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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

El Gallo Giro

A Friendly Thanks!

A couple of months ago, after one of Memphis' cold spells, I worked on "temp" assignments that dealt with busted water lines. One of places where I worked was at a hotel near the intersection of Lamar and Getwell that's known more for strip clubs, something that the City of Memphis and Shelby County "brilliantly" did away with (well, sort of; time and tax dollars wasted... err, well spent). The company that I worked for was under a tight schedule so there was no time for screwing around, which was fine with me. Because of that, I didn't have a lot of options for lunch in an area lacking restaurants. Fortunately, I found a place with the Urbanspoon mobile app that was a short walk from my work site. So in a choice of chance, I ended up in a homely taqueria.
El Gallo Giro is a family-friendly restaurant that also caters to working class guys like me. That was important given my strict thirty minute lunch break that I couldn't waste. In deciding what to order, I had my friend Shane guiding my choice. When I mean "had," I don't mean that he was with me. Instead, I got my friend's suggestion via Foursquare when I checked in at the Mexican restaurant. I must say, it is nice that friends can stay constantly connected through smartphones. Anyway, I went with my friend's suggestion of Tacos de Tripa that I initially assumed was Spanish for three tacos. Of course, that assumption lasted only minutes when my server asked how many tacos I wanted. After expressing my desire for three, I grabbed my phone so I could find out what I ordered. It turned out that "tripa" is Spanish for tripe, as in beef stomach and/or intestines. As many might assume, I was apprehensive about my selection. Fortunately, I took a "f#©% it" attitude and got after it. With a lot of faith in my friend, I had a feeling that everything was going to be fine.


The tacos erased all doubts after I took the first bite. The spicy seasoning masked any nastiness in the tripe, to the point that it was palatable. Combine that with the zesty toppings of cilantro and raw onions along with a squeeze of lime and a bit of the restaurant's guacamole and picante sauces, add up to something wonderful. The faith in my friend proved correct, for the tacos turned out great and I hope to have them again.
Actually, I did get a second helping of the Tacos de Tripa a day later. Other than the tacos, I wanted to get Shane's recommended beverage for them. The horchata is a thick, sweet, milky drink made with rice, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. Like the tacos, I had no idea what I was in for despite confidence in my friend. Fortunately, the horchata was great and really hit the sweet spot. The rice, vanilla and sugar were strong, making for a very flavorful drink. Although it was very good, the extremely sweet drink didn't seem like a good match for the spicy tacos. For me, the horchata pairs better with a torta or any entrée with bread in it. Even though I differ with my friend about the choice of beverage for the Tacos de Tripa (my recommendation: a Corona or any other Mexican lager beer that the restaurant offers), the contrast in taste made for an interesting experience. Many thanks go out to Shane for introducing me to a beverage that I will have more often whenever I'm at a Mexican restaurant.

SIDE NOTE: Kids will love the horchata as well as the restaurant itself. The taqueria's décor is very colorful because of its chairs and tables exhibiting Mexican-inspired art. I'm surprised that the family-centric blog Dining With Monkeys hasn't discovered El Gallo Giro. Far be it for me to suggest what anyone should blog about (although I would love to read Best Memphis Burger's take on P & H Cafe's stuffed burgers), but I believe Stacey Greenberg (blogger for D.W.M.) and her "monkeys" will love it.

After my first visit to El Gallo Giro, I tweeted Shane to thank him for the suggestion (albeit indirectly) of tacos. He responded with another tip about the Shakira (not the singer), one the restaurant's many tortas. For the uninformed like me, a torta is a Mexican sandwich that is sort of like a mini muffuletta. At least that's my guess given that I never had one until now. I have seen tortas listed elsewhere but I never thought about ordering one, except when I was at a convenience store in Northeast Memphis (I was too broke to get one). Thanks to encouragement from my friend, I took an opportunity to get a torta.


The Shakira (or "La Shakira") is a torta consisting of pulled pork, ham, pineapple, avocados, tomatoes and a white cheese (not sure what it was) within a thick sesame seed bun. The sandwich was quite meaty with the pork being prominent. The sauce on the pork gave it a taste similar to a Sloppy Joe, with everything else playing supporting roles. I assumed that the pineapple would make the torta slightly fruity, but it took a back seat to the pulled pork. Other than that, the biggest standout of the torta was the thick, fresh bun that held it all together. Full of doughy sweetness, the bun played a major role in my opinion of the sandwich. I'm not sure if the restaurant bakes them, but I will compliment it for the buns regardless. Earlier, when I said that a horchata would go well with a torta, the reason for that is the bun's dough flavor meshes well with the sweet Mexican drink. Overall, the Shakira is an awesome sandwich that I'm lucky to have had. Thanks again to Shane for hipping me to it.
In all, I enjoyed everything that I got at El Gallo Giro. The food is excellent and I believe that there isn't a bad meal in the place. The restaurant's staff was very friendly and helpful, something that I greatly appreciated. Getting back to my first visit, the restaurant got my tacos within minutes after I placed the order. This happened despite my spending a lot of time reading the menu, something that eventually didn't matter. In staying within my thirty minute window for lunch, I returned to work on time with minutes to spare. With service that matches the quality of the food, El Gallo Giro is a place that I'm recommending to friends and anyone else looking for a nice Mexican restaurant.
In closing, I want to thank Shane again for the outstanding recommendations at El Gallo Giro. Shane, who I have known for several years, is someone who has been a loyal friend in good and bad times. He's had my back when others haven't, and I feel indebted to him for it. Shane is a good man who I and many others are very lucky to have as a friend. Despite my many faults, I hope I'm good enough to reciprocate in kind. He deserves nothing less than the best.

Follow Shane on Twitter at @shaneofmemphis

El Gallo Giro on Urbanspoon

Labels: Beer, Commentary, Family Friendly, Mexican, Parkway Village, Sandwiches



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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Maria's Cantina

For Old Time's Sake

After months of procrastinating, I finally got around to visiting Maria's Cantina. My primary reason for venturing outside Memphis' city limits was to see someone from the past. One of the bartenders at Maria's is Meghan, a former Flying Saucer Girl who was one of sweetest servers who worked at the draught emporium. Also one of its hottest-looking ladies, Meghan was (and still is) a sight to behold by me and most of the regulars at the Saucer. Before I go further, I want to state that I do not have a "crush" on her, but rather an appreciation of both her beauty and service to me and anyone else thrusting for beer. So for old times' sake, I made the trek to Southaven.
Maria's Cantina is about as "Mexican" as Young Avenue Deli in terms of décor and atmosphere. As a cantina, Maria's is more like Neil's than Happy Mexican because of its festive environment with live music blaring everywhere. If this place were in Midtown, I believe it would rival places like the Hi-Tone Cafe for the party crowd (Maria's also has a location in Bartlett). However, I was there to say "hi" to Meghan while grubbing on some Mexican food.


In deciding what to order, I wanted something that was unique. I got my wish when I stumbled across Maria's Cantina's Mexi-Q menu. Incorporating barbecue into a traditional Mexican menu, most of the "Mexi-Q" consisted of entrées stuffed with pulled pork along with sides that most expect. Initially, I considered getting tamales, but changed my mind when I discovered the chimichangas (or as I call them, "chimmy chongas") on the menu. Not having one in a while, it was the obvious choice for me. The chimichanga comes topped with queso and drizzled with sweet barbecue sauce for an appealing appearance. The shell of the chimichanga was slightly crunchy (like a Ritz cracker) that meshed well with the queso, barbecue sauce and smoked pulled pork. With the rice, beans and other sides, the Mexi-Q chimichanga made for a nice late night dinner. Far from a truly authentic Mexican (or Tex-Mex) experience, the chimichanga was alright for what it was. I see it as evolved Taco Bell grub that the fast food chain might develop if it wanted to branch out into the casual dining/nightclub arena. Overall, it was decent and I have no complaints. Whenever I get around to revisiting Maria's, I want to try a traditional chimichanga with beef, chicken or other meats (including pork that's prepared differently) so I can get a better sense of the restaurant's capabilities in cooking Mexican food. Again, I want to state that I liked my chimichanga that seemed more American than Mexican.

SIDE NOTE: While I waited for my food, I wanted to check out some of the March Madness going on in the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Unfortunately, Maria's Cantina didn't show all the games that aired while I was there and in general isn't much of a sports bar. Fortunately, I had the NCAA March Madness Live app installed on my phone which gave me access to any game I wanted. The app works on both iPhone and Android platforms and performs great (at least on my Samsung Galaxy smartphone).

After finishing my dinner, I wanted to take a picture with Meghan. Unfortunately, she was too busy serving drinks and tending to others at the bar to do that. The fact that she was working her ass off debunks the bullshit of another blogger who gave her nothing but grief. This guy would harass her at work (both at the Saucer and Kooky Canuck) as well as post disparaging things about her work habits on his blog. A person (as in a douchebag) has to have low self-esteem if he gets his jollies from bullying others. Fortunately, Meghan is now working in an environment that's free of that kind of abuse and I wish her the best.
To sum it up, Maria's Cantina is a place that offers decent food in a lively environment that should appeal to both families and single people like myself. Aside from Meghan, the service is good and the restaurant has a lot to offer from margaritas to burgers (I've heard they're really good) to traditional Mexican fare. So, if you're looking for a nice experience in Southaven, Maria's Cantina is a good choice. When you go there, leave the "bags" behind and enjoy.

Website: www.MariasCantina.com

Maria's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Labels: Barbecue, Commentary, Mexican, Southaven



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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brother Juniper's College Inn

Reigniting The Past

In an effort to reminisce the past, I revisited a place that I used to frequent often. With it being so close to work, I often stopped by Brother Juniper's College Inn for breakfast. Usually, I would order one of its many popular omelets that the inn offers. Although I liked most of them, they never inflamed a passion for Brother Juniper's. However, I recently had an omelet that really fired me up.


The Fireman is a spicy open face omelet that will get your attention. The heat derives from peppery stuff like Chorizo sausage & hot sauce, jalapeños and green onions that make the omelet spicy while not burning your mouth. Add the milder toppings of sautéed tomatoes and cheddar & Mozzarella cheeses, and the result is an omelet with vibrant flavors. The accompanying cheese grits is a good match for the open face omelet, for it blends well with nearly everything on it. Overall, The Fireman is a great omelet that I look forward to having again.
I am glad that I returned to Brother Juniper's after a far too long absence. I will definitely return to get another Fireman and the warm hospitality that comes with it. It won't be easy because the restaurant is far away from the routes that I take to work (going from Midtown to Downtown). The problem can get worse by the inn's occasional long wait times that are potentially longer on weekends (thirty minutes or more). Hopefully, I will do my best to find the time to enjoy another spicy omelet from Brother Juniper's. It's worth the effort.

Website: BrotherJunipers.com

Brother Juniper's College Inn on Urbanspoon

Labels: Breakfast, East Memphis Family Friendly



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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chiwawa

A New "Dog" On The Block

Several weeks ago, I stopped by ¡Chiwawa! for both dinner and to see one of my favorite bartenders. While I missed out on seeing Kyla (who also is a former Flying Saucer Girl), I still managed to have a great time at the Overton Square restaurant.

From left: The Chubby Vegetarian, Pollotillo and Taco de Pescado

For starters, I got three tacos that I randomly chose. While I liked all of them, the one that stood out was The Chubby Vegetarian, named after a prominent Memphis blogger. Consisting of panko-crusted fried avocados topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, candied lime, cilantro, and chipotle aioli that are wrapped around a corn tortilla, the taco has a light crispness with quite a bit of zesty flavor. The restaurant cooks the avocados in canola oil so there isn't anything about the taco that's unhealthy. At $5, the taco is more expensive than average but is well worth it. The other tacos (the Pollotillo (chicken) and the Taco de Pescado (fish)) were also good, but it takes a back seat to the "Chubby". I'm not sure if I can clarify it as genuine Mexican cuisine, but The Chubby Vegetarian is great comfort food for almost any occasion.


After finishing the tacos, I had some hunger left in me. To satisfy it, I got the restaurant's signature Chiwawa Dog. The best part about this hot dog is the quality of the bacon-wrapped beef frank that is a cut above the average wiener. Other than Cafe Eclectic, I don't know of a many places that use gourmet-quality meats in its hot dogs. Combine that with toppings such as avocado, salsa fresca, sour cream, and Valentina hot sauce, for a really good "¡perro caliente!" that's worth every cent of its cost ($7).

SIDE NOTE: Cafe Eclectic, with entrées like its Wonder Dog, provide more bang for the buck. For less than seven dollars, a person can get one of the cafe's hot dogs with a side item like its Roasted Taters. I hope I'm not putting a sour note on the Chiwawa Dog, but I felt that it needed mentioning.

In the end, my dinner at ¡Chiwawa! was a very pleasant experience because of the good food it serves. Speaking of service, the not-Kyla bartender treated me well by satisfying all my wants and needs. She even provided free coffee to perk me up while I sat at the bar. All around, ¡Chiwawa! is a really nice restaurant that's well suited for anyone who loves good food in a cozy environment (which includes a huge outdoor patio) in the heart of Midtown Memphis.

Website: www.ChiwawaMidtown.com

LabelsHot Dogs, Midtown, Tacos, Tapas

Chiwawa on Urbanspoon



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Monday, February 24, 2014

R.P. Tracks

Nachos Fantástico!

A few weeks ago, I got together with a college classmate and his friends for drinks at R.P. Tracks. It wasn't my first visit there, for I've visited it many times while I worked in East Memphis but I never had an appreciation for it. For me, it was a bar to grab a beer before going home and nothing more. I never saw R.P. Tracks as a restaurant despite the good things I heard about it, such as the nachos. Fortunately, fate (via a University of Memphis basketball game) brought me back for surprisingly good food.
Initially, we planned to just watch the game while drinking a pitcher of beer. As we were doing this, our hunger urged us to get some munchies. My former classmate persuaded us to get R.P.'s Famous Nachos that many of my friends love. I was cool with the choice, although I didn't believe it was good enough to blog about. It isn't often that I devote a review to an appetizer like nachos because I don't believe that I can add any additional insight to what most are familiar with. Whether it's from places like Neil's or The Green Beetle, they're all more or less the same. Trying to compare nachos is almost like evaluating two cats of the same breed. There might be subtle differences, but not enough to clearly choose one over the other. However, I will make an exception for R.P. Tracks that does a brilliant job of making some of the best nachos in Memphis.


Dubbed "R.P.'s Famous Nachos," it has all the things that most are familiar with like lettuce, tomato, jalapeños and queso atop a bed of tortilla chips and chili. What sets it apart from most are the latter two components. The tortilla chips (fried in-house) are full of corn flavor and so good that I initially thought that they were better than the ones from Memphis' most popular Mexican Restaurant, Las Delicias. When I told this to one of my friends, he reacted like I insulted Mother Teresa (or his favorite Saucer Girl). After thinking about it, he's probably right, for Las Delicias' tortilla chips are that good but R.P. Tracks can hold its own. The chili is equally impressive because of its tasty ground beef that is the basis of this meaty appetizer. Its only drawback is that it's watery, which makes its use in a nachos plate messy although my friends and I didn't mind. Overall, R.P.'s Famous Nachos made me a believer, for it's head and shoulders above nearly all others in the Bluff City.
My friends and I had a great time that night, made all the more enjoyable with nachos and a pitcher of High Cotton Brewing Company's ESB (the beer is a good pairing for the nachos/chili). The night ended on a good note with the U of M beating Gonzaga 60-54, but the score didn't matter because we all enjoyed each other's company. I hope we can get together again because the good times are worth it, especially with great food from places like R.P. Tracks.

Website: RPTracks.com

R.P. Tracks on Urbanspoon

Labels: Bar Food, Beer, East Memphis




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Monday, February 10, 2014

Bon Ton Cafe

A "Ton" Of Good Stuff

A few days into the new year, I went to Bon Ton Cafe for one of its daily specials. Fortunately, my curiosity piqued because chicken and waffles was the featured entrée during the cafe's breakfast/brunch hours. I chose it on the belief that it would be as good as what I got from Alannah's Breakfast Kafé.


The chicken and waffles were really good. The "chicken" portion consisted of four fried wings on top of a Belgian waffle split four ways. While I liked them (which reminded me of Mrs. Winner's), I couldn't prevent myself from making a mess due to the wings' flaky crust. The chicken was well suited for the waffles and maple syrup, leading to a breakfast that was very satisfying. Although it wasn't as good as Alannah's, Bon Ton's chicken and waffles are definitely something to look forward to whenever it's on special.


While the chicken and waffles isn't on Bon Ton's formal menu, it has many good options to choose from. One item that I really like is Sammy's Specialty Omelet, made with egg whites and filled with fresh baby spinach, onions, roasted red peppers and feta cheese. As someone who isn't a fan of egg whites, I really liked the cheesiness of the omelet that made it very tasty. The uncaramelized red onions were a bit strong, but I won't hold that against it. The spinach and red peppers had a smaller presence but it added a nice touch to an omelet that was surprisingly good. I say this because egg whites are bland and I rarely enjoy eating them, but Bon Ton really hits the mark with this omelet. As someone who's always looking for healthy eating alternatives, Sammy's Specialty Omelet is great for keeping my cholesterol down while satisfying my appetite.
The Bon Ton Cafe has a lot of really good things to offer for those wanting breakfast, lunch or dinner. Check it out whenever you're in Downtown Memphis.

Website: www.bontoncafememphis.com

Bon Ton Cafe on Urbanspoon

LabelsBreakfast, Brunch, Diner, Downtown



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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wet Willie's

More Than Daiquiris

Recently, I visited Wet Willie's during lunch breaks from my job at the FedExForum. It wasn't something planned, at least not initially. When I go out on foot for lunch, I usually go to the Flying Saucer, Aldo's Pizza Pies or Bardog Tavern because they are among my favorite places to go to. Sometimes I'll deviate from those three, but not often. For the most part, I avoid Beale Street because it's a little more expensive than average. However, it is convenient if I need quick take-out during busy days at the arena or if I don't feel like walking. My first food-only visit to Wet Willie's fell into the latter category not only for its location but also to satisfy my curiosity. With all the drinks that I've had there previously, I wanted to know if the food could hang with the alcohol. I didn't go to Wet Willie's expecting much, for I'm probably one of the few who goes there to grub.


After looking over the menu, I went with the Too Hot to Handle Burger (called “Burn Baby Burn” on Wet Willie’s website). I anticipated a very delicious burger, for the menu described it as “blackened and topped with Louisiana Hot Sauce, sautéed pickled jalapeños and pepper jack cheese.” However, despite the menu description of “blackened” beef, the meat's appearance and taste had no evidence of spices or seasoning that is associated with that style of cooking. In all likelihood, the daiquiri bar grills the beef in a manner that's common for most restaurants. As for it being “too hot to handle,” the burger barely stirred my senses. Although it had some spiciness, it didn’t force me to drink enormous amounts of water. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a good burger, but its spiciness and flavor doesn’t come close to great ones like Kooky Canuck’s Holy Smoke! Burger. This is just an ordinary cheeseburger with spicy components that many restaurants offer.


Several weeks later, I went to Wet Willie's again for another quick lunch. Initially, I wanted to get something along the lines of "bar food" like hot wings or chicken tenders, but I changed my mind when I saw a familiar sandwich on the menu. Among those listed is Wet Willie's version of the Drunken Chicken Sandwich. When I saw it, my first thought was "how does it compare to Johnny G's 'drunken' sandwich?" I really like "G's" version because it's very spicy and flavorful. Unfortunately, Wet Willie's version is nothing more than a grilled chicken sandwich with a mildly spicy sauce (in the form of its Famous Tequila Sauce) that didn't have the pizzazz of its Beale Street counterpart. Without the sauce, Wet Willie's sandwich is something that anyone can make including novice cooks like me. The chicken (breast) lacks seasoning and depends on sauce for most of its flavor. Like the burger I had earlier, Wet Willie's Drunken Chicken Sandwich is a decent, unexciting sandwich that I wouldn't go out of the way for (even when I'm working near Beale Street).
Suffice it to say, Wet Willie's isn't the bastion of fine cuisine. As most people know, the restaurant/bar is famous for its frozen daiquiris. Although I'm not much into the frozen drinks, I usually get the crowd favorite "Call A Cab" that's loaded with 190 proof grain alcohol and Bacardi rum. The drink is so strong that it only takes two to overwhelm me to the point where I need to, well, call a cab (unless its New Year's Eve, in which case I'll use the smartphone app Taxi Magic). The "Call A Cab" is a very good drink but not for the weak.
After a few food-related visits to Wet Willie's, I can't say that it impressed me. Based on the entrées that I had, the food is mediocre at best. However, I don't believe that the bar/restaurant's owners worry about that, so long as the daiquiris remain strong with people yearning for them. Wet Willie's is definitely more of nightspot to party at than a restaurant, so I wouldn't recommend it as a family-friendly place. But for whose who like to get after it while listening to live music, Wet Willie's is a nice option among many on Beale Street. For those who get food, a couple of "Call A Cabs" should put them in a good enough mood to like whatever they're eating. As long as they don't throw up.


Hitting The Streets

If you're heading south down Danny Thomas Blvd. between Beale Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Ave., beware of the black ice stemming from a busted water main near a high-rise public housing project. I'm not sure if the water is coming from underground or a fire hydrant (a lot of ice surrounds it), but it has been ongoing for the past several months. Most of the time, this is a nuisance that most can ignore but not during freezing temperatures. Especially at night and during morning hours, the ice poses a dangerous road hazard. As it relates to Beale Street nightclubs like Wet Willie's, a slick street can worsen the situation of an intoxicated person who shouldn't be driving in the first place. I believe it's time for the City of Memphis to fix this, for the water leak is costing taxpayers money as well as endangering their safety. Also, it puts the city at risk from a liability standpoint if some Corey B. Trotz wannabe wants to sue on behalf of an accident victim. I hope city officials take notice (including those in Mayor A.C. Wharton's office who follow this blog on Twitter), for this is a problem that needs immediate attention. Anyway, that's my two cents on another non-food topic.

Wet Willie's on Urbanspoon

Website: www.wetwillies.com

Labels: Bar Food, Beale Street, Burgers, Chain Restaurants, Commentary, Downtown, Sandwiches



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