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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kelvin's Hot Wings

The "New" Kelvin's - Not What It Used To Be

Today, while driving down Watkins St. in Frayser, I noticed a banner as I approached the Coastal Mart gas station/convenience store that read "Kelvin's BBQ & Hot Wings." It took me by surprise, given that all of Kelvin's restaurants closed. With me needing a fill-up and satisfy my curiosity, I decided to stop at the gas station. After finding out that the "new" Kelvin's was an extension of the old, I decided to get take-out there (by the way, unlike the former restaurants, this place doesn't have tables that customers can use to dine-in). When I grabbed a menu to see what I wanted, I was very surprised that the barbecue portion of it was very limited, with items such as ribs and BBQ spaghetti not being a part of the menu. In fact, there WEREN'T ANY PORK items on the menu, not even sliced pork shoulder. I stress this because of the fact that this is a Memphis barbecue joint, and not some place in a city like San Francisco, Minneapolis or Boston, that isn't known for the swine cuisine. I mean, a barbecue joint in Memphis not offering pork is like a sushi bar refusing to include seafood in its menu. Not that you have to have fish in sushi, but it would be extremely odd if that wasn't an option on the menu. As it relates to barbecue, and especially Memphis BBQ, excluding pork from a barbecue menu is the equivalent to that. And for any fans of Texas barbecue, I know pork isn't a traditional component of that. However, the best pork barbecue that I ever had was grilled by a guy from Austin, Texas. His mesquite-smoked ribs were so tender that the meat literally fell off the bones. Having said all that, I decided to give the "new" Kelvin's a try.
Initially, I wanted to get the BBQ Chicken dinner plate, but Kelvin's was out of chicken, so I went with the BBQ Chopped Beef plate instead, or so I thought. For my two sides, I chose the seasoned French fries and fried okra, which along with the main entrée should've cost $8.75 before sales tax. When the total was $7.92 with sales tax, I knew something was amiss which turned out to be true, for my order ended up being a Jumbo BBQ Beef sandwich with two huge sides of fries and fried okra. Upon discovering this, I thought about refusing the order and having it redone, but I had other things to do and didn't have the time so I went with it.
As for the sandwich itself, it was okay for what it is, and that was a griddle-fried half-pound of beef topped with barbecue sauce (which has the same sweet taste consistent with the original restaurant) and resting on top of coleslaw, with all of it within a big bun. The meat will never be mistaken for beef brisket, for it lacked any signs that it was smoked and roasted. The sandwich is what it is, and no one should expect more from it. The seasoned fries and fried okra (the latter of which I only tasted a small sample of) was average, and overall, the meal was decent, yet a far cry from the days of the "old" Kelvin's.
In the future, I hope the "Express" version of Kelvin's succeeds, although if I was advising the owner, I would have advised him/her that if you're going to reestablish your business using the same name, go all out and do it right and not be "half-ass" about it. If you're not going to offer former items like ribs that people are accustomed to, and not even offer pork at all, then open the business under a new name (and attaching "Express" to the old name doesn't qualify as that). Although "Kelvin's" as a name might work in the short run with those like me who remember the old days, not living up to those old standards might give the name a new reputation, which could be good or bad. That said, I wish the "new" Kelvin's well.

New Location, New Menu

After my first visit to Kelvin's, I thought that was it, as far as the blog was concerned. However, the owners responded to what I said on Urbanspoon (where a copy of my review was posted) and asked me to give them another chance. It took awhile to get around to it, but I did it on a weekend when I was working in Millington.
Before I go on, Kelvin's is located in the Frayser section of Memphis, which I believe is the northernmost part of town. From where I live, I have to pass through it to get to Millington.
In addition to doing a follow-up review, my interest in Kelvin's stemmed from past history. When I worked near Shelby Forest, Kelvin's was one of my favorite lunch places. During that time, Kelvin's was a barbecue establishment with locations in Frayser and Raleigh. Unfortunately, despite having great barbecue, Kelvin's went out of the BBQ business. Later, it re-emerged in a gas station on Watkins Street as "Kelvin's BBQ & Hot Wings Express." Seeing this made me very happy, but that soon changed once I saw the menu. It surprised me that the menu didn't have any pork items on it. Kelvin's responded by saying that the gas station owners wouldn't allow the sale of certain products. For a Memphis-based barbecue restaurant, that should have been a deal breaker. However, Kelvin's persevered and, if the "Likes" on Urbanspoon is a measure, achieved some success. Once the restaurant made the move to its own place, pork items were added to the menu. So with me passing by it for a few days, I felt it was time for a reassessment of Kelvin's.
For my first visit, I wanted to reminisce in the past by getting pork ribs. Kelvin's ribs were really good, highlighted by its sweet barbecue sauce. Unfortunately, the "new" Kelvin's doesn't sell ribs but offers rib tips instead. That took me aback, because it didn't make sense for a barbecue joint to not sell ribs while offering "tips." But when I saw the sign at the top of Kelvin's new location, the logic of the restaurant's decision became evident. With the restaurant rechristened "Kelvin's Hot Wings," the owners have shifted focus away from barbecue and more towards chicken wings and sandwiches. It seems that rib tips fit into that business model, for they are small nuggets of meat attached to bone cartilage. Like chicken wings, rib tips are cheaper than ribs. That translates into less overhead for Kelvin's.


When I got my rib tips, it was part of a plate dinner that included two sides and a roll that cost $10.65. The amount of rib tips I received probably weighed a pound or more, for it was enough for two people. The tips were moderately tender and lacking in smoke flavor. The barbecue sauce wasn't as sweet as it was in the past, but it was good enough to pass muster with me. The two side items (coleslaw and seasoned fries) were decent, tasting the same as most places that serve it. However, both were adequate in complementing the barbecue. Overall, the rib tips were okay, but not nearly as good as ribs that I've had in the past from Kelvin's.
A day after having the rib tips, I started to write the follow-up review before thinking "I really need to try the wings." After all, I am reviewing "Kelvin's Hot Wings" so it wouldn't be fair to exclude them in my follow-up. I decided to go with eight "cut" (party) wings with half of them in hot sauce and the rest smothered in honey gold sauce.
The honey gold wings didn't have the robustness that I've experienced at places like Ching's. Fortunately, I had enough extra sauce at the bottom of my carry-out box to dip the wings in, which added additional mustard flavor. The ranch dressing also helped, making the honey gold wings decent for my taste.
Although the honey gold wings were mediocre, the hot wings impressed me. They are hotter that most places that designate its wings as "hot." Although the wings bring the heat, it doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the peppers and vinegar in the wing sauce. In comparing it to other Buffalo-style hot wings, Kelvin's is exceptional. The hot wings were some of the best I've had in Memphis, and I'm not an easy guy to impress. Until I try other items on the menu, Kelvin's hot wings are by far the best item on it.



It seems to me that the new version of Kelvin's is focused more on forging a new path as opposed to clinging to the past. From what I experienced so far, I'm not totally confident about its long term success, but Kelvin's management has a positive attitude that could carry it a long way. They are very receptive about customer feedback and are eager to address any problems. The staff is friendly and courteous, key qualities needed to establish customer loyalty. If the good people at the "new" Kelvin's continue to strive for customer satisfaction, their new path may lead to a pot of gold. I wish them the best of luck.

SIDE NOTE: Despite the website's listing of operating hours, Kelvin's Hot Wings is open seven days a week, including Sundays from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Website: www.kelvinshotwings.net

Kelvin's Hot Wings on Urbanspoon

LabelsBarbecue, Burgers, Food Truck, Frayser, Wings



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