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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Where Are You From?"

From a "foreigner"

Despite living in Memphis for most of my life, I feel like an outsider socially. Even among people who I have known for a long time, I find myself struggling to fit in. I believe part of the reason for that (other than my overall social ineptitude) is in how I talk. With an accent that isn't either "Southern" or "black" enough by most standards, most people hit me with the question "where are you from" when sizing me up. Even after affirming my Memphis roots, many locals perceive me as not being like them. Maybe my inability to fit in is a consequence of being perceived as foreign or weird (or to use a term that a vapid waitress has bashed me online with, "creepy"). I would be lying if I said that it doesn't bug me, but I do my best to assimilate in spite of it. Still, being me is a hard row to hoe in Memphis, especially when doing it alone.


One of the most glaring examples of my "foreigner" status was an encounter last June at a convenience store in West Memphis, Arkansas. I went there for lunch because it was down the street from where I was working as a "temp." The 7th Street Food Market (also known as "Seven Food Mart") is a typical Southern gas station and convenience store that serves takeout Soul Food to working class people who prefer a fresh meal over fast food. Among the things that I ate at the 7th, the most impressive was the macaroni and cheese mixed with ground beef. A likely version of Hamburger Helper, the beef in it was well seasoned and very tasty. The cheese was thick and creamy, complementing my roasted chicken well. Speaking of that, the chicken and greens were okay and the cornbread was so-so (to be honest, I'm not much of a cornbread person). Given what I ate, I'm safe in saying that the food at 7th Street Food Market is decent but not worth a twenty-minute trip from Midtown to get.
Overall, it was an average meal on its own that wasn't worthy enough to blog about. However, what made it noteworthy were the ladies working the lunch counter who reminded me of my outsider status. After waiting behind two black guys (apparently "locals") before placing my order, I got hit with a "where are you from" blast after uttering my first words. Whether it was something in my voice or the manner that I spoke, those ladies seemed a bit put off by me. So, despite being a black Southerner (with a patriarchal grandfather born in Arkansas), I came off as a peculiar outlier to those African-American women. Usually in these types of situations, this kind of reaction isn't that blatant, but I rolled with it without any fuss. I'm not sure what to make of it, for the service itself was good but the ladies' reaction kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Although I'm sure it wasn't intentional (after all, they were courteous), I didn't feel completely welcomed at the 7th. As someone who seeks to be a part of the community, encounters like this are discouraging and make me less inclined to go out. However, I don't have the luxury to live in a cocoon so I have to persevere despite being an oddity.

SIDE NOTE: I want to stress that my encounter at 7th Street Food Market isn't strictly a "black thing." I get similar reactions from Asians, Hispanics (including a guy who glossed me as "Benson") and even white people.

It seems that no matter what I do, I will always be the odd man out in Memphis and possibly other places. Fortunately, I have friends who accept me as I am and are very supportive. With them, I can be myself without worrying whether I come off as an oddball or something distasteful. As for everyone else, stop asking me where I'm from.

NOTE: I apologize for this unconventional review. This was more about getting something off my chest than anything else.



LabelsCommentary, Gas Station/Convenience Store, Soul Food, Southern, West Memphis







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Friday, November 28, 2014

Oshi Burger Bar

Faux Gourmet?

Recently, another restaurant has entered the Memphis burger scene. Located on Main Street, Oshi Burger Bar serves hamburgers with an Asian flair. That alone would have been enough to warrant a visit, but the fact it's owned by the same person who also owns Local Gastropub, home of one of my favorite burgers, made it a must-see for me. For those of you who follow this blog, you know that Local Gastropub ranks high on my list of favorite burger joints because of its signature burger that someone on Foursquare... er, Swarm said was "amazing" (I miss my "mayorships"). Given Local's past success, I was confident that I would have a great experience at the Japanese-themed burger bar.


For my first visit, I intended to get Oshi's namesake burger but changed my mind after looking over the menu. Instead, I chose the 50/50 Burger whose name derives from its half ground bacon, half ground beef blended burger patty. Despite its composition, the 50/50 wasn't much different from a typical burger that anyone can make. The burger comes with cheddar cheese, onions (as in "onion jam") mustard and pickles contained in a nice artisan-style bun. Overall, it was a decent cheeseburger with pork belly/bacon flavor that was somewhat impressive. Fortunately, the 50/50 tasted better when I dipped it in Oshi's spicy house ketchup. Although it isn't detailed in the menu, I believe the ketchup has a bit of Sriracha sauce in it (or maybe wasabi). It definitely livened up an otherwise small, mediocre cheeseburger. I hope that I'm not being harsh, but the 50/50 burger didn't bowl me over.
To go with my burger, I got a side of Kimchi, Bacon, Beer Cheese Fries. The fries were spicy, although I couldn't determine if it was from the kimchi or the cheese. The kimchi slaw was tasty because it was sour without the pickled tartness. I didn't taste the bacon until I was halfway through the fries (it was near the bottom). The fries cost $4.50, although menu list it as "+$2" (as in $2.50 for the Skinny Fries plus two dollars for the kimchi, bacon and beer cheese). The Kimchi, Bacon, Beer Cheese Fries are really good with burgers, hot dogs and as a snack. When I paired it with the 50/50 Burger, the fries were its saving grace.


Underwhelmed in my first visit, I wanted to give Oshi another chance at impressing me with its burgers. For the second visit, I got the Oshi Burger featuring Wagyu American Kobe Beef. Until then, my only experience with Kobe beef (or so I thought) was with a burger at the former Stella Restaurant, a Downtown location that's currently occupied by Flight. If the beef in the burger was raised by traditional Kobe standards, then it should have been rich in unsaturated fat that comes from marbling. From what I read about it, the rich content of fat in Kobe beef makes it very tender, to the point that it literally melts in your mouth. I can't remember if the so-called Kobe burger that I had at Stella did that when I ate it, but I'm certain it wasn't the real deal because it only cost fourteen dollars. A genuine Kobe burger (something that very few American restaurants serve) should cost fifty dollars or more. Putting that aside, my faint memory of the Stella burger was memorable because it tasted different from anything that I had before. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the Oshi Burger, for its "Kobe" ground beef didn't taste any different from a typical burger. Even after taking into consideration that the meat was "American Kobe" as opposed to its Far East counterpart, the beef was indistinguishable from most burgers that I'm familiar with. After paying twelve dollars for the Oshi Burger, I don't believe that I got good value when compared to other places that serve better burgers for less money.

SIDE NOTE: If you noticed in the last paragraph, I correctly spelled "Wagyu" (which translates as "Japanese cow/cattle") when referencing the meat in the Oshi Burger. However, the burger bar spelled it as "Waygu" seven times in the menu that I got from the restaurant (Oshi's website spells it correctly). As someone who a) typesets for a living and b) has gotten clowned in the past for poor spelling, I believe that misspelling the name of one your feature menu items can undercut your credibility. I know this seems like I'm giving the Oshi guys a lot of shit (a word that shouldn't get confused with "Shiitake," another word that the burger bar misspelled), but "Waygu" is a glaring mistake that people who are more knowledgeable than me will notice. Speaking of that, check out this article in Forbes that goes in-depth about Kobe beef and how not to get duped by restaurants that claim to have it.

UPDATE (March 23, 2015): After going back to Oshi recently, I found one "burger" that I really like. The "burger" is the Tora Toro, a ground Ahi tuna sandwich with sweet Asian slaw and crushed avocado that all go really well together. Although I won't consider this a burger in the truest sense, it's a great alternative that's as good as some of the better beef burgers in Memphis.

With Oshi's burgers being a bit of a disappointment, I decided to try some other items on its menu. The Rajun Asian Wings are decent appetizers despite lacking qualities that belie its name. Like the Thai Meatballs that I had at the Silly Goose, the wings (aside from the sprinkling of peanut crumbs) don't have much in terms of Asian-defining seasoning. Ditto for the "Rajun" tag, for the wings don't have anything (Cajun or otherwise) that I could sense as spicy. I was hoping for something similar (but better) to what the Flying Saucer served when it had Asian/Thai wings on the menu. Those wings were more "Rajun Asian" than Oshi's. On the positive, most people won't get messy while eating Oshi's wings that come in a Japanese bento box that separates the drummies and flappers. Like I said earlier, the wings are a nice appetizer/snack to have with beer or (given the restaurant's Japanese theme) sake.
Another non-burger item from Oshi's menu is something that I really like. The Seoul Patrol is a beefy hot dog with kimchi slaw, Korean barbecue short rib, chili aioli and cilantro that really nails it in terms of taste. The best part of it is the hot dog itself (made with Wagyu American Kobe Beef) that is very good and on par with noted hot dog restaurants like Chiwawa and Bardog Tavern (the latter serves a broader menu so it isn't strictly a "dog" place). The tangy kimchi slaw and short rib were good toppings that nicely complemented The Seoul Patrol for a genuine gourmet experience.
After a few visits, I can say that Oshi Burger Bar didn't impress me. Although the hot dog, fries and ketchup were very good, the burgers were a huge disappointment. Even after putting aside the debate about the authenticity of Oshi's Kobe-style beef, the burgers are good but not worth the money. For what I got, I can go to restaurants like the Majestic Grille or Huey's for a bigger and better burger that is somewhat cheaper. In a bit of irony, I can also go to Local (Oshi's sister restaurant) for its signature burger that is far superior to the Oshi Burger for about the same price. While it's not a likely burger destination for me, Oshi's service is very attentive and friendly. For those who like to stay out late on the weekends, Oshi stays open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. I can see myself hanging out there on a late Saturday night, trying one of its non-traditional burgers like the lamb-based Mo-Rockin or one of its burger or hot dog specials. I believe that Oshi Burger Bar has a lot of potential, but it needs to step its game up if it wants to appeal to burger lovers like me.

Website: OshiBurger.com

Oshi Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Labels: Appetizers/Bar Food, Asian, Burgers, Commentary, Downtown, Hot Dogs, Korean, Wings







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Monday, October 27, 2014

Taqueria Express #5

A New Beginning

Now that I'm working in a new job, I'm getting acquainted with my new dining options. While I will eventually get around to reviewing popular eating spots like Elwood's Shack and Bryant's Breakfast, I first want to talk about a taco truck on the corner of Summer and Perkins. Its location is very convenient for me because it's only a half a block from my job so walking to it is easy. In addition to that, one of my Flying Saucer drinking buddies highly recommended the food truck because of its tacos, so it was hard for me to resist. So, I found time to check out some of the offerings from "#5" that proved to be very tasty, for the most part.

Burrito al Pastor

One of the first things that I got from Taqueria Express #5 was a burrito with pork ("con pastor" in Spanish). Although the menu labeled it as spicy, I didn't get any sense of that but it was good nonetheless. Given the lack of spiciness, I added some of the food truck's salsa verde that made the burrito much better. With onions, lettuce, refried beans, rice and cheese, this turned out to be an excellent burrito that is much better than anything offered by Taco Bell. At $5.45, it's a great value that I hope more people learn about.


The torta (a Mexican sandwich) I got with beef tongue didn't quite measure up. My biggest beef (no pun intended) with it was the amount of mayo in the sandwich. There was so much of it in the torta that I wasn't sure if it had meat in it. Speaking of that, the tongue wasn't as seasoned as I'm accustomed to. I could be wrong about that, for it was difficult to ascertain due to the excessive mayonnaise. Still, it wasn't terrible, especially after putting some of the food truck's delicious salsa verde on it. If I get a torta again, I'll make sure to get it without the mayo.


For those looking for a more formal Mexican meal as opposed to street food, Taqueria Express #5 has that covered. One of my favorites is the carne asada that comes with traditional refried beans, rice and corn tortillas. Despite the skirt steak not being tender, it didn't matter once it was in huge tortilla wraps with the entrée's other components that made aggressive chewing a must. In the end, it was worth it, for it was a very good meal at an affordable price ($7.65). Compared to a Double Whopper that I can get at a nearby Burger King, the carne asada is a superior meal that I look forward to getting often.

SIDE NOTE: I got the carne asada in spite of my original intention of getting the "#5" from the menu (given the food truck's name, I thought about having some fun with it.) The "5" consists of mulitas (a variation of quesadillas) that are cheesy and easy to eat for those on the go. In choosing the meat for the filler, you can't go wrong with chorizo sausage. By the way, whether you're getting mulitas, carne asada or anything else from Taqueria Express #5 (including aguas frescas such as my favorite Mexican beverage, the horchata), you will be wise to phone in your order as opposed to initiating it at the food truck. The carne asada takes twenty minutes to prepare, time I can't afford to waste on a thirty-minute lunch break.


The best product offered by Taqueria Express #5 is its salsa verde. I like it because it is made with fresh jalapeños, cilantro and a wonderful mix of other ingredients. Unlike those from other Mexican restaurants, I can really taste all the elements of a jalapeño in the spicy sauce, including the seeds. The sauce goes well with just about anything, including soups, chili, cheeseburgers and salads. Its only drawback is its short "shelf life" of about a week. I didn't find this out until recently, when a plastic cup of it exploded inside the refrigerator that I use at work. One thing's for sure: it doesn't have preservatives in it. Without that, the natural chemicals (whatever that is) in the sauce produces gases as it spoils. So my advice is use the salsa verde as soon as you get it for an experience that is worth the trouble.

By the way, the tacos are pretty good, too. My favorites are (clockwise from the top) lengua (tongue), chorizo, tripa (tripe) and chicken. "Pollo" (aka chicken) is a word that I usually screw up when I say it in Spanish because the "ll" is used as a "y" (Italians pronounce it the "right" way).

Overall, just about anything (other than tortas) from Taqueria Express #5 is a good bet for delicious eats. It is obvious that the owners of the food truck know how to put together great Mexican food for people on the go. In my limited experience, I will go out on a limb in saying Taqueria Express #5 is one of the better places in Memphis to go for good Mexican food. Of course, given the number of Mexican restaurants in Memphis' Berclair neighborhood (including four within walking distance of my job), any restaurant serving Mexican food has to be on the top of its game if it wants to succeed. That said, I see a lot of success in the food truck's future.

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Taqueria Express #5 on Urbanspoon

LabelsFood Truck, Mexican, Nutbush/Berclair, Sandwiches, Steaks, Summer Avenue, Tacos







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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips

An Apology

Earlier this year, when I wrote about the places I ate at in Olive Branch, Mississippi (a Memphis suburb), I briefly mentioned Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips at SideStreet Burgers. My initial take was that the potato chips were "mildly spicy" and that "Hot Ass" was "a bit of an exaggeration" (in other words, a marketing gimmick). I formed my opinion after eating a couple of chips, so I didn't experience the full force of the "Hot Ass." Meanwhile, my laborer cohorts said the chips were the hottest they ever had. Them telling me this made me think they were puss... err, girly men who couldn't handle a little heat. In hindsight, those guys knew what they were talking about, for they had the equivalent of a small bag of chips with their burgers. They opted for the chips because they were free, setting in a bowl near the restaurant's cash register. Following the "if it's free, I'll take three" philosophy, my cohorts thought they were getting over by not having to pay for potato chips. However, human physiology intervened and kept their indulgence in check. Now, fast forward to the recent Best Memphis Burger Fest that took place at Minglewood Hall where I had my encounter with a bag of Nikki's HOT ASS chips. Unlike eating a couple of them, attempting to eat an entire bag had me whimpering like a baby. It seems that it takes more than a chip or two to get the burn that it's known for.

SIDE NOTE: Seth, the man who established Best Memphis Burger Fest and talks about burgers on his blog, should find time to make the trip to Olive Branch for a burger from SideStreet. I'm very confident that he will like it and give it at least four stars. By the way, I'm not the only one recommending the burger joint, as fellow blogger Memphis Que also suggested it to Seth. Also, he should visit the P & H Cafe that is across the street from Minglewood Hall. Given his love of the "Juicy Lucy" (a burger with stuffed meat, aka "Jucy Lucy"), I believe Seth will like it and even incorporate the grungy dive into future burger fests, provided the venue doesn't change.

When I got the bag of Nikki's chips, I didn't think much of them other than as something spicy to eat with the many burgers I tasted at the festival. Nikki's Hot Ass (why do I feel pervy whenever I type the company's name) was handing out free bags from its booth at the festival. Like my cohorts in Olive Branch, I took advantage of it without giving it a second thought. Like the last time, the first couple of chips didn't hit me that hard, but the pain exponentially worsened as I ate more of them. By the time I got a third of the way down the bag, I was desperate for water. Eventually, I scrambled to Squeal Street BBQ's tent to put out the fire in my mouth with water, beer or anything liquid. After regaining my composure, I turned the bag around to read the chip's ingredients. In a bit of an eye opener (literally), I discovered this:

Ingredients for Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips that includes Ghost Peppers

Discovering that the potato chips had Ghost Peppers as a part of its seasoning was quite a surprise. The peppers are the hottest on Earth, rating at a million Scoville Heat Units (a scale that measures a pepper's spiciness). That's far hotter than jalapeños (2,500-8,000) and Habanero peppers (100,000-350,000) that are also hot to handle. Had I known this beforehand, I would have been more cautious in eating the potato chips. Unfortunately, my arrogance literally burned me (specifically my tongue), forcing a reassessment of the fiery chips. I am now convinced that Nikki's Hot Ass lives up to its name, for its potato chips are the spiciest in Memphis and possibly all of America. That said, I apologize for undercutting the chips in my initial review. This is one mea culpa that I don't mind giving. Respect the "HOT ASS."


Website: www.NikkisHotAssSeasoning.com

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As for the Best Memphis Burger Fest...

Best Memphis Burger Fest entrant - At The Bistro
After gulping bottles of water and beer, I eventually recovered and enjoyed the rest of the burger fest. With my capacity for burgers limited due to my liquid consumption, I only ate a few sliders and missed out on delicious burgers like those from Slider Inn's tent. Of those that I had, my friends at Squeal Street had one the best burgers at the festival. Now, before you call me a biased "homer," I was objective in approaching the burger fest. With that in mind, the best burger I tasted came from At The Bistro, a Soul Food restaurant located on Brooks Road in Whitehaven. It had a lot of seasoning for a peppery burger that might have been a standout at the burger fest. Overall, nearly all the burgers I tasted were great and the competing teams did an excellent job for a noble cause.
Sticky Rice
Sadie
The Best Memphis Burger Fest benefits local animal rescue organizations like Streetdog Foundation, Tunica Humane Society and Fayette County (TN) Animal Rescue with donations that help homeless and abused animals get the help they need. As someone who has a stray cat, I appreciate the efforts of everyone associated with the festival and hope it has much success in the future.

Website: www.BestMemphisBurgerFest.com

Labels: Burgers, Commentary, Snacks






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Friday, September 26, 2014

Al-Rayan

A Change From The Usual

In an effort to focus the blog on overlooked restaurants, I want to talk about a place I visit often. Although it's not on par with personal favorites like The Majestic Grille and Bardog Tavern, Al-Rayan is a neighborhood restaurant that I often go to when I crave for a good, inexpensive meal. Typically, I go there for a pita wrap of shawarma or a gyro for lunch. While a wrap is good enough most of the time, I went all out with a full blown feast about four months ago. To satisfy both my hunger and curiosity, I got the beef shawarma plate with a salad, hummus and naan bread as appetizers.

SIDE NOTE: I'm sorry for not having a more current review. Lately, I haven't eaten out a lot, so I'm relying on experiences from the past. Fortunately, I have enough "reserves" to last me to the end of the year.


To start things off, I got a salad with hummus, naan bread, and chili and garlic sauces. The salad had the typical stuff like lettuce and tomatoes, but it also had a lot of black pepper in it. The spice wasn't something that I am accustomed to in a salad but it made a good impression on me. The salad is better with the garlic sauce, the mayonnaise-looking stuff in the upper right corner of the above picture. Although the salad was good, the best part of the first course was the hummus. Not that I'm an expert, but Al-Rayan's hummus is the best that I've had in my limited experience with the legume-based sauce. It ranks ahead of places like Cooper-Young's Green Cork and Downtown's Silly Goose Lounge in terms of taste. Speaking of that, the hummus sort of tasted like blue cheese despite an assurance from my server that I was sensing the tahini in it. Nevertheless, I really liked it and look forward to having it and the salad again.


As I was finishing my salad and hummus, the beef shawarma arrived. Thoroughly broiled on a vertical spit, the chopped beef was somewhat dry while possessing a hint of vinegar aroma. The accompanying rice tasted similar to many African restaurants where I had it. The beef shawarma and rice were good together, but are better with chili and garlic sauces. Rounding it out with the restaurant's fresh naan bread, my lunch at Al-Rayan was very nice.
Although Al-Rayan isn't in one of Midtown Memphis trendier neighborhoods (i.e. Cooper-Young, Overton Square), it's a cool restaurant that's worth checking out. With the dining room adorned with Middle Eastern furnishings, the restaurant has a cultural vibe that sets the mood for something special. For me, that's good enough for more visits in the future.

Check out Al-Rayan on


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LabelsMiddle Eastern, Midtown, Pita Wraps







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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Asian Palace

Finally! (Part 3)

Sticky Rice
Sticky Rice
If there was ever a reason for using the "Finally!" theme, it is for one of my favorite Memphis restaurants that I've taken too long to write about. Asian Palace is one of the best and most genuine Chinese restaurants in the city, something that most of my friends agree with. In fact, a former "temping" cohort inspired my first visit by eloquently exclaiming "Yo! 'Dem spring rolls is fresh!" (yep, true story). One of the reasons for Asian Palace's accolades is for its Dim Sum, which is (according to Wikipedia) "a style of Cantonese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates." In short, it's tapas Chinese-style that is traditionally served during the weekend, although Asian Palace offers a limited menu during the week. As one of the few restaurants in the city to offer it, I try to advantage of it whenever I'm in Memphis' Shelby Oaks neighborhood.

 Clockwise from the top - Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns and Steamed Pork Buns
Clockwise from the top: Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns, Steamed Pork Buns
During a recent weekend "temping" assignment, I got the full array of Asian Palace's Dim Sum menu. I started it off with plates of Chicken Feet, Steamed Pork Buns and Steamed Pan Fried Buns (somehow, that last one doesn't make any sense). The "chicken feet" were actually dumplings stuffed with meat (presumably chicken feet) that had the mushy texture of seafood while retaining some poultry flavor. Asian Palace's version of the poultry staple wasn't what I expected (I wanted "feet") but it was good nonetheless. The Steamed Pork Buns were doughy and a bit sweet, with a good amount of tasty pork in the center. A unique variation of a pulled pork sandwich, I'm surprised that I didn't see something like this at last year's Cochon Heritage BBQ competition at Beale Street Landing. The Steamed Pan Fried Buns (steamed and fried? How is this prepared?) were nothing more than sweet pastries that work better as a dessert than as either a main course dish or an appetizer.

Steamed Shanghai Dumplings

When the Dim Sum cart came to my table a second time, I got the Steamed Shanghai Dumplings. Stuffed with shrimp and immersed in what I believe was soy sauce, this Dim Sum dish was the best of my lunch. The shrimp was tender and flavorful, and I wanted to get another plate. Unfortunately, time and budget constraints prevented me from indulging further.


For my third and final go-around, I got something that I was familiar with. In getting the quail, I was curious about how I would like it as a Chinese dish. I have had it two other times in my life: as a roasted gourmet entrée at the former Lolo's Table (served by the lovely Alyssa, who is currently working day shift at Chiwawa) and a breaded and fried plate at Old Timers Restaurant in Millington. Asian Palace's version was fried (sans breading) and topped with lettuce, jalapeños and a lot of minced green onions. With me not being into raw onions, I separated them from the quail and ate the birds by themselves. In hindsight, I should have given it a try, for the quail didn't have the Asian pizzazz that I expected. I'm not saying the quail was bad, but I hoped for something more in line with the other wonderful dishes that I had at Asian Palace. If I was eating it as part of a blind taste test, I would've guessed it came from a Soul Food joint as opposed to a Chinese restaurant. Despite that minor disappointment, I was satisfied with the Dim Sum and I look forward to returning to Asian Palace for more of it.

SIDE NOTE: The next time I go for Dim Sum at Asian Palace, I might take my friend John D. In addition to being a good dining companion, he's also fluent in Cantonese and possibly Mandarin (he taught English in China for a few years). With many of the restaurant's servers not knowing much English, having a translator could make things go a lot smoother with regards to understanding the menu.

Kung Pao Chicken

In addition to Dim Sum, Asian Palace offers many other wonderful dishes. One of my favorites is the Kung Pao Chicken with fried rice and an egg roll. Loaded with tender chicken and lots of vegetables such as red and yellow peppers, the entrée is very spicy yet delightfully delicious. It's even better with the fried rice that has bits of scrambled eggs and onions that make it very good on its own. Throw in a good egg roll into the mix and you have an extremely scrumptious meal that will have you coming back for more.

Website: www.AsianPalaceMemphis.com

Asian Palace on Urbanspoon

Labels: Asian, Chinese, Shelby Oaks, Summer Avenue, Tapas/Small Plates







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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Raffe's Deli

One of the Best Beer Stores in Town (and the food is good, too)!

In another effort in fulfilling goals set in the past, I've finally gotten around to talking about Raffe's Deli. Like my last post about The Silly Goose, this doesn't qualify as a "Finally" themed review because it was never a top priority for the blog. However, because of unique circumstances that required my attention in East Memphis, I took an opportunity to follow up on something that I started 3½ years ago (if foursquare...errr "Swarm" (an unneeded evolution of the app) is correct).


For my first visit to Raffe's in years, I thought about getting a sub or some other type of sandwich. But with the likelihood that my next visits being far down the road, I made the most of my lunch by getting something unusual as it relates to the blog. I got a gyro with a Middle Eastern twist, something that doesn't have the typical Greek tzatziki sauce that usually is associated with it. Instead, along with the vertically roasted lamb, the Syrian Gyro has hummus and a mix of vegetables, herbs and spices. Collectively called a tabbouleh salad, it mainly consists of parsley (a lot of it), chopped tomatoes, mint, onions and bulgur, a grain indigenous to Syria and other countries near it. According to Wikipedia, bulgur has more fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals than white rice, meaning it is a healthier alternative. Within the tabbouleh salad, the bulger is one of many components that make the gyro salty and zesty, balanced by the sweetness of the lemon juice in it. Overall, I like the Syrian Gyro because it is savory and much healthier than what I normally eat. For anyone looking for something different yet tasty, I suggest giving the pita sandwich a try.

SIDE NOTE: The tabbouleh salad is available as a stand alone entrée and is one of Raffe's vegetarian dishes. Speaking of that, the deli's "grape leaves" (aka sarma, not to be confused with dolma) is another vegetarian/vegan dish that is worth trying. The leaves are stuffed with rice and herbs and boiled with lemon juice and served with tzatziki sauce or a yogurt. By the way, sarma isn't technically a vegetarian dish, for it's traditionally stuffed with minced meat like beef, pork and veal. Although I haven't had the Middle Eastern dish at Raffe's, I had a plate of them at Sean's Cafe several years ago that amounted to an interesting experience. From what I could remember, the stuffed grape leaves were decent despite being a bit bland without the tzatziki sauce. Of course, I'm not prejudging Raffe's sarma but it's something that I will keep in mind if and when I get them.


The muffaletta that I had during my last visit was pretty good, too. For some reason, I thought it would be bigger (when comparing it to sandwiches from places like Kwik Chek). However, the muffaletta was hearty enough to satisfy my appetite, even without sides like potato chips. It has the usual stuff like salami, ham and cheese (in this case, Provolone). However, the one ingredient that really makes it tasty is the olive salad dressing with its strong and robust flavor. Compared to other muffalettas that I've had, Raffe's version is one of the better ones.


Lastly, I want to mention the wide variety of craft beers that Raffe's Deli offers. Whether you're looking for something local or an exotic export, it's likely that Raffe's has it. Among them are beers from Rogue Ales that includes the yummy Hazelnut Brown Nectar. However, it's hard to offer everything to everyone (for example, the deli doesn't carry Rodenbach, a Flemish sour ale and another favorite that's sold at Cash Saver and bars like The Flying Saucer) but a beer lover can get a lot of satisfaction from Raffe's offerings. By the way, any beer bought at the deli can't be consumed on the premises, but that shouldn't be a problem for most (although Lucchesi's Beer Garden next door can meet the need for instant gratification with its beer menu).


Regardless of whether you want food or beer, Raffe's Deli has you covered. Owner Sean Feizkhah (who's not involved with Sean's Cafe) is doing a great job with the deli and has big plans for its future. According to the Memphis Flyer, he plans to expand the menu to include Persian (Feizkhah is of Iranian descent) and Turkish fare and add a growler (as in a big jug) station to sell beer by the gallon. Given the improvements that he's already made in terms of the deli's decor, I'm confident that he'll transform it into something sensational.

Check out Raffe's Deli on


Raffe's Deli on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeer, Deli, East Memphis, Greek, Middle Eastern, Pita Wraps, Salads, Sandwiches, Vegetarian/Vegan







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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Silly Goose

Snack Time!

In getting around to writing this review, my intention was to continue with the "Finally!" theme that I started last May with my overdue review of Las Delicias. The reason for the theme is to highlight some of my favorite dishes and restaurants that I've neglected in my four years of blogging. Near the top of the list is The Silly Goose's Steak On The Stone (if that's not the proper name, please correct me), consisting of a raw steak (or chicken) and a hot stone to cook it with. This method of serving steak was very unique when compared to other Downtown Memphis restaurants (notwithstanding the former Butcher Shop) and something that I really wanted to try. Unfortunately, my past financial predicament prevented me from indulging in the sizzle of the stone (I'm currently not doing much better). Because of that, I waited too long for something that The Silly Goose no longer has. Upon finding this out from the bartender (the lovely Jessica), I was sadly disappointed. After accepting the news, I was at a loss as to what to order. With steak off the menu, I was left with choices of appetizers from Silly Goose's menu. Not satisfied with my options, I considered scrapping this review because I didn't feel that the Goose had anything worth writing about. Of course, I was proven wrong about that after I tasted some of the items from Silly Goose's menu.


The first thing that I want to talk about is something that had this week, as opposed to my first "official" visit. Among Silly Goose's better menu items is the Thai Meatballs that my friend and drinking buddy "John D." recommended to me. Immersed in a savory broth, the meatballs didn't have any of the Asian flavors that I'm familiar with but was very good nonetheless. The broth had a bit of spiciness in it and bolstered with slivers of red peppers and shredded cheese (Mozzarella?) that contributed mightily to the appetizer. Even without the meatballs, the broth (along with damn near a loaf of fresh baked pita bread) makes for a tasty snack to have while chilling at the bar. Of course, this is far from a full meal for most, but not many go to The Silly Goose for dinner. For an appetizer, the Thai Meatballs is one of the better dishes served in Downtown Memphis. I want to thank my main man for hipping me to it.
Getting back to my first "official" visit for this review, I want to mention something that Jessica suggested. She pointed out the tacos with chorizo, chicken and goat cheese, a modest appetizer for snacking before dinner (which I eventually got at The Majestic Grille, located around the corner (on Main St.) from the bar). The chorizo and cheese (along with the avocado) really stood out in the tacos, even after adding lettuce and tomatoes to them. The tortillas wrapping the tacos were slightly crunchy and held everything together, making for an overall good experience. By the way, if you order the tacos or any other appetizer (such as the very delicious hummus) during Happy Hour (4 p.m. - 8 p.m.), the cost is about $3 less than the listed menu price. With a deal like that, I will take advantage of it whenever I can.


I want to thank Jessica for suggesting the tacos and being an all-around great bartender and server. I have known Jessica (a former Flying Saucer Girl) for a few years and she is one of friendliest servers working in Downtown Memphis. A woman with a lot of sex appeal, she is always a sight to see whenever I visit The Silly Goose. Of course, I'm not the only guy who feels this way, for she has a small legion of fans (including a douchebag who I will talk about later) who keeps her busy whenever she's bartending. I appreciate everything she does (such as hooking me up with some delicious pizza... errr flatbread slices) and I hope to see more of her in the future.
Jessica is one of the many reasons to visit The Silly Goose. Known more as a nightclub, the bar is a popular hangout on the weekends for people who love to party. Personally, I'm trying to get away from the party scene but I get down occasionally whenever one of my friends is celebrating something special. The decor and atmosphere of the Goose is very casual, with couches and an outdoor patio for those who really want to chill out. Also, The Silly Goose has an excellent staff of servers and bartenders who are very professional and, well (at least for the ladies), HOT. All of it stems from the mastermind who pulls the strings, owner Daniel Masters. A gracious host to me throughout years, he is a cool guy who I hope has much success with his bar/nightclub. Because of these reasons, I will always be a loyal patron of The Silly Goose.


UPDATE (May 25, 2015): Speaking of reasons, I have another one for brunch lovers. On Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. (maybe later), The Silly Goose offers an omelet bar that is very liberal in terms of what you can get. From the many ingredients displayed across the bar, you can choose whatever you want in it including a multitude of meats. So, if you want an omelet with bacon, beef, chicken and salami, you can get that along with a ton of veggies for ten dollars. But wait, there's more! (I think I'm going into informercial mode). In addition to a huge omelet, you also get a Belgian waffle and a choice of sausage links or bacon. The waffle is really good because it tastes more like a pastry, even without syrup and butter. Again, all of this cost ten dollars, which is a bargain when compared to other places. You can get similar quantities of food at places like IHOP for about the same price but the quality doesn't come close to the Goose. In my opinion, this is probably one of the best brunch deals in Downtown Memphis, if not the entire city. Obviously because of its hours (the bar opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday) , the brunch isn't available during the rest of the week. As a consolation, The Silly Goose offers a generous pasta bar that's really good, too. I hope the "bars" become a mainstay at the Goose, because it makes a great bar even better.

Website: www.SillyGooseMemphis.com

The Silly Goose on Urbanspoon



Before I Go...

Again, I want to thank Jessica for serving me and being a great bartender/server to everyone that visits The Silly Goose. "Everyone" even includes a certain individual who has a serious problem with me being around him and his friends. For whatever reason, "Mr. Load Turd" has an obsession with preventing me from having any association with his favorite neighborhood, Downtown Memphis. While he has been somewhat successful (with the help of my personal stumbles) in swaying some to his opinion, I still have relationships with a lot of Downtowners despite my troubles. That includes some of my drinking buddies who I enjoy having a beer with at my favorite bars like The Silly Goose, which happens to have regulars like "Load." Despite his whining, I will continue to hang with my friends as long as they're cool with it. I will also keep seeing my favorite bartenders like Jessica who makes Downtown Memphis worthwhile. If "Load" can't deal with it, he should see a shrink. Not that I'm a psychiatrist (just a modestly paid graphic artist) but when I analyze it, I see "Turd's" personality as similar to South Park's Eric Cartman. Like the cartoon character who suffers from Only Child Syndrome, he's a fat, selfish douchebag who whines when he doesn't get his way. Also, they both like eating at Casa Bonita (check Poly Roly's Journal to see that I'm not making this up). Of course, he won't follow my advice but I'm putting it out here in case someone wants to help him with his anxiety over me.

SIDE NOTE: One of the things that a counselor can discuss with "Mr. Load Turd" is his belief that I'm following him. A simple comparison of Foursquare check-ins will show that isn't true. For my part, I currently spend a lot of time at The Slider Inn in Midtown, far from "Load's" sacred Downtown.

Also, I want to clarify something else that "Mr. Load Turd" said about me recently. While sitting at The Silly Goose's bar with our mutual friends (who started things off with a discussion about where LeBron James will play next season), I overheard "Load" bragging about his dysfunctional barbecue team's "trophy" that it won at the Memphis in May BBQ Fest. He was playfully rubbing it in that his team took a trophy while our friends left the fest empty-handed. Although I didn't comment on it while I was at the bar (other than responding to "Turd" calling me a retard), I chuckled at what I heard. For "Roly Poly" to talk shit about winning a non-food trophy to guys who bailed out his "well managed" barbecue team with barbecue at a barbecue competition is laughable. After all, this happened at the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, not the Southern Hot Wings Festival, the Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival or an artistic competition for who can design the best booth. Even though "Load" didn't have malice in his boasting, I felt that he should have shown more humility and gratitude to the barbecue team that saved his crew's asses. Of course, his team's troubles aren't a concern of mine (after all, I'm "persona non grata" to it) but I want to set the record straight about what I didn't say at The Silly Goose. Then again, it wouldn't have been an issue to "Load" if anyone else was sitting where I was at the bar. Like I said earlier, dude needs psychiatric help.

Downtown Memphis' Eric Cartman, who is a bigger crybaby than his South Park counterpart

Labels: Appetizers/Bar Food, Brunch, Burgers, Commentary, Downtown, Pasta, Pizza, Tacos







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Monday, June 30, 2014

Carbonara Done Right!

Finally! (Part 2)

Putting an end to another case of procrastination, I want to talk about one of my favorite dishes. Carbonara, a pasta dish consisting of an egg-based sauce and a form of Italian bacon (such as pancetta), is something that I had a lot of during a four-year stint in Italy as an Air Force serviceman. Since leaving Europe, my opportunities to indulge in carbonara have been rare. More times than not, the pasta was mediocre and disappointing. I'm not saying that the carbonara was bad, but it didn't meet my expectations for excellence. Nonetheless, I should have blogged about my experiences but the uninspiring pasta didn't move me to do so.


An example of the carbonara that I've had in America is the version served by Bari Ristorante in Memphis' Overton Square district. Other than the thick sauce, Bari's carbonara is okay by most standards. It usually has modest amounts of pancetta, onions, parsley and garlic, along with other herbs and spices for something that's decent yet unexceptional (Parmesan cheese is optional). Compared to restaurants that I visited in Italy, Bari's carbonara gets a "B-" for good quality that doesn't push the envelope for greatness. I hope I'm not being harsh, but I'm just calling as I see (and taste) it.
I also had Bari's calamari as a side dish during a recent visit. Actually, it was more like an additional "tapa" to the small plate of carbonara that I ate. For the most part, the calamari was good although I'm not used to eating it grilled (Bari's menu lists it as "calamari e polipo alla graticola" which translates to "squid and octopus on the grill"). The charred portions of it undercut the rest of what I felt was good calamari (I prefer to have it pan-seared). Of course, this is just an unqualified opinion based on numerous experiences with the seafood appetizer. For those who really like grilled foods, Bari's calamari might win them over. As it relates to carbonara, I believe that the restaurant's squid appetizer is a good match like grilled chicken and Alfredo pasta. All around, Bari's calamari is good as far as appetizers go.
After carbonara experiences at restaurants like Bari, I thought it was as good as it gets in Memphis and the rest of America, but a chef at one of favorite bars proved me wrong. While at Bardog Tavern during a weekday afternoon, Executive Chef John Haley asked if I wanted a plate of carbonara. He was following up on a request I made a while back after missing out on a special featuring the pasta. It wasn't something that I planned for, because I was content on chilling at the bar and listening to my favorite sports talk show host (Jim Rome) through my phone while getting beer from a beautiful bartender (Brittany). Of course, loving carbonara the way I do, I wasn't passing up an opportunity to try the bar's version of one my favorite pastas.


Bardog's version of carbonara is outstanding. From the second that I laid my eyes on it, I knew it was going to be one of the best things that I would taste in 2014. The carbonara had plenty of pancetta along with a lot of parsley, onions and grated Parmesan cheese. I was a little surprised that Chef John used a powdered (as in a can) version of Parmesan that, in my opinion, is more salty than an actual block of cheese. Fortunately, the Parmesan and all the other ingredients (including basil, if what I sensed is correct) worked well with the thick carbonara sauce and spaghetti pasta. Unlike carbonara at other restaurants, Bardog's pasta is vibrant and very flavorful in a way that makes it exceptional. The only other times that I've had carbonara this good were in fine restaurants in Italy, and Bardog's version (like all the other pasta dishes on the menu) is reminiscent of that. I don't know if the carbonara recipe is Chef John's or the man behind it all (Aldo Dean), but whoever came up with it is a genius. Currently, carbonara isn't on the menu at Bardog, but that could change if enough people ask for it. It's a great dish that I hope others get to know.

UPDATE (July 11, 2014): After talking with Aldo, I've found out that the carbonara recipe is neither his nor Chef John's. It originated from a former chef for the bar (Demitrie Phillips) who passed it on to his successors. Last I heard, this chef is working at Cafe Keough.

Unlike with Bari, I didn't get calamari with the carbonara at Bardog. If I did, it would have been fried and served with a topping of Sriracha aioli and a side of cocktail sauce. I won't try to compare the two squid appetizers because it would be the equivalent to an apple vs. orange comparison. However, Bardog's fried calamari is on par with most restaurants that serve it. That said, the calamari is a bit salty, which isn't necessarily a bad thing although my doctor would disagree. If paired with the carbonara, I believe that they would go well together.
After comparing the two restaurants, it's my opinion that Bardog Tavern has the better carbonara. With all the ingredients that make up Bardog's version of it, the pasta outclasses Bari Ristorante and many others that serve it. This isn't to say that I don't like Bari's carbonara, but eating it is like driving a Buick. By that, I mean it's a good experience but not exactly memorable. Chef John's carbonara is more like a Bentley (a car that I've never ridden in) that has all the bells and whistles to provide a ride unlike any other. If anyone is looking for excellent Italian carbonara without the hassles of going to an upscale restaurant, Bardog Tavern is the place to go (provided Chef John is in the house).
I'm glad that I "finally" got around to blogging about one of favorite dishes. I probably would have blown it off completely if I hadn't run into Chef John during this year's (2014) Memphis in May BBQ Fest. Seeing him reminded me of the favor he did in making the carbonara despite it not being Bardog's special for that day. I appreciate it and all of his other marvelous dishes. John Haley is a chef that deserves his due praise.

SIDE NOTE: Speaking of the 2014 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, I want address a comment from a "spokesman" for one of the participating BBQ Fest teams. As he said, you will never find me in the team's booth because I'm "persona non grata." While that's true, I also want to point out something else that will hardly be there: barbecue or anything else that's edible. It seems that $20,000+ (membership fees, sponsorships and other revenue) doesn't buy as much as it used to. Well, at least the team won a non-food trophy at the last barbecue fest. All things considered, that seems about right for a group more suited for partying than 'cuing.

Speaking of "Finally..."

Part of the reason why I haven't blogged about carbonara, my favorite guacamole and other things in the past is that I've been pursuing more important endeavors. Especially, I've focused on a goal that has eluded me for 5½ years: full-time employment. After years of searching, I finally have good news (which you might have heard about via Downtown Memphis' Pathetic Retard's Journal): I GOT A JOB! Thanks to a friend who put in a good word for me, I'm working as a graphic artist for a company that sells flags throughout America. After years and literally hundreds of attempts of applying for jobs that would pay a decent wage, I came very close to giving up. Fortunately, I have a friend who had my back and made a big difference in influencing my new employer. I am very grateful for that and will do my best in promoting the interests of the company that hired me. The way I see it, I need to make the most of this opportunity because this is the last hurrah of my career. Not that I'm ready to retire, but I know that I probably won't find another job in graphics in the foreseeable future because of reasons that I won't elaborate on. Anyway, I'm happy for what I have and anxious to "Git R Done!"

Websites:
 Bari Ristorante: www.barimemphis.com
 Bardog Tavern: www.bardogtavern.com

Bari on Urbanspoon

Bardog Tavern on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Commentary, Downtown, Midtown, Overton Square, Pasta, Seafood, Tapas/Small Plates, Upscale







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