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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paula Deen Buffet (Harrah's Tunica Casino)

A Reason To Be Thankful

This past Thanksgiving, my family treated me to dinner at the Paula Deen Buffet at Harrah's Tunica Casino. This was my second visit to the buffet, and I hoped that it would be more impressive this time around. As always, I try to be objective, not letting any prejudice influence what I write on this blog. That said, my view of Deen isn't positive, for she constantly promotes the unhealthiest of foods to those who least need it. By the way, I'm not a food snob like Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain who said that Deen is "the worst, most dangerous person to America." However, I can't get with anyone who promotes stuff like deep fried butter balls that is unquestionably bad. Deep fried butter offends me, and I'm not a healthy eater. Still, with more analytical emphasis, I was eager to try Deen's buffet again.
The first part of my dinner consisted of the traditional Thanksgiving fare of turkey, dressing and other fixings. Among the "fixings" that I had was the squash casserole, a delicious blend of squash and zucchini in a cheesy cream sauce. After looking up the recipe on Paula Deen's website, I discovered that the squash casserole I had wasn't the same, but it was good nonetheless. I felt that the zucchini slightly sweetened the casserole, which I didn't mind. In fact, the flavor of the casserole offset the taste of the dressing and gravy, which both my sisters and I felt was very salty. Everything else on my first plate, including the ham and peas, were about average in terms of taste. The turkey was moist and tender, but that was to be expected since it was chopped up when I got it off the serving line. Overall, the first plate met my expectations of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
For my second plate, I decided to go all out on the fried stuff that the buffet had. As shown in the picture, I had (clockwise from the top) chicken, catfish, green tomato, frog legs and shrimp. Despite Deen's reputation for frying anything that's edible, the entire plate was average in terms of taste. It's on par with most buffets and cafeterias (such as Piccadilly) that I've been to. If all of this was cooked according to Deen's recipes, then Ms. Deen is very overrated. More likely, all of this (and the spinach broccoli) was cooked according to Harrah's specifications. If so, then Paula Deen is a savvy business woman who knows the value of marketing her brand. Without Deen's endorsement, Harrah's buffet is indistinguishable from most casinos that offer this type of dining service.
In addition to my "fried" platter, I got a few side items to go with it. As you can see, my sides were (clockwise from top) Chicken Florentine, broccoli casserole, turnip greens and tartar sauce. In particular, I really liked the broccoli casserole for it was smooth and creamy. The Chicken Florentine, which featured a decent wine as an ingredient, tasted pretty good as well. Even the tartar sauce was great, for it was the freshest that I've had. Even though most of this probably wasn't made with Deen's recipes, it was all good. If I ever dine here again, I will focus more on the non-fried portion of the buffet and limit my amount of fried food. To learn more about Paula Deen's recipes for Chicken Florentine and broccoli casserole, click the links to her website.
To finish off dinner, I got a slice of vanilla cheesecake. After eating so much, I was surprised I was able to eat anything else. Compared to other places like Cheesecake Corner in Downtown Memphis, Paula Deen's cheesecake can hold its own.
Once I finished my cheesecake, I was DONE! I couldn't eat another bite if my life depended on it. The dinner had completely satisfied my appetite. On a scale of 1 to 5, I would give the Paula Deen Buffet a 3½ rating for both the food and the restaurant's staff for the preparation of the buffet. Even though I don't have complaints about the food or service, it still doesn't beat the variety offered by the Village Square Buffet at the Horseshoe Casino. Village Square is my favorite place to go when I want to get my grub on in Tunica. However, the Paula Deen Buffet is a decent restaurant that I wouldn't mind dining at again if I was at the casino to see a show (but not gamble, for I'm not into that). It’s just isn't a place that is worthy of a special trip, especially if I want the true Paula Deen experience. For that, I'll have to go to The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.
By the way, I want to thank my sisters for treating me to dinner and all the other things that they've done for me recently. I really appreciate and love them for it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Paula Deen Buffet (Harrah's Tunica Casino) on Urbanspoon

LabelsBuffet, Dessert, Seafood, Soul Food, Southern, Tunica

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Ching's Hot Wings

They're Just Wings

Yesterday while running errands, I stopped by Ching's to try out its wings. From reading the reviews on Urbanspoon, Yelp and elsewhere, I could've assumed that Ching's have the best wings in Memphis, but I know better. Most wing joints that I've been to cook their hot wings in pretty much the same manner: frying or roasting the wings, then tossing them into a bowl where they're mixed with hot sauce. I'm not trying to put down places that cook hot wings, but it's not rocket science (it seems that the blog Burn My Mouth agrees with me). That said, my favorite places for wings are those that have really good sauces that stand out. Ching's, despite the reviews, isn't better than most wing joints that I've been to.
Before I go any further, I want to list my favorite hot wing joints in Memphis. I'm sure many of you will disagree, but here it is:

1. Kelvin's Hot Wings - The wing sauce is hot AND tastes great. The best that I've had so far in Memphis.

2. Alex's Tavern - After Kelvin's, Alex's has the best tasting wings in town. The wing sauce has a nice balance of butter and peppers, without the salty aftertaste. Although they're not as hot, the wings are very enjoyable.

3. Max's Sports Bar - This might be an unusual choice. Given that the bar uses frozen rotisserie wings, the sauces it uses makes them really good.

4. Kooky Canuck - I'm mentioning this place because of the "heat" of its wings, which are hotter than average.

5. Buffalo Wild Wings - I like this place because of its selection of sauces. With sauce flavors ranging from Jammin' JalapeƱo to Thai Curry, along with a variety of seasonings make BWW the Baskins-Robbins of hot wings.

6. Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken - Love the Sweet Spicy sauce.

7. Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken - Technically, Gus's doesn't make "hot" wings, but the spices it uses in its chicken can light a delicious fire in your mouth.

8. Flying Saucer Draught Emporium - This might not be a popular choice, but I love its Mojo wings. They have good Cajun flavor in the cayenne seasoning that is quite spicy. Its Frank's RedHot Sauce-laden Buffalo Wings are okay, but couldn't get the Saucer on this list by themselves. By the way, the Asian and Atomic (which implies super hotness but it's not) wings are pretty good, too. In addition to the wings, the combination veggie sides (lettuce, celery and carrots) are a healthy alternative to French fries.
Others, while not the best, are worth mentioning:
Hooters - I have to admit that my opinion of its wings is lukewarm (no pun intended). However, the restaurant uses sauces that are unique, so kudos for that.

Roxie's Grocery - Its wings are unique because of the seasoning and spices that makes them distinctive. Definitely not typical.
Now that I established what I like and expect in hot wings, I'll explain my thoughts about Ching's. The Mild Hot wings had the typical heat of most in this category. In terms of taste, the spiciness was about the same as places like Crumpy's and Don Don's. The one difference that I sensed was the salt content seemed slightly lower, but overall the taste was about average. The Mild Hot wings, while good, aren’t quite worth traveling across town to get.
While I wasn't overly impressed with the Mild Hot wings, I liked Ching's Honey Hot wings. The wings have a balanced taste, with just enough honey flavor to stimulate the senses while not drowning out the other spices. Speaking of the spices, they weren't that hot in my opinion. Of course, the reason for it might have been that I ate them after finishing the Mild Hot wings. Despite having a more favorable impression of the Honey Hot wings, I will try this dish at other restaurants before declaring Ching's as the ultimate master of it.

When I ordered my wings at Ching's, I got them as whole wings, the standard at most places. I didn't notice that I could have ordered them as "party wings," a term for drummies and flappers. Even though I would've preferred "party wings," I was satisfied with the whole wings that broke apart easily. I wish more places (other than chain restaurants) offered the "party wing" option. Given where many wing joints in Memphis are located (in the "hood"), keeping costs down takes precedence over convenience.
To sum it up, my experience at Ching's wasn't exactly mind blowing. The wings were good, but not as exceptional as described in the reviews I've read. The restaurant staff was very friendly and swift in getting my order to me. This is a place that I'll probably visit again if I'm in that part of town, but it's not worth making a special visit.
Now that I've reviewed Ching's, I'm sure some people (particularly Ching's fans) will have a lot to say about this post. I'll admit, I'm not a wings expert and don't proclaim to be. However, in my 45 years of living, I've had a lot a of hot wings. Still, I'm not right about everything and I don't mind being enlightened. Unlike some blogs, I welcome comments about anything I post as long as it pertains to the subject. For those looking for first class journalistic quality, this isn't the place to find it. I'm just a guy with a passion for food who's willing to share it with others. My opinions may not always be mainstream, but I call it as I see it and Ching's is no exception.

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LabelsEast Memphis, Wings

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