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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Kooky Canuck

Food That Makes You "Kooky"

After blogging about a burger joint in North Memphis recently and comparing it to Kooky Canuck, I realized that I never actually written anything about the place. As a burger aficionado, I enjoy a nicely cooked ground beef patty on a bun with a lot of fixings, and Kooky Canuck never fails to deliver. All of the burgers on Kooky's menu (including the 7½ lb. Kookamonga, which I can't eat more than a small slice) are delicious and I don't have a favorite. Regardless of which burger you order, you'll get it cooked to order along with fresh garnishes that is sure to satisfy the appetite.
In addition to burgers, Kooky Canuck also has an extensive menu of other food offerings, including steaks, sandwiches and various appetizers, including buffalo wings that are as good as any wing joint in Memphis. I especially like the Strawberry Jalapeño wings, a strange combination that somehow blends nicely into something that tastes wonderful. Also, the hot wings are just that, HOT! Eating a dozen of them usually make my eyes water, but I don't mind because I can usually wash it down with a 34 oz. mug of beer (which at $6 per drink, is a great bargain). Kooky also has a version of wings called "HOLY SMOKE!," but I doubt I'll try these wings given that they're hotter than "hot."

UPDATE: Since posting this, I ate one of the HOLY SMOKE! wings in the unofficial Kookamonga Challenge and it kicked my ass. However, I fared better with the HOLY SMOKE! Burger that wasn't nearly as intense but very good nonetheless. Although there is a glass of water in the picture, the burger pairs well with certain styles of beer like pumpkin ales and Saisons (or other beers with a sweet undertone).
Also, if anyone has ever wondered what poutine (a French Canadian appetizer) would taste on a burger, Kooky Canuck has the hookup. Within the confines of a hamburger, the gravy and cheese curds of the poutine meshes well with the ground beef and bun. With the fries mixed in, it's sort of like eating a crazy Salisbury steak sandwich that surprisingly isn't messy. While it's not my favorite burger at Kooky's (my fave is the Yonge Street Burger), the Poutine Burger is on the short list of go-to burgers at the restaurant.

Other menu items that I recommend are the Steak & Fries, the Deep Fried Cornish Hen and the Catfish Plate. The "steak" of the Steak & Fries is a hand-cut rib-eye (either 14 or 20 oz.) that is char-grilled to order, and it has a nice smoky aroma to it that really enhances the taste. The meat in the Deep Fried Cornish hen is full of buttery flavor that meshes quite well with the batter used to deep-fry it with (in my opinion, the batter tastes better than either KFC or Popeye's). The Catfish Plate tastes great whether it's deep-fried or blackened, but I personally like the blackened version because I can combine it with green beans and a salad topped with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette which makes for a delicious meal for the health-conscious.
Lastly, Kooky Canuck offers a nice dessert menu that has something I especially enjoy, which is the Cookie a la Mode. The Cookie a la Mode consists of a 6" wide cookie that is an inch thick, served in a skillet with a huge, softball size scoop of ice cream placed on top of it. This "dessert" is more filling than entrées at many restaurants, which after a huge meal can be overwhelming but it is worth it. I particularly like the chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream because I love the gooey chocolate mixing in with the cold stuff.
Because of all of the delicious food offerings of Kooky Canuck, it will rank high among the many restaurants in Memphis. In addition to the great food, owner Shawn Danko and the restaurant's staff provide a great atmosphere that make the dining experience quite enjoyable. My only criticism is the bar area, which I feel is a bit cramped, but considering that it is more of a restaurant than a bar, emphasis has to be placed on its dining priorities. Nevertheless, Kooky Canuck is a great, family-friendly place to dine that I highly recommend.


Kooky Canuck on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Beer, Burgers, Dessert, Downtown, Family Friendly, Wings

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Big Burger

WOW! What a burger!

Today, I decided to head over to Big Burger for lunch, and I had an awesome burger. I decided to go with the burger joint's namesake, the Big Burger, which consists of a 1/3 pound of ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. From tasting the burger, the meat seemed like it was seasoned with a combination of salt and black pepper and cooked to about "medium well-done." When combined with the other toppings, this is one delicious burger. The French fries were pretty good too, having a taste similar to McDonald's fries. When comparing the burger to other places in town, including my favorites Sweden Kream and Kooky Canuck, Big Burger can hold its own with the best of them.
While waiting for my burger, I glanced over the menu and noticed that Big Burger also sells sandwiches and surprisingly, pizza. The pizzas can be ordered in either 6" or 9" sizes, with a selection of these toppings: sausage, pepperoni, beef, ham, turkey, black olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, green peppers. Whenever I get the chance, I will try one of Big Burger's pizzas.
As for the service, the staff at Big Burger was very courteous and it didn't take long for me to get my order. As a result of my experience, I will definitely return again, although because it is in a not-so-nice part of Memphis, I don't think I'll be making any night visits. Overall, Big Burger definitely lives up to its name, and as far as burgers joints go, it is one of the better ones in Memphis.

For another opinion, check out the Commercial Appeal's Whining and Dining blog. The burger made it into its "best meal of the week" feature.

Mediocre Pizza

After having an outstanding burger from Big Burger, I decided to give one of its pizzas a try. I initially wanted to get a 6" sausage pizza, but was told that the topping wasn't available, so I went with a beef pizza instead. The pizza consists of ground beef (about 1" thick) covered with cheese and jalapeños with hardly any tomato sauce, and it was quite filling. However, unlike the Big Burger, the beef seemed unseasoned and had a bland taste, and the cheese (Mozzarella, I think) didn't help. Speaking of the cheese, it would have been nice if the cheese had melted more into the beef, which could have made it easier (and less messier) to eat. To make it palatable, I added Parmesan cheese and McCormick's "Grill Mates" Hamburger Seasoning, which provided some pizazz.
From eating the beef pizza, I don't think I'll be getting another one from Big Burger. While its burgers are great, if the pie I had was indicative of the quality of its pizza menu, I would advise going elsewhere for a pizza.


LabelsBurgers, North Memphis, Pizza, Sandwiches

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shang Hai

Best Egg Rolls I Ever Had!

egg rollThe egg rolls at Shang Hai Oriental Restaurant are the best I ever had, although I'm not an expert on Chinese food. However, I have been to many Asian restaurants in Memphis and other parts of the United States (as well as my first visit to a Chinese restaurant, in Florence Italy), and I have never had egg rolls that tasted as good as Shang Hai's. The egg roll, which is slightly bigger than a Twinkie, consists of the typical ingredients including pork and cabbage, but what I like about it is the spicy seasoning used to cook them, which is distinctive. I wish I could describe exactly how it tasted, but trust me, take one bite out of a Shang Hai egg roll and you'll love it.

SIDE NOTE: An expensive way of enjoying Shang Hai's egg rolls is by eating them with Michelina's Chicken Fried Rice that can be bought from the neighboring Kroger on Cleveland and Poplar. At under six dollars, it's a nice inexpensive meal that hits the spot.

As for the other dishes that I had from Shang Hai, they're okay, just not "5-star" good. Upon recommendation from Urbanspoon (and not reading the menu), I tried the Sesame Chicken. I was surprised that this was an appetizer consisting of breaded chicken breast strips coated with sesame seeds. For an appetizer, it was good, especially when dipped in sweet and sour sauce. The texture of the meat was extremely tender, which made chewing easy.
I also tried the Chicken with Cashews, which is my favorite entree at the Mandarin Wok II in Millington, Tennessee. However, Shang Hai's version was a bit underwhelming, and I had to add soy sauce just to liven up the flavor. It might have been better if it had additional ingredients like baby corn and celery. It isn't bad, just decent.
The restaurant's take-out service is pretty convenient, with orders prepared within fifteen minutes after being placed. I recently used it to order Beef Fried Rice, and the order was ready within ten minutes after calling it in. Like most restaurants, Shang Hai uses Styrofoam containers which may not appeal to the environmentally conscious, but I don't mind as long as the food is good. By the way, the Beef Fried Rice is somewhat meaty (much more so than nearby Lucky Star, located across from Alex's Tavern on Jackson Ave.) and spicy due to the onions, but was "dry" (or possibly overcooked; I could be wrong) and lacked flavor. Fortunately, soy sauce and Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce livened the meal well.
In all, Shang Hai is a nice, modestly priced restaurant that serves decent food. Other than the superb egg rolls, the food is decent enough to satisfy the appetite, but it will never be confused with P.F. Chang's. That said, the service is great and I'll definitely visit this place often, especially if I'm craving egg rolls!


Shang Hai on Urbanspoon

LabelsAsian, Chinese, Midtown, Thai, Vietnamese

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Village Square Buffet (Horseshoe Tunica Casino)

Something for Everyone

About every Thanksgiving, I usually treat myself to a hearty meal at a buffet in one of the casinos in Tunica, Mississippi. Most of the time, I prefer to go to the Village Square Buffet in the Horseshoe Casino that literally has something for everyone. The buffet consists of a dining area that is the size of a basketball court and several unique serving stations, with names like Good Fortune, Home Cookin', Hickory Grill, Rio Grill and Little Italy. Unlike some buffets that try to offer a variety of foods within one serving line, a person who's in the mood for Chinese can go to the "Good Fortune" serving line and get a full menu of Chinese and other Asian food items. Meanwhile, a dining companion can walk over to the "Home Cookin'" station to get a nice Southern plate of fried chicken and collard greens. Personally, I like the "Hickory Grill" serving station the best because it serves quality meats, including a pretty good prime rib that's cut to order. (I believe the meat is cooked "medium"). Also, as far as vegetables go, I highly recommend the spinach served from the "Little Italy" serving station, for it has a rich buttery taste that is incredible. Regardless of preference, all of the food served is of very good quality. Frankly, I believe Village Square is better than most buffets that I've visited, including Paula Deen's.
To get the best experience, I always get a little of everything, including something from Village Square's enormous salad bar that includes crawfish and shrimp. Now if I haven't totally stuffed myself silly, I might get dessert from the buffet's bakery that offers a wide variety of cakes and pies that are superbly made. In all, the Village Square Buffet is an eater's (although not necessarily a foodie's) paradise. It is a great place to take a family to, where everyone can get what they want.
For anyone deciding to go to Village Square Buffet during Thanksgiving or any other holiday, be advised that there could (and probably) will be a wait time before getting to enter the buffet. But believe me when I tell you that the wait is worth it.


Village Square Buffet (Horseshoe Tunica Casino) on Urbanspoon

LabelsBuffet, Tunica

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Cafe Eclectic

Service with a Personal Touch

I have to give a "thumbs up" to Cafe Eclectic for excellent customer service. I'm specifically referring to the trouble I had in accessing the café's Wi-Fi service and a "tweet" I sent concerning my opinion of one of their servers. With regards to the "tweet," I mentioned that one of their servers didn't seem too receptive of me whenever I visited the café (although this person seemed very anxious to get my "check" whenever it appeared that I finished my meal/drink). Now for me, this wasn't a big deal and in fact was more of an afterthought. That said, a person might ask me "why did you tweet about it?," to which I would reply that it was "a spur of the moment" thing that I did while checking in on Foursquare. Anyway, once Jack, one of the managers at Cafe Eclectic caught wind of this, he immediately contacted me and asked what he could to remedy this. After I expressed my concerns, he told me that he would have a talk with the server about my issues, and Jack's sincerity reassured me that he appreciated my patronage. I haven't dealt with the server since then, but I feel confident that my future encounters with this server will be much better.
As for my Wi-Fi problem, the owner Catherine Boulden personally attended to my problem and reset the café's router several times in effort to fix the problem, to no avail. Later, after I told Jack about the server, I mentioned my Wi-Fi problem and Catherine's attempts to fix it. Jack said that my problem was with my laptop's Wi-Fi software. He then went into my laptop and deleted and re-installed the "wireless" drivers (or whatever it was), which fixed the problem. I was really impressed with this, because most places that have those kinds of problems never go the lengths that the staff at Cafe Eclectic did to fix them. Just on this alone, I highly recommend the café for the great service that it provides.
As for the food, I highly recommend three menu items. The first item is the Diablo Wrap, a spicy combination of chicken, cream cheese, spinach, grilled onions and garlic seasoned with a spicy sauce. Accompanied with a salad, it is very satisfying and filling, and it is HOT (hence the name "Diablo"). The second menu item that I like is the French Omelet, a three-egg omelet filled with spinach, white cheddar cheese and creme fraiche that is absolutely delicious. I usually order the omelet with two pork sausage patties and it is a delight to eat. My third favorite entrée is the NʼAwlins Dog that is a great deal (I talk more about this in the next part of this review). In addition to the aforementioned items, I also like the Home Made Waffles, the Grilled Chicken & Pineapple Panini and the cheeseburger.
In all, Cafe Eclectic is great coffee shop that offers both excellent food and coffee and the staff goes to great lengths to make the customer's experience a great one. After my recent experiences, I will definitely go there as often as I can and I highly recommend others to dine there as well.

More Wi-Fi Problems

Since writing my initial review, I have dined at Cafe Eclectic several times. During most of those visits, I brought my laptop so I could work on stuff like this blog. In just about every visit, my laptop wasn't able to access the Internet. Even on an early morning visit where I and one other customer were the only diners in the café, the Internet was inaccessible. However, my Android-powered smartphone can seemingly get on the Web. I say "seemingly" because even though the phone indicates access, I can't determine where I am actually getting the Internet from.
On December 17, 2011, I went to Cafe Eclectic for lunch, bringing both my laptop and smartphone. Although both were able to access the café's Wi-Fi router, my laptop couldn't get on the Internet. Even though my phone seemingly didn't have a problem, I can't really know for sure if I'm getting the Internet from the cafe's Wi-Fi or Sprint's 3G services. If I ever forget (or too broke) to pay my cell phone bill, I will go back to Cafe Eclectic to see if a 3G-less smartphone can get online via the café's Wi-Fi.
While trying to gain Internet access on that December day, I had the NʼAwlins Dog with Roasted Taters that is a great combination. Usually when I order the hot dog, I get it with potato chips that don’t always satisfy my hunger. However, in going with the Roasted Taters, a mix of chopped russet and sweet potatoes, I had a perfect ratio of entrée to side item. The combination of the beefy hot dog with its toppings of chopped lettuce, tomato, bacon and remoulade sauce with the potatoes blended nicely and tasted great. For a meal that costs less than six dollars (not including the tip), it's one of the best restaurant deals in Memphis.

SIDE NOTE: The cafe's Wonder Dog is pretty good, too!

While I left Cafe Eclectic with a satisfied appetite, I have concluded that the restaurant's Wi-Fi service is unreliable. Although I appreciated the help I received from the café's staff in trying to solve the problem, the obstacles to gaining Internet access are too much to bother with. If this problem is limited to my laptop, then I hope I can solve the problem on my own or with the help of my many IT friends. However, I hardly ever encounter these problems at other places, including Otherlands Coffee Bar where I often go to when I need reliable Wi-Fi access. Cafe Eclectic is still a great place to dine at, despite the flaws in its Internet service.

UPDATE: Recently, Cafe Eclectic's Wi-Fi service has improved and is more reliable. Don't know how long it will last, but I'm hoping for the best.


The chicken pot pie isn't any better than what most grocery stores sell. In fact, the only difference between Cafe Eclectic and the typical frozen pot pie is the crust. Instead of baking it in a pie shell, Cafe Eclectic uses a bowl topped with a thin layer of crust. For me, the crust is the best part of a pot pie so a single layer of it isn't enough. Putting that aside, the content of Cafe Eclectic's chicken pot pie consists of similar things that are in pies made by companies like Swanson and Banquet. Like them, the cafe's pie has chicken, peas, carrots, corn and green beans in a cream sauce that is indistinguishable from the supermarket variety. I'm not saying it's bad but it isn't worth $8.95, especially if I'm not getting all of the best part.
The only reason that I got the chicken pot pie was that my friends recommended it to me. After having a delicious version of it at Rizzo's Diner and blogging about it, my friends told me that Cafe Eclectic's chicken pot pie was just as good. Well, I have to disagree because Rizzos' pot pie had one thing that Cafe Eclectic's entrée lacked: creativity. Instead of following the typical script, Chef Mike's creation has basmati rice, snap peas, red and green peppers and Andouille sausage along with chicken. I assumed that Cafe Eclectic's pie was going to be in the same vein as Rizzos Diner, but its version is an overpriced supermarket chicken pot pie with less crust. Liked I said, it was good but not worth the money that I paid for it. With the cafe making other wonderful dishes, I assumed that its chicken pot pie was exceptional. Apparently it is not.


Cafe Eclectic on Urbanspoon

LabelsBreakfast, Coffee Shop, Hot Dogs, Midtown, Pita Wraps

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Majestic Grille

Simply the Best!

Of all the restaurants in Memphis, The Majestic Grille is by far my favorite restaurant, and I like it because of the great atmosphere, excellent service and the enormous variety of the menu. Among the many favorites that I like are the Shrimp and Scallop Linguine and the Grilled Artichoke Flatbread (some will call this a pizza). Most of the time when I go there, it is for Sunday Brunch that is extremely delicious. In fact, I have yet to encounter anything on the menu that I didn't like, which is why The Majestic Grille is my favorite among favorites.
With so many great items on the menu, trying to write about all of them would be akin to writing a novel, however I will point out two items that I like the best. One of them is the Bone-in Rib Eye that I order medium rare. The steak is sixteen ounces of tender, marinated juiciness served up with either Parmesan fries, mashed potatoes or its special vegetable of the day (such as broccoli). From eating Majestic's steaks, I have come to appreciate good quality that doesn't require steak sauce. In the past, there was a running joke about me putting Heinz 57 on steaks because I was the only one doing it. Lisa the bartender kept a bottle of the sauce behind the bar and labeled it "Ken's Ketchup." Fortunately, I no longer have a need for it because it would only desecrate perfection. Anyway, I like the Majestic's steaks so much that I often order a steak meal during Sunday Brunch, such as the Steak and Eggs that comes with a mix of potatoes and red and green peppers (I believe the steak weighs ten ounces, although bigger cuts are available by request). As far as steaks go, there may be only a handful of restaurants that make a better steak than the Majestic, and fewer that can serve it up in a classy environment that has jazz music playing (often performed by a live band) and a silent movie displayed on the restaurant's back wall that is a nice homage to the famed movie theater, Majestic No. 1, that originally occupied the restaurant's current location.
For those on a budget, getting the Famous Grilled Cheese sandwich is a great deal, for you get a quality gourmet sandwich for about the same price as a foot-long sub at a place like Subway or Quiznos. Made with aged sharp cheddar, bacon, tomato and Creole mustard and accompanied by Parmesan fries, it is probably the best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever tasted. I particularly like the mustard, an unconventional ingredient that really accentuates the sandwich's flavor. Of course, the credit for this and the many other wonderful menu choices (such as its fabulous cheeseburger that ranks #23 on my best burger list and great salads like the Majestic Cobb) can be attributed to restaurant's brilliant master chef and co-owner, Patrick Reilly. Kudos also go to Patrick's wife and co-owner Deni for marketing the many fine qualities of The Majestic Grille that makes it stand out among the many fine restaurants in Downtown Memphis.
In writing this review, I hope I don't sound biased for I always try to call it as I see it, which has upset people in the past. That said, I have dined at The Majestic Grille from its beginning, and I have NEVER had a bad experience. Thanks to the efforts of the Reillys and the restaurant staff, The Majestic Grille is one of finest restaurants in Memphis. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great dining experience that is first class.


Majestic Grille on Urbanspoon

LabelsAmerican, BrunchBurgersDowntown, Family Friendly, Pasta, Pizza, Salads, Sandwiches, Steaks, Upscale

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Pizza Shack

Over-hyped, yet decent pizza

For all the internet marketing that The Pizza Shack had done, I wanted to see if their pizzas lived up to the hype. To be fair, I wanted to try more than one of their pizzas so I could get a good sense of the pizzeria's quality. I set aside a day to have lunch there so I could get slices from different pizzas (slices are only offered during their lunch hours).
The slices of pizza that I chose were from two of the Shack's signature pizzas and one "meat lovers" style pizza that most pizzerias offer (my lunch also included a "free" soda). The first slice that I ate was "The Trinity," named because of it's three primary ingredients, grilled chicken, bacon and "ranch," which I guess is a reference to ranch dressing although it could have about the cheese (might have been cheddar) which was quite prominent. Of the three slices that I had, I liked The Trinity the most because of it's cheesiness that meshed well with the chicken and bacon. It was sort of like eating an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich. The pizza slice was good, but not awesome.
The second slice that I had was the namesake "The Shack Attack," which is topped with pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, shredded steak, pulled pork and red onions, all covered with BBQ sauce. As a pizza, the "Attack" was decent and the pulled pork was good. In my opinion, it should have been their designated "meat" pizza as opposed to the third slice that I had.
The final slice that I had was The Pizza Shack's version of the meat lover's pizza, called the "Meaty," and it has pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, salami, ground beef and steak toppings. Despite the amount of toppings, the slice didn't seem that "meaty," plus it didn't have a lot of cheese on it, unlike "meat lovers" pizzas you can get at places like Pizza Hut (a place that The Pizza Shack is trying to emulate), Domino's, Papa John's and my local favorite, Broadway Pizza. As a pizza, the "Meaty" is okay, but it wouldn't be a pizza I would get to feed a hungry crowd at a party.
Overall, the pizza slices that I had at The Pizza Shack were good, but not nearly as good as restaurants such as Broadway Pizza and Old Venice Pizza Company. It's not even on par with Pizza Hut (the restaurant that the "Shack" aspires to be), but it is a nice neighborhood pizza joint located in the Lowe's parking lot on Perkins and Summer. If I lived in East Memphis, particularly in the Berclair neighborhood, I could see myself eating there on a regular basis. The Pizza Shack doesn't quite live up to the hype, but is a decent pizzeria nonetheless.

Slices of the Meaty and The Shack Attack
(apologies for not including The Trinity; ate the first slice before photographing)

Twitter: @thepizzashack

The Pizza Shack on Urbanspoon

LabelsNutbush/Berclair, Pizza, Sandwiches, Summer Avenue

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Amoco Food Express

A Hidden Gem

After reading a previous review on Yelp!, I decided to put in my "two cents" in. As far as gas stations/convenience stores go, I've seen better. While the place does look a little shabby and most of the products are dated, it's not the "House of Horrors" that the previous reviewer and many others have made it out to be. When comparing it to convenience stores in other crappy neighborhoods in Memphis, it might be somewhat worse because of the panhandlers that loiter there. However, there is a simple remedy for that: IGNORE THEM. Whenever I go there, I don't even acknowledge their presence. So, as far as the overall environment of Amoco Food Express, I just take it for what it is.
The real reason for my review was not to either refute or debate the other reviewer, but to talk about the one thing that I love about the place: the food. Assuming that you don't want "burnt shriveled up hash brown potatoes and wings" but instead want something hot and fresh, go to Amoco Food Express during lunch on a weekday (Monday through Friday). This place serves some of best Southern/Soul Food in Memphis, and that's saying a lot. The place serves Southern meat staples such as fried chicken, baked chicken, fried pork chops, hamburger steak and other items. To go along with these, vegetables such as turnip greens, green beans, mashed potatoes, fried okra and rice and gravy are also served. No matter what you get, you'll probably get a very satisfying meal.
With the food being this good, I am so glad I found this place. When I initially discovered their food counter, it was completely by accident. I believed this happened on a day when I needed gas to get back to work after mailing something at the post office across the street. When I saw the food counter containing pork chops that looked like my mom used to make, I couldn't resist and got a plate lunch. That meal consisted of some of the best fried pork chops that I've had in a long time. This made a huge impression on me, consequentially making it a prime destination for lunch whenever I'm nearby. By the way, it only offers take-out service, which is fine with me because the environment there isn't conducive with dining.
I recently had the baked chicken with green beans and rice and gravy, and it was one best meals that I've had for the week. The baked chicken was seasoned and very tender (so much that the meat falls off the bone) and was moist, not dry. The chicken had just the right amount of oil that made it juicy, but not greasy. I also really liked the rice and gravy, for it was nicely seasoned with just enough salt to make it tasty (I hate it when anything is over-salted). The rice and chicken are a great combination that I highly recommend.
For all of its faults, the Amoco Food Express is a great place to get lunch (or breakfast). If you can look past the panhandlers and everything else that gives the place a negative vibe, you'll be rewarded with a great culinary experience.

Amoco Food Express on Urbanspoon

Labels: Breakfast, Downtown, Gas Station/Convenience Store, Soul Food

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thyme Bistro

Not quite the hype

After a bit of procrastination, I decided to dine at Thyme Bistro. The reviews I read on Urbanspoon were very flattering, which prompted me to see for myself. Although the restaurant is very nice and the management and waitstaff are very hospitable, the meal that I had didn't quite measure up to the hype.
Because I had a bit of an appetite, I decided to get an appetizer in addition to the main course. The appetizer that I chose was the bruschetta topped with diced tomatoes and olive tapenade (a French paste). As someone who has eaten a lot of bruschetta in my time (both in Italy and in the States), this was the first time that I served bruschetta in this fashion, and it was literally an eye-opener. After taking the first bite, I immediately got a jolt of spiciness, and I incorrectly assumed that it was horseradish. However Lisa, the lady who served me, said the spiciness was due to the garlic in the tapenade. Well, far be it from me to a critic (of course, this blog wouldn't exist if I wasn't critical), but that was WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY TOO MUCH garlic for my taste. Although I tried to drink water to cool my mouth, I should have taken my server's advice and eaten the bruschetta with the pinot noir that I ordered with my main course. Eventually, when I did get my wine, which was a glass of Mirassou Pinot Noir, I ate the last two slices bruschetta and it tasted better. Seems that the bruschetta and pinot noir complement each other. By the way, my server (and probably many others) mispronounce "bruschetta" by annunciating the "chet" syllable in a manner similar to the word "shoe." This is the proper Italian pronunciation for bruschetta, although the Merriam-Webster Dictionary would disagree (this is their version). No matter how you say it, the bruschetta wasn't my cup of tea.
For the main course, I stayed with the Italian theme and chose the Pasta Bolognese. The reason I chose this entrée was so I could compare it to a similar dish that I had at The Villa in Midtown Memphis' Overton Square. The Bolognese pasta that I had at The Villa literally left a bad taste in my mouth, so I was curious to see if Thyme's version could be better, merely the same or worse. Thyme's version of the Bolognese meat sauce is marinara mixed in with pork and beef, which is a nice combination, but the marinara was so ordinary that the sauce didn't "WOW" me. However, it was much better than The Villa's version and it didn't leave a bad aftertaste (although the bruschetta might have).
My pasta came with sticks of garlic bread and olive oil for dipping. The texture of the bread was mushy, as if it was half-baked. Biting into it was sort of like trying to eat a sponge, and it wasn't enjoyable. After a couple of bites, I decided to skip the garlic bread.
In all, the dinner that I had at Thyme Bistro was so-so, but of course this is just one opinion. Given that the restaurant has received many good reviews means that it is doing something right. However, based on my experience, I can't give it a "thumbs up," but I am willing to give it a second try. By the way, I want to give kudos to my server Lisa, who worked really hard to make sure my dining experience was enjoyable, and I hope that my next visit will be better.


LabelsEast Memphis, European, Pasta, Upscale

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium

Delicious Salads

As some of you who follow me on Twitter know, I'm a regular at the Flying Saucer in Downtown Memphis. I go there mostly for the variety of beer that the bar offers. I rarely go to the Saucer for either lunch or dinner because the food is average, for the most part. However, there is one exception to that, and that is the Saucer's salad menu. After hearing about the salads from friends, I decided to try them to see if they lived up to the hype and I wasn't disappointed.

The first salad I had was the Grilled Chicken Breast, which has Kalamata olives, avocado, cucumbers, and Applewood smoked bacon, along with the typical mixed greens and Roma tomatoes. I ate the salad with balsamic vinaigrette as a dressing, and the combination blended nicely. The taste was sweet, hearty and meaty, which made for a satisfying meal. After eating it, I was anxious to try another.

UPDATE (May 12, 2013): I had the salad again with the jalapeño vinaigrette. With this, the salad is outstanding in terms of taste. The flavor of the dressing is a perfect match with the applewood-smoked bacon, combining for a savory salad that even veggie-haters can appreciate. Other elements such as avocado, cucumbers and dices of tomato add additional zest to one of the best salads in Downtown Memphis. Compared to the rest of the Flying Saucer's menu, the Grilled Chicken Breast Salad stands heads and shoulders above everything else.

The other salad (other than a side item) on the menu is Lauren's Goat Cheese, a meatless salad that vegetarian wannabes can appreciate. The salad comes with goat cheese, cranberries, walnuts, Roma tomatoes, red onions, balsamic vinaigrette and a spring mix of lettuce. For a meatless meal, I found the salad to be very satisfying, especially with a wheat beer like Blue Moon. Overall, I found both salads to be very delicious.
In addition the salads, the Flying Saucer also offers pita wraps for those who want their veggie fix wrapped in something neat. Among the wraps, my favorite is the smoked salmon that comes with jalapeño-pesto cream cheese, capers, cucumbers, field greens (or as some people call them, "lettuce"), tomatoes and red onions (which I omit). The salmon wrap is really good when it is dipped in the Saucer's jalapeño cream sauce that is normally served with the bar's Rocket Tots. For vegetarians, the Hippie Hollow wrap is pretty good as well.

NOTE: Since posting this, The Flying Saucer changed it's menu. With the change, pita wraps (with the exception of the Hippie Hollow) are off the menu. Both I and many others hated the change. However, at least a few good items replaced it, such as the Pork Belly sandwich. Still, I hope the Saucer brings the pita wraps back.

UPDATE (September 21, 2014): A few months back, the Flying Saucer put pita wraps (along with new items) back on the menu. Although I thought about reviewing something new, I went the nostalgia route with the Hippie Hollow. The "wrap" is basically a salad in a taco-like shell of pita bread that is sorta easy to consume while on the go. To make this a vegetarian experience (not counting the fries I had with it), I ate it with the Saucer's jalapeño vinaigrette. The spicy salad dressing, along with the hummus, avocado and the other veggies in the wrap, made for a decent vegetarian experience that rates a "7" on my ten-point scale. Overall, the Hippie Hollow is a alternative for those who yearn for something other than bar food.

The Flying Saucer also offers snack plates featuring various cheeses and deli meats. I tried one of snack plates, which was the Sopressata Salami. I liked it and look forward to trying some of the other plates. To get the best experience, it is a good idea to try a combination of ingredients.
Overall, the Flying Saucer offers a variety of menu items for those who are health-conscious. Even though the Saucer also offers typical bar food such as pizza, nachos, buffalo wings and hot sandwiches like the Big Dipper, the Saucer's menu is not indistinguishable from many other bars that I've been to. However, because of the variety of beer, salads and snack plates (along with hot waitresses (aka "Beer Goddesses") in short skirts), the bar has become one of my favorite spots to hang out at, which is why I'm a "regular."

NOTE: Pictures (with the exception of the Hippie Hollow) were taken by Joe Hyde, a good friend and drinking companion. Thank you.

UPDATE: Recently, I attended my first beer and food pairing at the Flying Saucer. Overall, I enjoyed the experience and I hope to attend more events in the future.

UPDATE (April 30, 2015): Since posting this review, the Saucer has updated its menu with a lot of new items such as a tasty Mac & Cheese plate (more like a tapa). Check out my review to learn more about it.

UPDATE (August 7, 2017): The Saucer recently changed its menu again, emphasizing hamburgers. The bar itself also got a makeover, re-positioning as a sports bar. I talk more about it on my "mini-blog" on Tumblr.


Flying Saucer Draught Emporium on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Beer, Burgers,Chain Restaurants, Downtown, Pita Wraps, Pizza, Salads, Sandwiches, Vegetarian/Vegan, Wings

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Texas de Brazil

Overwhelmingly Good!

In celebrating my birthday last night at Texas de Brazil, I had a smorgasbord of meats and vegetables that more than satisfied my appetite. The dining experience is unique, for it's set up like a buffet but instead of serving yourself, it's a hybrid of self-service and table service.
When the diner is seated at a table, he/she gets the typical complimentary bread and water along with a chit that indicates when the patron is ready for the main course (the meats). The green side of the chit indicates that the diner is ready to be served and the red side means that the diner doesn't desire meat. Usually when I dine there, I start off with a plate of vegetables and hors d'œuvres that is served at the salad buffet counter in the middle of the restaurant (this is the only self-service component that the churrascaria engages in). It has items like goat cheese, prosciutto, sautéed squash and other delicacies not typically found in salads. Everything on the buffet is fresh, for quality is premium. The buffet counter alone can provide a better meal than many restaurants that I know of.
After I finish my plate of vegetables and hors d'œuvres, flip my chit over so I can dig in to the main course. The steaks and sides are brought to the table by a team of servers carrying skewers of meat such as sausages, lamb (rack and leg), flank steaks and filet mignon wrapped in bacon. In addition, mash potatoes and cinnamon-flavored bananas are served by the staff attending the customers. I must say, the amount of meat that is served can be overwhelming, but it's so good that I find hard to resist. Overall, the meats are well seasoned and tender, and with quality just below some of my other favorite restaurants (The Majestic Grille, Kooky Canuck). It's really good for a buffet and places like Piccadilly can't get close to the churrascaria's quality. The effort to churn out as much as it does and maintain good quality has to be commended. On a scale of 1 to 10, I will give the various steaks and other meats an eight and will rate the service a ten because of its attentiveness. For my birthday dinner, I give special kudos to the bartender who brought me my Guinness after I left the bar without finishing it. Overall, I really enjoyed my dinner and I plan to dine there often.
Although I enjoyed my dining experience, next year I will celebrate my birthday at a restaurant that isn't a buffet. (NOTE: since posting this, I dined there again the day after my next birthday, courtesy of a good friend). Although I really like Texas de Brazil, the only celebrating that I did after my over indulgence involved a bottle of Kaopectate. However, I don't regret dining there, and it is a restaurant that I highly recommend.


Texas de Brazil on Urbanspoon

LabelsBrunch, Buffet, Chain Restaurants, Downtown, Salads, Steaks, Upscale

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bardog Tavern

A well-deserved anniversary!

Today's review is in honor of Bardog Tavern's second anniversary, which is well deserved for all the efforts that owner Aldo Demartino (aka Aldo Dean) and his staff have put into making the bar a success. Formerly a diner, Bardog is one of the hottest places in Memphis for people to socialize and party, which is evident every Friday and Saturday night. Plus, the food is first class, from sandwiches to pasta dishes made from recipes passed down from Aldo's grandmother.

Among Bardog's best menu items is the Penne alla Vodka, a wonderful mix of penne pasta, vodka sauce and parmigiano cheese (along with either shrimp or chicken) that blew me away the first time I tasted it. The vodka sauce is thick and creamy (which is the way real Italians make it) with a hint of tomato. As far as pasta dishes are concerned, it is (along with Bardog's spaghetti and meatballs and carbonara) one of the best I've ever had in America. I'm saying this as a guy who lived in Italy for almost four years. Needless to say, Bardog can hold its own with any Italian restaurant in town.

Penne alla Vodka with shrimp

As for other items on the menu, there many great choices to choose from. One of my favorites is the original slider, a small hamburger made with 100% fresh ground chuck. The slider makes for either a great snack or, if ordering more than one, a hearty meal. As far as burgers go, it is one of the better ones in the Bluff City.

Another great sandwich to try is The "Amazing" Island Club sandwich, consisting of an eclectic combination of ingredients including chicken, ham, eggs, avocado and provolone. The sandwich is so good that I'm not sure the word "amazing" does it justice.

In addition to sliders and sandwiches, Bardog also has hot dog (called “Dog of The Day’) specials that are unique creations from Chef John Haley and his staff. Anything you can imagine could be a potential topping on any given day, like chili, Andouille sausage or spinach and artichoke dip. No matter what’s on it, a typical foot-long “Dog” hardly disappoints.

This “Dog of The Day,” a beef monster topped with grits, gravy and bacon, was fantastic. I want to thank Jean Pruett for taking this great photo. Jean is one of Bardog’s sexy, hardworking servers who keeps the bar lively with her charm and outgoing personality. She’s also an award winner, for she won second place in the 2013 Memphis Flyer’s “Best of Memphis” poll for best server in the Mid-South. She has her fans, with some of them starting a Facebook page to support her “Best Server” campaigns. So whenever you’re at Bardog (or Aldo’s or Slider Inn, depending on her schedule), check her out.

For the Early Risers, Bardog also serves breakfast from Monday through Friday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Overall, the breakfast menu is great and is even better when "Bloomers" is working the bar. It's one of the few places in Downtown Memphis that a person can get a PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) with an omelet, which is nice.

Italian Omelet (loaded with marinara sauce, sausage, red bell peppers and pepper jack cheese)

In summary, Bardog Tavern is an excellent place to either dine or party with friends. I'm sure that with continued success, the bar will see many more anniversaries in the future.


Bardog Tavern on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Breakfast, Brunch, Burgers, Downtown, Hot Dogs, Pasta, Sandwiches

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Gereny East African and Mediterranean

Never Again!

Last Saturday, I decided to visit Gereny again after reading the review in the August 5, 2010 edition of the Memphis Flyer. I assumed that things had improved since my last visit there, when I couldn't see a menu and the only food items offered were beef and chicken subs. At the time, I thought it was odd, for it is standard for any restaurant, whether it's upscale or "low rent" and regardless of cuisine, to offer a list of items that it serves. However, I couldn't get a menu from Gereny despite the fact that a copy of it was posted on Urbanspoon (it's also online at the Marks Menu website). Also, it took them over five minutes before anyone there even acknowledged my presence and took my order. However, I interpreted this experience as growing pains of a new restaurant and gave it the benefit of the doubt, hoping that my next experience would be better. My second visit to Gereny amounted to gross inhospitality on the part of the restaurant’s staff.
The first thing I saw when I entered the restaurant was a family sitting at a table, trying to decide what to order from the menus they had been given. After seeing this, I had hopes that things at Gereny had improved, and expected a decent, if not great, meal. However, when I asked for
a menu, the server said that the only food options they could offer me were two basic rice dishes, with the meat choices of either chicken or goat. Perplexed, I asked why the family sitting across from me was given menus, and the server said that it was the old menu produced by the previous owner, and somehow that family was allowed to order from it. This reason made absolutely no sense, for if a diner orders from a menu given by the restaurant, even if it's old one made up by a previous owner, that person has to assume that the menu represents the food offering of the current owner. Also, unless the restaurant made arrangements for any orders made from the old menu to be prepared off the restaurant's premises, a diner has to assume that the order will be prepared in-house, in the restaurant's kitchen. That said, it would seem that Gereny had the capacity to cook about anything offered by its menu, but not for me. Also, while waiting on the family with the menus, the server was very attentive to them and helped explain what was on the menu. Unfortunately, I wasn't shown that courtesy and would have been left "holding the goat" (with rice), but I decided to leave and headed to Abyssinia, an Ethiopian restaurant that treated me very well.
Reflecting on this latest experience at Gereny, I am not sure what to make of it. I could go with the obvious conclusion that my appalling treatment was race-related, due to me being black and that the family who got the good service is white, and it may be so. But, given that the owners are black, combined with praises I heard from a black guy who was doing maintenance work there when I made my initial visit, my bad experiences there could have been attributed to something else, although I don't know what that could be. These kinds of experiences are rare for me, for most restaurants that I’ve been to treat everyone equally as opposed to offering different levels of service to different customers. If I'm the only person that had these kinds of experiences at Gereny, then I guess I'm extremely unlucky. On the other hand, if my experiences are typical of many customers who dine there, Gereny's chances of long-term success are slim. Regardless, I cannot recommend this restaurant and I will advise others, regardless of race and class, to not dine there.

Recently, the restaurant has gone out of business, as I predicted. It is now a Don Don's Hot Wings franchise.

Not what I expected

Had the chicken sub sandwich at Gereny, a Sudanese restaurant near Rhodes College. It was spicy, with a unique taste that was similar to other Middle Eastern dishes that I've had. To wash it down, a
had a hot apple tea, which was sweet and delightful (actually, it tasted more like pumpkin pie (I'm guessing the tea had cinnamon in it)).Although the sandwich and tea were pretty good, I wasn't too impressed with the service.
Although the
restaurant staff was friendly, it took almost five minutes for them to take my order (only had two people working in the kitchen, while the lone server was outside). When they finally got to me, I asked to see a menu, to which they responded by saying they weren't available and I could only choose either the chicken or beef subs (both were offered with rice, although my sandwich didn't have any). I will assume that because I came in at 12:30 PM, the restaurant wasn't prepared to offer their full menu (I noticed that the cook/chef was cooking a lot of meat in the kitchen, more than the number of patrons dining there could eat; must have been preparing for the evening rush). Overall, the experience was a lot less than I expected, based on what I read on Urbanspoon.
I hope that my next visit fares better, for I really would like to see this type of ethnic restaurant thrive near my neighborhood. These type of places make the neighborhood a nicer place to live.

First review was originally posted on Urbanspoon on June 2, 2010

LabelsAfrican, Midtown, Sandwiches

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