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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken


After months of procrastinating, I finally got around to dining at Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. I figured that if I'm always comparing Gus's to other places, I should at least give a reason why. Gus's is the gold standard for fried chicken in Memphis, and there aren't many places that can dispute it. There are several restaurants that come close but in the end, Gus's is still tops. Unfortunately, when a restaurant is deemed to be the "best," many people flock to it, including tourists. Gus's is no exception, for there is always a line of people waiting to get inside. Seeing this would usually discourage me from going, but my love of fried chicken brought me around to Gus's.

The day that I went to Gus's was on a Saturday afternoon during a Memorial Day weekend. As expected, there was a large crowd waiting to dine in. After waiting a few minutes, I got to the hostess so I could put my name on the waiting list. When I was told that it would be forty-five minutes before I could get a table, I wasn't surprised at that. However, when I dine alone, I rarely wait the full time because most restaurants can squeeze out a small table for me. This wasn't the case with Gus's, for I had to wait the full time plus thirty minutes. That is a lot of time to wait for fried chicken, but I didn't mind.

When I eventually got a table, I didn't waste time in placing my order. I chose the three-piece dark combo with seasoned fries (replacing the baked beans that cost an extra fifty cents) and coleslaw. I also added a jalapeño to the order, inspired by diners that I saw earlier. It took about fifteen minutes (or about two hours after arriving at Gus's) for my order to arrive. Everything looked great and tasted even better.

The chicken was crunchy and lightly breaded with a good amount of spicy seasoning. Its peppery flavor strongly appealed to the senses without overwhelming them. It also didn't have a lot of grease, just enough to make the chicken tender and juicy. In all, Gus's fried chicken was cooked perfectly.

As for the sides, they didn't impress as much as the fried chicken. The seasoned fries were crunchy and lightly coated with what I believe was dry rub seasoning. The fries were mildly spicy and okay in terms of taste. The coleslaw was a bit sweet, tasting about the same as KFC's. The jalapeños (plural because I was given a freebie for waiting so long), added some unneeded pizzazz to the fried chicken (Louisiana Hot Sauce did so as well). It turned out that I didn't need it, for the chicken was perfect. Overall, I'll give the sides a "C" because they were average, not exceptional.

UPDATE: May 22, 2013 - Since writing this, my opinion of the coleslaw has slightly changed. While it is sweet, the coleslaw is a nice balance to Gus's spicy chicken. I'm not sure how well it complements other foods (including Four Way's delicious fried chicken) but it seemingly belongs at Gus's.

After finishing my meal at Gus's, I came to the following conclusions. While the fried chicken was great, I'm not sure I would want to go through that ordeal again given that other options are available. I could opt to hang out on Beale Street and eat at Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe. If I want to have fried chicken and take in some Civil Rights nostalgia, I can go The Four Way, Dr. Martin Luther King's favorite Memphis dining spot. Both places serve great fried chicken in an atmosphere comparable to Gus's without the long wait times. Gus's, while extremely popular, is a victim of its own success. The restaurant is far too small to small to handle the volume and should expand. If possible, it should acquire the vacant lot next to it and double its size. This could be a risk, but I think it's worth it. I'm sure the customers will appreciate it. Also, because Gus's has other locations in Memphis, the restaurant should encourage customers to patronize them, if for no other reason than to alleviate crowding.

SIDE NOTE: For those really yearning spicy chicken, the best alternative in Memphis is Uncle Lou's. The wait times aren't as bad (about twenty minutes during a "rush") and the chicken is very comparable to Gus's.

Despite the long wait time, I had a great experience at Gus's. The lady who served my meal was great, for she did an outstanding job in spite of the rush. With my meal costing nearly eight dollars, I kicked in a $4 tip to show my appreciation. I'm looking forward to eating at Gus's again, as long as can avoid the crowds.


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LabelsDowntown, Fried Chicken, Multiple Locations

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Battle of the Downtown Memphis Sliders, Part 3


For the third installment of The Battle of The Downtown Memphis "Sliders" (which I never thought would happen), I decided to stick with a theme similar to Part 2 of the series. In the last "battle," I went with contrasting styles in comparing an upscale restaurant to a lounge bar. With the establishments appealing to different demographics, I was curious how the sliders would be prepared. This time around, I've repeated the process, although that wasn't my intention.

Combatant #1: Mollie Fontaine Lounge

In choosing Mollie Fontaine Lounge as one of the "combatants," it was inspired by coincidence. During last month's 2012 Beale Street Wine Race, I ran into a bartender that I've known for a long time. The bartender, Bjarni, has worked at several places that I like. Those places include Automatic Slim's and the Beauty Shop, owned by the same people who own Mollie Fontaine. While he still works at the Beauty Shop during the week (and at Max's Sports Bar), his weekends are spent bartending at Mollie Fontaine (or as I like to call it, "Mollie's"). With me not having seen him in a while (although we interact on Facebook), I decided to pay him a visit.

In getting there, I took the Madison Ave. trolley to a stop near the aptly named Trolley Stop Market. After walking a few blocks down Orleans St. to Adams Ave., I turned left and proceeded to Mollie Fontaine. The reason for mentioning this is because of the lounge's "off the beaten path" location, I felt it was important to point out its accessibility. For my Downtown friends who like to trek to Memphis' South Main District, the travel to Mollie's is about the same. Therefore, I don't see any reason not to visit the lounge occasionally if for no other reason than to support Bjarni and the rest of the fine staff at Mollie Fontaine.

(For a map and further directions, click here.)

Once I got to the lounge at about 7 PM, I noticed that there weren't any patrons there besides me. With me literally having the place to myself, I got a chance to get reacquainted with Bjarni. While I was rapping with him, I asked about the Macaroni & Cheese that was featured in the blog I Love Memphis' "100 Things to Eat in Memphis" list. He assured me that the Mac n' Cheese was as good as the hype. I had to be convinced, because I've been letdown in the past by similar promises. Fortunately, Mollie's delivered, for the small bowl of Mac n' Cheese was the best that I've tasted in a long time. It consists of Fortina and Gruyére cheeses and topped with pieces of bacon. The cheese mixture yielded a creamy taste that was very appealing to me, with the bacon adding a crunchy dimension to it. I also liked the thick texture, which took away my worries about making a mess. Overall, it's a great dish that's worthy of inclusion in the I Love Memphis list.

(SIDE NOTE: Although I haven't had everything on the "100 Things" list, I didn't agree with some of the stuff that was on it. In particular, the ribs from A & R Bar-B-Q wouldn't make my list even if it consisted of a thousand items. Tenderless ribs smothered in average barbecue sauce don't appeal to me. However, I believe that most of the list is legit.)

At this point, you may be asking yourself "damn, when will Ken talk about the sliders?" Well, after I had the Macaroni & Cheese, I checked Mollie's menu to see what else was on it. Lo and behold, sliders were listed. When I saw this, I knew that a "battle" was on.

Mollie Fontaine's version of the slider consists of a small patty of smoked ground beef with several toppings. The toppings include arugula, onions, bacon, Gruyére cheese, pickles, mustard and "Mollie Sauce" (whatever that is). Even with numerous toppings, the ones that stood out the strongest were the raw onions and arugula. Those toppings, along with the others, made the sliders bitter in a way that didn't suit my palette. The beef was average in terms of taste (despite the meat being "smoked") and was overwhelmed by the toppings. On a scale of five, I would give the sliders a three. The sliders were decent, but far from the best.

At the time I placed my order, I was drinking a Stella Artois, one my favorite beers. While it goes well with certain foods, I don't believe it is a good match with Mollie Fontaine's sliders. In my opinion, the spicy sliders didn't mesh well with the malty flavor (with a hint of hops) of the Belgian lager. If I order them again, I'll likely choose the Jamaican lager Red Stripe or a Mexican-style lager that is less malty and bitter. Also, given that Mollie Fontaine is more of a lounge than a restaurant, you might be more comfortable with a red wine such as a Pinot Grigio. It's a good alternative because it not only complements the sliders, you will look good drinking it. Of course, this is my opinion (partly based on an outing to the recently closed Thyme Bistro where the wine made a huge difference in my meal). Your take on this could vastly differ.

Overall, my experience at Mollie Fontaine was great. I enjoyed the company that Bjarni provided and the atmosphere was breathtaking. With regards to the food, I liked what I had but it wouldn't be my first choice for dinner if I was really hungry. Both of the dishes that I had costs $9 each, which is a little beyond my budget (although I got a dollar off of both because it was "Happy Hour" when I ordered). Of course, as a guy who doesn't make much, I'm looking at this from a different perspective than those that the lounge is trying to attract. With regards to the sliders, I would rather get three sliders with fries from Bardog Tavern that cost $8 that are slightly beefier and better tasting than Mollie's two sliders, sans fries.

However, even though Bardog offers the better value, it doesn't provide the relaxed late night atmosphere that Mollie Fontaine does. The lounge is in a Victorian-style house that is elegant in design. The interior is adorned with art, antique lighting, classic couches and chairs and other items consistent with a mansion. One could easily immerse himself/herself in relaxation while chomping down on comfort food. With the right wine, I could easily see myself chilling out with a slider on a late Friday night, which is what Mollie Fontaine Lounge is all about.



Mollie Fontaine Lounge on Urbanspoon

Combatant #2: Felicia Suzanne's

For Mollie Fontaine's "opponent," I chose a restaurant that a friend cited as an example for why I shouldn't write a food blog. When I started this blog nearly two years ago, my friend Clay (the same guy mentioned in my response to "Air Traffic Mike") tried to persuade me to not start a food blog. He thought that a guy collecting unemployment checks shouldn't be blogging about restaurants. Clay believed it would make me look like a lazy government-mooching douchebag (my words, not Clay's) who was more concerned about getting his grub on than finding a job. I took his advice to heart and held off blogging for a while. Fortunately, a month later I was hired by the Memphis Grizzlies as a part-time ticket seller at the FedExForum. Once I got the job (which is seasonal), I went back to blogging. As homage (or more of a goof) to Clay, I chose Felicia Suzanne's, the forbidden restaurant.

As I was writing this review, I noticed some interesting similarities between Mollie Fontaine Lounge and Felicia Suzanne's. Both places are named after women and located in Downtown Memphis on streets named after early American presidents. However, even though it's listed on Monroe Ave., Felicia Suzanne's is only accessible from Main St.

Felicia Suzanne's sliders, consisting of Black Angus beef cooked "well done," tasted great. The seasoned beef, cheddar, aioli and caramelized onions provided a spicy and slightly sweet flavor that overwhelmed my taste buds. Compared with what I had at Felicia's nearby competitor Flight, Felicia's sliders are clearly better. Unlike Flight, Felicia Suzanne's put a lot of effort in developing its slider, to the point that it rivals another nearby competitor Bardog Tavern.

The sliders come with fries, sweet dill pickles and homemade ketchup. When I first saw the ketchup, I thought it was salsa. After I tasted it, I knew it was something else. The vinegar, parsley and other ingredients gave the ketchup a unique texture and flavor. In terms of texture, the ketchup isn't as thick as most people are accustomed to, but rather watery like a salad dressing. Speaking of salads, the ketchup could be applied to salads, tacos or anything else that has fresh, uncooked vegetables. Whenever I visit Felicia Suzanne's again, I'm definitely getting a cup of ketchup regardless of what I order.

Felicia Suzanne's fries were also great. Before I go on, I want to say that I normally don't have an opinion about fries unless they are either extremely terrible or really good. Felicia's fries fall in the latter category, for they are fried to a light golden brown while retaining a soft texture (although the outer edges of some of the fries were crispy). The fries are seasoned with specks of red pepper and herbs, which gives them a very nice flavor. I'm not sure that Felicia's fries were the best that I've ever had, but they're good enough to put on my short list of favorites.

For something that started as a "goof" on what a friend said had turned out to be a wonderful experience. Felicia Suzanne's sliders are among the best I had in Memphis. In fact, the sliders are among the best burgers I've had in the past few years.

While eating my sliders, a got a bottle of Abita Light. I didn't intend to get this, hoping for something cheaper like a Bud Light. However, I was very satisfied with my beer for two reasons. The first is the price, which at $3.50 (probably the "Happy Hour" price) is a bargain for a premium beer. The second reason is that it goes really well with the sliders. The smooth malty flavor of the Abita perfectly complements the seasoning of the sliders and fries. The Abita Light was an excellent choice for my lunch, which was one of the best that I had in a long time.

It's unfortunate that the sliders are only served on Friday afternoons. Because Felicia Suzanne is an upscale restaurant and not a lounge, most patrons are looking for something more exquisite than sliders. If I was able to offer a piece of advice to Felicia, I would tell her to offer the sliders and some of her other lunch items exclusively at the bar. I believe that patrons who are "chillin'" at the bar after a long day at work might want to feast on a light snack while sipping cocktails. Something like a slider or a poor boy might be enough to satisfy the munchies. By the way, this isn't something that I came up with myself, but rather inspired by the "bar menu" offered by the Majestic Grille. I believe it has worked well for Majestic and could also be successful for Felicia Suzanne's.

For those who dine at Felicia Suzanne's for dinner, I can't offer much advice because the restaurant is a little out of my budget. However, I had one dish that is offered on both the lunch and dinner menus, the Shrimp & Grits. As a "Low Country" South Carolina entrée, I'll admit that I'm not the most knowledgeable about it. However, I have had the dish at several places in Memphis, including Sweet Grass, whose Shrimp & Grits is listed among "100 Things to Eat in Memphis". By comparison, the Creole sauce in Felicia Suzanne's version really appealed to me. I can't go into detail since it’s been awhile since I had it. However trust me when I tell you that the Shrimp and Grits are really good. If I'm ever able to, I'm definitely ordering this again.


Felicia Suzanne's on Urbanspoon


After having sliders from both "combatants," it is my opinion that Felicia Suzanne's is the better of the two. I feel that Felicia Suzanne's sliders are better for two reasons: taste and value. With regards to taste, I preferred Felicia's sliders because the restaurant approaches it in a conventional way. Instead of using exotic or non-traditional toppings like arugula, Felicia's sliders are more mainstream with a bit of flair. I really liked the caramelized onions, for it contributed hugely to the burger's flavor. I don't know what Felicia uses to sauté onions, but whatever it is, I like it. The cheese also played a big factor, for it had good flavor and it was gooey while not runny. Combine that with high quality beef and aioli sauce and you have a great tasting burger. Mollie Fontaine's sliders were okay, but if I order them again, I'm getting them without either arugula or onions. I feel that those toppings, while they’re good individually, make for a bad combination with everything else in Mollie's sliders. Of course, this is my opinion that may not agree with those who like that kind of thing. However, I don't think Mollie's sliders could appeal to a broad demographic like Felicia Suzanne's can

The second reason that I like the sliders from Felicia Suzanne's over Mollie Fontaine Lounge was for its value. At $10 (not including tax) you can get three sliders and nicely seasoned fries from Felicia Suzanne's, as opposed to two sliders from Mollie Fontaine that cost $9. In terms of appetite satisfaction, it's clear that you'll get more "bang for your buck" from Felicia Suzanne than from the tapas menu of Mollie Fontaine. Maybe I should have asked Bjarni, but I didn't see anything on the menju (like a salad) under $5. For those on a budget, Mollie Fontaine Lounge might not be a good choice. Therefore, if you want to get your grub on without breaking the bank, I recommend Felicia Suzanne's.

So for this battle of sliders, the clear winner is Felicia Suzanne's. Unfortunately, like Flight, Felicia's sliders are only offered on Friday afternoons while Mollie's isn't open for lunch. Because of this, the comparison might not fully benefit those who are deciding which restaurant to choose.

What if...

In hindsight, I wish this "battle" and the one before it were more comparable in terms of matchups. However, even if I compared Flight to Felicia Suzanne's and the Silly Goose to Mollie Fontaine, the outcomes would have been the same in terms of winners.

Between the two upscale restaurants, the differences are obvious. The Flight sliders' mediocrity doesn't come close to the ingredients and preparation that goes into a Felicia Suzanne slider. While Felicia's little burger could be perceived as a gourmet item, Flight's slider taste like something I can get anywhere. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that burgers aren't high on Flight's priorities. That said, the beef slider shouldn't be on the menu if the restaurant isn't fully committed to it. So in a head-to-head matchup, Felicia Suzanne's dominates.

Unlike the choice between Flight and Felicia Suzanne's, picking between the two lounges wasn't as easy. In my opinion, choosing between them comes down to individual preferences. For those who like to think (and eat) outside the box, the combination of arugula and raw onions on Mollie Fontaine's slider is a good idea. Unfortunately, I wasn't with it, but I'm not saying it's a bad slider. I prefer burgers that are strong in pepper spices, something that Silly Goose's slider has an abundance of. The beef in the Goose slider is better seasoned and really stands out. Top it with slices of bell peppers and Pepper Jack cheese, and you have a really good burger. Of course, this is my opinion which may conflict with those who have milder palettes. So for me, The Silly Goose wins the lounge slider battle. From a social standpoint, Mollie Fontaine's interior design contributes to an atmosphere that feels very comfortable, making it my preference to hang out at.

Therefore, I recommend going to Felicia Suzanne's on Friday's for lunch. Then after work, chill out with a cocktail and a slider from Silly Goose before partying at Mollie Fontaine Lounge. It could make for a well-rounded fun day.

LabelsBeer, Burgers, Commentary, Downtown, Irish Pub, Tapas/Small Plates, Upscale

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Rizzo's Diner

Excellence In The Making

If you read this blog often, you know that it doesn't feature a lot of high end, upscale restaurants. This isn't by design, but rather by circumstance. For those of you who don't already know this, I'm a barely employed part-time seasonal ticket seller at the FedExForum. My last full-time job was with a printing and sign company near Millington, Tennessee. Since my layoff, it has been a struggle to get by. To do it, I've made a lot of sacrifices that included scaling back my dining expenses. As a consequence, I rarely eat at fancy restaurants like the Beauty Shop. However, I try to support my friends whenever possible and Chef Michael Patrick, one of the owners of Rizzo's Diner, is no exception. So despite my lack of financial resources, I managed to make a few visits to Rizzo's.

The first visit I made was with my Dad and siblings to celebrate my father's birthday. In deciding where to go for brunch, I managed to convince my sisters to try Rizzo's. They trusted my judgment as a so-called "foodie," but I don't think my taste coincides with the rest of the family. Even though I'm mostly a "meat & potatoes" guy, I'm willing to try new things. Unfortunately, the rest of my family doesn't feel that way.

Once my family and I arrived at Rizzo's Diner, everyone's initial impression was positive. We were all impressed by the restaurant's decor and laid back atmosphere, which put everyone at ease. After being seated at our table, we immediately got our menus. When my family saw the menu, it wasn't what they expected. Nearly everyone expected a standard breakfast menu that includes things like pancakes, scrambled eggs and toast. However, Chef Mike (as I and some of my friends call him) likes to be creative with the menu. While I liked what was on it, my fellow family members weren't buying in. Eventually, everyone stuck it out for me because it was my idea to go to Rizzo's.

After deliberating about what to order, we all found something that we liked, or so I thought. My sister and her daughter got the French toast with gelato, bananas and caramel (I forgot the dish's name; UPDATE: it was the French Toast Bananas Foster). Although my sister had a lukewarm response to it, my niece didn't like it at all. Fortunately, I took half of my niece's French toast which turned out to be good. The French toast itself was a bit difficult to slice yet was chewable. It is sweet with just the right amount of egg yolk in it, which suited me just fine. With the gelato, bananas and caramel, the entrée served as a dessert that satisfied my appetite. Even though I liked it more than either my sister or niece, I can't see myself ordering this as a stand alone meal. However, it could make for a nice dessert that I could share with a companion after finishing our main courses. In that sense, I'm sort of a traditionalist who is not used to having gelato for brunch. Still, for some people, gelato-topped French toast is a perfect diversion from a typical brunch.

I had the Blackened Catfish Eggs Benedict. For the most part, the "Benedict" part of the entrée is on par with other places that serve poached eggs. With the blackened catfish and spinach, the Eggs Benedict is a scrumptious dish that I really enjoy. Personally, I believe the spinach adds a nice touch for it accentuates the meal. Although I like it, I want to stress that the entrée is a bit salty. People with high blood pressure may want to take the entrée's saltiness into consideration when ordering it. Other than that concern, the Blackened Catfish Eggs Benedict is a winner in my book.

My Dad, who expected a more traditional meal, decided to get the Chorizo Meatloaf Sandwich. When I saw it on the menu, my first thought was "isn't Chorizo a type of sausage?" I should have asked Chef Mike if the meat in the meatloaf was sausage. To satisfy my curiosity, I tasted a small portion of my Dad's sandwich. After sampling the meatloaf, it didn't matter if it had sausage in it or not. The tender texture of the meat is about the same as most meatloaf dishes and the seasonings is definitely Chorizo. After eating a couple of bites, I was impressed and even jealous of my Dad for ordering it. Even though the meatloaf (which can be ordered from Rizzo's dinner menu) is good on its own, the bun used for the sandwich is both buttery and fluffy, which makes the sandwich even better. The sandwich comes with a side of potatoes that apparently is marinated in vinegar, which balances the spiciness of the meatloaf. Of the three entrées that we ordered, the meatloaf sandwich was the best among them, in my opinion.

(SIDE NOTE: I want to thank my sister Kathy for the brunch photos. I'm grateful for it.)

Overall, I believe that everyone to some degree (with the exception of my niece) enjoyed their meal. I'm not sure if I could get them to visit Rizzo's again, but I am fortunate that they stuck it out. If I could offer one piece of advice to Chef Mike: never run out of essential menu items. As this relates to my family's brunch, bacon wasn't available that day. Our server told us that the bacon wasn't up to Chef Mike's standards, which greatly disappointed my sister. She almost convinced my Dad to leave Rizzo's for a place more suitable, like the Arcade Restaurant across the street. Fortunately, my Dad didn't want to disrespect either the restaurant or Chef Mike so we stayed. Now, I'm not an expert on running a restaurant, but I've learned from business classes at the University of Memphis (which was a waste of money) that you need contingency plans to deal with unexpected situations. For instance, if your restaurant runs out of bacon during brunch, have a suitable substitute ready to take its place. A few months ago, I encountered a similar situation at Dino's Grill when the restaurant ran out of hash browns. Instead of disappointing patrons for not having it, the restaurant sliced up some potatoes and made something called "home fries" that was even better. With the experience of Rizzo's staff, I'm sure that they can come up with alternatives if essential menu items aren't available. As a new business, Rizzo's Diner will occasionally hit a few bumps in the road, but I hope that it can learn from those missteps in order to provide great customer service.

SIDE NOTE: Prior to posting this review, I spoke with Chef Mike about the experience my family had. As it relates to bacon, he said the diner will borrow from the Arcade Restaurant if Rizzo's runs out of it again. That's a good contingency plan, in my opinion.

A month later, I visited Rizzos Diner for lunch. After perusing the lunch menu, I went with something simple, the G.E. Patterson Burger. The burger is huge, for it consists of a ⅓ lb. or more of ground beef, lettuce, tomato, American cheese and Italian Dressing within a hoagie roll. When I ordered mine, my server asked me how I wanted it cooked. I don't normally care how my burger is cooked because I want to get the best that the restaurant offers (e.g. a Soul Burger from Earnestine & Hazel's). However, when asked, I request the kitchen to cook it medium rare. By having meat cooked a certain way is a good indicator of a restaurant's competence. In this regard, Rizzo's delivered, for the burger patty was a perfect light pink inside and very tender. The beef is lightly seasoned, and overall the burger was okay in terms of taste. With the Italian dressing, the burger was a bit messy but I managed to eat it. While the G.E. Patterson Burger was far from the best cheeseburger I've had, I can see myself ordering it again.

For my next monthly visit, I stopped by Rizzo's Diner for dinner. One of the reasons that I chose Rizzo's was for the Lobster Pronto Pups that I heard so much about. The "pups" are lobster pieces battered in a flour mix that's similar to what is used in tempura recipes and skewered on sticks. Setting atop a bed of "greens" (not quite sure what the vegetable was, although it was probably arugula) and garnished with Dijon mustard aioli, the pronto pups lived up to the hype in a big way. The taste was "a little more tempura than corn dog," to quote Kerry Crawford from the blog I Love Memphis which I happen to agree with. The aioli added a tarty sweetness that made the pronto pups a delight to eat. My only regret was that I didn't have this sooner. Kudos to Chef Mike for creating a wonderful dish.

After finishing the Lobster Pronto Pups, I was ready for the main course. I chose the Cajun Seasoned Chicken Pot Pie. Even though it is called a "pie," entrée looks more like a huge sandwich stuffed with chicken, Basmati rice, snap peas, red and green peppers and Andouille sausage. All of this was immersed in a cream sauce and within a pastry that was flaky and buttery, perfectly suited for the entrée. In all, it had the spiciness that one would expect from a Cajun dish with the ingredients meshing nicely. The entrée was great for I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From my three visits to Rizzo's Diner, I came away impressed with every meal that I had. Chef Mike really put a lot of time and preparation in developing the concept for the restaurant, and now it's paying off. I believe the restaurant is destined for long term success if it continues to keep up the good work. I'm sure the diner will make mistakes along the way, but it's all part of the learning process that will make it a great restaurant for years to come. I hope that I'm fortunate enough to be a part of it.



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Rizzos Diner on Urbanspoon

LabelsAmerican, Appetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Brunch, Cajun/Creole, Downtown, Upscale

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My First Beer and Food Pairing

I recently attended my first beer and food pairing at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in Memphis, hosted by Yazoo Brewing Company. This was something that I wanted to do ever since the Flying Saucer began hosting these dinners about two years ago. However, I never went to one because I either couldn't afford it or had other stuff going on. After years of missing out on the fun, I was fortunate that all the stars aligned just right and I was able to attend this dinner. Unfortunately, I did it without many of my friends who stopped frequenting the Saucer because of its anti-smoking policy. Even without them, I still had a good time.

For starters, the dinner began with a glass of Yazoo's Rye Saison (shown above), a beer with a nice sweet flavor. It's really good and should have been paired with one of the courses that were served during the evening. I sipped some of it, saving the rest for the first course.

About fifteen minutes after being served the Rye Saison, the first course arrived. It was a plate of fried green tomatoes and a crawfish stuffed jalapeño served with a glass of Yazoo's Dos Perros, its feature porter beer. The fried green tomatoes were average and about the same as most places that serve it, so I won't say much about it. The jalapeño had a modest amount of stuffing in it (at the "top" of it where the stem is at), so for the most part I ate it raw. While I was eating this, I had three glasses of beer in front of me. The beers were the Dos Perros that my meal was served with, the Rye Saison and a Spaten Lager, the "Fire Sale" beer that I bought before the dinner began. Of the three, the Dos Perros was the least compatible beer for the first course, because I can't see how a hoppy beer can be paired with spicy foods like jalapeños. I know that this just an opinion, but when I'm eating spicy foods, I would rather drink something "smooth" that balances the flavor. That said, the Rye Saison was the better beer for the first course, for the sugary flavor diminished some of the bitterness of the jalapeño while making it more enjoyable to eat. The Spaten Lager was also a good pairing for the first course, for most lagers are more malty than hoppy. As a whole, the first course went over well, although I would have chosen a better beer to pair with it.

After everyone finished the first course, we had a short wait before the second course arrived. While we waited, I got acquainted with some of my fellow diners. One of the guys who sat across from me knew a lot about beer. He pointed out all the qualities of the beers we were served that night which was very helpful to me. Although I have four "plates" at the Saucer and I'm smart enough to pair most beers with food, I am far from being an expert. It was great having a second opinion that could not only advise but challenge any assumptions that I had. I am also grateful that the guy sitting next to me, David, assisted me in photographing the dinner by providing lighting from his camera. Unlike some people, I'm not fortunate enough to have best of everything, but I always try to do the best with what I have. And unlike some people (like a certain blogger who used to reside in Memphis), I will never slam someone for having less. Anyway, I was glad to have met my fellow diners who made my evening a memorable one.

The second course of the evening was a sausage and cheese plate with mustard, bread and grapes. The beer that was served with it was Yazoo's Belgian IPA, which turned out to be a good choice. The beer was hoppy with a floral aroma, which was compatible with the entire course including the grapes. Personally, I would've chosen a lager, but I was satisfied with what I had and was anxious for the third and main course.

(SIDE NOTE: I would have liked to have had pictures of the second course, but it was too dark for my flashless camera phone to take. As some of my detractors would say, that could have been a major faux pas.)

The main entrée was Nashville-style chicken and waffles topped with strawberry-flavored butter and paired with a Gerst, an Amber ale that's Nashville's newest brand and currently brewed by Yazoo. This was also a good pairing of beer and food, for the Gerst was a good counterbalance to the spiciness of the chicken and a great accompaniment to the waffles. As for the chicken, our host assured us that it was spicier than Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken which I felt was a heady claim to make. Unfortunately, the chicken's spiciness fell far short of that. Still, despite it being less spicy and overcooked, the chicken was good along with everything else.

For the finale, the dessert was ice cream flavored with Yazoo's Sly Rye Porter with a brownie, a strawberry and a glass of Yazoo's Sue. With it being a "smoked" ale, I thought the Sue was a terrible choice as a dessert beer. Like with the Dos Perros and the jalapeños, the beer and food pairings were a mismatch, in my opinion. The bitter smoked flavor of the Sue just didn't mesh with any part of the dessert. If it was up to me, I would have paired the dessert with a wheat beer like the Yazoo Hefe-Weizen, although any of the beers that were served earlier (including the Dos Perros) would've been a better pairing than the Sue. For my taste, I would rather drink a smoked beer while eating a steak, a cheeseburger, barbecue or anything else involving meat. Fortunately, I had a bit of the Gerst left, which nicely complemented the dessert and allowed me to finish the dinner on a good note.

Overall, my first beer and food pairing was positive and enjoyable. I appreciated the effort put forth by the dinner's host who entertained and educated the dinner party. I learned a lot about the beers of Yazoo and the culture of Nashville's fried chicken (I never knew it existed). Although I didn't agree with all the food/beer pairings, the experience was good enough to inspire me to take part in similar events in the future.

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium :
Yazoo Brewing Company:

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Beer, Dessert, Downtown, Fried Chicken, Soul Food

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