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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Lucky Cat Ramen

Bliss In A Bowl

As you might have noticed, I haven't been blogging as much as I used to. Due to a combination of a lack of time and money (with heavy emphasis on the latter), my ability to blog is limited. Although my commitment isn't what it was, there are rare times when I come across something so good that makes me want to scream about it. Well, the food at Lucky Cat Ramen meets that criteria in a big way. Located on Cooper and Peabody (next to my favorite bar Slider Inn), this restaurant got high praises from my friends for having some of the best ramen in Memphis. Personally, I love the fusion of Asian and American Southern cultures that makes Lucky Cat Ramen special. So, coming out of literary semi-retirement, I want to tell you about it.
When I went to the restaurant on September 14, 2018, I pretty much knew what to expect. Most of my drinking buddies at the Slider Inn were impressed with Lucky Cat's use of pork in most of its ramen dishes. Specifically, they raved about the pork belly (the part of the pig where bacon comes from) that highlighted their dinners. This really aroused my curiosity, because I never thought of pork belly being a centerpiece in any facet of Japanese cuisine. Of course, I'm far from being an expert in that and I'm sure that some people will call me out on it, but I've never seen pork belly on any ramen menu until my latest visit to Lucky Cat.


Although it wasn't my first visit to Lucky Cat (I will talk about that later), I was anxious to see what the restaurant was serving. Among the ramen dishes, nearly everything on the menu had pork in it (the one exception was strictly vegetarian). Pork belly was the main player in most of the ramen dishes, but I chose the Tan Tan that had pulled pork. Not to be deprived, I also added pork belly to it for the purpose of experiencing what my friends had. Not to go all "Memphis Que" about it, but the Tan Tan had some of the best smoked pork that I've had in a while. The pulled pork was tender while not being mushy in the pork bone broth, with a tastiness that could hold its own with barbecue joints like Central BBQ. As for the pork belly, it was a display of culinary excellence. It had a fatty and firm texture with a little bit of char to give it some barbecue flair. By itself, I believe the pork belly would have been awesome, but combining it with a pork bone broth with cilantro, peanuts and sesame in it resulted in something that blew my taste buds away. As for the ramen noodles, all I say is that it complemented a wonderful meal that I will remember for a long time.

SIDE NOTE: If you look at the upper left corner of the first picture, you'll see that I'm drinking water. For those who know me, that's a little out of character for me. Unless I have to go without it for either health or legal reasons, I'm usually eating dinner with an alcoholic beverage. Unfortunately, Lucky Cat doesn't serve alcohol of any kind, not even Sake. If it was available, I would have had wine (particularly a Chardonnay or a Riesling) with my ramen (or a Japanese beer like Asahi that is a good pairing too). But despite not having that, I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Lucky Cat and look forward to dining there often. By the way, if you really can't go without a drink, Lucky Cat will allow you to bring an alcoholic beverage into the restaurant (for convenience, there's both a CVS and a Fresh Market grocery store within walking distance of the restaurant).



As I said earlier, my latest visit to Lucky Cat wasn't the first. Over a year ago, I went to the restaurant for something that departed from my usual Friday night dinner at the Slider Inn. Although my expectations weren't much, I heard through the grapevine about the uniqueness of its ramen dishes, particularly as relates to Soul Food. With that in mind, I referred to the restaurant's chalkboard menu to see what it offered. Among the many ramen dishes listed on the menu, the one that stood out for this Southerner was the Bacon-Collards, a fusion of Japanese cuisine and Soul Food. Simmering in a pork bone broth was pulled pork, collard greens and smoky bacon along with a boiled egg and other veggies and noodles. From a creative standpoint, the Bacon-Collards was the most interesting dish I had outside of an Andrew Michael restaurant. In terms of taste, the Bacon-Collards didn't disappoint, for the collard greens, bacon and pulled pork made this a unique experience as far as ramen goes. The collard greens were definitely good enough to hold its own with the best Soul Food restaurants in Memphis (as an aside, I'm not a fan of many restaurants that serve it). I hope someday that Lucky Cat puts the Bacon-Collards back on the menu, for it is a dish that will make even the most skeptical of ramen critics believe.

NOTE: After doing a follow-up check after posting this, I've learned via Wikipedia that pork bone broth is called "tonkotsu" in Japanese. It seems the Japanese has more in common with Americans than I thought.

To sum it up, Lucky Cat is an extraordinary restaurant that serves cutting edge ramen that dares to go beyond traditional boundaries. Despite not serving alcohol, it is a huge hit with my drinking buddies as well as many others. I hope more people discover Lucky Cat because it really fits in with Memphis' culinary culture. If my late Mom was still alive, even she would like Lucky Cat despite an aversion to Asian food (of course, I could use the love of our favorite cat as a sympathetic appeal for the restaurant). As a Memphian, I highly recommend Lucky Cat Ramen to my fellow citizens because I believe they will embrace it as one of its own.

Website: www.LuckyCatRamen.com

LabelsAsian, Japanese, Midtown, Soul Food, Soup, Southern







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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wiseacre Brewing Company

Getting Back To Normal

Memphis Sands, a lager from Wiseacre Brewing CompanyIn a first for for this blog, I want to talk about a craft beer that is, for the most part, "normal." Recently, while at Wiseacre's taproom, I came across a beer that wasn't loaded with hops or any of the other "crafty" stuff that's unfamiliar to the average American beer drinker. It's simply a lager that's both distinctive and familiar, meaning that while isn't interchangeable with a Bud Light or a Pabst Blue Ribbon (although the Sands is a slightly more robust (as in hoppy) version of a PBR), the malty flavor of the Memphis Sands is unique but still falls within the norms of what most expect in a beer. By the way, this is not a put down of craft beer in general or any of Wiseacre's other brews like the hoppy pilsner Tiny Bomb, the Ananda (an IPA) or the Gotta Get Up To Get Down, a coffee milk stout that might be hip with a lot of millennials. However, for middle age guys like myself, I would rather "get down" with a normal, decent tasting beer that I can chill out with. On that note, the Memphis Sands is perfect.

NOTE: Because of Wiseacre's limited brewing capacity, finding a grocery store that carries the Memphis Sands might prove difficult. After searching for it in places like Cash Saver, Raffe's Deli and other beer-friendly stores, I eventually bought a case directly from the brewer at Wiseacre's Tap Room.

Memphis Sands, a lager from Wiseacre Brewing CompanyGoing into 2018, I want to get back to normal in blogging about food and anything related to that (including an occasional blog post about beer, wine or any other alcoholic beverage). Although blogging is a hobby, I still feel that it's my mission to highlight restaurants that are noteworthy and point out places that most aren't familiar with (including restaurants in the "hood" and other undesirable places). Unfortunately, I've had a lot of distractions that kept me from blogging (along with a scarcity of cash), but I hope to recommit to Ken's Food Find as a way of getting back to normal. With new restaurants like The Dirty Crow, Indian Pass Raw Bar and Hopdoddy Burger Bar opening (along with Hattie B's expanding into Memphis), it's time for me to get back into the game.



Website: WiseacreBrew.com

LabelsBeer, Broad Avenue, Commentary, Midtown







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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cook Out

Welcome to Memphis

As you might have noticed, I haven't been blogging much this year. Because of other things that have been going on my life, Ken's Food Find has been a low priority. However, when I come across something that's exceptional, I'm blogging about it. Having said that, trying to find the time to highlight the best this year has been challenging, given various obligations that I couldn't ignore. So, other than a hot wing contest at my high school alma mater, this review will likely be the only one that I do this year.
In discovering Cook Out, I will admit that it wasn't on my radar. I wouldn't have noticed it were it not for the line of cars spilling out to the street from its Highland Street restaurant. When I saw that, I turned my car around and went to Cook Out.
Not sure about what to get, I got the Cheddar Style Burger with fries and chicken nuggets that was really good (the nuggets are almost identical to Wendy's). A few days later, I returned and got another Cheddar Style Burger with a corn dog and a hefty bacon wrap. I had all of this last spring and intended to blog about it, but again my lack of spare time got in the way of blogging about it. Fortunately, certain personal issues are coming to resolution so I now have more spare time. Also, Cook Out recently opened a third location on Union Avenue that's a lot closer to me, so I set out again to review Cook Out (the other location is on Stage Road in Bartlett/Cordova).

NOTE: To see the pics that I took during those visits to the Highland Street location, go to my "mini-blog" at kensfoodfind.tumblr.com.


This time around, I decided to get the Cheddar Style Burger again, which I believe is Cook Out's best offering. I love this burger because the gooey cheese and grilled onions blend well with the tasty beef patties of the "Huge" cheeseburger. The burger toppings are modest compared to a typical fast food joint, giving way to a beefy burger that most associate with, well, a "cook out." Compared to its competitor Back Yard Burgers, it's my opinion that Cook Out's beef is juicier and better seasoned. If anyone is looking for a genuine "backyard" burger, I highly recommend Cook Out.


Keeping with the "backyard grill" theme, I decided to get another cookout staple, barbecue. For that, I got Cook Out's chopped pork BBQ plate with cole slaw, fries and hushpuppies. That last side item caught me by surprise, for I never had hushpuppies with anything other than seafood. The hushpuppies and fries were far superior to the main dish, a mushy scoop of pork that was bland and lacked smoke flavor. The topping of sweet barbecue sauce helped it to some extend, but overall the chopped pork tasted more like something out of a high school cafeteria than from a backyard grill. Compared to the burgers, the chopped pork falls far short of the quality of a genuine barbecue joint. However, the plate costs under four dollars (cheaper than Tops) so if you're looking for a cheap and quick meal, Cook Out might be the way to go. However, if it's quality barbecue (particularly "backyard" style) that you crave, I suggest that you go elsewhere like Cozy Corner.
Overall, I have been really impressed with Cook Out. Other than the barbecue, everything that I had from the restaurant chain was very good, with the burgers being exceptional. Looking at it strictly as a burger joint, Cook Out is definitely in the upper echelon of restaurants like local favorite Roxie's Grocery and national chains like Five Guys (by the way, Cook Out's service is quick, much faster than the aforementioned). I'm glad to have another excellent burger option in Memphis that I'm sure to visit a lot.

Website: Cookout.com

Cook Out Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
LabelsBarbecue, Burgers, Chain Restaurants, Hot Dogs, Multiple Locations, Pita Wraps, Sandwiches







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Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Day As A Judge

Helping A Good Cause

As you might have noticed (or not), I haven't blogged about anything this year. Well, that's not entirely true, for I have posted some thoughts on my "mini-blog" on Tumblr, along with a few tweets. Part of the reason for my absence is my schedule, which this year has been very hectic. Although my spare time is scarce, I couldn't resist the call to be a judge at a hot wings contest. And especially if the contest was a benefit for the black... errr, "jubilee" Catholic schools of Memphis. As an alum of two parochial schools, I felt it was my way of giving back to the institutions that helped mold me into the person I am today.
The contest was the centerpiece of the Wings of Jubilee Hot Wing Festival, which took place on September 9, 2017 at the campus of Memphis Catholic High and Middle School, my high school alma mater. The festival is similar to others in that in addition to the hot wing teams, other attendees were either engaged in various recreational activities or checking out the live music acts. At the last festival, I felt awkward when I encountered one of my forgotten former classmates despite them knowing who I am (I was never social and a bit of a wallflower in school). This time, I was there for a purpose, so I headed directly to the judges' tent to get my instructions. Initially I was nervous, but after meeting some of the other judges (including fellow blogger Seth of Best Memphis Burger) who explained the formula for judging, I felt confident that I could do a good job of it. Speaking of the formula, the judging was "blind" in the sense that the competitors were assigned random numbers in order to prevent bias. I like that because the last thing a fundraising hot wing contest needs is a bunch of douchebags tilting the scales toward certain teams that they want to curry favor with. After all, the goal is for everyone to have a good time while helping a great cause, and if a few teams can take home a trophy and cash, then that's extra gravy (or wing sauce) for them.
Among the wings that I judged, there was a lot of variety in terms of wing sauce (or lack of it), cooking technique and presentation. The criteria used to judge the wings were appearance, taste, and texture. The categories were scored on a scale 1 to 10 which could lead to a top score of thirty for a really good team. For the most part, all the teams put in good efforts although some wings were a lot better than others. While I won't talk about every wing that I tasted, there were a few exceptional wings that really impressed me. The best among them was the hot wing that I posted in this post, a wing that could hold its own with some of the best wing joints in town. As you can see in the picture above, the chicken wing is breaded and that might not conform to the "naked" wing that most are accustomed to, but I had no problems with it (I'm not a purist about stuff like that). The breading was doused with enough sauce to make it soggy but not too messy, so its "appearance" points didn't take a hit with me. The taste was sweet and spicy, sorta like (according to one of my fellow judges) General Tso's Chicken in a good way. Again, I wouldn't say it was a genuine Buffalo wing, but from a creative standpoint it was outstanding. To whomever made those wings, I tip my hat to you for doing an awesome job and regardless of your standing in the festival, I wish you much success in future contests or other endeavors related to hot wings.
As for the winners, I was a little surprised at the results, given the participants. In third place, the winners were Central BBQ, purveyors of some of the best barbecue in Memphis. When I saw that, the first thought I had was "here we go again" with the same old barbecue/cooking teams winning everything. Even with blind judging, I assumed the same teams that I see at other contests would dominate the "amateur" competitors who don't compete regularly throughout the year. However, when the Jubilee officials announced the second place winner, the team taking it wasn't who I expected. The runner-up winner was an East European team (I believe they were from Poland) with a foreign name that simply meant "Hot Wings." The champions of the event were a team sponsored by a local Northwestern Mutual insurance agency, whose wings must have been outstanding if they beat out teams like Central BBQ and 901Q, a frequent competitor in many cooking contests. I'm not sure if the wings I raved about earlier were made by the Northwestern Mutual team, but if enough of my fellow judges felt the team was worthy, then it was the best. I want to extend my congratulations to them and I hope to see them again at the festival next year.
Overall, my first judging experience was a lot of fun and I look forward to other opportunities to do it again. I want to thank Angela Justice Fox for organizing the event (that included inviting me to judge) and for all the work she does as a fundraiser for Memphis' Catholic schools. With the rise of charter schools and other alternatives (such as families fleeing to the suburbs) for getting an education, attracting kids into the parochial system is getting harder than its ever been (by the way, why are most charter schools in jubilee... errr, "urban" neighborhoods). My hope is that the Catholic school tradition lives on, leaving a legacy for children yearning for a quality education that will benefit them throughout life.

Website: WingsOfJubilee.wordpress.com

LabelsCommentary, Midtown, Wings







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