My Weekend in Olive Branch

Because of a reduced work schedule at my primary job with the Memphis Grizzlies, I've done more "temp" work lately. Last month, my "temp" company sent me to Olive Branch, Mississippi to help install theater seating for a new Malco multiplex. While there, I visited some of the local restaurants to see what was cooking. What I found was a mix of chain restaurants with a few local eateries mixed in. In choosing where to eat, I wasn't focused on any place in particular even though one of them (Sidestreet Burgers) was slightly on my radar. With my focus more on work than pleasure, I didn't have a lot of expectations about the local cuisine. All I wanted was decent meals to keep me going during my assignment. For the most part, everything I ate in Olive Branch was good, although the level of satisfaction varied among the places I visited.

Hazel's Family Restaurant

On the first day of the assignment, I didn't have clue about where to go. Because Olive Branch is far outside my Midtown/Downtown comfort zone, I had to rely on the Urbanspoon Mobile App for suggestions on where to eat. After viewing images from several restaurants, I let fate make my decision. In heading east on Goodman Road, I found a restaurant in a strip mall near my job site. In choosing Hazel's, I did it despite its low Urbanspoon rating (65%) because of my desire for a decent meal at a reasonable price. To that end, Hazel's delivered, for I got the fried pork chop with sides of turnip greens, purple hull peas (similar to its black eyed cousins) and a cornbread roll for about nine dollars. In eating my lunch, I didn't find anything remarkable about it. The pork chop was thick (½") and not tender, with breading that was more flaky than crisp. In terms of seasoning, there wasn't much there to make the pork chop flavorful. The same can be said for the sides, for they were nothing more than okay. Overall, my lunch at Hazel's wasn't memorable, but it fulfilled its purpose of satisfying my appetite. The service was expedient, for I got my order within five minutes after placing it. So with a quickly served meal that was mediocre, I accomplished my lunching objective. As much as I wanted a better experience, I was cool with what I got and will go to Hazel's if I need a quick meal.

Hazel's Family on Urbanspoon

The Bar-B-Que Pit

On my second day of the "temp" assignment, my initial intention was to get a burrito from Taco Bell and simply chill. However, my fellow "tempers" wanted me to take them to a nearby Subway for some of its $2 six-inch subs. The place is in a strip mall (different from my previous lunch) that has a lot of businesses there. As I was about to drop my fellow laborers off, we passed a small barbecue restaurant. At that point, I ditched my ideas about "running for the border" so I could get a barbecue sandwich. Well, that was my plan before I stepped inside the restaurant. The second I walked in, the owner of The Bar-B-Que Pit greeted me. This guy, whose name is Tom Lochamy, has a very outgoing personality in the manner of a used car salesman. He immediately pitched one the specials of the day, barbecue chicken with three sides along with a roll, cornbread and a biscuit. That was more than what I planned to eat and spend, but I went with Tom's suggestion rather than one of the $5 specials advertised on the restaurant's front window. As much as I wanted to chow down on pork (which begs the question: why would a barbecue restaurant promote poultry over pork), I got the special with green beans, mashed potatoes and baked beans as sides. To generalize, everything was adequate by most standards but not good enough to go out of the way for. The chicken was tender with a decent smokey flavor that can meet most standards. The sweet barbecue sauce was as good as a bottle of Kraft Original, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although it wasn't groundbreaking, the barbecue and everything else made for a decent lunch that amply satisfied my appetite. During my meal, both my server and Tom took great care of me by meeting all my needs. All of this cost $9.74, which was much more than I budgeted but I put that concern aside. However, not getting any pork made me anxious for another visit.

This photo was from a smartphone that's crappier than my last one. I forgot to take my camera when I went to The Bar-B-Que Pit. Please forgive its poor quality.
SIDE NOTE: Because I forgot to take my camera, I later attempted to retake the picture from my first lunch with my digital camera. I didn't use it because the cornbread and biscuit are missing from the plate (Tom wasn't there, and my server wasn't as generous). The chicken in the photo has the hot version of the restaurant's barbecue sauce. The heat level was on par with Louisiana Hot Sauce so it was alright. The mashed potatoes were disappointingly soupy, unlike what I had before.

Two days later, I went to The Bar-B-Que Pit again for genuine smoked pork. Actually, I wanted to get a rib sandwich but the restaurant didn't have any so I settled for pulled pork. Again, Tom greeted me along with one of my co-workers who wanted to tag along (something I usually discourage; will explain later). Like with my first visit, the owner tried to convince us to get a "meat and three" special. Initially we both relented, even though I insisted on getting a $5 special. Tom tried to explain that they weren't offering any "fried" foods (for him, that's burgers) that day (Sunday) so the specials weren't available. Dumbfounded, I gave in to what he said for a couple of minutes before asking myself this: what does frying have to do with barbecue pork? With a barbecue sandwich being among the items advertised as a $5 special, I felt that I was getting the runaround. After going outside to read the window advert that confirmed what I knew (technically, it's listed as a "pork sandwich" that I assume the "Pit" barbecues), I asked Tom why I couldn't get the cheaper special. He responded by saying that our orders was almost ready, which seemingly implied that we couldn't get a change in orders. However, he cut us some slack by only charging us five dollars for both our meals. With the money issue resolved, my cohort and I began eating.

Like I said, I got barbecue pulled pork with macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas and turnip greens (something that I forgot to include in the picture above). Like my last visit, my lunch was good in an unspectacular way. The pulled pork was tender and a bit fatty with a decent smoke flavor. The BBQ sauce was the same as before, although I could have gotten a "hot" version of it. Other than the barbecue, the only thing that stood out in my lunch was the black-eyed peas that had a nice sweet flavor (similar to Mother's (the restaurant) green beans). Overall, I enjoyed my lunch that would get a "C+" if I graded it. By the way, my temping cohort loved his barbecue chicken far more than I did. It seems that when it comes to taste, there are different strokes for different folks.
While we ate lunch, Tom sat with us and talked about his philosophy of customer satisfaction. He believes that no one should leave his restaurant hungry. So, if a customer wants seconds, the restaurant should provide it. Tom feels that if a customer leaves his "pit" hungry, he can only blame himself for it. In this sense, The Bar-B-Que Pit sort of operates in a buffet-style manner. Personally, I will give the restaurant a little more credit than that because the food is slightly better with more personable hospitality. The owner genuinely puts a lot of love (an overused cliché that many Soul Food restaurants claim) and hard work that is evident in his restaurant and the people who work there. If I move to Olive Branch, I can see myself going often to the restaurant for no other reason than the hospitality and atmosphere. Speaking of that, the name "The Bar-B-Que Pit" doesn't seem proper for the restaurant. It comes across more as a country buffet/diner (without the counters) than a barbecue joint. If Tom wanted me to rename it, I would go with "Tom's Country Buffet" or "The Bottomless Pit" that would stay true to the owner's philosophy. Or maybe go with something simple like "Tom's Restaurant" or (dare I say it) "Tom's Diner" (just imagine Suzanne Vega munching on yams and cornbread). Anyway, The Bar-B-Que Pit is a nice place to have a pleasant experience with a decent meal.

SIDE NOTE: There's a Corky's Bar-B-Q restaurant (currently under construction) in front of the movie theater where I worked. When I asked Tom what he thought about his barbecue competitor, he said he wasn't worried. He shouldn't be, because even though Corky's is slightly better, it will never match the attention and hospitality that I got from The Bar-B-Que Pit. That's not to say that Corky's isn't appreciative of its customers, but I don't believe its management will go as far in pleasing them as Tom Lochamy.


Bar B Que Pit on Urbanspoon

Sidestreet Burgers

On my third day in Olive Branch, I thought about going back to The Bar-B-Que Pit. Instead of doing that, I did my homework on the area's restaurants that led me to a great burger joint. By way of the blog Memphis Que, I found Sidestreet Burgers that's owned by Chef Jonathan Mah. He was formerly a sous chef at Alchemy but now runs a small restaurant just outside of historic Olive Branch. From reading Memphis Que's review, I was confident that I going to get a delicious cheeseburger. My leap of faith proved rewarding.
In going to Sidestreet Burgers, my co-laborers (as opposed to the term "co-workers") wanted to go with me. I usually discourage this sort of thing, because I can't get them to buy in. However, with me literally in the driver's seat, the guys decided to tag along. I assumed that they would complain about spending more than two dollars on lunch, especially after eating cheap at Subway on the previous day. Fortunately, the guys were cool with it and we had a very good lunch.
When we arrived at Sidestreet, we didn't waste time in getting our food. As I was about to place my order with Mah (who apparently does everything in the restaurant), I realized that I overlooked a key part of Sidestreet's review. The burger joint is a CASH ONLY establishment that doesn't have an ATM on the premises. As the only one in my party without cash, I went to a nearby (as within a short walking distance) convenience store for a quick withdrawal. Shortly after that, I quickly returned to place my order.

When I got back to Sidestreet, I got what everyone else ordered. I chose the Sidestreet Burger with garlic potato wedges but strayed a bit by going with the in-house Street Cheese Blend, a mixture of sharp cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses. That was something different in a good way and contributed mightily to the burger. Not that it needed it, for the meat in it was good on its own. From what I could tell, the ½ lb. of ground beef seemed like it had a lot of onion powder in it. Along with other seasonings, the beef had a robust flavor that was unique. Overall, the Sidestreet Burger was impressive on both me and my dining companions who seemed very pleased with what they got.

SIDE NOTE: The others used Sidestreet's toppings table to dress their burgers with. It's sort of like a salad bar with unique toppings like tzatziki sauce. I didn't have a need for it, but it made a difference with my dining mates who loved it.
They're not the only ones, for the toppings table sort of got an "OMG" reference when I mentioned it at the Slider Inn. While talking with a guy at the bar about this review, the bartender overheard our conversation. She responded with "Oh my God! Jonathan Mah!" and raving about Sidestreet's toppings table/bar. I'm not sure if she believes that Chef Mah is the Justin Bieber of burgers, but she really likes Sidestreet. It seems that I missed out when I bypassed the toppings, but I hope to rectify that soon.

As for the side items, they were okay. The garlic potato wedges didn't have the pungent aroma that's associated with the bulbous vegetable but was good nonetheless. The wedges made a better impression on my cohorts who might have liked them more than their burgers. While waiting, we also got some of Nikki's Hot Ass Chips that were very crispy and mildly spicy. Like with the seasoning of almost the same name, "Hot Ass" is a bit of an exaggeration but makes for good marketing. Even though neither side was outstanding, they both supported the Sidestreet Burger well.

UPDATE (September 30, 2014): Completely disregard what I said about Nikki's HOT ASS Chips. What I said about them earlier was totally wrong. I based my opinion on the sampling of a couple of chips rather than a serving. Recently, I tried to eat a bag of "HOT ASS" (as in seasoned with Ghost Peppers) that had me whimpering like a baby. These chips are the real deal so eat with caution (and a jug of water).

When my co-workers and I finished lunch, we were very satisfied with it. I'm glad that I didn't get any "drama" over the selection of the dining venue, for Sidestreet Burgers was worth it. If I lived closer to the place (which I'm putting on my burger list at #15), it would be a frequent destination for burgers and other sandwiches. Whenever I visit again, I want to try the Hott Pigg sandwich that has gotten a lot of praise on Urbanspoon. I'm confident that the sandwich will be as good as the burger I had. Speaking of that, I agree with Memphis Que that Seth of the blog Best Memphis Burger should try a Sidestreet Burger. I'm almost inclined to issue another "try it, like it or I'll buy it" challenge √† la Cave's, but instead I'll save my money this time. Anyway, Sidestreet Burgers is a nice little (as in 2 to 3 tables) restaurant that more people should know about. The quality of its food is good enough for at least an occasional visit for anyone living outside of Olive Branch. For those residing either in or near it, they are fortunate to have a first-class burger joint to take advantage of. My co-laborers and I did and are better for it.


Check out Sidestreet Burgers on

MENU (from Foursquare)

SideStreet Burgers on Urbanspoon

After spending four days in Olive Branch, I've taken a liking to the dining establishments of the Memphis suburb. The common thread that they all share is the combination of Southern hospitality and the pride of their work. Of course, I can find this in the heart of Memphis but there's something about the small town charm that I felt from nearly everyone I met in Olive Branch. Speaking of meetings, I wanted to check out a food truck selling tacos at my job site. On the day it came, I missed out because of a discussion I was having with a co-worker about Obamacare. I guess my passion about politics made me miss out on what was probably great tasting tacos (by the way, I believe that Obamacare is a mess that needs fixing). Although I missed it, the fact that the locals of a Mississippi town embraced a taco-selling food truck as one of their own is testament to the cordiality that I felt during my time there. When I return, I want to explore more of the restaurants of Olive Branch. If future experiences are as good as the last, I might become a part-time resident.

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