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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Belmont Grill

By Popular Demand

For my last blog post of the year, I will focus on a place recommended by many. Nearly all of my friends and fellow foodies suggested that I try the burger from Belmont Grill. With many of them believing that it's the best in Memphis, I felt it was time to give the burger a try. I did it despite reading a lukewarm review by Seth of the blog Best Memphis Burger, someone who I agree with most of the time. However, Seth ended his review by saying that the bar/restaurant probably had a bad day and he might try the burger again. As someone who believes in second chances, I was anxious to go to East Memphis for the much-heralded cheeseburger.
I went to Belmont Grill on a Sunday night when it had a full house. Thinking back to Seth's review, my confidence in getting a great burger diminished. With so many people there, I lowered my expectations in the hope of getting a decent meal. After grabbing a spot at the bar, it took several minutes for the lone bartender to take my order. I eventually got the Belmont Burger with cheddar cheese and a side of potato skins along with a glass of water. It didn't take long for the burger to arrive, for I got in a little over ten minutes. As I waited, a guy sitting next to me affirmed my choice, boosting my confidence.

SIDE NOTE: If you go to Belmont Grill (Poplar Ave. location) for lunch during the week, do not park in the area behind the adjacent law office. Those bast... er, barristers will charge you $300 an hour along with towing fees. Even though it's legal, that seems like a dickish thing to do. If the law firm is as good as Belmont Grill's burger, potential clients will get to it in spite of any inconveniences. If Belmont's small parking lot is full, I advise parking on the other side of Mendenhall by the First Tennessee Bank and Houston's (a pricey restaurant with a mediocre burger).

The Belmont Burger is simple in its composition. It merely consists of a huge beef patty within a French roll with lettuce and tomato on the side. As always, I ordered my burger "medium rare" which the restaurant got right. The ground beef tasted great, supported by a roll that was full of freshness. In all, it was a textbook-perfect cheeseburger that I really liked. However, I wasn't sure if it was worthy of inclusion on my best burger list. Fortunately, a key component of my dinner swayed my decision.
In addition to the burger, the restaurant added a side of coleslaw to my plate. With a cup of sour cream stacked on top of it, the slaw took me by surprise. I will say that I wasn't happy about getting it, for I'm one of a few native Southerners who don't like the veggie concoction. Luckily, Belmont's slaw was a treat to eat. What impressed me about it were the sweet vinegar flavor and the crunchy texture of the cabbage and the other vegetables in the slaw. It also wasn't loaded with lots of mayo and buttermilk, a big reason why I rarely eat it. In my opinion, the coleslaw is definitely one of best in Memphis along with restaurants like Jack's Bar-B-Q Rib Shack.
The coleslaw went really well with my burger. As I was finishing dinner, I wondered what it would taste like with the slaw in the burger. With a bite left, I put a dab of slaw on it that really made a difference. The slaw and the rest of the burger combined for a savoriness that delighted my taste buds. Regretfully, I should have had the foresight to eating the burger that way from the start, but I'll keep it in mind on my next visit.
It seems that the prevailing opinion about Belmont Grill's cheeseburger is true, for it has proven itself as one of the best (as in #15 on my list) in Memphis. That especially holds true if it is eaten with coleslaw, for it adds that extra element that makes it special. I believe that if my friend Seth gives the Belmont Burger another chance, he might get a more favorable outcome from it. I think he will fare better with slaw as opposed to the restaurant's mushroom gravy, but I can't say for sure because I haven't had it. In addition to hamburgers, Belmont Grill has a wide array of menu items from appetizers like potato skins (mine were okay, average) to sandwiches and seafood. I might try some of them in the future but even if they fall short of what I expect, I'm cool with it as long as Belmont Grill keeps making awesome burgers.


Website (Germantown restaurant only):

Belmont Grill on Urbanspoon

LabelsAppetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Commentary, East Memphis, Multiple Locations

Ken's Food Find on Pinterest

Follow Ken's Food Find

Ken's Food Find on Tumblr

View on Tumblr

Friday, December 27, 2013

South of Beale (SOB)

Decent Food, Good People

Continuing my quest in finding great burgers, I visited the only "gastropub" (can someone explain the difference between this and a bar) in Downtown's South Main Arts District. South of Beale (SOB) isn't a place that I'm unfamiliar with, for I have been there many times with friends. In all my visits, I can't say that the food was impressive. In particular, I didn't like a sirloin steak that I ate during a birthday party for a friend. Although that steak is currently off the menu (replaced by filet mignon), I still remember it whenever I'm at SOB. Speaking of memories, the only menu item that I liked was a burger that came with fried tomatoes. Unfortunately, that version of the SOB Burger isn't on the menu. The restaurant replaced it with something that doesn't come close to its predecessor.

The SOB Burger was decent by most standards. From a preparation standpoint, the gastropub cooked it just the way I wanted it (medium rare). However, the burger lacked the dazzling effect that I was hoping for. Other than the onions providing some caramelized flavor, there was nothing about the SOB Burger that impressed me. Even the Spring Mix of spinach and lettuce and the brioche bun couldn't convince me to give the burger a more favorable opinion. The burger comes with SOB's potato chips that lacked crispness and were mushy. Overall, the SOB Burger is decent enough for most, but the bar needs to step its game up if it wants to compete with places like Local and Automatic Slim's.
The only highlight in my meal was SOB's in-house ketchup. The condiment was sweeter and less dense than most. The thickness of it was low enough for slurping, which I did with a straw. I know that sounds weird, but that's how I roll. Whenever I'm at SOB again, I might get a bowl of it to dip my food in (such as a boring run-of-the-mill cheeseburger).

I didn't want to end this on a negative note, so I found something that's more to my liking. Picking randomly from the menu, I chose the SOB Bar Pie without knowing exactly what it was. It turned out to be a flatbread with mozzarella, basil and roasted tomatoes on a buttery soft crust that meshed well together. Every element in the approximately 8" flatbread contributed equally for a good bar food snack. Just like most of its menu, the flatbread isn't something that I would go out of my way for. However, the SOB Bar Pie is a decent option to choose whenever I'm at SOB.
While it isn't cutting edge, South of Beale serves good food that's coupled with friendly service in a casual environment. During all my visits, the waitstaff took great care in serving me and ensuring that my needs were met. For me, that made the time I spent there worthwhile and will likely be a reason for dining there again. I would rather have a mediocre burger served by someone who appreciates my patronage than a great burger from a place (such as the P & H Cafe) that seemingly doesn't want my business. SOB's owners Brittany Cabigao and her husband are good people who I hope have a lot of success in the future. I will do what I can to support them and I hope others do too.


South of Beale on Urbanspoon

LabelsAmerican, Appetizers/Bar Food, Brunch, Burgers, Downtown, Gastropub, Steaks

Ken's Food Find on Pinterest

Follow Ken's Food Find

Ken's Food Find on Tumblr

View on Tumblr

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

South Memphis Grocery

Tamale Jolly

In searching for another great burger, I went to a part of town that I rarely see. On the recommendations of friends, I paid a couple of visits to South Memphis Grocery. Although it's better known for tamales, the grocery's hamburgers also has its fans. Personally, the good feelings I had about the place countered my usual skepticism about hype. Fortunately, my instincts were right on both the burgers and tamales.

The convenience store's burger (called the "Single Burger" for its single beef patty) isn't anything fancy or "gourmet," but rather a simple sandwich done right. It consists of nothing more than lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayo (also onions that I rejected) on top of tasty ground beef. The meat has a taste similar to Tops' burgers but without the mess. Unlike the barbecue joint, the composition of South Memphis Grocery's cheeseburger (which I got with American cheese) isn't excessive in any components that can make it sloppy. In particular, I really like the sweetness of the dill pickles that stood out in the burger. I later asked the cook what he used, and his answer didn't surprise me. The pickles were Kroger's Hamburger Dill pickles (Oval Cut Chips), a grocery store brand that's widely available. Although the cook said that the pickles were a departure from what the grocery normally uses, I believe it can be a very good substitute. As for my overall opinion of the burger, I can't say anything other than positive things about it. It's something that I hope to have again, with some delicious tamales.

Speaking of that, this wouldn't be a complete review if I didn't say anything about South Memphis Grocery's feature item. Before I go on, I will admit that I'm not a fan of the Mississippi Delta tamale. I don't like the grittiness and taste of cornmeal, especially from a tamale with little pork in it. That wasn't a problem with South Memphis Grocery, for its tamales are both meaty and tasty (and greasy). What really won me over was the tamales' spiciness that permeated throughout them. It even makes the cornmeal palatable, something that I thought I would never say about a "Dirty South" tamale. If I can find more places that make tamales like South Memphis Grocery, it could change my opinion.In the meantime, I will keep it in mind that whenever I want a good Southern tamale (as opposed to Mexican versions served at places like Macon Texaco), I will go to the store on the corner of Mallory Avenue and Florida Street.
From my visits to South Memphis Grocery, my impression of it is very positive. This praise includes both the food and friendly service of everyone working there. It's definitely a place worthy of recommendation in spite of its location in a low-income neighborhood. By the way, "low-income" doesn't necessarily mean crime, but I know that a lot of people won't go there because of it. It doesn't help that the store lacks tables for in-house dining, so it's not for everyone. Fortunately, South Memphis Grocery is open seven days a week, from 8 AM until late night (I don't know the store's closing time) so I'm confident that there's a "safe" time for nearly anyone looking for good, inexpensive food. It's worth the trip.

MENU (it's a little hard to follow)

Check out South Memphis Grocery on

South Memphis Grocery on Urbanspoon

LabelsBurgers, Deli, Gas Station/Convenience Store, South Memphis, Tamales

Ken's Food Find on Pinterest

Follow Ken's Food Find

Ken's Food Find on Tumblr

View on Tumblr

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hattie B's Hot Chicken

Hot Mess!

During my latest visit to Nashville, I got around to eating some of the city's authentic cuisine. I want to stress the word "authentic" because my last experience fell short of that. A year and a half ago, I attended my first beer and food pairing at Downtown Memphis' Flying Saucer that Yazoo Brewery hosted. In an effort to promote its hometown, the host served a sample of Nashville's famous "hot chicken." It made a fair impression, for the breading was overcooked and not nearly as spicy as West Tennessee's Gus's (it's not just a Memphis thing). To be fair, the low spiciness could have been intentional in order to broadly appeal to the guests. Of course, that makes as much sense as going to a nudie bar to see a person strip to only his/her undies. My feeling is if you're promoting something representative of your city and/or culture to others, don't do it half-ass. I'm sure most would have appreciated the effort as Memphis is known for its spicy foods. Despite the lackluster chicken, I enjoyed the overall experience and hope to do it again. In the meantime, I yearned for a true "hot chicken" experience, something that eventually came to fruition.
If my memory of the food/beer pairing session is correct, I believe the host told the story behind the poultry staple. In short, it was the result of a scorned woman getting back at her man (Thornton Prince, the original owner of Prince's Hot Chicken Shack) by cooking him some extra spicy fried chicken. Instead of becoming angry, he liked it and made it for others, eventually starting a restaurant that exists today. That's a crazy story with a happy ending of sorts, and far better than poisoning or the girlfriend going "Lorena Bobbitt" on him. Nearly eighty years later, "hot chicken" is a favorite among Nashvillians that I experienced firsthand as opposed to a bastardized version from a Memphis beer parlor.
In planning for my visit, I studied the menu for potential meals that fit my budget. After looking it over, I decided to get the "Large Dark" plate that the restaurant's website describes as "2 THIGHS & LEG." However, the plate that I got was two huge quarter pieces of dark meat with sides of collard greens and macaroni & cheese. Seeing this was intimidating, for it was more than I wanted. So without a wing (or rather "leg") man, I undertook the enormous challenge.

The "hot chicken" at Hattie B's was quite different from what I had earlier. Unlike Yazoo's version, Hattie B's chicken was drenching in hot sauce. It was so excessive that I probably used half of a roll of paper towels just to stay neat. Compared to most hot wing joints, Hattie B's is very liberal when it comes to the sauce. If this is custom for "hot chicken," I'll bring wet naps whenever I decide to do this again.
I was also surprised by the amount of breading used to cook the chicken. Along with Church's and a few other places, Hattie B's use of breading is far more than I'm accustomed to. Combined with the hot sauce, the breading could have been a meal on its own.
In terms of taste, the aroma of the chicken (atop white bread and capped with pickles, which is traditional for this dish) was very strong. Probably the result of a lot of cayenne seasoning, the taste hit my senses like a hammer. With "hot" being the operative word, the chicken lived up to its namesake. Compared to Yazoo's presentation, Hattie B's made a better impression for it was very spicy, tasty and satisfying. By the way, the chicken wasn't a version of hot wings that most are familiar with. The chicken's spiciness had a bitter, harder edge than most wing sauces (maybe it lacks vinegar). I can't identify all the ingredients in the chicken, but it is distinctive from the average "hot wing." For me, the particulars didn't matter as long as it was good, which was what I felt about it.
The side items were decent by most standards. The collard greens (called "Southern Greens" by the restaurant) tasted about the same as most Soul Food and Southern restaurants. The pimento mac & cheese was thick and very creamy, which are qualities that most will appreciate. Both side items went well with the spicy "hot chicken."
You might find this hard to believe, but the best thing that I had at Hattie B's is something that the restaurant doesn't make. In fact, it was something that I didn't plan on getting. However, because of Nashville's growing reputation for craft beers, decided that it was worth looking into. Instead of water, I got a Boro Blonde from Murfreesboro-based Mayday Brewery. The blonde ale has, according to the brewery's website, "a light citrus aroma with a touch of fruit (thanks to the Glacier and Crystal hops with a twist of New Zealand hops)." My take on it is that the citrusy and slightly hoppy flavors are well balanced, making for a very delicious beer that I hope to see in Memphis soon. I want to thank the woman who took my order for recommending this beer. The Boro Blonde's slightly sweet flavor is a perfect match for Hattie B's "hot chicken."

SIDE NOTE: I'm sure some of my Facebook "friends" are wondering why I'm reviewing something that I swore to give up. Since my pledge to stop excessive drinking, I've decided it was better to address the issues driving the behavior rather than the act itself. In dealing with personal issues, I believe that I've gotten to a better place in life that will allow me to responsibly enjoy one of my favorite passions. It took the risk of losing good friends (including a special one) to make me get my act together, but I'm finally coming around. Nothing, including a very good blonde ale, is worth jeopardizing friendships over.

To sum it up, my experience at Hattie B's was very nice. The "hot chicken" lived up to its reputation for spiciness and was very good. However, it will never take the place of traditional fried chicken that I'm accustomed to. With a West Tennessee bias, I will always prefer chicken from places like Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken (which has a restaurant in Nashville) that is spicy (but not to the degree of "hot chicken") without the messiness of sauce. That said, I wouldn't mind having "hot chicken" occasionally, especially if I'm drinking an excellent beer with it. Although it won't inspire me to write a rap song, it will have me singing its praises.

Now In Memphis

Recently, Hattie B's opened a new restaurant in Memphis, at 596 S. Cooper. Since its opening, the popular chicken joint has served hundreds of people yearning for a taste of its famous Nashville Hot Chicken. Fortunately, I stopped by on a day when Hattie B's didn't have people waiting to enter and managed in engage in fowl play. Although I typically go for dark meat whenever I order chicken, I changed it up by ordering the Small White ("SM WHITE"), which is a chicken quarter consisting of a breast and wing. Choosing the same spicy option as before, the "hot" sauce and the tender juiciness of the chicken breast meshed well for a very flavorful experience. This time around, the chicken's breading wasn't nearly as excessive so I didn't get a meal within a meal. However, the enormous breast and wing made for a sufficient amount of chicken (and unlike my Nashville visit, I didn't get a double order).

By the way, I don't want to neglect the wing, which was also tasty and could give wing joints like Ching's some serious competition. For sides, I got fries and cole slaw that were decent but not up to par with the chicken. However, because my table wasn't completely cleaned off when I sat down, I also got condiments left by the previous diners. While the blue cheese dressing was average, I was impressed with the ranch sauce's strong vinegar flavor that could make for a very tangy dipping sauce for chicken wings, fries or whatever you're eating at Hattie B's.
In eating all of this food, I probably could have washed it down with water, but being the consistent blogger that I am, opted for beer instead. Like Hattie B's other restaurants, the Memphis location has a decent selection of beers to choose from, including some from local brewers. So, in the spirit of consistency, I chose the Fireside, an Amber ale brewed by Memphis Made Brewing Company. This turned out to being a better choice than the Blonde ale I drank during my Nashville visit, for the spiciness of the chicken goes very well with the malty flavor (with a hint of hops) of the rustic Amber ale. The Fireside is very robust on its own and good in any setting, including Memphis Made's tap room that is a few blocks south of Hattie B's in the trendy and hip Cooper-Young neighborhood.
Overall, I really enjoyed my latest visit to Hattie B's. Given the amount of interest in the place, I believe it is a great addition to Memphis and will be very successful. By the way, some people have compared Hattie B's to Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken which doesn't make sense. Until Gus's start slapping hot sauce on its chicken, comparing it to Hattie B's is like making a comparison between meringue pie and cheesecake. Although both are sweet, they are not one in the same. The same can be said for traditional fried chicken and Nashville Hot Chicken, so comparing the two is intellectual laziness. You can love both if you appreciate good food regardless of what it is, so as a non-Nashvillian foodie, I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Hattie B's.

I Want Give A Shout Out To...

Just like with fried chicken, you can't compare Hattie B's with barbecue chicken, something I had during a visit to the Moody Ques at the 2018 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (aka "BBQ Fest"). I want to congratulate the barbecue team for winning seventh place in the Shoulder category, a major accomplishment at the world premier barbecue contest. If the pork shoulder was as good as the chicken thighs I had, it's no surprise that the Moody Ques were successful. Of course, an accomplishment like winning high honors at a barbecue fest isn't easy, and it takes an all out effort that's based on good leadership, something the "Ques" lacked in the past. While I won't lament on the team's past failures, I will say this year was totally different. With my friend and new team president "John D" leading the team, the Moody Ques functioned like a well oiled machine and was up to the task at the BBQ Fest. Of course, even "John D" will admit it was a team effort with team treasurer Misty running things like a BOSS! So again, I want to congratulate them on their success and thank them for inviting me to share in the experience.

    Hattie B's Hot Chicken:
    Mayday Brewery:
    Memphis Made:
    Moody Ques:

Hattie B's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

LabelsBeer, Chain Restaurants, Commentary, Cooper-Young, Fried Chicken, Midtown, Nashville, Soul Food, Southern, Wings

Ken's Food Find on Pinterest

Follow Ken's Food Find

Ken's Food Find on Tumblr

View on Tumblr