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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Brickhouse Buffet

This Will Be Brief

For the last review of 2020, I will write about a restaurant that one of my friends recommended. When I told him about my Dad and I going to the same places for breakfast every Saturday (Piccadilly, Cracker Barrel, IHOP), he recommended a buffet in Bartlett that he assumed we would like. With me not knowing him that well, I should have taken his advice with some skepticism and not gone blindly with my Dad to this place. However, I am a trusting person and took my Dad out to Bartlett (a Memphis suburb for those who aren't familiar) for a breakfast that was forgettable.

Scrambled eggs and gravy, sausage and fried chicken from Brickhouse Buffet in Bartlett, Tennessee

I'll get to the point. The food at Brickhouse Buffet is mediocre for the most part. From the scrambled eggs and sausage to the prime rib that I got later, nearly all of it was pretty much "meh" for me and my Dad. Compared to the places we normally go to, Brickhouse Buffet is looking up at all of them. The only thing I liked was the spicy fried chicken, and that was a bit greasy. I think the only thing my Dad liked was his salad that looked good but probably not worth a long drive to get. I hate to say it, but I can not sing the praises of Brickhouse Buffet like my friend. I'm pretty sure neither I nor my Dad will be returning to the Bartlett restaurant anytime soon.

Prime Rib from Brickhouse Buffet in Bartlett, Tennessee
SIDE NOTE: If a restaurant is going to serve prime rib, at least get close to doing it right. In Memphis, there aren't many places that serve great prime rib, but most of them make a decent effort at getting it right. Unfortunately, I can't say that about Brickhouse Buffet, for despite getting there when it opened at 11:00 A.M., the prime rib was overcooked by my standards to the point that it tasted more like a rump roast. I know a buffet can't specialize on any one thing, but even the worst cook can make a better prime rib.

For my first and likely only visit to Brickhouse Buffet, the experience wasn't what I expected. At least the service was decent, for our server was attentive in taking care of my Dad and I. Because of health directives related to COVID-19, we didn't get the full experience of an all-you-can-eat buffet that allows you to serve yourself at the food tables where you can take your time in getting what you want. I am forgiving of that and hope that 2021 will be the year that life will get back to normal, but I'm still not likely to return to Brickhouse Buffet when it does.

LabelsBartlett, Breakfast, Buffet, Commentary, Fried Chicken, Salads, Steaks

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Monday, November 2, 2020

Joes' Fried Chicken

Simply Awesome!

For a long time, my opinion of the top restaurants for fried chicken were (in descending order) Gus's, Uncle Lou's and The Four Way, although many Memphians might substitute Jack Pirtle's as its third choice (or Alcenia's, although I wasn't impressed during the one time I ate there). However, according to the results of The Memphis Flyer's 2020 Best of Memphis Awards survey, Gus's and Uncle Lou's were ranked first and third respectively, with second place going to a restaurant that wasn't on my radar until recently. On my last birthday, I had a hard time deciding where to celebrate. I wanted to try something new that wasn't expensive while having a bit of class. Fortunately, I found what I was looking for in Joe's Fried Chicken (aka "Joes' on Highland" (street) or simply "Joes'"), a small restaurant that's attached to an antique shop in East Memphis. Formerly known as The Elegant Farmer, Joes' (named after the owners who are both named "Joe") is a quaint little place that serves chicken and seafood (along with a "crispy" hamburger) in a dining room that is somewhat "elegant" in its rustic decor. Although I had never eaten there before, Joes' reputation made its way among my friends who sung its praises. So to see what the hubbub was about, I decided to pay Joes' a visit.

2 Pieces Dark from Joes' Fried Chicken

For my first entrée, I got the "2 pieces dark" (thigh and leg) with an extra thigh and two sides. It didn't take long for my dinner to arrive, and it was nearly perfect. The fried chicken was, to steal a quote from Jennifer Biggs' Commercial Appeal review, "crisp, hot and simple." The seasoning was flavorful in a tantalizing way while not being too spicy. If there is such a thing as "textbook" fried chicken that isn't complicated while perfect in taste, Joe's has it nailed. By the way, the crust itself was thin and not overly flaky, which didn't create a mess for me. To sum it up, Joes' Fried Chicken is as good as advertised, making an impression that I won't soon forget.

Chicken Fried Steak from Joes' Fried Chicken

On a follow-up visit, I had one of my favorite dishes, the chicken fried steak. It's something that I've loved for a long time and is irresistible whenever I see it on a menu. Naturally, I wanted to see how an excellent fried chicken restaurant would make this, so I went back to Joes' for another meal. In terms of taste, the chicken fried steak seemed a little spicier than the fried chicken in a good way. While it had a lot of flaky breading that sprinkled on my plate as I ate it, the steak itself was a bit on the thin side. Although it was tender and tasty, I expected something meatier to balance the flavorful breading. Compared to the chicken, I will give the chicken fried steak a "B" for good flavor while lacking substance on the inside. Fortunately, the sweet turnip greens made up for the lack of meat in terms of fulfillment (the greens were the best I had since my last visit to the recently departed Hog and Hominy). The dry mashed potatoes and gravy were decent, contributing to a meal that was good overall.
My takeaway from Joes' is that the restaurant  is in the upper echelon of fried chicken joints in Memphis. While I slightly disagree with the voters in this year's "Best of Memphis" poll, I will put Joes' just behind Gus's and Uncle Lou's in terms of rank (tying with The Four Way, although it doesn't have the same historical significance). While my two favorites both have unique flavor that sets them apart from the rest, I appreciate the simplicity and perfection of fried chicken made with perfect execution. Joes' is the epitome of that, which is why I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates a good Southern meal.

LabelsCheap Eats, Commentary, East Memphis, Fried Chicken, Southern

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Blind Bear

"Bear" Breakfast

A few weeks ago, I decided to break my typical Saturday routine of eating brunch at Bardog Tavern by having it at a "non-traditional" restaurant. Of course, 2020 has been non-traditional in a lot of ways due in large part to COVID-19, putting stress on both the public and the economy. In particular, the coronavirus has taken a toll on small businesses like restaurants and bars that rely on large volumes of customers for their livelihood. That task has been made harder because of various measures by state and local governments limiting the operating hours and capacity that restaurants and bars can have. This has resulted in many restaurants and bars (particularly new ones like the recently departed Lucky Cat Ramen restaurant) to close and forced many others to take extreme measures (like laying off employees) to stay open. One "limited service restaurant" (the official Tennessee designation for a bar) that has fought hard for its survival is Downtown Memphis' favorite "speakeasy," the Blind Bear. Known as a late night bar and music venue where folks young and old can party the night away while drinking the intoxicating libations served by its bartenders. Surprisingly, the "Bear" serves a delicious menu of burgers and other bar food (including its delicious 14 oz. cast iron ribeye) that has gotten rave reviews. 14 oz. Cast Iron Ribeye with Mac 'n Cheese from Blind Bear Speakeasy in Memphs, TennesseeFor those familiar with this blog, I talked about its sliders in Ken's Food Find's much heralded series "Battle of the Downtown Memphis Sliders" that began and ended in the location of the Blind Bear. Since then, the speakeasy no longer serves sliders but in its place is the Jager BBQ Burger that is among the best in Downtown Memphis. It's one of many items in a recently expanded menu that includes an unlikely subset: breakfast.
Given all the things that Blind Bear serves, why focus on breakfast? The better question is why the Blind Bear focused on breakfast. With the operating restrictions imposed on it, the bar had to do something to keep its doors open. Prior to the global pandemic, the "Bear" served brunch on the weekends and never opened before 11:00 A.M. Now due to the current environment, owner Jeanette Comans decided to expand weekend brunch into daily breakfast throughout the week starting at 7:00 A.M. (without alcohol, so no mimosas or Bloody Marys during the first four hours after opening). So far, I don't know how successful that has been, but I hope the breakfast menu will help keep one of my favorite bars open during these troubling times.

Blind Bear Omelette

For my first official "breakfast" at Blind Bear, I decided to get an omelet, one of my favorites at Bardog. Initially, I wanted to get it with bacon, cheddar cheese and a lot of veggies, but that would have been costly because the "Bear" charges extra for anything beyond what's included in the Bear Omelette. Fortunately, the omelet has a lot in it, including mushrooms, onions, jalapeños and tomatoes so it wasn't lacking in substance. For a little extra, I added steak to the omelet for a more meaty breakfast that turned out being a good decision. Overall, the omelet was quite good in a way that really hit the spot. The eggs were fluffy and slightly charred (similar to omelets I had during my Air Force years in Europe) and hefty on the inside. The strips of steak was tender and tasty and everything else was superb.
For sides, I got bacon and hash browns (I believe they're called "home fries") that went well with the omelet. I was surprised that the hash browns included onions, adding a little "bite" that I wasn't looking for but I was cool with it. Personally, I wish the onions were more caramelized but that's more of a preference than a gripe. Still, the sides were good and made the breakfast very delightful.

Blind Bear Speakeasy's Chicken and Waffles

In the past, my favorite brunch item at Blind Bear was the chicken and waffles. I usually get it with sides of scrambled eggs and sausage to round it out. While the chicken wings isn't on par with Gus's, it is quite good and makes for great bar food by itself (and it goes great with its famed mac 'n cheese). It's well seasoned yet mildly tasty in a way that is very satisfying. The waffle and everything else is decent, making for a nice meal. Now that the Bear's Chicken and Waffles is available seven days a week, I will try to get it whenever I can.

SIDE NOTE: Whenever I write about a restaurant, I usually refer to its online menu to ensure accuracy. If I can offer a piece of advice to Blind Bear's webmaster: put the menu in an SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. Unlike JPEGs, PNGs and other bitmap images, an SVG image looks good on any screen with very little pixelation. Reading the menu from Bear's website on my phone was a strain on my old eyes. Anyway, I'm not trying to stir things up or be controversial but rather making an objective observation based on what I see.

From what I had so far, it seems like the Blind Bear's expansion into the breakfast realm is off to a good start and I hope it has much success. If this becomes a regular feature post-COVID-19, it should bolster the Bear's status as one of the best restaurants/nightspots in Downtown Memphis.

UPDATE: A day after posting this review, Jeanette announces on Facebook that breakfast will be discontinued at Blind Bear because it wasn't profitable. I'm sure it's a disappointment to the entire Blind Bear staff, but all might not be lost. It's possible that instead of breakfast, the "Bear" could serve daily brunch instead, starting at 10:00 A.M. Hopefully the breakfast/brunch menu won't change, but that remains to be determined.

NOTE: By the way, Blind Bear usually participates in Memphis' annual Downtown Dining Week (DDW) promotion that runs through the first week of November. The promotion consists of participating restaurants offering some of their dinner entrées (usually in an appetizer/main course/dessert combination) for a price equivalent of the numbered year divided by a hundred (example: 2020's DDW price is $20.20). It's a great deal from many of Memphis' finest restaurants that you can never get at any other time of the year. Because it is such a good deal, it's best to make reservations far in advance.

Blind Bear Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

NOTE: One way to support your favorite restaurant is through Rally for Restaurants, an organization dedicated to supporting bars and restaurants in their time of need. It's a one stop website for placing online orders and buying gift cards for participating restaurants (the Blind Bear isn't participating in this, but online ordering can be done through Doordash and gift cards can be bought directly from the "Bear"). Also, for every time that the hash tag #RallyForRestaurants is used in social media, one dollar is donated via (another organization helping restaurants and its workers) to community organizations supporting local restaurants. It's a good cause that I hope people get behind.

LabelsAmerican, Appetizers/Bar Food, Breakfast, Brunch, Burgers, Commentary, Downtown, Steaks

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Friday, May 22, 2020

Little Italy

Chillin' At Home

With almost the entire world on some degree of a lockdown because of Covid-19, being a food blogger got a lot harder. For me, getting the best sense of what I'm eating requires dining in at a restaurant where the food is hot and fresh from the kitchen. Being that I'm a fair guy, I usually refrain from getting out take-out for the blog unless that's the only way to get food from a particular restaurant (example: Roxie's Grocery). However, given the circumstances surrounding the global coronavirus pandemic, I will have to adapt both as a blogger and in life in general. So for this phase of the blog, I will try to focus on restaurants that either do a lot of take-out or aren't (in my opinion) "dine-in friendly" as far as atmosphere goes. With that in mind, I knew the first place I had to talk about is one of my favorite take-out joints, Little Italy.

NOTE: This review might be a bit dated, for this was written before some of Memphis' restaurants (not including Little Italy) reopened under Mayor Jim Strickland's "Back to Business" plan.

For years, Little Italy has been a go-to whenever I want authentic Italian cuisine. Not to be a snob, but I haven't found a restaurant in America that matches an Italian ristorante in food quality or atmosphere that I experienced during my four years in Italy as an Air Force airman. I have been to a few places that come close (unfortunately not in Memphis) but they are not quite there. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it could be that actual Italians (as opposed to Italian-Americans) aren't running it. Hopefully in my lifetime, I will go to New York to dine in a "genuine" Italian restaurant in America, but I'll have to make do until then. Although I can't get the complete Italian experience in Memphis, I rely on restaurants like Little Italy to serve some of the best Italian food in the city.

Rigatoni Rustico from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee
Rigatoni Rustico with salad and garlic bread (all included)

One of the things that I love about Little Italy is the pasta. While it isn't on par with most restaurants in Italy, Little Italy does a very good job with what it serves. An example of this is Rigatoni Rustico, a pasta dish with chicken and Italian sausage mixed with sauteed onions and red peppers in Little Italy's signature marinara sauce. As you can see in the picture, Little Italy doesn't drown the pasta in sauce, but rather adds just enough to bolster everything in it. The rigatoni was fresh and firm (as in "al dente") that didn't seem like it came out of a box. The chicken and sausage were also good and even better with the red peppers, onions and marinara sauce. Compared to what one can find in Italy, this is a very good dish that doesn't overwhelm with sauce but rather strikes a balance that allows all the elements to flourish. Those who aren't used to this kind of pasta might find this foreign, but the Rigatoni Rustico embodies the essence of genuine Italian cuisine.

Parmigiana pizza with meatballs from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee
The white "arrow" in the middle isn't a "play" button
In addition to great pasta, Little Italy serves fabulous pizzas. I'll admit that I usually go to Aldo's Pizza Pies as a first option because of convenience (usually after having drinks either there or some other Downtown establishment), I also like to mix it up occasionally with "pies" from Little Italy. They both offer New York-style pizzas that are far superior to the Domino's and Pizza Huts of the world. One of my favorite pizzas from Little Italy is the Parmigiana Pizza with meatballs. It comes with marinara sauce and topped with meatballs (or either chicken or eggplant) and mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. Contrary to what I said about the rigatoni, it wouldn't ruin my day if I got it swimming with marinara sauce. On the "Parm" pizza, the tomato and garlic in the marinara sauce is really good and a great foundation for the rest of the pizza. The ricotta is creamy with a sharp flavor that is very good by itself and awesome with the rest of the pizza. As for everything else, I have no complaints (I'm saving that for later in this review), for everything from the soft crust to the flavorful meatballs were excellent and very enjoyable. It's because of pizzas like this that make Little Italy stand out among the many pizzerias in Memphis.

Tiramisu from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee
SIDE NOTE: Because my pizza was under fifteen dollars, I had to add something to cross the threshold for delivery. For that, I chose the tiramisu as a dessert. Little Italy's version met my expectations as a creamy and coffee-flavored dessert that nicely hit the sweet spot.

Accidental Pleasure

Little Italy had always been one of my favorite places for takeout even before the current environment surrounding Covid-19. Even when I'm out at other bars that serve great food, I get that occasional itch for Italian. For the most part, the restaurant comes through without a hitch but not during my last visit. During a past Saturday, I attempted to order the Sausage Parmigiana Sub. The lady taking my order asked "you want an Italian Sub?" I confirmed I wanted the SAUSAGE Parmigiana sub, with the emphasis on "sausage." Then the lady asked me what kind of potato chips I wanted: plain or barbecue? I clearly replied by saying "plain" potato chips (I actually would have preferred French fries but wasn't offered that option). So, what happens next?

The calzone with sausage from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee

As you can see, I didn't get the sub that I asked for. Instead, I got the Italian Sub with Lay's barbecue potato chips (I swapped the Lay's with Brim's that I will talk about later). Needless to say that I was disappointed in not getting what I ordered, feeling like Leo Getz in getting screwed. Like Leo, I wasn't driving back to get the right sub, so I resigned myself to eating what I got.
The calzone with sausage from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee
As it turns out, the Italian Sub is a really good sandwich. It has pepperoni, ham and salami bonded by quite a bit of mozzarella cheese. Also with lettuce and tomatoes, the sub is a cheesy delight that almost made me forget that it wasn't my choice. The sub comes with an olive oil-infused Italian vinaigrette that surprisingly makes the sandwich tastier. In all, the Italian Sub is a great sandwich and a nice consolation for a botched order.

SIDE NOTE: For "plain" chips I swapped the Lay's BBQ chips in my order with Brim's Classic Potato Chips. In comparison to Lay's and other major brands, Memphis-based Brim's is just as good and a greater value. When you buy a bag of Brim's, you are not only contributing to the local economy but you are also keeping employed people who are in need of a second chance. Brim's BBQ Rib ChipsSome of Brim's employees are people who had been in trouble with the law and want to get back on track with a good job and a stable life. There aren't a lot of companies that are willing to hire "troubled" people but Brim's has stepped up in a big way to help out. Brim's is a good company that I hope remains successful, especially with its BBQ Rib Chips that totally outclasses Lay's barbecue chips. I talk more about the chips on Tumblr, one of the many social media platforms (along with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) that you can follow Ken's Food Find.

Calzone vs Stromboli

I was about to end this review when I was reminded that Little Italy sells calzones and strombolis. Because I was stationed in Northern Italy, I never had a calzone that is a staple in the southern part of the country. As for the stromboli, it is a creation of Italian-Americans like the muffaletta and cioppino (they were created in Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco, respectfully and (with the exception of "N'awlins") places that I'm not familiar with). Until writing this post, I've never had a stromboli and on one hand could count the number of times I had a calzone (all from Little Italy on the recommendation from my Atlanta-based sister). Now, what is the difference between a calzone and a stromboli? A calzone is basically a pizza folded in half with the sauce, cheese and meats stuffed inside it while a stromboli consists of meats and cheese rolled up by pizza dough (kinda like a burrito). To get a sense of what both are like, I decided to get both and compare them.

The calzone with sausage from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee

To start things off, I chose the calzone that has been a go-to in the past. As you can see above, it's basically an Italian version of a turnover filled with a lot mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. At $5.25, that's all you get and additional toppings cost a dollar each. For this calzone, I chose sausage because it's my favorite meat topping at Little Italy. Unfortunately, the sausage was smothered by all the cheese in the calzone. The calzone with sausage from Little Italy in Memphs, TennesseeFor someone looking for a meaty meal, this calzone wasn't it. The cheese to meat ratio seemed like it was 5 to 1, something that I wasn't looking forward to. Now this is not to say that I didn't like the calzone, especially when I dipped in marinara sauce and eaten with garlic knots. Still, the calzone seemed more like a big Hot Pocket than a pizza. I appreciate the quality that went in to it, especially the dough used to make the buttery crust that enclosed the calzone. Despite that, I probably won't order it again unless I get it loaded with enough "toppings" to make worthwhile that will cost as much as an actual pizza.

The garlic knots from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee
"SIDES" NOTE: The garlic knots are a great side item for calzones and almost everything else on Little Italy's menu. Freshly made, the knots are soft and kinda sweet even with the garlic in it. It comes with marinara sauce (one cup, despite what's depicted in the picture; the other cup came with the calzone), although the knots were so good that I didn't need it (which was a bonus given that I used a lot of it on the stromboli that I ate later). The fried calamari from Little Italy in Memphs, TennesseeEven though the knots were good, if I had craved for a meaty side instead, the fried calamari (as in squid) is not a bad option. Compared to other places that I've had it, Little Italy's version is tasty with a decent amount of crunch that's not on par with restaurants like The Majestic Grille but it's good enough to balance a really cheesy calzone. Regardless of which side/appetizer you choose from Little Italy, you'll be reasonably satisfied.

The stromboli with sausage from Little Italy in Memphs, Tennessee

A day after the calzone, I switched it up in getting the stromboli. Unlike the calzone, the stromboli is leaner and more meaty. Despite being wrapped in pizza crust/bread, the stromboli felt a lot like a burrito. After taking a couple of bites, I took a picture of its inside to see what was in the stromboli. The stromboli with sausage from Little Italy in Memphs, TennesseeUnlike the calzone, it had a lot more sausage in it with just enough mozzarella cheese to make it interesting. As with about everything else I mentioned so far, it comes with a cup of marinara sauce for either dipping or pouring. I eventually opted for the latter, pouring in the sauce to make the stromboli more pizza-like. For my side, I got French fries that were okay (not that crispy) that matched up well with the stromboli and helped me finish off that cup of marinara sauce that I kept from the day before. At $5.25 that includes the sausage, the stromboli was a better value in terms of a meal that satisfied my appetite without leaving much of a mess. As far I'm concerned, the stromboli won me over, for it's a better fit for what I'm looking for, an inexpensive pastry that's meaty and filling. When I get the stromboli again, I will eat it with potato chips to get the most for my money.
Overall, Little Italy offers excellent food that is high in quality and great in value. In terms of authenticity, it's as close to Italy as one can get while living in Memphis (there are a handful of others that are just as good, such as Aldo's Pizza Pies). As much as I like the food, Little Italy has never been a place to dine in. I can't quite put my finger on it, but maybe the restaurant has more of a Sbarro-like feel to it. It's not a place that you can hang out in, but more like a store where you just come and go. Fortunately, that's not a bad thing when it serves great food and excellent (but not perfect) service.
With the "dine-in " option not appealing (and unavailable due to COVID-19), there are other ways to get grub from Little Italy. The most obvious method is calling the order in, which comes in handy when heading home after having a few drinks at a nearby bar. It typically takes between fifteen to twenty minutes for the restaurant to prepare the order so waiting is minimal most of the time. In addition, you can order online thru its website that's really easy to use, much easier than a lot of fast food apps that can be frustrating (service is the same as calling it in, but better accuracy in getting the order right). For those who prefer delivery, Little Italy covers most of Midtown and Downtown Memphis with its two restaurants in those neighborhoods (Little Italy also has a location in Bartlett although the menu and ordering process are slightly different from its sister restaurants). Even where I live that's barely within the confines of Midtown (my home is almost borderline North Memphis), Little Italy delivers hot food in a timely manner (it usually takes an hour to deliver, which is comparable to other restaurants). However you get it (including dining in which I'm not discouraging), Little Italy offers a great experience that few restaurants can match. I hope you stop by one of its restaurants to get a taste of the old country (or as close as possible for Memphis). I promise you won't regret it.


Little Italy Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Bartlett, Cheap Eats, Commentary, Dessert, Downtown, Midtown, Multiple Locations, Pasta, Pizza, Sandwiches, Snacks

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