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

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fresh Slices Sidewalk Cafe & Deli

Seth Is Right Again (sort of)

It took a while to do it, but I finally got around to revisiting an old favorite for what I believed was one of the best cheeseburgers in Memphis. On my best burger list, I ranked Fresh Slices Sidewalk Cafe & Deli seventh on the strength of its Bacon Deluxe Cheeseburger. Unfortunately, I relied on previous eating techniques for current opinions about my favorite cheeseburgers. Back in the day when I wasn't health-conscious, I used to dip cheeseburgers in cups of mayo to make them creamier. By doing this, I was masking out the taste of the burgers which in turn led to false conclusions. Consequently, I never got a real sense of the quality of my favorite bacon burger. Meanwhile, my friend Seth (blogger for Best Memphis Burger) had a low opinion of Fresh Slices' burgers. As an avid reader of his blog, that really surprised me (to be clear, he didn't review Fresh Slices but instead opined about it in responding to comments that I posted on his blog and Twitter). When it comes to burgers, I agree with Seth's opinions about 95% of the time and not too disagreeable when we're not in sync. That said, our differences about Fresh Slices was an anomaly that I wanted to resolve. However, the last time that I tried to disprove Seth was with our disagreement over Dyer's. In his initial review, he said "I found the taste of the burger almost completely missing. Even with a triple cheeseburger, all I tasted was the bun" (a conclusion that I agree with). Like with Fresh Slices, I thought that he was wrong in his assessment but I eventually saw the light. In the case of Dyer's, it was more about the Heinekens than Hellmann's that clouded my judgment about the greasy cheeseburgers (by the way, I'm also drinking less alcohol, albeit for different reasons). Anyway, I thought for sure that Seth was off the mark about Fresh Slices, but my recent experience has proven me wrong again.

SIDE NOTE: Since Seth's first review, he has had a change of heart about Dyer's. Also, Seth recently appeared in an episode of Travel Channel's Burger Land that highlighted two of Memphis best burger joints. They were Alex's Tavern and a place that uses 100-year old grease to cook its burger patties (Dyer's). Seth did a great job on the show, just like he does on his blog. It's worth checking out.

This was taken on a Saturday afternoon about two years ago. I feel that this is a better
picture than the one I took recently. By the way, with my birthday in September,
does anyone want to hook me up with a camera? Just kidding.

On the night (Tuesday) that I visited Fresh Slices, the place was empty. Compared to years past when the place was full on weeknights, seeing this was shocking. Undeterred, I picked out a table to sit at and placed my order. It was good to know that the menu didn't change much since my last visit, although it wouldn't have mattered. I was there for one thing, the Bacon Deluxe Cheeseburger with steak fries. My friendly server promptly took my order that arrived a few minutes later.
When I got my Bacon Deluxe Cheeseburger, I didn't know what to expect. Eating the burger without mayonnaise was hard for me to grasp, but I had to know if my confidence in it would hold true. As it turned out, the only redeeming attribute about the burger was its peppered bacon. Far better than most places, the smoked flavor in Fresh Slices' bacon turns an average burger into something slightly better. Without it, the cheeseburger would get a grade of "C" as opposed to a "B-" for being slightly better than average. The beef patty (cooked "medium" as opposed to my request for "medium rare") had the requisite seasoning that was far from distinctive. In addition to the bacon, the cheeseburger came with cheddar and Swiss cheeses, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and onions (which I left off) within an artisan-style bun for something that is good but far from great. While it wasn't a "disaster," Fresh Slices' Bacon Deluxe Cheeseburger isn't among Memphis' best. It turns out that Seth was right again, to some degree. With regards to my burger rating, it has fallen to eighteenth and it (along with Dyer's) will likely fall off my list if I find better burgers. I hate admitting when I'm wrong, but I'm a man enough to accept it.
Overall, my recent experience at Fresh Slices wasn't a total disappointment. I left the place with some sense of satisfaction but not the high that I was looking for. With my new perspective, I can't look at Fresh Slices like I used to. In fact, with the Bacon Deluxe Cheeseburger being about the only reason for dining there, I'm less likely to eat there in the future. Nothing against Fresh Slices, but there are many nearby places that serve better food. However, the good service and atmosphere will make me an occasional visitor.

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Fresh Slices Sidewalk Cafe & Deli on Urbanspoon

LabelsAmerican, Burgers, Midtown, Multiple Locations

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Automatic Slim's

Southern Cuisine With Flair

Now that I'm getting my mojo back, I've decided to focus the blog on places that I really like. One of them is the only restaurant on Second Street (between Union Ave. and Peabody Place that's not a part of The Peabody Hotel) that I haven't blogged about. This place was a favorite of mine long before I became a Flying Saucer regular and has been around longer than most restaurants in Downtown Memphis, let alone Second Street. The restaurant I'm talking about is Automatic Slim's, established in the early nineties by Karen Carrier. She's a well-known entrepreneur who owns many restaurants in Memphis, including the Beauty Shop. When I initially started going there, it was for its outstanding jerk-sauced cheeseburger. In addition to that, another Slim's favorite was the fried duck served with shoestring onions that totally rocked. Since those times, both the ownership and the menu have changed. However, the essence of the stylish restaurant has remained the same. So, with me reviewing places ranging from Second Street Shoppers to Texas de Brazil, I felt it was time to shed light on a longstanding institution.

For starters, I want to highlight an entrée from Automatic Slim's dinner menu. With duck no longer a part of it, I decided to try another interesting entrée. While passing on Slim's shrimp and grits, I went with its cheaper cousin Mississippi Catfish and Grits that is nearly as good. The best part of it is the grits, which has a nice cheesy flavor deriving from white cheddar. Unlike better known places like Brother Juniper's, Slim's cheese grits doesn't have the sharpness in taste that I'm accustomed to. For me, that's good because I want my grits to complement the catfish and not overwhelm it. Speaking of that, the catfish is average by most standards. It is properly seasoned and fried in a way that most catfish aficionados are familiar with, but by itself isn't noteworthy. Fortunately, the grits and drops of hot sauce on the plate's edges add plenty of flavors to the catfish. Also doing this is the hushpuppies, stuffed with okra and white cheddar that is quite tasty. As a whole, Automatic Slim's Mississippi Catfish and Grits is a great entrée that I recommend others to try.

SIDE NOTE: I learned an interesting story about hushpuppies. According to some sources, runaway slaves fed the cornmeal nuggets to the dogs tracking them. They did this to "hush" the barking canines. If that's true, then it's a Bicycle Bobby (president of the Squeal Street BBQ Team) "DAMN!" chapter in American History.

On the night that I got the catfish, I ordered the Mac 'n Cheese as an appetizer. I didn't choose this at random, for the pasta dish has been a favorite in the past. From what I remembered, the last plate of Mac 'n Cheese that I had at Slim's was a simple concoction of macaroni, Parmesan and other cheeses (can't remember what types), bacon and herbs. It is similar to what Mollie Fontaine Lounge (another Karen Carrier restaurant) offers that's simply delicious. My expectation was for satisfaction along those same lines, something that Slim's delivered. Its current version is similar to the former, for the pasta features white cheddar, smoked Gouda and Parmesan cheeses (with the latter having the strongest presence), bacon, green onions and truffle oil. Like its predecessor, the Mac 'n Cheese was cheesy with a zestful taste. By itself, the appetizer can serve as casual bar food or an entrée-sized meal. As it relates to what I had later, it would have been a great match for my catfish (although not as good as what I had at The Four Way). However one consumes it, Automatic Slim's Mac 'n Cheese is a tasty dish that's sure to please most.

Earlier, I mentioned that a jerk-sauced cheeseburger was the first plate of food that I ate at Automatic Slim's. As much as I wanted to have it again, it is no longer on the menu. In its place is the Slim's Burger, loaded with smoked Gouda, caramelized onions (called "onion jam" on the menu), roasted tomatoes and bacon within a sourdough bun. The onions are dominant in the cheeseburger, contributing to a tangy aroma. The fresh sourdough bun is soft and meshes well with everything else in the cheeseburger. On the day that I got it, the restaurant cooked the burger the way I wanted (medium rare) that was indicative in appearance and taste. The end result was something almost as good as its predecessor. The burger comes with Automatic Slim's potato chips that were good enough to support the cheeseburger despite being a little overcooked for my taste. Overall, the Slim's Burger (available only from the lunch menu) is a really good cheeseburger that can hold its own with the best in Memphis.

SIDE NOTE: As for why the jerk burger is no longer available at Slim's, it might have to do with the change in ownership. In an article about Bar DKDC, Carrier's newest restaurant (formerly Carrier's noodle and sushi bar Do), states that the restaurateur makes its jerk sauce with a secret Jamaican recipe. If it's the same sauce that was used in Slim's jerk burger, I might have to make a trip to Cooper-Young soon.

At this point, I might have ended this review, but I didn't want to do it without mentioning something from Automatic Slim's weekend breakfast/brunch menu. I wanted to get something interesting, so I chose the Crawfish Eggs Benedict. Compared to similar entrées, the breakfast dish is decent. In fact, take away the crawfish and the entrée isn't any different from comparable restaurants like The Majestic Grille. In fact, The Majestic's version of Eggs Benedict include sides of biscuits and diced potatoes mixed with sautéed onions and red and green peppers. To get the equivalent from Slim's, a diner has to request it. When I ordered it, I got the fried potatoes that don't have a mix of other veggies. All combined, the cost of my breakfast (which didn't include biscuits) at Slim's was higher than The Majestic's Eggs Benedict offering. Even after factoring in the crawfish, The Majestic has the better deal. While I won't reveal my opinion about which entrée is tastier, it's clear that Automatic Slim's provides less breakfast for the buck.

SIDE NOTE: It's interesting that Automatic Slim's makes its own ketchup. It's sweet, likely benefiting from the fresh tomatoes used to make it (even the seeds are in it). The ketchup offers a balance to the extra crispy taste of the potato chips and fried potatoes.

From my visits to Automatic Slim's, I've become reacquainted with a place that's been a favorite for a long time. While it isn't quite what it used to be, it's still a good place to go for lunch, dinner or even breakfast. It seems that the current owners are carrying on the tradition of a restaurant that's a hip place to dine and socialize. The interior design of Slim's is artsy, which is inviting to those who are accustomed to that kind of environment (and is consistent with a Carrier-inspired restaurant). Automatic Slim's is worth checking out, for there is a lot to like.


Automatic Slim's on Urbanspoon

LabelsAmerican, Breakfast, Brunch, Burgers, Commentary, Downtown, Seafood, Upscale

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hurricane Wings & Things

A Cool Joint By "The Joint"

About two months ago, in the last installment of The Battle of the Downtown Memphis Sliders, I said that I would blog less often. After chilling out and clearing my head on some personal issues, I'm about ready to get back at it. In doing this, I wanted to write about something that was easy to describe. For that, I sought out a newly opened wings joint. Although some places like Buffalo Wild Wings have extensive menus, most simply offer wings and a few other items. Therefore, I only needed one visit to review its primary product for a simple no-fuss blog post. In making my decision on where to go, I chose a restaurant that I recently listed on Urbanspoon. After seeing positive reviews on Google and elsewhere, I knew that Hurricane Wings & Things (located near Memphis' infamous jail "201") was the place to go to. It turned out to be a good choice.
In the planning for my visit to Hurricane, I wanted to know about the service as it related to wait times. With other reviews pointing out the long waits for food, I called in my order in the hopes that it would be ready when I arrived. Fortunately, I didn't encounter any problems when I got there and got my food that was hot and ready to go. Actually, my plan was to dine in, for I didn't want to base my opinion on lukewarm and soggy wings. Overall, the service was great and the lady who took my order was very friendly and accommodating. That gave me a good feeling about the wings, and I wasn't disappointed.

SIDE NOTE: An Urbanspoon reviewer complimented Hurricane for its cleanliness. On that I concur, for the dining area is very well kept and about as clean as an East Memphis competitor, Bosses. However, I don't agree that the restaurant has Downtown Memphis' best wings (check out my list to see what it is).

Whenever I try wings from an unfamiliar place, I usually get the smallest amount possible. For a broad sense of the menu, I usually order half of them "hot" (aka "regular hot") and the other half honey gold. With regards to Hurricane, I got its 6 Piece Snack of drummies and flappers (what some call "party wings"), fries and Texas toast. While the honey gold portion of it had the requisite honey mustard flavor that wasn't different from most wing joints, the hot wings were another matter. Initially, the spiciness wasn't unusual, but as I ate more of them, the vinegar component of the wing sauce got my attention. It was very prominent, to the point that it might have undercut some the spiciness in the hot wings. My only gripe was that the sauce was too watery, probably from an excessive amount of vinegar. Still, despite my lips shriveling up, the wing sauce was very good and a standout in my lunch. I liked it so much that I soaked up the leftover sauce with my fries that were otherwise average. Whenever I visit again, I might try the hot wing sauce on one of Hurricane's seafood offerings such as catfish and tilapia. The wings made a great impression on me, which made me glad to visit Hurricane Wings & Things.
Well, now that I'm getting back into blogging again, I hope can stay motivated. Provided that I don't get detracted by things like "well, you know...," I should be okay. Wish me luck.

Soul Lucions Fish & Wings on Urbanspoon

LabelsDowntown, Seafood, Wings

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