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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Stuffy's

Stuffed with Goodness

On the advice of the blog Best Memphis Burger, I decided to give Stuffy's "One Serious Burger Joint" a try. I was kinda prompted to do this after a bartender at my favorite bar, the Flying Saucer, mentioned that she worked there. Upon arriving, I was impressed by the decor of the place, which was really nice. With a guy playing piano in the background, I thought I was in the wrong place, given how unusual it was. However, I was in the mood for a burger and nothing was going to get in the way of that, and Stuffy's delivered.

After looking over the menu, I decided to go with the Stuffy Combo that consists of a 7 oz. burger with cheese, various toppings and a side of fries. The toppings include a variety of mayonnaise flavors such as the popular Lemon Cilantro and Hot Wing & Blue Cheese. I chose Chipotle mayo with Swiss cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms as additional toppings. Maybe it was just luck, but that combination of toppings, combined with the 7 oz. tasty beef patty seasoned in Old Bay and pepper seasonings, was one of best burgers I tasted in awhile. What really stood out was the Chipotle mayo and grilled onions, for they brought forth a flavor that is very unique. The fries, hand-cut and seasoned with Old Bay seasoning, were also delicious and complemented the burger well. Overall, my first experience at Stuffy's was an "A+," which makes me anxious enough to visit again.

Unfortunately, the next visit will not happen soon. According to Best Memphis Burger, Stuffy's has closed and will be moving to Collierville. This is very surprising, for the restaurant had generated a lot of buzz despite being nestled in a residential neighborhood in East Memphis. I hope the restaurant isn't having financial problems and is making the move for strategic reasons. I definitely want to visit Stuffy's again so I can try the Double Stuffy burger that a lot of my friends have raved about. The burger joint also serves Buffalo wings that I want to try despite the mixed reviews I've heard. I look forward to Stuffy's re-opening, which I hope is very soon.

Website: www.oneseriousburgerjoint.com

Stuffy's

LabelsBurgers, East Memphis, Wings






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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ugly Juanita's

Food for the "Drunkass"

If you're out on Beale St. this New Year's Eve and needing something to counter the "buzz" you're feeling, there's a place in W.C. Handy Park... err, Pepsi Pavilion that sells spicy food on the cheap. Ugly Juanita's, located on the corner of Beale St. and Rufus Thomas Blvd. (marked as Handy Circle on Google Maps), sells a tamale that will get your attention.




Ugly Juanita's chicken tamale isn't the typical kind that most are familiar with. Instead of everything being stuffed inside the cornmeal, the "stuffing" is on the outside. The toppings consist mostly of chili con carne with chicken (a small amount of it), cilantro (although I didn't see or taste it), salsa and grated cheese. The chili is very spicy and dominating, to the point that I almost forgot I was eating a tamale. Usually, tamales are so thick in cornmeal that I can hardly enjoy one, but Ugly Juanita's is the exception.

I may be in the minority, but I feel that Ugly Juanita's chicken tamale is pretty good for the price ($2). Because of the spiciness, the tamale could be strong enough to stir the senses of those who are "hammered." In fact, this tamale could be considered "Drunkass Food" (yep, I'm using someone else's term; if he's using "Food Find" in his blog, I will reciprocate). However, I'm not saying that eating tamales are the panacea for intoxication. If you're out celebrating this New Year's Eve, please be responsible and not drink and drive. Because of my love of partying, I will definitely take a cab home next Saturday night. But not before eating tamales at Ugly Juanita's. Happy New Year!

UPDATE: After a recent visit to the food truck Tamale Trolley where I had three delicious pork tamales, I returned to Ugly Juanita's. During that visit, I had the BBQ Pork Tamale. The tamale is stuffed with pork shoulder and topped with chili con carne, barbecue sauce and cheese, although my hastily-made tamale came without it. As expected, the tamale was spicy due to the chili and had the tanginess of barbecue, but I noticed something was lacking. The tamale had very little pork shoulder stuffed inside it, which in some ways wasn't surprising. One of the reasons why I'm not a big fan of tamales is that most of them are made with cornmeal (or masa) with hardly any stuffing, even when it's billed as a "______ (fill in the blank) tamale." To me, it's misleading because I'm not getting what I paid for. As it relates to Ugly Juanita's BBQ Pork Tamale, I liked it a lot despite not getting everything I wanted. If Ugly Juanita continues to sell tamales, it should market them as chili tamales with either chicken or pork. By doing that, the customer knows what he/she is getting and what to expect. Or it could replace the tamales with bowls of chili with cornmeal and meat. Anyway, that's my two cents about an otherwise decent tamale.

The Tacos are "OK"

When I decided to check out Ugly Juanita's, my intent was to evaluate its soft tacos. Many of my friends told me that the tacos weren't good, so I wanted to confirm this. I sampled all of the restaurant's offerings, which were chicken, pork and fish.
In both the chicken and pork tacos, they weren't as bad as my friends said. For both tacos, the meat was seasoned and the cilantro crema added flavor, but the salsa lacked spiciness. With cabbage and other components, both tacos were decent but far from the best.
Ugly Juanita's chicken tacoUgly Juanita's pork taco
Ugly Juanita's fish taco impressed me more, although I'm basing it on limited experience. In the few places were I had fish tacos (such as Cafe Ole and Flying Fish), I never had one that I liked. I didn't like the fish tacos because the taste was dry and bland. Ugly Juanita's version tasted better, for the cilantro crema and a sauce I couldn't identify (even though the menu says it's salsa) gave the taco a nice flavor.

(I'm not sure what type of fish is in the taco, but I'm guessing tilapia.)

Overall, the fish taco was the best among of the three that I had at Ugly Juanita's. As I said, I'm basing this on limited experience so I won't vouch for it. However it is good enough, to the point that I encourage others to try it.


After eating the tacos at Ugly Juanita's, my overall impression that the tacos are good, but far from the best. Even though the tacos are cheap ($2 a piece), there many places in Downtown Memphis (such as the Happy Mexican) that sell better tacos at similar prices. I'm not saying that my friends are entirely correct, but unless you need the immediacy of Beale Street, there are other places to get great tacos.

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Ugly Juanita's on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeale Street, Downtown, Mexican, Tacos, Tamales






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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Unofficial Kookamonga Challenge at Kooky Canuck

A Food Bloggers Summit

On December 14, 2011, I got together with four other food bloggers to take on the Kookamonga Challenge at Kooky Canuck. The challenge is "unofficial" because it is limited to one person. Still, I was up for it along with the other participants:
Seth Agranov - Best Memphis Burger and organizer of the challenge and "food blog summit."

Tiffany Langston - Tiffany Tastes

Kevin Martin - Burn My Mouth
Shannon Little - Memphis Foodie
This was the first time that all of us got together, along with two others who are the spouses of the lady bloggers. Before I go on, I want to say that Seth's write-up of the event is spot-on accurate (Shannon and Tiffany also wrote great reviews). However, I'm adding my take on this because of a tweet I made afterward on my personal Twitter account. The tweet may have been misinterpreted by fans of Kooky Canuck.

That evening, I believe everyone had a great time and enjoyed all of the food served by an excellent, professional server who made sure that the dinner party was taken care of. Shawn Danko, owner of the Kooky Canuck, was a great host who made everyone feel welcome. As someone who visits the restaurant often, I have never had a bad experience. I always get great food and service from Kooky's with a smile. I have never left the restaurant feeling anything other than satisfaction in quelling my appetite. So when Shawn read my tweet, he felt I was talking about how I was treated. Rather, I was referring to someone that I encountered later at the Flying Saucer. Despite the praise he gets (including from my fellow food bloggers) he is not a nice person to me and some of the ladies who work at the Saucer. I apologize for giving the impression that Kooky Canuck treated me poorly, for nothing could be further from the truth. Everything at Kooky's that night was excellent.

We started off with the "star" of the evening, the 7½ pound Kookamonga Burger. It was a sight to see, although I thought the burger was bigger (I might have confused it with Kooky's twelve pound King Kookamonga Burger). Even though the burger was intimidating, the seven of us managed to knock it out. To my surprise, I was able to eat my slice like I would any other burger. The bun, despite its size, is soft and fluffy enough to mash down into something manageable so a fork wasn't needed. The patty itself, about 1½ inches in thickness, was juicy, tender and well seasoned. In terms of eating and digesting, it was similar to eating a Wendy's Triple (with better quality) and I didn't need a beverage to "wash" it down. Kudos to Shawn and his chefs for creating a huge burger that can be shared with friends and is easy to eat.

After we finished the burger, the group ordered several other items from the menu. Kevin, who blogs for Burn My Mouth, ordered a half-and half combination of chicken wings, with one portion flavored "Hot" and the other dubbed "HOLY SMOKE!" The latter is appropriately named, because after eating ONE wing, I immediately grabbed a glass of water and started gulping. Despite drinking water, the tip of my tongue still burned. I eventually resorted to sucking on an ice cube for thirty minutes. If Kevin can eat a dozen "HOLY SMOKE!" wings, I'm not sure anything can burn his mouth.

Once I recovered from the "HOLY SMOKE!" wing, I dug into one of my favorite desserts, the Cookie a la Mode. It is a huge scoop of ice cream on top of a large cookie set inside a small skillet. The ice cream and cookie combination that I chose was vanilla and chocolate chip, which conjures childhood memories. Because the cookie comes straight from the oven, its texture is soft and somewhat similar to a cake. With the melted chocolate, the cookie makes for a hefty dessert on its own. Throw in the vanilla ice cream, and a creamy sweet masterpiece is created. The picture that I posted of the dessert doesn't do it justice.

(It would be nice if I got a five megapixel camera with a flash for Christmas.)

Because of all the water I drank previously, I couldn't finish the Cooke a la Mode like I normally do. Still, outside of the Kookamonga Burger, it was the best part of the meal.

Once everyone finished eating, we talked about various food-related topics and compared notes. As we were talking, I wondered how much the dinner would cost us. It turned out that the entire dinner, including the 34 oz. mugs of beer that some of us ordered, was on the "house." Shawn, a gracious host, comped everything which took me by surprise. On behalf of the other attendees at the dinner, I want to express my gratitude for this generous gift.

Speaking for myself, I'm glad I got a chance to meet fellow food bloggers who approaches the topic from different perspectives. From following their blogs, I've learned about new places and foods that I wouldn't have known otherwise. I hope that we get together again to enjoy more culinary dishes.


Photo courtesy of Memphis Foodie

Website: www.kookycanuck.com

Kooky Canuck on Urbanspoon

Labels: Appetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Dessert, Downtown






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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dyer's

A Different Perspective

Last week, I read Best Memphis Burger's review of Dyer's that featured the Triple Triple Combo. I was surprised that Seth (the blogger/reviewer) didn't like it. As a self-proclaimed burger aficionado, I have always felt that Dyer's made one of the best burgers in Memphis. Also, in all of the reviews I've read on Seth's blog, I rarely disagreed with any of them. One exception is Bardog Tavern, but even its owner (Aldo Demartino) believes I'm a little bit bias (maybe the hot wait staff clouds my judgment). Still, Seth's review countered my opinion of Dyer's, so I decided to see why that was.
To make it an even comparison, I got the Triple Triple Combo instead of my usual Double Double. The burger consists of three thin beef patties that are deep fried in Dyer's legendary grease that dates back to 1912. Once cooked, each patty is topped with American cheese (hence the name "Triple Triple"). To complete the burger, mustard, pickles and onions are added and sandwiched in an ordinary bun. The combo includes hand-cut French fries and a soda that are essential to enjoying the burger.
When I ordered the combo, I should've insisted for a freshly cooked burger. I usually don't need to ask for this, for in the past I've been accustomed to watching the kitchen staff cook my burger. Unfortunately, the Triple Triple I got came out a couple of minutes after I ordered it. It was lukewarm in the way that fast food at places like McDonald's and KFC are, which Dyer's is supposed to be better than. Even though I was disappointed, I went ahead with eating the burger combo.
In eating the Triple Triple, my findings were similar to Seth's. Like he said, the meat lacked seasoning and the burger's flavor came from the mustard, pickles and the residue of onions that I removed. Discovering the truth about the Triple Triple was an epiphany for me, because I always felt that this was a great burger. I hate to admit when I'm wrong, but this was a sobering revelation in more ways than one.
I'm glad I didn't get the Triple Triple by itself, for it would have made for a disappointing lunch. As I said earlier, eating the burger with a Diet Coke enhanced the experience of it by adding some pizzazz to the otherwise flavorless meat (beer also goes well with it). The fries were well cooked to the point that they were crispy and not overly salty, which made for a nice complement to the Triple Triple. The bun wasn't anything special but unlike with Seth, my burger's bun held together. In all, I'm in nearly complete agreement with Seth yet I still liked the burger, and now I know why.
Dyer's burgers are notoriously greasy, and the burger I had wasn't the exception. I believe that, along with the enormous amount of cheese, is what hooks most people into liking Dyer's burgers. With Memphis being known for its fatty foods like barbecue ribs and fried chicken, Dyer's burgers play perfectly into this theme. Also, because it's on Beale Street where a lot of alcohol is consumed, many of Dyer's customers might not be in the proper frame of mind when eating there. With all the partying going on, most are looking for good, greasy grub regardless of quality. I for one fell for the greasy gimmick, but I have seen the light after having a Dyer's burger sober. Unlike Seth, I will continue eating burgers there despite Dyer's slipping a few notches on my favorite burger list.
After eating the burger, I didn't encounter the physical difficulties that Seth did. In fact, I later went to work at FedExForum feeling pretty good, at least until the University of Memphis got upset by freaking Murray State 76-72. Even though I left the Forum depressed, my stomach was good enough to digest another meal the next day (the outstanding Somali Beef Stew from Salaama Market and Restaurant). I guess I have more stamina for greasy foods than my friend Seth.
However, we both need to step our game up to meet the Kookamonga Challenge at Kooky Canuck on December 14, 2011. Seth and I, along with three fellow food bloggers, will try to take down the 7½ lb. Kookamonga Burger in under 60 minutes. Will we be up to the challenge? Can't say for sure, but with friends cheering us on, we won't lack inspiration.

Website: www.dyersonbeale.com

Dyer's Burgers on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeale Street, Burgers, Downtown, Family Friendly, Wings






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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paula Deen Buffet (Harrah's Tunica Casino)

A Reason To Be Thankful

This past Thanksgiving, my family treated me to dinner at the Paula Deen Buffet at Harrah's Tunica Casino. This was my second visit to the buffet, and I hoped that it would be more impressive this time around. As always, I try to be objective, not letting any prejudice influence what I write on this blog. That said, my view of Deen isn't positive, for she constantly promotes the unhealthiest of foods to those who least need it. By the way, I'm not a food snob like Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain who said that Deen is "the worst, most dangerous person to America." However, I can't get with anyone who promotes stuff like deep fried butter balls that is unquestionably bad. Deep fried butter offends me, and I'm not a healthy eater. Still, with more analytical emphasis, I was eager to try Deen's buffet again.
The first part of my dinner consisted of the traditional Thanksgiving fare of turkey, dressing and other fixings. Among the "fixings" that I had was the squash casserole, a delicious blend of squash and zucchini in a cheesy cream sauce. After looking up the recipe on Paula Deen's website, I discovered that the squash casserole I had wasn't the same, but it was good nonetheless. I felt that the zucchini slightly sweetened the casserole, which I didn't mind. In fact, the flavor of the casserole offset the taste of the dressing and gravy, which both my sisters and I felt was very salty. Everything else on my first plate, including the ham and peas, were about average in terms of taste. The turkey was moist and tender, but that was to be expected since it was chopped up when I got it off the serving line. Overall, the first plate met my expectations of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
For my second plate, I decided to go all out on the fried stuff that the buffet had. As shown in the picture, I had (clockwise from the top) chicken, catfish, green tomato, frog legs and shrimp. Despite Deen's reputation for frying anything that's edible, the entire plate was average in terms of taste. It's on par with most buffets and cafeterias (such as Piccadilly) that I've been to. If all of this was cooked according to Deen's recipes, then Ms. Deen is very overrated. More likely, all of this (and the spinach broccoli) was cooked according to Harrah's specifications. If so, then Paula Deen is a savvy business woman who knows the value of marketing her brand. Without Deen's endorsement, Harrah's buffet is indistinguishable from most casinos that offer this type of dining service.
In addition to my "fried" platter, I got a few side items to go with it. As you can see, my sides were (clockwise from top) Chicken Florentine, broccoli casserole, turnip greens and tartar sauce. In particular, I really liked the broccoli casserole for it was smooth and creamy. The Chicken Florentine, which featured a decent wine as an ingredient, tasted pretty good as well. Even the tartar sauce was great, for it was the freshest that I've had. Even though most of this probably wasn't made with Deen's recipes, it was all good. If I ever dine here again, I will focus more on the non-fried portion of the buffet and limit my amount of fried food. To learn more about Paula Deen's recipes for Chicken Florentine and broccoli casserole, click the links to her website.
To finish off dinner, I got a slice of vanilla cheesecake. After eating so much, I was surprised I was able to eat anything else. Compared to other places like Cheesecake Corner in Downtown Memphis, Paula Deen's cheesecake can hold its own.
Once I finished my cheesecake, I was DONE! I couldn't eat another bite if my life depended on it. The dinner had completely satisfied my appetite. On a scale of 1 to 5, I would give the Paula Deen Buffet a 3½ rating for both the food and the restaurant's staff for the preparation of the buffet. Even though I don't have complaints about the food or service, it still doesn't beat the variety offered by the Village Square Buffet at the Horseshoe Casino. Village Square is my favorite place to go when I want to get my grub on in Tunica. However, the Paula Deen Buffet is a decent restaurant that I wouldn't mind dining at again if I was at the casino to see a show (but not gamble, for I'm not into that). It’s just isn't a place that is worthy of a special trip, especially if I want the true Paula Deen experience. For that, I'll have to go to The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.
By the way, I want to thank my sisters for treating me to dinner and all the other things that they've done for me recently. I really appreciate and love them for it. Happy Thanksgiving!



Paula Deen Buffet (Harrah's Tunica Casino) on Urbanspoon

LabelsBuffet, Dessert, Seafood, Soul Food, Southern, Tunica






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Friday, November 18, 2011

Ching's Hot Wings

They're Just Wings

Yesterday while running errands, I stopped by Ching's to try out its wings. From reading the reviews on Urbanspoon, Yelp and elsewhere, I could've assumed that Ching's have the best wings in Memphis, but I know better. Most wing joints that I've been to cook their hot wings in pretty much the same manner: frying or roasting the wings, then tossing them into a bowl where they're mixed with hot sauce. I'm not trying to put down places that cook hot wings, but it's not rocket science (it seems that the blog Burn My Mouth agrees with me). That said, my favorite places for wings are those that have really good sauces that stand out. Ching's, despite the reviews, isn't better than most wing joints that I've been to.
Before I go any further, I want to list my favorite hot wing joints in Memphis. I'm sure many of you will disagree, but here it is:

1. Kelvin's Hot Wings - The wing sauce is hot AND tastes great. The best that I've had so far in Memphis.

2. Alex's Tavern - After Kelvin's, Alex's has the best tasting wings in town. The wing sauce has a nice balance of butter and peppers, without the salty aftertaste. Although they're not as hot, the wings are very enjoyable.

3. Max's Sports Bar - This might be an unusual choice. Given that the bar uses frozen rotisserie wings, the sauces it uses makes them really good.

4. Kooky Canuck - I'm mentioning this place because of the "heat" of its wings, which are hotter than average.

5. Buffalo Wild Wings - I like this place because of its selection of sauces. With sauce flavors ranging from Jammin' Jalapeño to Thai Curry, along with a variety of seasonings make BWW the Baskins-Robbins of hot wings.

6. Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken - Love the Sweet Spicy sauce.

7. Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken - Technically, Gus's doesn't make "hot" wings, but the spices it uses in its chicken can light a delicious fire in your mouth.

8. Flying Saucer Draught Emporium - This might not be a popular choice, but I love its Mojo wings. They have good Cajun flavor in the cayenne seasoning that is quite spicy. Its Frank's RedHot Sauce-laden Buffalo Wings are okay, but couldn't get the Saucer on this list by themselves. By the way, the Asian and Atomic (which implies super hotness but it's not) wings are pretty good, too. In addition to the wings, the combination veggie sides (lettuce, celery and carrots) are a healthy alternative to French fries.
Others, while not the best, are worth mentioning:
Hooters - I have to admit that my opinion of its wings is lukewarm (no pun intended). However, the restaurant uses sauces that are unique, so kudos for that.

Roxie's Grocery - Its wings are unique because of the seasoning and spices that makes them distinctive. Definitely not typical.
Now that I established what I like and expect in hot wings, I'll explain my thoughts about Ching's. The Mild Hot wings had the typical heat of most in this category. In terms of taste, the spiciness was about the same as places like Crumpy's and Don Don's. The one difference that I sensed was the salt content seemed slightly lower, but overall the taste was about average. The Mild Hot wings, while good, aren’t quite worth traveling across town to get.
While I wasn't overly impressed with the Mild Hot wings, I liked Ching's Honey Hot wings. The wings have a balanced taste, with just enough honey flavor to stimulate the senses while not drowning out the other spices. Speaking of the spices, they weren't that hot in my opinion. Of course, the reason for it might have been that I ate them after finishing the Mild Hot wings. Despite having a more favorable impression of the Honey Hot wings, I will try this dish at other restaurants before declaring Ching's as the ultimate master of it.


When I ordered my wings at Ching's, I got them as whole wings, the standard at most places. I didn't notice that I could have ordered them as "party wings," a term for drummies and flappers. Even though I would've preferred "party wings," I was satisfied with the whole wings that broke apart easily. I wish more places (other than chain restaurants) offered the "party wing" option. Given where many wing joints in Memphis are located (in the "hood"), keeping costs down takes precedence over convenience.
To sum it up, my experience at Ching's wasn't exactly mind blowing. The wings were good, but not as exceptional as described in the reviews I've read. The restaurant staff was very friendly and swift in getting my order to me. This is a place that I'll probably visit again if I'm in that part of town, but it's not worth making a special visit.
Now that I've reviewed Ching's, I'm sure some people (particularly Ching's fans) will have a lot to say about this post. I'll admit, I'm not a wings expert and don't proclaim to be. However, in my 45 years of living, I've had a lot a of hot wings. Still, I'm not right about everything and I don't mind being enlightened. Unlike some blogs, I welcome comments about anything I post as long as it pertains to the subject. For those looking for first class journalistic quality, this isn't the place to find it. I'm just a guy with a passion for food who's willing to share it with others. My opinions may not always be mainstream, but I call it as I see it and Ching's is no exception.

Check out Ching's Hot Wings on


Ching's Hot Wings on Urbanspoon

LabelsEast Memphis, Wings






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Monday, October 31, 2011

Blues City Cafe

Unveiling The "Secret"

On the advice of a couple of Facebook friends, I decided to try some things at Blues City Cafe that I haven't had before. One reason why I hadn't had these menu items is because they're aren't exactly on the menu. My two items of choice were the grilled version of the Catfish Plate and the Chopped Salad with Rib Meat. Supposedly, these items are a part of the restaurant's "secret menu" that's unknown to the public. This concept doesn't make sense to me, because I believe that everyone should have the benefit of a restaurant's entire menu.
On my first attempt to order from the Blues City's "secret menu," I tried to get the grilled version of the Catfish Plate, based on a picture and an informal endorsement by noted Downtown Memphis foodie "Nuh-Uh Girl." She is regularly featured on a particular Downtown blog that for whatever reason obsesses over her eating habits, even though the blogger is a pretentious, uppity, arrogant, small-minded fat ass creep that most women would never date. When I attempted to place my order at the bar, the bartender told me that I could only get it fried. Even after I showed her Nuh-Uh Girl's Facebook picture of it, the bartender wouldn't relent. Disappointed, I settled for the fried version of the entrée, which came out a few minutes after I ordered it. The platter, consisting of three fried catfish filets, steak fries, tartar sauce and cole slaw, is an enormous meal that will satisfy most appetites. Regarding the catfish itself, the taste isn't anything that couldn't be experienced at most restaurants that serve it and likely will never be its premier menu item. However, it is good and I'll likely order it again. As for getting the grilled version of the platter, I guess one of three things will have to occur: 1) I become a Downtown resident who is popular with the merchants there, 2) I go on a dinner date to Blues City Cafe with "Nuh-Uh Girl" (unlikely), or 3) I develop a relationship with the cook like I have with Paul, one of the cooks at the Downtown Hooters, just around the block from Blues City. Paul (or one of the other cooks) always hooks me up with the grilled version of Hooter's delicious Big Fish sandwich, formerly known as the Grouper's Cousin. Coincidentally, this isn't on Hooters' menu.
A couple of months later, during a late Friday morning (about 11:30 AM), I stopped by Blues City to see if I can get the grilled catfish. With hardly anyone there, I figured that it shouldn't be a problem. However, the kitchen staff was still reluctant to do it for me, but out of kindness they fulfilled the order. The platter comes in two versions, which are the lunch plate with two filets and the dinner plate that has three. Out of fear of overeating, I chose the lunch plate with red potatoes, coleslaw and tartar sauce. After waiting over twenty minutes, my catfish plate arrived, and I could tell from the aroma that I was in for a treat. The catfish, seasoned in Cajun spices, was cooked perfectly. My only regret about ordering this was choosing the "lunch" version of the entrée, for I definitely could have eaten three filets instead of two. I hope someday that Blues City includes this in the menu, for it is a great alternative for those who aren't into Southern cuisine.
In my second attempt at ordering from Blues City Cafe's "secret menu" (which is no longer the case), I chose the aforementioned Chopped Salad with Rib Meat based on a recommendation from a friend who travels around much of the world as a Pinnacle Airlines pilot. This dish, which isn't exactly a secret, for it is listed as one of the toppings that can be added to any of Blues City's salads, consists of barbecue pork meat sitting atop a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Even though the menu says it is "rib meat," the texture of it seems more like pork shoulder (of course, this is my unprofessional opinion). Even though it's a lot of meat (maybe half a pound), it gets lost in the salad when it's mixed together. Even after applying salad dressing, which is a combination of BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, the two main components (the salad and barbecue meat) seemed to cancel each other out. The combination resulted in a bland taste. I didn't get any sense of enjoyment from the salad, so I sprinkled some New Orleans Hot Sauce's "Bourbon Street Bad" sauce on it. After adding the hot sauce, the salad became tastier and enjoyable, for it really hit the spot. Still, as far as meat salads go, there are many other places that serve that kind of salad, although not necessarily with barbecue pork. I particularly like The Blue Monkey's Angus salad that features beef tenderloin.
As much as I wanted to try out Blue City's "secret menu," my favorite dish is still the Memphis Strip. The steak is a 16 oz. version of a New York strip steak that is among the best I have ever tasted. I especially liked it when it was prepared by the late Chef Bonnie Mack, a true legend of the Memphis culinary scene. When he cooked the Memphis Strip, it was a perfectly tender steak with the right amount of grease that oozed throughout the plate, including on some of the steak fries that made them heavenly good. Eating the grilled-tinged steak with greasy steak fries was pure ecstasy, for I rarely have anything that good. Since Mack's passing, the Memphis Strip has, in my opinion, lacked that greasy goodness, but is still one of the best steaks in Memphis.
In summary, the Blues City Cafe is a great place to dine at, whether it is with the family or with friends. In addition to food, live music is performed daily at the restaurant, which is another reason why like this place. I like Blues City so much that I recommend it to tourists who visit FedExForum, where I work part-time. Even though I hope someday that Blues City includes grilled catfish and other healthy entrées in its menu, I'll always be a fan of the place that is a Memphis institution.

Website: www.bluescitycafe.com

Blues City Cafe on Urbanspoon

LabelsBarbecue, Beale Street, Downtown, Family Friendly, Salads, Seafood, Steaks






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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Battle of the Downtown Memphis Sliders, Part 2

Chic Critique

When I posted my first comparison of ground beef sliders from two of Memphis' prominent Downtown establishments, Bardog Tavern and Bar None (which recently closed), I thought my work was done. Since then, I discovered that two other restaurants (not including chains such as Hooters) also make them, which are The Silly Goose Lounge and Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar. Because of the different demographics that each restaurant caters to, their approach in making the slider is vastly different, as I will explain.
The Silly Goose's cheeseburger slider consists of a thick piece of ground beef cooked medium and seasoned with tasteful spices. Combined with pepper jack cheese, a mix of onions, red and green peppers (all sautéed) and bacon bits, the slider has a nice juicy flavor that isn't too spicy. Compared to other sliders that I've had recently, Silly Goose's version could be considered a "gourmet" item because of the uniqueness of it. In order to get the slider, you have to get it as part of a combo plate consisting of two sliders and French fries at a cost of $9.00, not including tax. As a meal, it hits the spot. However, if I was really hungry, I would love to have three sliders as opposed to two. For most people, especially those conscious of gaining weight, two sliders is more than enough.

The Silly Goose on Urbanspoon



As for Flight, it took awhile for me to try it because it is only served during lunchtime, and not competing with Silly Goose which opens at 4 PM during the week. The cheeseburger burger slider "flight" that I had consisted of three sliders, with each one cooked slightly different from the others. To get a true sense of the slider, I order one medium rare, another medium and one cooked well done. What came out were three sliders that at first glance looked ordinary, consisting nothing more than thick beef patties topped with lettuce and tomato. With the meal costing $12 (including fries), I expected a lot. However, I was underwhelmed with what I got. None of the sliders had that "WOW" factor that I got from the other three places I visited. Rather, all three of the sliders were average burgers that anyone could make. That said, all of the sliders were properly prepared and fresh off the grill, so I had no complaints about that. However, I expected more from a place that considers itself an upscale restaurant. In its defense, it could be argued that upscale restaurants shouldn't specialize in making cheeseburgers. But if that's true, then why do it at the risk of the restaurant's reputation. If this was my first experience at Flight, I might not be inclined to eat there again. Anyway, the cheeseburger sliders are on par with places such as Back Yard Burgers, but because of the unjustifiable high price, I will not order them again.

Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon



Of the two places I visited, The Silly Goose is clearly the better when it comes to sliders. The Silly Goose has put a lot more effort into developing a slider burger that is unique and delicious. While Flight's slider isn't nearly as good as Silly Goose's, overall it is an excellent restaurant. Based on my one other experience at Flight where I had a poultry-based entrée (it might have been the Feathered Flight), the food and service at the restaurant is first-class. Of course, The Silly Goose isn't a slouch either, for the menu has a lot of great items on it like the Seafood Mac and its various flatbreads (or "pizza" to the uninformed). Although both restaurants are great places to dine at, they're not one in the same as far demographics are concerned. The Silly Goose caters to a younger audience by offering a causal place for socializing and partying, while Flight is more refined which appeals to an older audience who might want more than a mere burger. Those differences might be the reason why Silly Goose's slider is better than Flight's, but both restaurants are excellent places to dine at. That said, Silly Goose wins this battle of sliders, but a person can't go wrong in choosing either restaurant.

NOTE: I just learned that the Silly Goose will phase out the Seafood Mac dish from its menu. If anyone wants this kept on the menu, let the restaurant's management know about it. I think it’s one of the best entrées on the menu and I would hate to see it go away.


LabelsBurgers, Downtown, Upscale






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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lavoro's

A Memorable Experience

For my birthday, a couple of former college classmates treated me to Lavoro's, a family-owned Italian trattoria housed in a former KFC restaurant. It wasn't a place that was on my radar, although I have driven past it a lot while driving around Memphis. Fortunately, one of my friends said it was a place that he dined often at and had high praise for it. Also, because he was buying and had a "buy one, get one free entrée" coupon, he convinced me that this was the place to go. So, instead of going to a place like the more upscale Cortona, an Italian eatery located in Cooper-Young, I ended up in one of the nicest restaurants that I've been to in awhile.
After being seated in the patio, Omar (the friend with the coupon) suggested that we get an appetizer first.



For that, we went with the truffle-stuffed mushrooms covered with Mozzarella cheese and sprinklings of Parmesan cheese and parsley. I thought it was interesting that one fungus plant would be stuffed inside another, but it worked. Combined with the toppings, the stuffed mushrooms was a nice appetizer that left us yearning for more.
Once we finished eating the stuffed mushrooms, we decided to get a second appetizer, which was the creamed spinach dip. Accompanied by toasted bread, the dip was the usual fare that can be found at most bars and restaurants, although it was well received by our dinner party. After knocking out the dip, we were more than ready for the main course. As we were about to order our entrées, the waiter server informed us that Lavoro's uses fresh ingredients, with many of them grown in the restaurant's garden. The garden surrounds the patio, consisting of many vegetables such as garlic, parsley and basil, with a scarecrow adorning it all. Impressed, I felt very confident that whatever I ordered was going to be good. After looking over the menu, I decided to go with the pesto tortellini with chicken. The reason I chose this was that the description piqued my curiosity, for the entrée had a "kiss" of cream. I never thought of pesto and cream as a combination in a sauce, but given that everything I had earlier was good, I gave it a try. Omar went with the special, which was penne in pomodoro sauce with pancetta. Meanwhile, my other friend Celeste chose the spinach lasagna.
As typical of most restaurants, the entrées came with salads. In choosing the type of salad we wanted, we all chose the Caesar. For the dressing, we went with the raspberry vinaigrette that I thought had the right balance of vinegar and sweetness. Regarding the salad itself, I could be wrong, but I didn't detect any onions in it. In my opinion, onions ruin a salad, although many will disagree with me. Nonetheless, the Caesar salad with the raspberry vinaigrette was really good, and I'm sure my friends would agree.
Shortly after we finished our salads, the server brought out our entrées. I was visually impressed with what I ordered, for the pesto cream sauce was a nice lime green color. Seeing this made my mouth water, fueling the anticipation for an excellent meal.Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed, for the pasta was superb. The taste of pesto within a cream sauce rather than olive oil is genius. Also, the cream was very thick, so I didn't worry about spilling any of it on my shirt, a common hazard when eating pesto-based pasta. The chicken in the tortellini dish were big chunks of perfectly roasted tender chicken breast that nicely accentuated the entrée. Overall, this was one of the better pasta dishes that I've had in a while. Kudos to the chef for coming up with a very original dish.
Regarding what my friends ate, both of them seemed pretty satisfied with their entr
ées. I even got a chance to taste Omar's dish, which was penne pasta with pancetta.As far as I could tell from one bite, the penne pasta's sauce was thick with a good amount of garlic in it. Compared to what I had, the penne pasta was decent, though not as good as the tortellini. I didn't get the chance to taste Celeste's spinach lasagna, but judging from her enthusiasm, I believe she enjoyed it.
When everyone finished their main courses, we were about to leave when our server told us about the dessert special, the milk chocolate and strawberry bread pudding. The special was something that our server said he made himself, so out of respect to him, we ordered it. As expected, the bread pudding was rich in cream and sweetness, with a smooth texture. Even if I hadn't eaten anything else, the bread pudding would've still been a gut buster to me. My friends and I were all in agreement that the bread pudding was great and the perfect ending to a wonderful dinner.
In all, the experience I had at Lavoro's was excellent. The food was better than I expected, and is reminiscent of places I dined at during my stint in Italy. The only thing that I didn't like was that it didn't serve wine, a must-have in any Italian restaurant. However, Lavoro's had beer specials like the $1.50 Bud Light that I ordered, which is a really good deal. Also, and this is more of a suggestion, but if I owned the restaurant, I would convert the "order" counter to either a bar or a lunch counter. I would do this because I would want to convey more of a restaurant environment and less of a fast food atmosphere. Nonetheless, I liked everything about the place, including the service that is first class.
By the way, Lavoro's also serves pizza and sandwiches. Whenever I visit again (which will be very soon), I will definitely try that part of the menu. After my initial experience, I'm confident that whatever I order will be outstanding.
In closing, I want to thank Omar and Celeste for treating me to dinner, for it was very memorable. Not only did I enjoy the food, but I also enjoyed being in your company. It was a cherished experience that I won't forget. Thank you.

Website: www.lavorosmemphis.com

Lavoro's on Urbanspoon


LabelsDessert, Pasta, Pizza, Salads, SandwichesShelby Oaks, Summer Avenue






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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Otherlands Coffee Bar

My "Other Land"

Lately, I've been spending time at the Otherlands Coffee Bar in Midtown to work on various things using my laptop. Consequently, I got around to sampling some of the stuff on Otherlands' menu, including its two feature sandwiches, the Tuna Melt and the Turkey and Cheese Melt Down.
The Tuna Melt sandwich, consisting of tuna, cheddar cheese and tomato between slices of well-toasted bread (either sourdough or wheat; I went with wheat), isn't anything special, for other than those ingredients, there isn't any discernible qualities about it as far as unique taste is concerned. The sandwich components mesh nicely together, and with tortilla chips as a side, makes for a light meal. It would have been nice if I had a choice of chips, for potato chips are a much better complement to a tuna sandwich than corn-based tortilla chips, in my opinion.
Otherlands' other signature sandwich is the Turkey and Cheese Melt Down that comes with sliced turkey, cheddar cheese, tomato and a "secret sauce" that included some kind of green spice. For this sandwich, I went with the sourdough bread as opposed to wheat, and I'm glad I did. The sourdough was toasted perfectly, so it didn't detract from the strong cheesy flavor of the sandwich. Because the portion of the turkey was smaller than the tuna in the aforementioned sandwich, it seemed more like a grilled cheese sandwich, although not merely as weighty as what can be ordered at other places like the Majestic Grille. Then again, the sandwich, like the Tuna Melt, wasn't meant for those with huge appetites, but with tortilla chips (which complemented this sandwich much better) makes for a nice light meal. In my opinion, the Turkey Melt is clearly the better sandwich, although tuna lovers might disagree with me.
Otherlands also serves breakfast, although my experience with one of its menu items wasn't good. I had the Breakfast Burrito, a small 6" (maybe less) burrito stuffed only with scrambled eggs and accompanied with a slice of tomato and a small (shot glass size) cup of salsa. Diners can also get turkey sausage included in the burrito, which is what I ordered for lunch (all breakfast items can be ordered during all operating hours). From the first bite, I can't say that I was impressed. The tortilla wrap was hard, so biting into and eating it from my hands was very difficult. Even when using utensils to cut into it, the burrito still proved very tough to tackle. As for the stuffing inside it, it was mostly scrambled eggs with small chunks of turkey sausage sparsely mixed in. The eggs, while well cooked, lacked seasonings like salt and pepper so the taste was a little on the bland side. Fortunately, the salsa made up for the lack of flavor. I would have liked to put the salsa in my burrito, but the tortilla wrap was so hard and overcooked that it was too unmalleable to squeeze and sealed too tight to unwrap. After pouring the salsa over the top of the burrito, eating it along with the sliced tomato made for an okay meal, but I can't see myself ordering it again (it's a good thing that I don't wear dentures).
For those not looking for a full meal but just something to snack on, Otherlands offers various pastry options such as toast and muffins, but my personal favorite is the "Bagel Sandwich Thing." Although I'm not a big bagel fan, Otherlands' bagel sandwich (which I eat "open-faced") can be ordered with either plain cream cheese or one of its "fancy" cream cheeses for an extra 25¢. Among the flavors offered, strawberry is my favorite.
As far as the beverages that are sold at Otherlands, I can't say too much about them because I only had a few items, such as the coffee and hot chocolate. For the most part, everything I've had is on par with most places such as Starbucks and Cafe Eclectic, so the quality is good.
Overall, Otherlands Coffee Bar, while far from being a five-star restaurant, offers decent food and beverages in a relaxed, cozy environment that is conducive for working and meeting friends, in addition to dining. On Fridays and Saturdays, the coffee shop serves as a venue for various musical acts, mostly within the folk music genre. Also, Otherlands has a gift shop that sells art created by local artists; the art is displayed throughout the coffee shop. Given all that Otherlands offers (including Wi-Fi), it is one of my favorite coffee shops in Memphis. I like it not because of the food, but for the friendly staff who have been gracious hosts to me and many others who visit there. I hope this place is around for many years to come.


Otherlands Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

LabelsBreakfast, Coffee Shop, Midtown, Sandwiches






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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stevana Banana's Delicious Shaved Ice

If you're in the vicinity of the University of Memphis and yearning for a way to cool off, going with a cup of shaved ice (AKA a snow cone) from Stevana Banana's Delicious Shaved Ice is a great way to do it. Located in the Z Highland Street Market parking lot on 628 S. Highland Street, near Southern Avenue, Stevana (a former Flying Saucer Girl) sells cups in three sizes: small ($2), medium ($3) and large (a 16 oz. cup, $5). Flavors (26 of them) range from Strawberry to Cotton Candy to Butter Popcorn, so depending on your taste, you're likely covered. In addition to the numerous flavors, Stevana also offers the option of adding Half-and-Half cream to any cup of shaved ice, which I tried for the first time and got great satisfaction from it.

UPDATE (September 14, 2013): Stevana added hot dogs to the menu (and consequently changing her business' name to Stevana Banana's Delicious Food Cart). Featuring Nathan's ¼-pound all-beef frankfurters, the dogs ($4) can come with either gourmet relish or salsa topped on them for an extra 25 cents. To make it a meal, Stevana also sells potato chips and soda, which as a Value Meal goes for five dollars.

Stevana Banana's is open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM during the Summer months of the year. Stevana is also working on getting access to sell at the Memphis Farmers Market and other special events. Whenever you stop by, you'll be welcomed by a lovely lady who will be very happy to serve you.


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Website: DeliciousFoodCart.com

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LabelsDessert, Food Truck, Hot Dogs






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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Fries, Fries and More Fries (and a burger)

Anytime I hear a lot of hype about anything, I'm skeptical. Especially when it comes to restaurants that is supposed to be the "Next Big Thing." When it was announced that Five Guys Burgers and Fries was coming to Memphis, a lot of my friends were excited that the burger chain was coming to town. Despite my skepticism, I decided to reserve judgment until I had a chance to try it myself.
Even though my intention was to only visit the Memphis franchise, my first experience with a Five Guys burger was in Nashville. For my order, I decided to get a cheeseburger and a regular order of fries. Not familiar with Five Guys, I didn't know that a "regular" cheeseburger and French fries would turn out to actually be a double cheeseburger and a HUGE amount of fries. When I saw the amount of French fries that came with a "regular" order, I was astounded. Clearly, there were enough fries for at least two people. The fries allegedly come in a cup, but it's actually two cups (at least), with the other "cup" being the bag itself. I felt like I was ordering a French Fry dinner with a side of cheeseburger, instead of the other way around. The fries, cooked in peanut oil, were pretty good overall, for they were fresh, buttery, lightly salted and not too crispy. The texture of the fries was kind of like a baked potato in that it was soft and chewy, and not overcooked. By the way, I want to stress that I got the "Five Guy" flavor of fries; the other option that is offered is Cajun style. My only complaint was the amount of fries was more than I needed to accompany my cheeseburger, and I had to compel myself into eating the rest while I walked back to my car.
As for the burger, it was okay by most standards. The beef patties were the typical seasoned, griddle-fried kind that could be found in most places, so it didn't standout in terms of flavor. In fact, despite that the cheeseburger consisted of two 1/4 lb. beef patties, there was so much lettuce and tomato on it that I had a hard time determining how good the burger really was. After removing some of the lettuce, I got a better sense of the burger, and my impression of it was that it was decent, but not exceptional. I came away with an initial impression of Five Guys as a decent yet overhyped burger joint that is really pricey. My meal, which didn't include a soda, cost $9.27, which is a bit much, although I got double (maybe triple) the amount of fries that I'm normally accustom to, so the cost didn't seem too out of whack. However, I made a note to order less for my Memphis visit.
During my visit to the Memphis restaurant, I decided to get a "little" bacon cheeseburger and, to satisfy my curiosity, another "regular" order of fries. When I got this order, I might have gotten more fries than my Nashville visit, for I clearly had enough for three people. However, I only needed to skim the top of my cup to get the amount of fries that I needed to go with my bacon cheeseburger. Speaking of my "little" bacon cheeseburger, which actually is the size of a normal burger with one 1/4 lb. beef patty, was pretty good. In order to enhance my eating pleasure, I made sure to include mayo, grilled mushrooms and grilled onions to my burger, something that I didn't do on my Nashville visit. Those additions made a big difference, for it really enhanced the burger's taste, especially the sautéed onions (I'm kind of curious if Five Guys uses peanut oil to sauté their veggies, for the onions seemed like it was cooked in another kind of oil, given how sweet they were). Overall, this meal made a better impression on me, although at $8.50 (without a soda), it was still pricey.
After making visits to two franchises in different cities, my overall impression of Five Guys Burgers and Fries is mildly positive. For a fast food restaurant, the prices are a bit high, but given the amount of fries that come with an order, I would advise dining there with at least one other person who could share in the purchase of the French fries, which should lower cost. With a "regular" order of fries costing $2.79, splitting that between two or three people is very cost efficient. Also, if a diner doesn't desire a burger, Five Guys also serves hot dogs which are slightly cheaper that their burgers. Because of the cost involved in a typical meal, I won't give a full endorsement of Five Guys, but for those who dine in groups and families, I believe it's worthy of at least one visit.

Website: www.fiveguys.com

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on UrbanspoonFive Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon


LabelsBurgers, Chain Restaurants, East Memphis, Family Friendly, Multiple Locations, Nashville






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