I can focus on other places that I love yet ignored...

Website: www.LasDeliciasRestaurant.com

Las Delicias Mexican Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, East Memphis, Mexican, Multiple Locations



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Friday, May 23, 2014

Squeal Street BBQ Team

Good Friends, Good Times

I want to give a shout out to my friends on the Squeal Street BBQ Team. They were gracious hosts to me during this year's Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (aka "BBQ Fest"). During the two nights that I visited (skipping Saturday), I had ribs and pulled pork along with unique side dishes like chipotle coleslaw. Everything was great, which isn't surprising because of Squeal Street's cooking expertise. If the team decides to start a restaurant, I'm confident that it will be very successful.

Forgive me for taking a bite out of the middle rib before taking this picture. I wasn't in "blogger mode" when I took it.
Repeating what said earlier, I liked Squeal Street's ribs. As shown in the picture above, the ribs are baby backs basted with a mustard-based barbecue sauce. Smoked to perfection, the ribs had a nicely charred exterior covering tender smoked pork. Although the barbecue didn't win any awards at the BBQ Fest (it came in 15th in the "Patio Porkers" category), I believe Squeal Street can hold its own with any barbecue team.
Squeal Street isn't just about barbecue. The team's culinary skills extend to things like hot wings, burgers and pasta. An example of this is the orzo risotto (prepared by Boo Gardo) that I had with my ribs. The pasta consisted of cherry tomatoes, olives, chickpeas and other vegetables. With the ribs, the risotto works well as an accompaniment. Given this and its other offerings, I'm surprised that Squeal Street didn't win any of the contest's non-barbecue awards.
Although Squeal Street's food is excellent, what I really like is the camaraderie of the team. Everyone on it collectively pitches in, doing whatever it takes to win. Unlike other teams I know, there are no slackers who only pay membership fees and do nothing else. Because of its focus on grilling award-winning barbecue (as opposed to partying and looking good), Squeal Street get things done and are always ready to compete. With the Patio Porker team capping its membership at twenty, opportunities to join are rare. If I had the financial means (membership fees are close to $300), I would have joined Squeal Street when I had the chance. Despite not being a member, I support the team in any way that I can.

I Know Where I Stand

I want to close by thanking Squeal Street for the hospitality shown to me during this year's BBQ Fest. Both the team and its guests welcomed me as one of their own despite my social status in Downtown Memphis. Speaking of that, I know that I've fallen from grace with at least one barbecue team. According to its "spokesman," I am "persona non grata" by its members. It seems that the insults and harassment that I've endured from this person over the years (often in the presence of "friends" who didn't tolerate my responses to them) represent the sentiments of at least some members of this barbecue team. Apparently, my relationships with many of them (some dating back several years) weren't as friendly as I thought. If they feel this way about me, I will respect it. I will also carry it a step further by keeping them at arm's length whenever I see them. Other than being cordial and polite, I won't have much to do with them. For me, I would rather be around people who will accept me as I am, a socially inept guy who just wants to get along. Like everyone else (including a retired government employee that I know), I have faults that turn off others. Fortunately, Bob Vichie (team president, aka "Bicycle Bobby") and the rest of Squeal Street can get past that, which is why I will always have their backs whenever they need it.

SIDE NOTE: Whenever I go to the BBQ Fest, I don't beg for invitations into team tents. Despite what a certain "spokesman" would have you believe, I'm not desperate enough to do it. Granted, I've asked a few friends if can visit them, but that's a far cry from begging. If this lard ass liar... errrrrrrr "spokesman" can produce a video of me doing otherwise, I'll show one of him running on a treadmill (it might look like this). I'm more likely to see Bigfoot on a Main Street Trolley than, well, you know...

If you're lucky enough to get an invite from Squeal Street during BBQ Fest, cherish it. You will be around good people who will treat you right. By the way, Squeal Street also competes in the Smokin' Aces Festival and BBQ Championship that takes place every September at Harrah's Casino Tunica (MS). As you can see in the photo of trophies below, Squeal Street has been very successful there. I hope the team has continued success at Smokin' Aces and Memphis in May.


Website: squealstreetbbq.wordpress.com

Check out Squeal Street on


LabelsBarbecue, Commentary, Downtown, Pasta



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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Biggest Chicken Drumsticks I Have Ever Seen!

Mind Boggling!

Yesterday, I went to a Shell gas station on Summer Avenue at I-40 for quick takeout grub. I didn't give much thought in choosing the convenience store for lunch other than it being a quick in-and-out. With only thirty minutes for lunch during another "temp" assignment, I figured this was the best way to make the most of it. In doing it, my intention was eating and nothing else, like blogging. Abiding by "advice" from a loudmouth... errrrr "outspoken" retired Federal employee, I'm trying to put out good content on Ken's Food Find. So, despite what Andrew Zimmern (host of Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods America") said about Mid-South gas station/convenience store food, this blog is steering clear of them. However, I will make an exception if it's warranted. In the case of the fried chicken at Shell, what I saw was eye-popping.


When I saw Shell's drumsticks, the size of them shocked me. They were almost the size of turkey legs, measuring about seven inches long and over 3½ inches in width. Honestly, I have never seen drumsticks that large in my life. I don't know if they were the result of steroids/growth hormones, but it was impressive nonetheless. If the drumsticks were artificially enhanced, I'm not sure if it's either a good or bad thing. According to the laws of the U.S.A., use of growth hormones in poultry is illegal. Based on that, it would seem that oversized chicken legs are harmful. Still, I threw caution to the wind and ate them.
The drumsticks were decent for the most part. Far from being comparable to Gus's and Uncle Lou's, the chicken was good enough by convenience store standards. With light breading that wasn't too different from what anyone can make with a standard fried chicken recipe, I believe most will like Summer Avenue Shell's drumsticks. Because of the size, one chicken leg can make for a hardy snack for people with small appetites. In eating two with jalapeño chicken fried rice (also good), I got more than enough food for my lunch. Needless to say, everything was very satisfying.
Overall, my lunch experience was enlightening. Given my current status as a seasonal part-time worker who "temps" on occasion, I've been fortunate to discover the diversity of Memphis' culinary community. From plantain-wrapped chicken tamales to Dim Sum (served at Asian Palace, located behind the Shell station), I have eaten a lot of foods that I normally wouldn't have. I hope to continue with finding hidden gems that deserve recognition. After all, this blog is "Ken's Food Find."

Returning the favor

I want to close with offering some advice of my own. To the retired Federal employee who has so much concern about the women I like, he needs to get his own house in order before commenting on others. To my knowledge (and a personal encounter or two), it seems that he has a problem with alcohol that makes him very belligerent (more so than he usually is). I believe it is causing him other problems, including one (if the rumor I heard is correct) involving a restraining order. For an arrogant, self-righteous guy, that isn't a good look for him. By the way, I'm far from being a man of virtue because of my many faults. All I'm saying is that we all have problems, so be mindful of it when berating others.

SIDE NOTE: I have good relationships with women, especially with those whose names begin with my favorite letter of the alphabet.



LabelsCommentary, Fried Chicken, Gas Station/Convenience Store, Nutbush/Berclair



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