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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

My First Crock Pot Meal

Cajun Cooking

It's not often that I write about my cooking, but whenever I do something noteworthy for the first time, I gotta holla. In the case of my first time using a crock pot, I believe that I went through one of the single man's rites of passage, albeit decades too late. Although the crock pot was invented about sixty years ago, I never thought about using one until recently after some of my drinking buddies at the Silly Goose convinced me into getting one. Given my propensity for procrastination, it took months before I got around to buying a crock pot. Getting one was an afterthought, for it took a shopping trip for something else to get me into a store to buy a "pot." While waiting in line at a Best Buy to purchase a Roku 2, I noticed that the "big box" store also sold kitchen appliances. At that point, I realized that I could kill two birds with one stone by buying a crock pot. Best Buy offers a nice selection of "pots" to choose from, including programmable crock pots. I decided to go with the cheapest and simplest crock pot that has all the features I needed. In the end, I got the Crock Pot model SCV401-TR that cost about $25.

After getting the crock pot, I procrastinated a little longer before opening the box. While I watched movies and TV shows through my new Roku, the box of my crock pot stayed on my kitchen table unopened (along with a bunch of mail, including my invitation to the Majestic Grille's tenth anniversary party; I really regret missing it). Eventually, my friend Bob (aka "Bicycle Bobby" of the Squeal Street BBQ Team) badgered me into cooking SOMETHING with my crock pot. So, after scouring the Internet to find the perfect recipe for my first crock pot experience, I chose something that I knew I would like. My love for Cajun and Creole food convinced me to go with Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya recipe from AllRecipes. Most of my friends told that this wasn't the easiest thing for a first-time crock pot novice to undertake, but I decided to take on the challenge. Maybe "challenge" isn't the appropriate word to describe using a crock pot, for many foods are easy to cook with it. For the most part, you simply prep your ingredients, throw it in the crock pot for eight hours, pour/scoop it out and eat it. That said, I'm guessing there is a little more to most crock pot recipes than that simple logic, which my efforts to cook jambalaya proved. Anyway, I eventually chose a Sunday to embark on my crock pot "challenge."

In preparation for my first crock pot cook, I discovered that I had many of the ingredients already. With my late mom being an excellent cook, she had nearly all the spices I needed which gave me a head start. All I had to do is get the meat and vegetables (along with Cajun seasoning) required for the jambalaya. For the vegetable portion of the recipe, I bought frozen onions and green bell peppers that were already chopped. When it comes to cooking, I don't mind taking short cuts if it making cooking a little easier. However, when I posted a pic on Facebook displaying most of the ingredients, my friend Joe (aka "Captain Sparkles") responded with "Really?" when he saw the bag of chopped onions. Hey, what can I say? I'm a wuss when it comes dealing with the powerful, offensive odor that a raw onion yields (well, at least my celery was fresh). As for the meat portion of the recipe, getting it was mostly easy although acquiring the frozen shrimp was a bit of a hassle. It turns out that most grocery stores sell peeled, no-tail shrimp in 12 ounce bags as opposed to one pound bags (Whole Foods is the exception). To satisfy the requirement, I got a 12 ounce bag from Cash Saver and the rest of the shrimp from The Fresh Market. Surprisingly, because I discovered that my mom also had chicken broth at her house along the spices, my eventual grocery bill was lower than I expected. Once I got everything in hand, I got down to business with my crock pot.
Like most crock pot dishes, cooking the jambalaya was simple. I followed the instructions with regards to preparation (with one glaring exception that I will explain later) and threw everything into the pot and waited the requisite eight hours required for cooking (by the way, it's better to mix everything before cranking up the crock pot, which prevents burning yourself). When the cooking process was about done, I went back to the recipe to see what else was needed. At that point, I discovered a mistake in the process. When I threw everything into the pot, that included the shrimp. If I followed the directions properly, I should have waited until the final thirty minutes before putting the frozen shrimp in. Despite that mistake, the smell that came from my cooked jambalaya make me optimistic that everything was going to be okay.

From its appearance, the jambalaya was very appealing. That said, I was anxious to get a bowl of it for the purpose of determining whether I succeeded or not. My initial impression was obvious, for it had the quality of Cajun spiciness that I expected. Also, I could detect the strong presence of celery in the jambalaya which was surprising. Because the shrimp cooked through the entire process, it was rubbery although I didn't mind. Overall, Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya was pretty good despite my mistakes in making it.

A day later, I microwaved some jambalaya to determine if the taste was consistent. Unlike my initial bowl of it, the taste was muted. I didn't detect the celery like I did earlier, but the andouille sausage was a little more prominent in the jambalaya. Speaking of the sausage, I used twelve ounces of cooked andouille (along ounces of smoked sausage) as opposed to a pound of raw meat. As I later discovered, using cooked (or rather semi-cooked) wasn't a bad thing. If anything, the cooked sausage is easier to deal with and more flavorful in the jambalaya. Over the course of a week, whether eating it with rice (recommended in the recipe) or not, Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya got a "B" for being pretty good despite being a notch below Bourbon Street. I can definitely see myself making this again.

SIDE NOTE: Well, I actually did make Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya again, following the directions precisely. A key difference was the andouille sausage, for I used raw meat rather than cooked. In mixing it up with the chicken, the two meats partially melded together and made the jambalaya clumpy. Also, the raw sausage rendered more fat while providing less flavor. Even with properly cooked shrimp, my second batch of jambalaya was a little less tasty than my first cook. Overall, it was decent but if I use raw andouille again, I will season and sear it before throwing it in a crock pot.

As for the crock pot itself, I'm not sure how often I will use it. While it is a great tool in the kitchen, I don't see myself getting up in the morning, chopping up meats and vegetables and measuring spices for a meal that I might not eat that day. Especially on days when I'm seeing one my favorite bartenders at the "Goose" and my drinking buddies, I'm probably not cooking anything, let alone "crocking" it (to any douchebags reading this, I just coined a word). However, on days when I have a lot of time on my hands and staying at home, I can see myself using my crock pot occasionally. I'm curious to see what I will make, whether it be stews, sauces, roasts or anything else. If I find something I really like, the crock pot might become my best friend. Only time will tell.


LabelsCajun/Creole, Commentary, Recipes, Soup

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cafe 1912

Majestic Midtown

It's not often that I write about upscale restaurants, being the poor soul that I am. But sometimes, I get that irresistible urge to splurge for something expensive yet delicious. About a week and a half ago, that urge inspired me to get one of the specials at Café 1912. Usually, I get the cheeseburger while sitting at a table by myself. Although the restaurant recommends getting a reservation before arriving, I usually manage to get a small table (usually near the cafe's kitchen). Unfortunately on a busy Friday night, I couldn't even get that so I settled for a spot at the bar. In the end, that wound up being a good thing.

After getting to the bar, I initially ordered the cheeseburger but I changed my mind after seeing what others were eating. For some reason, I assumed that Cafe 1912 was either a French or other "European" restaurant, but with a few exceptions, nothing on its menu didn't seem foreign when compared to other "American" restaurants. I eventually got one of the cafe's specials, the swordfish with basil couscous, pickled strawberry and cucumber salsa in a red curry vinaigrette. Although it wasn't the most exquisite thing that I ever had, the dish was unique in terms of taste (the swordfish itself is comparable in taste to grouper and similar ocean fish). It actually felt weird eating strawberries with fish but with the other components in the entrée, it added an interesting element to a very nice dish.

Because my portion of food was small, I got a plate of fried calamari. Despite being a step below The Majestic Grille's version, the cafe's calamari is much better than a dive bar. I appreciated that it wasn't too salty, for I'm trying to avoid high blood pressure/hypertension. Overall, the calamari was good by itself and even better when dipped in either rémoulade or Mae Ploy, the cafe's version of a sweet chili sauce. Along with the swordfish, the calamari hit the spot and rounded out a nice dinner at Cafe 1912.
Even though the dinner was great, what made the experience wonderful were the people who dined with me at the bar. Mostly consisting of couples (I and a middle-aged woman were the only "loners" at the bar), we all kept each other company, which for me made for a more pleasurable experience than dining alone. Although it's not the same as having a dining companion, eating with strangers is a good way to meet new people.

SIDE NOTE: A big reason why this is my second review of the year is that loneliness has sapped my passion for blogging. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but not having someone to engage in a shared experience is starting to matter more. Please don't interpret this as me pining for a "date" (I know I'm not a stud), but rather my desire to occasionally have a nice time with others over dinner. For me (a "foreigner"), that is an elusive goal.

Although my dinner at Cafe 1912 was great, it doesn't compare to what I believe is one of the best things on the restaurant's menu. The cheeseburger (recommended by my friend "John D.") is flat-out one of the best in Memphis (good enough to make my best burger list). With ground beef that tastes like a Prime rib eye, the burger comes with bacon, garlic aioli and either Maytag blue cheese or Provolone (my preference) within a ciabatta bun. Speaking of preferences, I usually get my burger "medium rare" and the cafe never disappoints, resulting in a burger that's the equivalent of an excellent chopped steak. The burger comes with shoestring French fries (called "pommes frites" by the restaurant and in France) sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and white truffle oil, which compared with the Majestic Grille and Local are decent but not on the same level as the aforementioned. Collectively, the burger and fries are great and will always be one of my go-to foods whenever I'm at Cafe 1912.
At this point, you would have been the end of this review, where I would listed the usual stuff like the restaurant's website, its Urbanspoon... err, Zomato link and other stuff (including KFF's new mobile Twitter feed), but I felt something was missing. As usual, I looked over the restaurant's menu to ensure that I didn't miss anything relevant to the review. As I was doing that, I noticed that Café 1912 offers "dinner salads" that aroused my curiosity. Before discovering this, my go-to place for "dinner salads" was and still is The Majestic Grille. I like the Majestic salads because they are full, high quality meals that have a lot of protein (as in meat) to satisfy my appetite and are flat-out great. So, with Cafe 1912 being comparable to the Majestic, I wondered if the cafe could churn out a "dinner salad" that's as good as my favorite restaurant.
I wasn't sure about what to order, so I took a chance in ordering the Niçoise (pronounced "niˈswaz") salad. In getting this, I had low expectations with regards to portion size and content. Honestly, I assumed the salad would have small bits of tuna and a lot of lettuce with modest portions of veggies and other stuff sprinkled in. Man, I was so wrong!

(It would have helped if I remembered the salad's picture that is posted on the menu page of Cafe 1912's website)

When I saw the amount of food that my waiter... errr, server brought me, I was shocked. This whopper of a salad features approximately a half a pound of seared tuna that is crispy on the outside and raw on the inside. For those who like fried tuna (or fried salmon) and tuna tartar, the Niçoise salad gives a taste of both. The seasoning in the Tuna's crust adds lots of zest to both the raw parts of the tuna and the rest of the salad. Speaking of that, the Niçoise salad comes with a lot of lettuce, spinach and other "greens" that's enough to satisfy an appetite by itself. When olives, tomatoes, capers, red onions (which I omitted), a hard cooked egg, and basil are thrown in with anchovy aïoli on the side, you have a meal fit for a king. Overall, the "dinner salad" is really good and something that I can confidently recommend to anyone who isn't a vegetarian (I'm also confident that the cafe can hook up vegetarians and vegans with something good, too)
In my visits to Cafe 1912, the impressions I got were positive. Nearly everything I had (including brunch that I had several months ago) was top-notch, the results of an excellent kitchen staff. The  nearly all-male wait staff was very professional, although as a guy, it would have been nice to have had a pretty lady serving me. As someone who appreciates sexy women like those at the Flying Saucer, I'm generally not a fan of male servers. The restaurant itself is small (although I heard that expansion will happen soon) with its decor resembling a French bistro. While that description contrasts with another restaurant that I'm about to mention, Cafe 1912 is similar to one of my favorite Memphis restaurants, the Majestic Grille . In terms of food, ambiance and charm, the two restaurants are very similar. That said, I will probably dine at the café more often whenever I'm out in Midtown. I just hope that I'm not dining alone.


Cafe 1912 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LabelsAmerican, Appetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Brunch, Commentary, European, Midtown, Salads, Seafood, Upscale

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sam's Hamburgers & More

Looks Are Deceiving

If anyone has noticed, I haven't been blogging as much as I used to. A combined lack of inspiration and other personal things, I lost the motivation to blog. So, unless I found something that was really noteworthy, I was going to gradually let go of "Ken's Food Find" and move on to something else. Fortunately for the blog, the spark I needed came from one of my co-workers at the FedExForum where I work part-time. My friend Corlista told me about Sam's veggie burger that she felt was good enough to pass for a "real" (as in ground beef) burger. She insisted that I try it myself and write about it. Having had veggie burgers in the past, I was skeptical of her claim but I respect her opinion enough to give the burger a chance. So on a Saturday afternoon that didn't allow me to fall into my usual beer-drinking routine (I had to work a Grizzlies game at the "Forum"), I decided to go to Sam's Hamburgers & More on Madison and Main to see and taste it for myself.

SIDE NOTE: Sam's has another location near the corner of Main and Adams, but Corlista told that it doesn't serve the veggie burger.

At first glance, one could tell that the "burger" was different from its beefy counterpart solely by its appearance. Despite what my friend said about it, the brown speckled patty caught my attention from the minute I saw it. Now, if I hadn't gotten Corlista's recommendation beforehand, I might have had preconceived notions that could have influenced my expectations. However, I delved into the veggie burger without prejudice and got satisfaction from the first bite. What impressed me the most was the veggie patty's composition that was a mash-up of cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots molded and cooked until it was golden brown. The key for me was the veggie patty, because its texture was very convincing in putting me into the mindset that I was eating meat as opposed to something else. If I had the burger without anyone telling me what it was, I never would have suspected it was vegetarian. The patty's texture is very similar to ground beef and sausage, although the taste is unique. For the most part, the veggie mix kind of threw me off because I didn't have anything to compare it to. Despite being confused, I quickly came around to liking and accepting it for what it was, a tasty piece of veggie "meat." My only criticism was the lack of seasoning in the patty, which by itself was a few notches above blandness. Even though I'm knocking it for lacking pizzazz, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Compared to a veggie burger that I had several years ago at Imagine Vegan Cafe, with a vegan patty having the texture and taste of Country sausage, maybe Sam's lack of seasoning works in its favor. Fortunately, Sam's veggie patty provided enough flavor to support the rest of the burger that the seasoning issue didn't matter. With it having toppings (lettuce, mayo, onions, etc.) typical in most hamburgers, the lack of real meat became less of an issue as I ate more of the burger. In the end, the veggie burger turned out to be a decent sandwich that didn't give me regrets. Having said that, the guys at Sam's did a very good job in creating a veggie burger that can appeal to non-vegetarians like me. It's definitely better than Sam's other burgers and a nice alternative to beef. As a guy who is not a vegetarian, I was very impressed with it and am confident that other meat eaters will like it, too. My thanks go out to my friend for bringing the veggie burger to my attention, for it is very noteworthy.
As for everything else on Sam's menu, the food is decent by most standards and very affordable. It's one of the few places in Downtown Memphis where you can a get a burger, seasoned fries (which in Sam's case are very good) and a soda for a little over $6.50. For value, it's definitely a good deal for people on a tight budget who can't afford to go to restaurants like Oshi Burger Bar, a place that also serves great non-traditional burgers like its tasty Ahi tuna Tora Tora Burger. Fortunately, Sam's Hamburgers and More has carved out a nice niche in Downtown Memphis' dining community that will likely endure for as long as the demand for good affordable food exists.


Sam's Hamburgers & More Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Getting My Groove Back

Before closing, I want to address a few things. As it relates to the blog, I will write fewer reviews per year, reserving time only for stories that deserve mention. Also, I promise not to blab about my personal life and any drama surrounding it. I started this blog to talk about food and nothing or nobody else. So from now on, regardless of what is going on outside my dining experiences, I will not use "Ken's Food Find" to express my feelings about it. Having said that, keeping that promise is easier said than done. To quote the great philosopher Mike Tyson, "everybody has a plan until they get hit," so keeping my promise won't be easy. However, with good friends keeping me straight, I am confident that I can keep my promise of making this blog a "no drama zone" unless either a crappy meal or a douchebag waitress warrants otherwise.
Also, even though I will blog less, I will remain active on Twitter and Pinterest along with another social media platform, Tumblr. I'm not sure how I will use it, although I am leaning towards making it a photo album for the many pictures that I have taken without posting them on the blog. In some cases, I might post a mini-review with the picture if I believe it's necessary. For places that I frequent like Bardog Tavern, Tumblr will be extremely useful because the bar always has enticing specials that are irresistible. For anyone interested in following my exploits, go to

LabelsBreakfast, Burgers, Cheap Eats, Commentary, Downtown, Hot Dogs, Multiple Locations, Sandwiches, Vegetarian/Vegan

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alex's Tavern

Finally (Part 5)

It has taken me a long time to do this, but I've finally gotten around to reviewing Alex's Tavern. The reason that it took so long is that I've never been sober enough to do it. In fact, I thought about making the subtitle "Doing It Sober" to point out the significance of me not being hammered when I assessed the tavern. Before I go further, I want to stress that most of my visits to Alex's was after 2:00 A.M. when the bar is usually at its peak. For those unfamiliar with the bar, Alex's Tavern is famous for keeping late night hours that stretch into the next day. The bar is popular with bartenders and others in the service industry who go there after working long shifts at other establishments. I am rarely out that late and hardly in good shape when I am. However, last Saturday was different, for I was in the right state of mind to do a competent review.

Although my original intention was to write about Alex's burgers, I couldn't resist the opportunity to take advantage of the barbecue ribs that the bar sells on weekends. I ended up getting a half slab of ribs that were literally the last of Alex's barbecue for the night along with seasoned fries and baked beans. The ribs were "dry" with plenty of barbecue sauce on the side, which allowed me to get the total BBQ experience. The ribs were rubbed with Greek spices that are the hallmark of the tavern (the key ingredient is Cavender's Greek Seasoning, something that the bar uses to season everything on its menu). As far as dry rub ribs go, Alex's was very good and far better than places like the overrated and over hyped Rendezvous, but the tender and juicy ribs are awesome in Alex's barbecue sauce. To describe exactly how the sauce taste is bit difficult for a novice like me, but Greek spices gives it a distinctive flavor that is unlike anything I had before. Like most barbecue sauces, Alex's has an element of sweetness but it is well-balanced with spices that add tartness to a great barbecue sauce. Collectively, Alex's ribs are better than most barbecue joints that I've been to including my favorite since childhood, Cozy Corner. I'm hesitant to say that Alex's Tavern serves Memphis' best barbecue because I feel like I'm betraying an old friend but I try to be objective in writing my reviews. Therefore, I will conclude by saying that anyone who isn't partial to any particular BBQ restaurant or has never had Memphis barbecue would likely choose Alex's ribs in a taste test of the city's best restaurants. Of course, this is merely an assumption but you'll be hard pressed to find anyone having a negative opinion of Alex's ribs.

As outstanding as the ribs are, Alex's seasoned steak fries are just as noteworthy. Seasoned with a mix of Sonny Salt and Cavender's Greek Seasoning and likely benefiting from the smoky aroma of the barbecue, the fries are the perfect side item for the tavern's ribs. But even if you are eating them with Alex's Greek Burger or Rock-Mo's Chicken Drummies, the steak fries are a great complement that will make either your lunch or dinner better. Even if you don't have much of an appetite, the seasoned steak fries are simply great by themselves as bar food to snack on while watching a ball game or socializing. Compared to other seasoned fries, Alex's is incomparable and the best I've ever had.

The main reason for writing this review was to highlight Alex's Greek Burger. Seasoned with Cavender's Greek Seasoning and a special version of black pepper, the "medium" cooked Greek Burger is one of the many unique things that I've had in Memphis. Every time I eat one, I get an exotic experience similar to my Air Force days when I was stationed in Italy. Of course, local, non-chain hamburger joints were a rarity during my time in Europe but I'm glad that a little Greek ingenuity made its way to Memphis for a great burger that is among the city's best.

I could go on and on about the food at Alex's Tavern, Memphis' oldest tavern established by Alex Kasaftes in 1953. Bottom line is that you won't find anything on the menu that isn't anything short of great. Whether its barbecue, burgers or Rock-Mo's Chicken Drummies that are the best and most popular hot wings in Memphis, owner Rocky Kasaftes and his crew don't screw around in serving great food. By the way, I want to mention that Alex's Tavern is a CASH ONLY restaurant, meaning that it doesn't take credit cards although it has an ATM on the premises. That's something to keep in mind if you decide to get some of the best bar food in Memphis.

Check out Alex's Tavern on

Alex's Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Barbecue, Burgers, Commentary, Midtown, Wings

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