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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cafe Pontotoc

For A Friend

In the spirit of Christmas, I decided to write about a place that one of my friends is fond of. Cafe Pontotoc is a "wine bar" whose owner is friends with a man that I've been tight with for well over a decade. "Captain Sparkles" is a good man whose opinion I respect a lot, so when he asked me to check out the cafe, I knew I had to do it. Granted, it took a while before committing to it, but with a week before Christmas, I made the trip to South Main to check out the restaurant.


Knowing that Cafe Pontotoc is a "tapas" restaurant, I knew I couldn't order a single plate if I wanted a complete meal. So, I started off with the Vietnamese Spring Rolls that I usually eat at Pho Binh. The spring rolls holds its  the quality of my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, the spring rolls were nice appetizers. Stuffed with shrimp, cilantro, lettuce and other veggies within rice paper wraps, the spring rolls were quite refreshing. My only gripes were the cilantro being a bit strong and not enough hoisin and chili sauce to dip the spring rolls in. The cafe's dipping (as in soy) sauce was okay, although it didn't pair as well as the other sauces. Overall, the spring rolls (which someone like my Dad might see as a salad in wraps) were quite good and made me anxious for my next plate.


For my next and final plate of the evening, I went with tacos. Because it was my first time having them at Cafe Pontotoc, I wanted to try a little bit of everything in order to survey the menu. I got one each of the blackened shrimp, blackened catfish and steak tacos (there's also a vegan option for those who prefer that). Of the three tacos, the steak was by far the best of them because of a combination of the quality of the meat and the sauce (probably hollandaise) it was garnished with. The other tacos were decent, but if I ever visit Cafe Pontotoc again, I'm loading up on steak tacos.


After I finished dinner and got home from Cafe Pontotoc, I did the usual in doing follow up research before writing this review. I do this to limit mistakes such the mispelling of menu items and to confirm what I ate. While doing this for Cafe Pontotoc, I came across the cafe's brunch menu on its website. At the time, I had no intention on writing about the cafe's brunch, but there was something on the menu that changed my mind. Before I go on, I want to preface this by stating that I love Mexican food, which was bolstered by my current employment at a Summer Avenue business near a lot of taquerias. In visiting many restaurants near my job, I noticed a few offer "desayuno" (Spanish for "breakfast"). Unfortunately, I never took advantage of getting a genuine Mexican breakfast, so I was delighted when I saw that Cafe Pontotoc offered a "Desayuno Mexicano" on its online brunch menu. So I decided to return to the cafe for what I hoped would be a unique experience. However, when I got a hold of the cafe's current brunch menu, the Mexican entrée wasn't on it. The disappointment of not getting a "desayuno" hit me like a Jim Rome manual buzzer, and left me at a loss as to what to do. Eventually, I settled for the Pontotoc Omelette that I saw other diners get. As a consolation, the omelet was okay, for it was cheesy despite supposedly having a lot of meat in it. I also liked the hashbrown casserole that I got with it, for the cheese and diced bell peppers really tasted great with the omelet. Although the omelet and hashbrown casserole were good, it didn't lessen the disappointment of not getting the "desayuno" that is listed on restaurant's website. Maybe this is much ado about nothing, but I hate being misled by something or someone that doesn't deliver on marketing, advertising or any other kind of promotion. Having said that, I don't regret going to Cafe Pontotoc for brunch, but I might have eaten somewhere else if I had better information. Now that I know what's on the menu, I might try the Steak Benedict if I visit the cafe again, provided if it's still on the menu (both online and at the cafe).
Well, my dining experiences at Cafe Pontotoc were pretty good overall. Although I like it, it's probably not a place that I could regularly frequent due to my penchant for sexy ladies serving beer (which unfortunately isn't the Flying Saucer anymore; there are many reasons why it lost favor with me and others). Even though I won't become a "regular," it's likely that I could stop there occasionally, especially if it's to rap with my friend Joe, aka "Captain Sparkles." Joe is one of my best friends that I currently have now, a man who has always been supportive of me and has had my back during both the best and worst of times. As I said earlier, he is a good man who I respect a lot and wish nothing but the best for him. As an extension of that, I am also rooting for the "Captain's" friend to have much success at Cafe Pontotoc.

Website: CafePontotoc.com

Cafe Pontotoc Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Brunch, Commentary, Downtown, Tacos, Tapas/Small Plates







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Monday, October 31, 2016

Catherine & Mary's

Chisca Chic

With October coming to an end, I felt it was time to explore another restaurant on behalf of the blog. In doing that, a lot of places came to mind, so I sorted them out by using personal interest as criteria. At first, I thought about reviewing Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, a popular East Memphis restaurant that has received many accolades from organizations like the James Beard Foundation. Eventually, I will go to the restaurant to satisfy my curiosity, but instead of going to East Memphis, I settled for its new sister restaurant that opened in the Hotel Chisca building (now known as "The Chisca"). Catherine & Mary's, named after owners Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman's grandmothers, specializes in dishes inspired by the Italian-American women (for the rest of this review, I'll refer to the restaurant as "C & M"). The restaurant boasts a menu that is upscale (as in expensive) that features a mix of pasta dishes and exquisite entrées. Last week, I double-dipped on both and liked with what I got.



On my first visit, I got the Chitarra (Italian for "guitar"), a thick egg pasta originating from the Abruzzo region in Southern Italy. In C & M's version, the pasta is infused with squid ink and mixed with arrabiata sauce, diced lobster and other ingredients. Traditionally, the arrabiata sauce is spicy, but C &M's sauce tasted more like marinara sauce. The chitarra, even with squid ink, was nothing more than a typical wheat pasta that many restaurants serve. As far as seafood pasta dishes go, I've had much better than C & M's chitarra. That said, the pasta was decent but I'm not sure if I want a small bowl of it for $16 when I can find better pasta elsewhere.


A few days later, I returned to C & M for an entrée that I hoped would be better than the pasta that I had earlier. Going for something that's atypical for me, I chose the Newman Farm Lamb. Setting atop of a pool of farroto (similar to risotto expect that it comes from wheat instead of rice), sun dried tomatoes and other vegetables, the lamb I got was a nice hunk of bone-in meat about 1½ times the size of a softball. Because the bone was horizontal in the meat, I pretty much attacked it like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Fortunately, the lamb was very juicy and tender, tasting like well cooked roast beef. Overall, The entrée was very good and it more than made up for the pasta that I had earlier.
By the way, for anyone who likes wine, I recommend Le Monde, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Friuli region in Northern Italy. I didn't pick this by chance, but rather because Friuli (a part of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region) was where I was stationed at (Aviano Air Base) during my four years in Italy. Aside from it being a good pairing with lamb, the Le Monde allowed me to reminisce about the good times that I had in the Air Force.
The wine is good for chilling out at a bar, which I did at C & M during a long wait for my lamb. Given that it was a Saturday Night and I didn't have any plans, I didn't mind. However, the staff at Catherine & Mary's were well aware of my situation and constantly reassured me that my order was coming. I was cool with it, for it allowed me to surf the Web on my smartphone that was plugged into one of the bar's electrical/USB outlets (I would love to see more bars offer this). Given their attentiveness, the service at Catherine & Mary's is excellent. Putting aside the food, the service there is very friendly and professional in a setting that is very accommodating. Although it won't replace my usual hangouts, I look forward to going to C & M often in the future.


After waiting well over twenty minutes, one of the bartenders offered a free appetizer to compensate me for my time. I accepted it along with the bartender's suggestion of what I should get for it. She recommended the Caesar salad, which I nonchalantly agreed to. What I ended up getting was not what I expected. Instead of getting a traditional Caesar salad, I got C & M's version of it that featured Brussels Sprouts. When I saw this, the first thought I had was "FUCKING BRUSSELS SPROUTS!?" (Needless to say, I'm not a fan of the vegetable). However, it was part of an overall salad that had lettuce, Parmesan, croutons and dressing that turned out tasting very good. In combination with the lamb I had, the salad made for a very good side dish that contributed mightily to my dinner. While I still will never be a fan of Brussels sprouts, I will keep the salad in mind whenever I go to Catherine & Mary's again.
In all, I will say that the food (despite the mediocre pasta) and service at Catherine & Mary's is great. The restaurant is a nice addition to Downtown Memphis as a whole and to The Chisca in particular. With its close proximity to The Orpheum, the restaurant is the perfect launching point (along with one of favorite restaurants, The Majestic Grille) for a dinner and a movie or whatever. As for The Chisca itself, I am glad that after years of being a blight (thanks, COGIC), smart and entrepreneurial people took over the building and turned it into something beneficial. It goes to show that things are looking up in Memphis.

Website: CatherineAndMarys.com

LabelsCommentary, Downtown, European, Pasta, Salads, Upscale







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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Great Burgers To Try In 2016

More Burgers, More Burgers

In leading up to the 2016 Best Memphis Burger Fest, I thought it would be a good time to explore some of Memphis' "hidden" burger treasures. When I say "hidden," I don't mean that the burgers are unheralded, it's just that most of them hasn't gotten the spotlight they deserve. So, as a tiny contribution to the conversation, I've pointed out a few cheeseburgers that impressed me.



The Rock Star Jalapeño Burger at Sammy Hagar's Red Rocker Bar & Grill

It's not often that I venture into West Memphis for anything. Whenever I'm there, the last place that I consider going to is the Southland Park Gaming & Racing track. Not to be judgmental, but I believe there are better ways to spend your time than betting on dog racing or playing the slots. That said, Sammy Hagar's has built a reputation for serving great food. So, despite my misgivings about gambling, I drove over the Mississippi in the hopes of getting a good burger. Once I got there, it took a short walk through the rows of slot machines to get to Sammy Hagar's. For a sports bar, it has the typical stuff like big screen TVs and hot girls serving food and drinks. Being a loner, I sat at the bar and perused the many burger options from Red Rocker's menu. After initially choosing the bacon cheeseburger, I went to the restroom to wash up. While doing that, I thought about why would anyone reading my blog have interest in a mere bacon cheeseburger? If the point of this blog is to "find" unique food from interesting places, then writing about something ordinary would be a disappointment to my readers (including a charming young lady who allegedly smacked a despicable Downtown Memphis blogger because of his obnoxious douchebaggery; I know that mentioning this is a bit gratuitous, but I fucking hate that guy).


Anyway, once I returned to the bar, I changed my order and got the Rock Star Jalapeño Burger that has stuff in it that would make the original "King" rocker Elvis Presley proud. The burger has, in addition to lettuce, tomato, onions and a hunk of pickle (all stacked on top), it has Cajun ranch sauce, jalapeños and fried pepper jack cheese shaped in the form of a star. For anyone that likes jalapeño poppers, the "Rock Star" burger combines the best of both with the gooey cheese flowing into the seasoned beef and jalapeños, culminating in a unique and tasty experience. Surprisingly, given the cheese and sauce in the burger, the brioche bun held everything together so I didn't make a mess while eating this delicious burger. I'm not sure if the jalapeño burger will convince me to become a regular at Sammy Hagar's, but the burger is compelling enough to make me consider it whenever I'm looking for something out of the ordinary.

Website: www.SammysBeachBarAndGrill.com



The Forest Burger at The Country Corner Deli (in Shelby Forest)

In preparing to write this blog post, I thought about all the great hamburgers that I've had over the years. One of the few that really stood out was the burger I got from a convenience store near Shelby Forest. If you're saying to yourself "why would Ken go out to the sticks (literally) for a burger," it's not as crazy as you think. Back several years ago, I worked for a print shop in Shelby Forest, a business that used to be on Presidents' Island before the owner decided to move it near his home. So, from having dining options like The Port and Blue Monkey, my choices for a quick lunch were limited to the Shelby Forest General Store and a convenience store at the end of Watkins Street. While the general store is a cool place to visit in terms of nostalgia, the food is just decent and its burger a bit boring. Meanwhile, the Country Corner Deli at the Shelby Forrest Corner Store served up the best burgers in Shelby Forest. I wasn't sure if the deli had the same magic that it had then, but I took a leap of way (or rather, a long drive up Watkins) to see if it still had that grilling touch. Indeed, the Country Corner hasn't lost its touch when it comes to making burgers, which are just as good as they were before. Unlike in the past (at least as far as I can remember), the deli's menu has more than one option for burgers. So, unlike in the past when I ordered a simple cheeseburger, I picked the Forest Burger that comes with Swiss cheese and sautéed green bell peppers and onions. It's not often that I get a burger like that, but I like mixing it up occasionally. I'm glad I did with the Forest Burger, for the huge beef patty was very juicy and good enough to stand on its own. Combining that with the other components in the burger (along with a bottle of peach tea Snapple) made for a good, very enjoyable lunch. Was the burger worth a trip to Shelby Forest? HELL YEAH!


SIDE NOTE: Having said that, I will slow my roll in returning to County Corner Deli. The reason for this stems from past experiences in Shelby Forest. As a black guy, I am constantly aware of my surroundings and try to conduct myself accordingly. In doing that, I don't normally go places where I stand out because I don't like drawing unwanted attention to myself. Having said that, working in Shelby Forest, an area mostly consists of rural white people, had drawn notice of law enforcement. Needless to say, I got pulled over a lot by Shelby County Sheriff's deputies for driving just a little over the speed limit. It seemed that they were more about checking me out than speed enforcement. Once, in a classic case of "Driving While Black," deputies pulled me over when I was driving under the speed limit. With experiences like that, I am reluctant to make constant trips to Shelby Forest, especially at night where things could get more tense. However, I'm anxious to return to Country Corner Deli for either another Forest Burger or its spicy Steamin' Meeman burger (partly named after Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park). In doing that, it would be nice to get fair treatment by cops regardless of where I am, be it in Shelby Forest, Memphis, Millington or anywhere else. I hope no one reading will misconstrue my words and conclude that I'm anti-police, but rather see this as a tax-paying citizen who respects law enforcement and wants it to be the best it can be.

Check out Shelby Forrest Corner Store on








The Saucer Burger at (obviously) The Flying Saucer (Cordova)

As anyone who either reads this blog or knows me personally, knows that I am a denizen of the Flying Saucer in Downtown Memphis. I started going there several years ago after a fire burned down The Blue Monkey, the first of many Downtown bars that I've gotten acquainted to. One of the first things that I ordered from the Saucer's menu was the taco burger that was basically a beef patty and veggies wrapped in a sheet of tortilla bread. It was something that I really liked and wished for its return (if its kitchen is ever expanded, that might be possible). Fortunately, Memphis has more than one "Saucer" to choose from so occasionally, I venture out to Cordova for a good beer in a laid-back suburban atmosphere. Whenever I'm there, I usually reminisce about the "taco" by getting one of the Saucer's many burgers.


My favorite burger at the Cordova Saucer is the Saucer Burger. For the most part, the burger comes with typical stuff like lettuce, tomato, mustard and onions (and a slice of pickle on top), but the difference in this Angus burger is the cheese. One can choose either American or Swiss, or for a dollar extra, get one of the Saucer's artisan cheeses. In the past, I've had the pleasure of trying some of them at the Downtown Saucer with bratwurst and various deli meats, so I knew I was in for something interesting. Helping me make my decision was Rachel, a former Saucer girl at the Downtown location who is a manager at the Cordova bar (or at least I hope so, given the Saucer's high turnover; I'll talk more about that later). Taking her advice, I chose the Red Dragon, a cheese spiced with mustard seeds and tastes like horseradish. On the burger, the Red Dragon really made the Saucer Burger delicious. Also contributing to that was the bar's kitchen cooking a near perfect (as in "medium rare") beef patty with tasty seasoning. Whenever a restaurant or bar can cook a burger like that, you know there's excellence in the kitchen. Overall, the Saucer Burger, with or without artisan cheeses, is an awesome burger that won't fail to impress.

SIDE NOTE: Okay, now that I talked about the Saucer Burger, I will now say a few things about the Saucer. By the way, this pertains to the Downtown Saucer although "regulars" at the Cordova location might be able to relate. For a long time, I was a frequent visitor to the Downtown Saucer because it was a fun place to be. The reason I and many others liked the Saucer wasn't because of the numerous (as in over two hundred) beers that the Saucer offers, but because of the ladies who served them. We all became accustomed to seeing familiar faces who brought our beers with charm that made us happy (and their short skirts definitely didn't hurt in that regard). Over time, many of the Saucer Girls left to pursue bigger endeavors and I can't fault management for not holding on to them. Nor can I fault the Saucer for occasionally firing personnel that it feels is detrimental to its business. However, speaking as a former "regular" (if that is possible), it would be nice to see some continuity as far as some of the staff is concerned. With all of its turnover, it's hard for anyone to develop a relationship with its bartenders and servers. By the way, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not talking about any particular server/bartender (or to put it another way, I'm not obsessing over a particular former Saucer Girl). I'm saying that as a frequent bar patron, I and many of my friends prefer going to bars that have familiar faces and cold beer, particularly the inexpensive Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) that most Downtown restaurants and bars serve, ranging from Hooters to The Majestic Grille to the Silly Goose, (where many former Saucer "regulars" go nowadays). I know that saying this might make me "persona non grata" with the Flying Saucer (just like I am with a barbecue team that needed a cooking lesson to compete in a burger contest), but I wanted to express my concerns about a place that I hope will be fun again.

NOTE: This is not the only reason why I visit the Saucer less. Even if management fixes the problem I mentioned here, there are other issues that need to be addressed.

Website: www.beerknurd.com



Well, those are some of the many burgers that I've had this year. Tomorrow (August 28, 2016), I hope to get more great burgers at the 2016 Best Memphis Burger Fest that's taking place at Tiger Lane. Many teams will be competing for titles while fundraising for Memphis Paws, a nonprofit that promotes good animal ownership and provides support for animal care and rescue for animals that need it. I encourage you to go out and support this effort by giving whatever you can to any of the burger teams that are helping in this effort. Although I will visit many teams there (with the exception of one team where I'm unwelcomed), I want to give a special shout out to my friends at Squeal Street BBQ who I hope does very well at the festival. Regardless of how they do, I'm sure they and the other teams will have a lot of fun while helping a great cause.

Website: BestMemphisBurgerFest.com

LabelsBurgers, Commentary, Cordova, Downtown, Shelby Forest, West Memphis







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Thursday, June 30, 2016

My First Crock Pot Meal

Cajun Cooking

It's not often that I write about my cooking, but whenever I do something noteworthy for the first time, I gotta holla. In the case of my first time using a crock pot, I believe that I went through one of the single man's rites of passage, albeit decades too late. Although the crock pot was invented about sixty years ago, I never thought about using one until recently after some of my drinking buddies at the Silly Goose convinced me into getting one. Given my propensity for procrastination, it took months before I got around to buying a crock pot. Getting one was an afterthought, for it took a shopping trip for something else to get me into a store to buy a "pot." While waiting in line at a Best Buy to purchase a Roku 2, I noticed that the "big box" store also sold kitchen appliances. At that point, I realized that I could kill two birds with one stone by buying a crock pot. Best Buy offers a nice selection of "pots" to choose from, including programmable crock pots. I decided to go with the cheapest and simplest crock pot that has all the features I needed. In the end, I got the Crock Pot model SCV401-TR that cost about $25.


After getting the crock pot, I procrastinated a little longer before opening the box. While I watched movies and TV shows through my new Roku, the box of my crock pot stayed on my kitchen table unopened (along with a bunch of mail, including my invitation to the Majestic Grille's tenth anniversary party; I really regret missing it). Eventually, my friend Bob (aka "Bicycle Bobby" of the Squeal Street BBQ Team) badgered me into cooking SOMETHING with my crock pot. So, after scouring the Internet to find the perfect recipe for my first crock pot experience, I chose something that I knew I would like. My love for Cajun and Creole food convinced me to go with Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya recipe from AllRecipes. Most of my friends told that this wasn't the easiest thing for a first-time crock pot novice to undertake, but I decided to take on the challenge. Maybe "challenge" isn't the appropriate word to describe using a crock pot, for many foods are easy to cook with it. For the most part, you simply prep your ingredients, throw it in the crock pot for eight hours, pour/scoop it out and eat it. That said, I'm guessing there is a little more to most crock pot recipes than that simple logic, which my efforts to cook jambalaya proved. Anyway, I eventually chose a Sunday to embark on my crock pot "challenge."


In preparation for my first crock pot cook, I discovered that I had many of the ingredients already. With my late mom being an excellent cook, she had nearly all the spices I needed which gave me a head start. All I had to do is get the meat and vegetables (along with Cajun seasoning) required for the jambalaya. For the vegetable portion of the recipe, I bought frozen onions and green bell peppers that were already chopped. When it comes to cooking, I don't mind taking short cuts if it making cooking a little easier. However, when I posted a pic on Facebook displaying most of the ingredients, my friend Joe (aka "Captain Sparkles") responded with "Really?" when he saw the bag of chopped onions. Hey, what can I say? I'm a wuss when it comes dealing with the powerful, offensive odor that a raw onion yields (well, at least my celery was fresh). As for the meat portion of the recipe, getting it was mostly easy although acquiring the frozen shrimp was a bit of a hassle. It turns out that most grocery stores sell peeled, no-tail shrimp in 12 ounce bags as opposed to one pound bags (Whole Foods is the exception). To satisfy the requirement, I got a 12 ounce bag from Cash Saver and the rest of the shrimp from The Fresh Market. Surprisingly, because I discovered that my mom also had chicken broth at her house along the spices, my eventual grocery bill was lower than I expected. Once I got everything in hand, I got down to business with my crock pot.
Like most crock pot dishes, cooking the jambalaya was simple. I followed the instructions with regards to preparation (with one glaring exception that I will explain later) and threw everything into the pot and waited the requisite eight hours required for cooking (by the way, it's better to mix everything before cranking up the crock pot, which prevents burning yourself). When the cooking process was about done, I went back to the recipe to see what else was needed. At that point, I discovered a mistake in the process. When I threw everything into the pot, that included the shrimp. If I followed the directions properly, I should have waited until the final thirty minutes before putting the frozen shrimp in. Despite that mistake, the smell that came from my cooked jambalaya make me optimistic that everything was going to be okay.


From its appearance, the jambalaya was very appealing. That said, I was anxious to get a bowl of it for the purpose of determining whether I succeeded or not. My initial impression was obvious, for it had the quality of Cajun spiciness that I expected. Also, I could detect the strong presence of celery in the jambalaya which was surprising. Because the shrimp cooked through the entire process, it was rubbery although I didn't mind. Overall, Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya was pretty good despite my mistakes in making it.


A day later, I microwaved some jambalaya to determine if the taste was consistent. Unlike my initial bowl of it, the taste was muted. I didn't detect the celery like I did earlier, but the andouille sausage was a little more prominent in the jambalaya. Speaking of the sausage, I used twelve ounces of cooked andouille (along ounces of smoked sausage) as opposed to a pound of raw meat. As I later discovered, using cooked (or rather semi-cooked) wasn't a bad thing. If anything, the cooked sausage is easier to deal with and more flavorful in the jambalaya. Over the course of a week, whether eating it with rice (recommended in the recipe) or not, Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya got a "B" for being pretty good despite being a notch below Bourbon Street. I can definitely see myself making this again.

SIDE NOTE: Well, I actually did make Colleen's Slow Cooker Jambalaya again, following the directions precisely. A key difference was the andouille sausage, for I used raw meat rather than cooked. In mixing it up with the chicken, the two meats partially melded together and made the jambalaya clumpy. Also, the raw sausage rendered more fat while providing less flavor. Even with properly cooked shrimp, my second batch of jambalaya was a little less tasty than my first cook. Overall, it was decent but if I use raw andouille again, I will season and sear it before throwing it in a crock pot.

As for the crock pot itself, I'm not sure how often I will use it. While it is a great tool in the kitchen, I don't see myself getting up in the morning, chopping up meats and vegetables and measuring spices for a meal that I might not eat that day. Especially on days when I'm seeing one my favorite bartenders at the "Goose" and my drinking buddies, I'm probably not cooking anything, let alone "crocking" it (to any douchebags reading this, I just coined a word). However, on days when I have a lot of time on my hands and staying at home, I can see myself using my crock pot occasionally. I'm curious to see what I will make, whether it be stews, sauces, roasts or anything else. If I find something I really like, the crock pot might become my best friend. Only time will tell.

Website: AllRecipes.com

LabelsCajun/Creole, Commentary, Recipes, Soup







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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cafe 1912

Majestic Midtown

It's not often that I write about upscale restaurants, being the poor soul that I am. But sometimes, I get that irresistible urge to splurge for something expensive yet delicious. About a week and a half ago, that urge inspired me to get one of the specials at Café 1912. Usually, I get the cheeseburger while sitting at a table by myself. Although the restaurant recommends getting a reservation before arriving, I usually manage to get a small table (usually near the cafe's kitchen). Unfortunately on a busy Friday night, I couldn't even get that so I settled for a spot at the bar. In the end, that wound up being a good thing.


After getting to the bar, I initially ordered the cheeseburger but I changed my mind after seeing what others were eating. For some reason, I assumed that Cafe 1912 was either a French or other "European" restaurant, but with a few exceptions, nothing on its menu didn't seem foreign when compared to other "American" restaurants. I eventually got one of the cafe's specials, the swordfish with basil couscous, pickled strawberry and cucumber salsa in a red curry vinaigrette. Although it wasn't the most exquisite thing that I ever had, the dish was unique in terms of taste (the swordfish itself is comparable in taste to grouper and similar ocean fish). It actually felt weird eating strawberries with fish but with the other components in the entrée, it added an interesting element to a very nice dish.


Because my portion of food was small, I got a plate of fried calamari. Despite being a step below The Majestic Grille's version, the cafe's calamari is much better than a dive bar. I appreciated that it wasn't too salty, for I'm trying to avoid high blood pressure/hypertension. Overall, the calamari was good by itself and even better when dipped in either rémoulade or Mae Ploy, the cafe's version of a sweet chili sauce. Along with the swordfish, the calamari hit the spot and rounded out a nice dinner at Cafe 1912.
Even though the dinner was great, what made the experience wonderful were the people who dined with me at the bar. Mostly consisting of couples (I and a middle-aged woman were the only "loners" at the bar), we all kept each other company, which for me made for a more pleasurable experience than dining alone. Although it's not the same as having a dining companion, eating with strangers is a good way to meet new people.

SIDE NOTE: A big reason why this is my second review of the year is that loneliness has sapped my passion for blogging. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but not having someone to engage in a shared experience is starting to matter more. Please don't interpret this as me pining for a "date" (I know I'm not a stud), but rather my desire to occasionally have a nice time with others over dinner. For me (a "foreigner"), that is an elusive goal.


Although my dinner at Cafe 1912 was great, it doesn't compare to what I believe is one of the best things on the restaurant's menu. The cheeseburger (recommended by my friend "John D.") is flat-out one of the best in Memphis (good enough to make my best burger list). With ground beef that tastes like a Prime rib eye, the burger comes with bacon, garlic aioli and either Maytag blue cheese or Provolone (my preference) within a ciabatta bun. Speaking of preferences, I usually get my burger "medium rare" and the cafe never disappoints, resulting in a burger that's the equivalent of an excellent chopped steak. The burger comes with shoestring French fries (called "pommes frites" by the restaurant and in France) sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and white truffle oil, which compared with the Majestic Grille and Local are decent but not on the same level as the aforementioned. Collectively, the burger and fries are great and will always be one of my go-to foods whenever I'm at Cafe 1912.
At this point, you would have been the end of this review, where I would listed the usual stuff like the restaurant's website, its Urbanspoon... err, Zomato link and other stuff (including KFF's new mobile Twitter feed), but I felt something was missing. As usual, I looked over the restaurant's menu to ensure that I didn't miss anything relevant to the review. As I was doing that, I noticed that Café 1912 offers "dinner salads" that aroused my curiosity. Before discovering this, my go-to place for "dinner salads" was and still is The Majestic Grille. I like the Majestic salads because they are full, high quality meals that have a lot of protein (as in meat) to satisfy my appetite and are flat-out great. So, with Cafe 1912 being comparable to the Majestic, I wondered if the cafe could churn out a "dinner salad" that's as good as my favorite restaurant.
I wasn't sure about what to order, so I took a chance in ordering the Niçoise (pronounced "niˈswaz") salad. In getting this, I had low expectations with regards to portion size and content. Honestly, I assumed the salad would have small bits of tuna and a lot of lettuce with modest portions of veggies and other stuff sprinkled in. Man, I was so wrong!


(It would have helped if I remembered the salad's picture that is posted on the menu page of Cafe 1912's website)

When I saw the amount of food that my waiter... errr, server brought me, I was shocked. This whopper of a salad features approximately a half a pound of seared tuna that is crispy on the outside and raw on the inside. For those who like fried tuna (or fried salmon) and tuna tartar, the Niçoise salad gives a taste of both. The seasoning in the Tuna's crust adds lots of zest to both the raw parts of the tuna and the rest of the salad. Speaking of that, the Niçoise salad comes with a lot of lettuce, spinach and other "greens" that's enough to satisfy an appetite by itself. When olives, tomatoes, capers, red onions (which I omitted), a hard cooked egg, and basil are thrown in with anchovy aïoli on the side, you have a meal fit for a king. Overall, the "dinner salad" is really good and something that I can confidently recommend to anyone who isn't a vegetarian (I'm also confident that the cafe can hook up vegetarians and vegans with something good, too)
In my visits to Cafe 1912, the impressions I got were positive. Nearly everything I had (including brunch that I had several months ago) was top-notch, the results of an excellent kitchen staff. The  nearly all-male wait staff was very professional, although as a guy, it would have been nice to have had a pretty lady serving me. As someone who appreciates sexy women like those at the Flying Saucer, I'm generally not a fan of male servers. The restaurant itself is small (although I heard that expansion will happen soon) with its decor resembling a French bistro. While that description contrasts with another restaurant that I'm about to mention, Cafe 1912 is similar to one of my favorite Memphis restaurants, the Majestic Grille . In terms of food, ambiance and charm, the two restaurants are very similar. That said, I will probably dine at the café more often whenever I'm out in Midtown. I just hope that I'm not dining alone.

Website: Cafe1912.com

Cafe 1912 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LabelsAmerican, Appetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Brunch, Commentary, European, Midtown, Salads, Seafood, Upscale







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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sam's Hamburgers & More

Looks Are Deceiving

If anyone has noticed, I haven't been blogging as much as I used to. A combined lack of inspiration and other personal things, I lost the motivation to blog. So, unless I found something that was really noteworthy, I was going to gradually let go of "Ken's Food Find" and move on to something else. Fortunately for the blog, the spark I needed came from one of my co-workers at the FedExForum where I work part-time. My friend Corlista told me about Sam's veggie burger that she felt was good enough to pass for a "real" (as in ground beef) burger. She insisted that I try it myself and write about it. Having had veggie burgers in the past, I was skeptical of her claim but I respect her opinion enough to give the burger a chance. So on a Saturday afternoon that didn't allow me to fall into my usual beer-drinking routine (I had to work a Grizzlies game at the "Forum"), I decided to go to Sam's Hamburgers & More on Madison and Main to see and taste it for myself.

SIDE NOTE: Sam's has another location near the corner of Main and Adams, but Corlista told that it doesn't serve the veggie burger.


At first glance, one could tell that the "burger" was different from its beefy counterpart solely by its appearance. Despite what my friend said about it, the brown speckled patty caught my attention from the minute I saw it. Now, if I hadn't gotten Corlista's recommendation beforehand, I might have had preconceived notions that could have influenced my expectations. However, I delved into the veggie burger without prejudice and got satisfaction from the first bite. What impressed me the most was the veggie patty's composition that was a mash-up of cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots molded and cooked until it was golden brown. The key for me was the veggie patty, because its texture was very convincing in putting me into the mindset that I was eating meat as opposed to something else. If I had the burger without anyone telling me what it was, I never would have suspected it was vegetarian. The patty's texture is very similar to ground beef and sausage, although the taste is unique. For the most part, the veggie mix kind of threw me off because I didn't have anything to compare it to. Despite being confused, I quickly came around to liking and accepting it for what it was, a tasty piece of veggie "meat." My only criticism was the lack of seasoning in the patty, which by itself was a few notches above blandness. Even though I'm knocking it for lacking pizzazz, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Compared to a veggie burger that I had several years ago at Imagine Vegan Cafe, with a vegan patty having the texture and taste of Country sausage, maybe Sam's lack of seasoning works in its favor. Fortunately, Sam's veggie patty provided enough flavor to support the rest of the burger that the seasoning issue didn't matter. With it having toppings (lettuce, mayo, onions, etc.) typical in most hamburgers, the lack of real meat became less of an issue as I ate more of the burger. In the end, the veggie burger turned out to be a decent sandwich that didn't give me regrets. Having said that, the guys at Sam's did a very good job in creating a veggie burger that can appeal to non-vegetarians like me. It's definitely better than Sam's other burgers and a nice alternative to beef. As a guy who is not a vegetarian, I was very impressed with it and am confident that other meat eaters will like it, too. My thanks go out to my friend for bringing the veggie burger to my attention, for it is very noteworthy.
As for everything else on Sam's menu, the food is decent by most standards and very affordable. It's one of the few places in Downtown Memphis where you can a get a burger, seasoned fries (which in Sam's case are very good) and a soda for a little over $6.50. For value, it's definitely a good deal for people on a tight budget who can't afford to go to restaurants like Oshi Burger Bar, a place that also serves great non-traditional burgers like its tasty Ahi tuna Tora Tora Burger. Fortunately, Sam's Hamburgers and More has carved out a nice niche in Downtown Memphis' dining community that will likely endure for as long as the demand for good affordable food exists.

Website: www.SamsHamburgersAndMore.com

Sam's Hamburgers & More Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato



Getting My Groove Back

Before closing, I want to address a few things. As it relates to the blog, I will write fewer reviews per year, reserving time only for stories that deserve mention. Also, I promise not to blab about my personal life and any drama surrounding it. I started this blog to talk about food and nothing or nobody else. So from now on, regardless of what is going on outside my dining experiences, I will not use "Ken's Food Find" to express my feelings about it. Having said that, keeping that promise is easier said than done. To quote the great philosopher Mike Tyson, "everybody has a plan until they get hit," so keeping my promise won't be easy. However, with good friends keeping me straight, I am confident that I can keep my promise of making this blog a "no drama zone" unless either a crappy meal or a douchebag waitress warrants otherwise.
Also, even though I will blog less, I will remain active on Twitter and Pinterest along with another social media platform, Tumblr. I'm not sure how I will use it, although I am leaning towards making it a photo album for the many pictures that I have taken without posting them on the blog. In some cases, I might post a mini-review with the picture if I believe it's necessary. For places that I frequent like Bardog Tavern, Tumblr will be extremely useful because the bar always has enticing specials that are irresistible. For anyone interested in following my exploits, go to kensfoodfind.tumblr.com.

LabelsBreakfast, Burgers, Cheap Eats, Commentary, Downtown, Hot Dogs, Multiple Locations, Sandwiches, Vegetarian/Vegan








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