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

Friday, March 29, 2013


Burger Gold

When it comes to reviewing restaurants, inspiration (or coincidence in some cases) can come from many sources. With regards to Alchemy, guess who/what inspired it. Word of mouth from friends? Nope. An online review? Nah. A chance encounter while on a temporary job assignment? Uh-uh. One of my favorite South Park characters? No. A beautiful and sexy waitress? Wrong. For this review, I owe it all to Chef. And no, it's not this guy, but rather Chef Jason Doty. Jason is the executive chef of Bluff City Bakery (sister company of Bluff City Coffee) who invited me to dinner after reading my last installment of The Battle of The Downtown Memphis Sliders. He wanted me to try Alchemy's Donnell Century Farms Beef Sliders featuring brioche buns from Bluff City Bakery. I had always intended to visit the restaurant, so I gladly accepted Jason's invitation.
Alchemy, like many restaurants in Memphis' Cooper-Young neighborhood, is an upscale establishment that caters to the young and hip. The eatery specializes in Modern American cuisine in the form of tapas, which are small entrées that are usually served with wine and cocktails. One positive about this style of service is the many combinations of food that one could potentially come up with for a meal. It can get expensive if a person has a huge appetite, but it might be worth it if the quality is as good as Alchemy's. Speaking of huge appetites, Alchemy's sliders are very satisfying because the three little burgers are a hearty meal by themselves.
Alchemy's sliders consist of Donnell Century Farms ground beef and topped with pimento cheese. The choice of cheese was a departure from what I normally see on a burger. However, given that Alchemy's nearby competitor Next Door also has a pimento burger, the cheese seems to be trending in Cooper-Young. Although I initially found it to be an odd choice, it actually works well for the burger. The pimento's pastiness allows it to blend well into the beef, resulting in a creamy fusion of flavor. Speaking of the beef, its best quality was the leanness of it. As far as I could tell, the fat content of the beef was low, which translates into high quality meat. Obviously, Alchemy doesn't skimp on meat or other ingredients, matching restaurants like The Majestic Grille in terms of quality. Even though the meat and cheese combo was great, it wasn't even the best part of the sliders.
If the pimento cheese and ground beef are the Brad Pitt and Jamie Foxx of Alchemy's sliders, then the brioche bun is its Christoph Waltz (I know I'm mixing two Quentin Tarantino movies into one metaphor). Normally, I don't talk about the bun when I review a burger. To me, it's a support piece that keeps everything together. Occasionally, I find a bun good enough to give special mention. The brioche bun from Bluff City Bakery is the perfect choice for Alchemy's slider. The bun's fluffiness and sweet dough flavor can go well with almost anything. With regards to pimento cheese, the bun meshes well with it, even without ground beef. The sesame seeds that top it add a nice touch to it, rounding out a well crafted bread roll. The bun made the difference in the sliders being great as opposed to merely good. For that, I give kudos to Chef Jason and his staff for making one of the best burger buns in Memphis.

From top left, going clockwise: Donnell Century Farms Beef Sliders, Shrimp & Grits,
Smoked Salmon, Capers and other sides, and Caramel Apple Creme Brûlée.
Photo taken by Jason Doty
In addition to the sliders, Jason and I had appetizers and dessert. While the appetizers (salmon, capers, etc.) were okay, the dessert was superb. It consisted of three dollops of some of the best cheesecake that I've ever had. I started off with the Pumpkin. Spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, it tasted like its pie counterpart that most are familiar with. Proceeding down the line, my second piece was the Dulce di Leche, which had a sweet minty flavor accentuated by the dusting of nuts sprinkled over them. Last but not least, the Maple was a delight to eat. Covered with maple syrup and topped with pecans, it had a nice mix of nutty and sweet flavor. It was sort of like eating a Stuckey's Pecan Log from back in the day (geez, I'm getting old). In all, the cheesecake dessert was great and will have me coming back for more.

The dessert was a nice ending to a fabulous dinner at Alchemy. I want to thank Chef Jason for treating me to dinner, and I hope to return the favor someday. As for my impression of Alchemy, I can say nothing but positive things about it. The food at Alchemy is first class. From entrées such as Roasted Artichoke Hearts with Baby Arugula to its meaty and spicy Chorizo and Louisiana Mac 'n Cheese, you're not likely to find anything bad on Alchemy's menu. The décor of the place is very comforting and artsy, which fits in with the Cooper-Young atmosphere. It's good enough to keep me coming back, which I will try to do often.

NOTE: After writing this review, I learned Jason Doty is a very bad guy with a violent streak. Obviously, I wouldn't have accepted his dinner offer if I had known that he was a scummy douchebag who likes hitting women and kids. Unfortunately, his penchant for violence led him to cracking the skull of his three-month old son. That despicable act eventually got Doty a conviction of aggravated child neglect and a 25 year prison sentence (smacking a baby is called "neglect!?" Was Johnnie Cochran his lawyer?). Well, it's a given that I'm not treating him to dinner anytime soon, if ever. It seems that I need to do a better job vetting people before hanging out with and praising them.


Alchemy on Urbanspoon

LabelsAmerican, Burgers, Commentary, Cooper-Young, Dessert, Midtown, Tapas/Small Plates, Upscale

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Second Street Shoppers

Side Note on Roids

For those who follow this blog on a regular basis, you know that I occasionally go off-topic while writing reviews. Whenever I do this, I put it in a separate paragraph (or two) and designate it as a “Side Note.” About 95% of the time, the commentary is at least somewhat related to the subject I’m reviewing. The topics are wide-ranging, yet all having the common thread of being my personal thoughts. For example, for the occasional comparison of other food that either rivals or is in some way related to the subject:

Slider Inn’s Lobster Roll tasted different than I expected. I assumed the Maine lobster meat would be laden with lots of mayo. To the contrary, it only had a little of it and a lot of lemon flavor. Personally, I thought the lemon took a bit from the lobster’s taste. Despite that, the Lobster Roll was enjoyable and a pleasure to eat. When I order it again, I’ll have the bar go light on the lemon while adding malt vinegar to it. As it is, the Lobster Roll is a good sandwich.

If I’m hanging out at the Flying Saucer with one of my favorite Beer Goddesses prior to dining elsewhere, I might say:

Tiffany is one of the happiest people I know. Her cheerful smile always lights up a room and it rubs off on others. So, I hope she’s available to serve my next Plate Party at the Saucer (a reward for drinking 200 different beers). With her charming personality, she will (if she hasn’t done it already) win over all of my friends attending it.

UPDATE (August 11, 2013) : Since writing this, Tiffany no longer works at the Saucer. She was one of my all-time favorite servers/bartenders who I will sorely miss. I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors. By the way, Tiff: keep smiling. :)

Because this is a food blog, I sometimes use “Side Notes” to review non-food items that was at least somewhat related to the dining experience:

Taxi Magic is a great smartphone app to have if you ever need a cab in Memphis (especially if you're a black guy on New Year's Eve). If you don’t mind having a $30 “hold” on your credit/debit card and waiting little over an hour, the app is a nice alternative to dealing directly with the cab companies. The “hold” on your credit/debit account drops within two business days if you pay with cash. For me, this works out fine, for it allows me to travel to more places and keeps my spending in check. The “hold” is no concern to me because it's close to the equivalent of outstanding tips that I give at various bars and restaurants during a two-day span (I guess some black people actually tip). This is definitely an app that I can give a stamp of approval to.

Sometimes, when a certain “fan” reacts whenever I’m out, I might respond with something like this:

It’s ironic that someone who accuses me of conjuring up a “fantasy girlfriend” has creepy photos of the aforementioned woman. It seems that he’s doing his own “fantasizing,” if you know what I mean.

SIDE NOTE: During the time that wrote this review, “Mr. Fantasy” has had a lot to say about me on his blog. Instead of responding to it here, which will distract from this review, I’ve chosen to put my remarks here (the link has since been removed). By the way, my response and what I’ve said here will be the last time that I will talk about this guy on my blog. Unless he cooked a crappy cheeseburger or messed up a rack of ribs, nothing more needs to be said about him (well, I kind of reneged on that promise).

As you can see, I have opinions about a lot of stuff. Although I have thought about starting a personal blog, I've shied away from it because of the amount of time it would take to maintain it. So for now, I'm sticking strictly to food because that's my favorite topic. I might reconsider my stance about personal blogging in the future, depending on my needs and wants.
Getting back to Second Street Shoppers, my original intention was to highlight its delicious chicken tenders in a "Side Note" of my review of City Market. But as I was writing it, the mini-review led to mentioning things like the store's small dining area. Before I knew it, I had written a complete review. It was surprising to me that a smoothie run for a friend would lead to two reviews.
While Second Street Shoppers doesn't make smoothies (it sells them in bottles), it offers decent food for a convenience store. The one item that stands out is the chicken tenders, which are some of the best that I've found outside of a restaurant. They can be ordered either as a three-piece or six-piece, depending on your appetite. Given the size of the huge pieces, the three-piece is good enough for me. Although not quite as good as its neighbor Kooky Canuck (but better than the Flying Saucer and next door neighbor Flying Fish that charges seven dollars more), Second Street Shoppers' tenders consist of chicken breast strips that are lightly breaded and seasoned with spices akin to fried chicken served at places like KFC. Most importantly, the chicken tenders are, well, tender. The tenderness is perfect, for the chewy meat seemingly melts in my mouth. Compared to other nearby places, the chicken tenders at Second Street Shoppers can hold its own.

Since writng this, I've discovered that my friend (who has a lot of restaurant experience) likes Second Street Shoppers' tenders. Also, this (including a bag of Brim's wavy potato chips ($1) costs $4.68. For quality in relation to price, you'll be hard pressed to find a better deal in Downtown Memphis.

So far, I haven't had anything else (other than potato skins that are better than T.G.I. Friday's) that Second Street Shoppers serves like sandwiches and pizza slices. But even if the rest of the convenience store's food offerings aren't as good the chicken tenders, its prices are low enough for poor guys like me to afford. For example, three chicken tenders cost $3.54. If you add to it a small bag of chips and a soda, entire meal will cost less than six dollars. Granted, one can't expect too much, but it works out well for those on a budget. However, I won't use cost as the sole criteria for determining were to eat. But on days when I'm short on cash, Second Street is not a bad option. And if chicken tenders are on the menu, I know that I'm about to have a good day.

Second Street Shoppers on Urbanspoon

LabelsBreakfast, Cheap Eats, Commentary, Downtown, Fried Chicken, Gas Station/Convenience Store, Pizza, Sandwiches

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Monday, March 25, 2013

City Market

Curry In A Hurry

About a week and a half ago, while hanging out at the Flying Saucer, one of my favorite Saucer Girls wanted me to run an errand for her. Kelly, one of the sexiest, most knowledgeable and hardest working bartenders/servers (or as I like to call them, “waitresses”) that I know, needed something to keep her going. In this case, it was a bottle of 5-Hour Energy and a smoothie. So, I headed over to Second Street Shoppers to get the things that Kelly wanted. While finding the 5-Hour Energy was easy, acquiring the smoothie was more difficult, or so I thought. Kelly wanted a smoothie that comes in a bottle, as opposed to a freshly made one. With me not being a smoothie drinker, I was unfamiliar with the forms that the beverage comes in. So with the convenience store not making them, I headed off to another store to get Kelly’s smoothie.
After leaving Second Street Shoppers, I quickly weighed my options about where to go next. Fortunately, the first place that came to mind was City Market because of the smoothie painting displayed on its window. This wasn’t the first time that I’ve been there, but my previous visits were brief. I usually would get coffee or juice but never anything to eat. This time, while waiting for my friend’s smoothie, I wandered through the store to see what it offered. In short, City Market is almost the equivalent of a miniature Whole Foods Market. Like the supermarket chain, City Market sells organic vegetables, unique grocery items like Indian chutney, and deli products. From the deli, one can also order sandwiches featuring Boar’s Head meats and plate lunches/dinners. After observing what City Market had, I decided to have lunch there the next day.

SIDE NOTE: Although Kelly was shocked when I brought her the strawberry and banana smoothie, she was very pleased with what she got. I was happy to do it for her, because she has proven herself as one of the few friends that I have. I’m very fortunate to have a friend who will accept me as I am, regardless of social and financial status. Compared to most of my “friends,” Kelly is an honest person who I wish nothing but the best.

With my intention of ordering lunch at City Market, I decided to follow a theme, Since the owners of the place are Indian, I got the chicken curry (called “Curry Chicken”) with the Three Bean Salad and Basmati Rice as sides. My order was ready almost immediately after I placed it. The aroma of the curry was enticing, giving me high hopes for a good meal. It didn’t disappoint, for the spices common to the dish like cumin and turmeric were present along with a lot of chili pepper seasoning. The chicken, chopped in small pieces, was very tender and mixed well with the curry. In terms of flavor, I got very little from the rice and the Three Bean Salad consisting of red onions, kidney and green beans and chickpeas (the deli’s cooks called it hummus, which eventually became a bad omen). However, both sides complemented the curry well, making it a nice meal that I’ll likely order again.

Burger Tartar

A couple of weeks later, I went back to City Market for lunch. Like with my first visit, I had an Indian themed meal. This time, I got the Bollywood Burger with kettle-fried potato chips and a dill pickle. Giddy about getting the burger, I violated a cardinal rule. Whenever I order a burger, I never ask how I want it cooked. I prefer letting the restaurant offer that option to me. If it doesn't ask for a preference, then it's likely that the restaurant can only make it one way. When I insist on a preference from a place like that, I rarely get what I want. Most of the time, the end result is a burger that is either too raw or overcooked. Usually that doesn't bother me, but my first Bollywood Burger was the exception.
It's not often that I'm caught completely off guard. When I got City Market's Bollywood Burger, I had certain expectations. As with any burger, I expect the meat to be brown on the outside, an indication that the kitchen cooked both sides of the ground beef. Unfortunately, the kitchen staff at City Market got it literally half right. While one side of the beef patty appeared brown (very hard to tell with the cheese covering it), the other side was damn near raw. When I saw it, many thoughts ran through my mind like "what the f#¿%!" I don't want to accuse City Market's kitchen staff of incompetence, but it went numbskull with my burger. After thinking it over, I decided to take a chance in eating it. I would not have done it if I wasn't on my lunch break from work, but I didn't have enough time for a do over. The burger, topped with pickles, a tomato slice and American cheese (and red onions, which I removed), had a lot of Indian flavor but it was hard to appreciate because of the meat. The grittiness of the nearly raw ground beef was off-putting and not enjoyable. Compared to City Market's curry, the burger was a disappointment because I expected better from the highly praised deli.

SIDE NOTE: By comparison, the terrible cheeseburger that I had at The Arcade several years ago looked normal. Even though the burger tasted nasty, Arcade's kitchen staff put in the effort to cook it properly.

Like the crappy burger that I had at The Arcade, I was about to chalk up the Bollywood Burger as a bad experience and move on. However, after tweeting about it, City Market responded by offering me a complementary burger cooked the way I wanted. I was reluctant to accept the offer, but I felt the deli deserved another chance. Besides, I brought troubles on myself by specifying what I wanted. This time, City Market won't have any excuses if it screwed up again.

When I got the second Bollywood Burger, I didn't give City Market advanced notice of my arrival. I simply got it as a to-go order like I would from anywhere else. In calling it in, I simply stated that I wanted the burger. I didn't make any special requests, for I wanted the burger as the deli intended it. This time around, the cooks at City Market got it right. The meat was cooked "well done," although red specks were present inside of it. Seasoned with spices that I'm unfamiliar with, the ground beef had a pleasantly sour flavor that appealed to me. Along with cheese, pickles and a tomato slice within a run-of-the-mill bun, the Bollywood Burger turned out well. Although I won't put it among the top places in Memphis for burgers, City Market has one that's worthy of an occasional visit. Of course, I'll have to remember not to get anything special with it.

SIDE NOTE: I want to thank the deli’s owners for treating me to another burger, something that they didn’t have to do. Most restaurants would have blown it off, but obviously the folks at City Market care about its reputation.

From my recent visits to City Market, my overall impression is positive. Although the competency of the kitchen staff is questionable, the deli serves good food at affordable prices. Compared to other Memphis restaurants serving Indian food, City Market holds its own in terms of quality and affordability. For those who work and/or live in Downtown Memphis, City Market is a decent alternative for those seeking something different. As long as expectations aren't high, most will not find disappointment in what they get from the grocery/deli. I like it, and I believe others will too.


City Market on Urbanspoon

Labels: Breakfast, Burgers, Deli, Dessert, Downtown, Gas Station/Convenience Store, Indian, Sandwiches

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