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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Double J Smokehouse & Saloon

Better Than Rendezvous (without the wait)

At the urging of my friends, I got around to paying a couple of visits to the Double J Smokehouse and Saloon. Everyone I talked to had great things to say about the barbecue, particularly the dry rub ribs. Although I'm not a fan of dry rub, a recent visit to Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib Shack slightly changed my opinion. So, I decided to give Double J a try. With one of the owners (and pit master) being a former chef at Bardog Tavern, I figured the food would be decent at the very least. Double J was all that and more.


Thanks to Carl Haberly for taking this photo. I've got to get a camera phone with a flash.

During my first visit, I ordered a half of slab of baby back ribs with fries and grilled asparagus. The smoke-infused ribs were basted in dry rub seasoning that was charred onto the meat, giving the ribs a slightly burnt taste, in a good way. However, the ribs weren't overcooked and were perfectly tender. Eating them was a pleasure and next to Jack's, Double J's dry rub ribs were the best that I recently had.

The "sides" that I had went really well with the ribs. The fries were good, although they're nothing out of the ordinary. However, the grilled asparagus was great. The asparagus was tender with a nice smoke flavor. I don't know if the asparagus was roasted in Double J's smoker, but if so then the cooking staff did an excellent job in preparing it. I also detected a bit of butter on them, making the asparagus even better. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm glad I chose it.


For my second visit, I chose the shoulder and rib combo with coleslaw and baked beans. The pork shoulder, like the dry rub ribs, was perfectly smoked while retaining its juiciness. Although the pork shoulder was pretty good by itself, the vinegar-based barbecue sauce gave it a nice boost in flavor. The sauce that Double J uses is different from the tomato-based sauces that most Memphis restaurants serve, which for me is a nice change of pace. I wasn't quite as impressed with the baked beans, but nonetheless were a good complement to the rest of the meal. Overall, my second visit to the Double J was just as good as the first one.

After making two visits to the Double J Smokehouse and Saloon, I came away with a very good impression of the place. And unlike better known dry rub barbecue joints like Rendezvous, I didn't have to wait for a table (actually, I ate both meals at the bar). And as I said before, the dry rub ribs were the best I had outside of Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib Shack. While I still will never be a fan of dry rub, I will always appreciate good food no matter what it is.

UPDATE (March 28, 2014): Double J also makes great hamburgers. I discovered this a couple of years ago when I had its special Cinco de Mayo Burger on one of America's unofficial holidays for drinking. The cheeseburger made an impression that got it on my best burger list on a probationary basis. Recently, I had the Double J Burger that solidified its place on the list at #24. It's there because of its smoked ground beef that's seasoned with dry rub for a unique taste that should make the owners of Tops jealous. It's a one-of-a-kind burger that's worthy of praise. Of course, this is another reason to dine at Double J's.

Website: www.doublejsmokehouse.com

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LabelsBarbecue, Burgers, Steaks, West Memphis






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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Salaama Market & Restaurant

A True Find

A couple of months ago, while using foursquare to check into the McDonald's on Covington Pike, I saw Salaama Market & Restaurant listed among the choices to check-in to. To satisfy my curiosity, I clicked the web link to see what kind of restaurant it was. Salaama is a convenience store, meat market, apparel shop and restaurant all combined as one, specializing in Somali culture. With this being in part an African restaurant, I felt compelled to try it out to see how it compared to similar restaurants I've visited.
During my first visit, I decided to go with the Suqaar, a Somali Beef Stew. The entrée, which includes sides of spinach (which tasted like collard greens) and cabbage, consists of beef, carrots, potatoes and onions. The stew is cooked in boiling water until everything is tender. I'm not sure what spices are used in this, but I detected a bit of garlic in it. If the primary ingredients used in this Suqaar dish are the same as what I researched on Google, they are garlic, cumin, cilantro and chicken bouillon cubes. The taste of the Suqaar is mildly spicy and similar to Yebeg Tibes, a lamb dish that I had at Abyssinia. In my opinion, the Suqaar is a really good dish that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The Suqaar also comes with a plate of rice, which in quantity is more than the entrée. The rice is topped with corn, carrots, green peppers, raisins, green beans and other vegetables. In all, this medley of veggies produces a spicy sweet flavor that meshes well with the Suqaar. In terms of quantity, the rice mix by itself is enough for two people. With the main entrée and a salad thrown in, the meal is overwhelming for one person. I got as far as the salad and a small portion of both the Suqaar and rice mix before having to stop. I got the rest of it to-go and had it for dinner and the next day's lunch. The entire meal, that also includes a couple of bananas, cost $10. Outside of a buffet, you'll be hard pressed to get that much food at that price.
For my second visit, I went to Salaama for breakfast to see what it was like. Although Salaama offers traditional menu items like egg omelets and pancakes, I decided to stick with the Somali theme and chose the Goat Liver plate. At $7.99, I assumed that the portion would be smaller than the Suqaar that I had earlier, but I was wrong. My plate, which initially was packaged as a to-go order, was almost as huge as the Suqaar. It had almost the same components as the Suqaar, with the goat liver substituting for the beef stew. I knew that I wasn't going to finish it, so I kept my to-go box nearby for leftovers. When my server saw that I intended to dine in the restaurant, she brought me a couple of plates for both the main entrée and side salad.
Speaking of my server, she was very helpful in educating me about my order and was very attentive to my needs. This is totally the opposite of what I experienced at the recently closed Gereny, whose customer service was awful. Based on the customer service alone, Salaama gets high marks for excellence.
As for the entrée itself, it was good although it lacked the spiciness that the Suqaar had. The goat liver didn't taste any different from what I've had from beef liver, which was surprising. Based on past experiences, I assumed that there would be a difference between the two types of meat. After thinking about it, I realized that both cattle and goats have the same diet, which mostly consists of grass and other plants. That said, the livers of both species should taste the same if they are processing the same foods. I guess I can chalk this up as a "duh" moment.
The rice and other vegetables that accompanied the goat liver tastes pretty much the same as what I had with the Suqaar so I won't go into detail about it. Because I ordered it as a breakfast entrée, I could have chosen bread over the rice that might have reduced the entree's size. I decided not to do it when my server told me the bread was the plain white slices and not Injera (I know, Injera is Ethiopian). Along with my meal, I got a small cup of green pepper sauce that had a strong onion flavor. After trying a small sample, I decided against using it while at the restaurant but will indulge in it later. The side salad wasn’t any different from my first visit, which combined with the other "sides" bolstered the goat liver that I came to enjoy.
The total cost of my meal came out to $10, not the $7.99 listed on the menu. Normally that would have irked me, but since I stiffed the server on my last visit, I was cool with it. I sure as hell don't want to be known as the stereotypical black person who doesn't tip, so paying more than I expected lifted a burden off my conscience.
While waiting on my order, I walked around Salaama's convenience store to check out some the other stuff that it sells. From clothing to groceries to jewelry to fine art, Salaama offers a wide range of African items that can meet many needs of those who require this. Personally, I can't see myself shopping there on a regular basis but if I was looking for an African-themed gift, Salaama isn't a bad place to turn to.
In all, my two experiences at Salaama Market & Restaurant were great. The meals were delicious and the people serving it were friendly and welcoming. The restaurant/market is off the beaten path both figuratively and literally, but I hope more people learn of this place and patronize it. It is businesses like Salaama that makes Memphis diverse and a great place to live. I hope that Salaama has a lot of success in the future.

Website: www.salaamamarketandrestaurant.com

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LabelsAfrican, Breakfast, Raleigh






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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib Shack

The Buffet Is Okay, Not Great

On a Wednesday while running errands, I noticed that Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib Shack was nearby. This is a place that I've known about for awhile, for it is near the Ajax Palace Cinema that I often visit. Even though I thought about dining there, I never got around to doing it. Then recently, I read a review on the blog Memphis Que that highly praised Jack's dry rub ribs. After reading the review, I put Jack's on my radar with the intent of stopping by whenever I was in that part of town.

I was lucky to visit Jack's on a Wednesday, because I was able to take advantage of the rib joint's weekly all-you-can-eat buffet. The buffet wasn't huge, but it offered the essentials such as dry rub ribs, beef brisket, chopped chicken, fried catfish and a few side items (but no "wet" ribs). I started off with ribs, brisket, potato salad, baked beans and a little bit of coleslaw:


Overall, everything on the first plate was good with one exception. The dry rub ribs were EXTREMELY DRY! Maybe the reason for that was the amount of time the ribs were on the buffet, although I find that hard to believe given that I started eating them at 11:20 AM. Even though the dry rub was good and the meat had a nice smoky flavor, the ribs were devoid of greasiness and not tender. As far as the tenderness was concerned, I wasn't looking for the ribs to fall off the bone but be easy enough to either pull apart or bite into. The meat was so dry that I had to get a cup of barbecue sauce just to make them palatable. I won't say that these were the worst ribs I've had, but they were memorable in a bad way.

Everything else on the plate was good. The brisket had a good smoky flavor and was very tender, with a little bit of fat to make it chewy. The potato salad was creamy with a hint of vinegar and the baked beans were average. What surprised me was the coleslaw, for it was the best that I've had in a long time. What impressed me about it was the vinegar flavor that I found to be a bit sweet, unlike most coleslaw that I've experienced. It was so good that I got a second helping. With having been impressed by everything but the ribs on my first plate, I was anxious for a second.

For my second plate, I chose the pulled pork, chopped chicken (mostly white meat), fried catfish and a bigger portion of coleslaw:

My initial reaction from the second plate was positive. Both the smoked pulled pork and chicken were tender and juicy, on par with places like Tops Bar-B-Q. The buttery batter of the fried catfish filets made them a delight to eat without having to dip them in tarter sauce. The coleslaw complemented everything which made the second plate a good one.

With the first two plates down, I mustered up the strength to get a third. I went with the best that I had from the first two plates, which were the brisket, catfish and coleslaw. With it, I got fried okra that was decent and went well with the other components of my plate. When I was done, I was stuffed and mostly satisfied with my meal with the notable exception of the ribs. Because the ribs were part of the buffet, I would assume that they weren't fresh so I wanted to give them a second try on a later visit.

The Dry Rub Is Great!

For my second visit, my focus was solely on the ribs, particularly the dry rub. I had hoped that the ribs would be fresh, juicy and tender so I could make a better assessment of them, and Jack's delivered. I decided to get a half slab, with half of it "wet" and the other half being dry rub. When I placed my order, my server told me that it would be ready in about twenty minutes because the ribs were still on the grill. Normally that would irk me because I hate long waits when I'm on a lunch break. However, because I had the day off, I was cool with it. When my order arrived, it looked great so I dug in.

When I bit into the dry rub ribs, I immediately noticed a difference. The ribs were tender and juicy, unlike what I had at Jack's buffet. In terms of perception, that made a big difference in how I evaluated the ribs. With me enjoying the freshness of the ribs, I was able to focus on the dry rub seasoning. The dry rub was the best I've ever had, although I haven't experienced a lot of it. When I finished it, I wanted more but I didn't have time for it. The dry rub was definitely worth the wait.

The "wet" ribs didn't impress me as much. The ribs' tomato based barbecue sauce is comparable to many BBQ joints that I've been to, so I would not go out of my way for it. However, they are a decent substitute for the paprika seasoned dry rub if isn't available. The steak fries and coleslaw go well with the "wet" ribs to make it an all around good meal.

After having the ribs for the second time, my opinion of Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib Shack is far more positive. As I said, the dry rub ribs really impressed me, almost to the point of making me a "dry rub" fan. However, I still prefer barbecue drenched in sauce that is messy yet delicious. Still, Jack's dry rub barbecue is great and I highly recommend it. I want to thank the blog Memphis Que for highlighting Jack's, for it deserves more recognition.

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LabelsBarbecue, Buffet, Nutbush/Berclair, Summer Avenue






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