I'm making it my personal mission to single-handedly eat my way across the nation, one delicious animal at a time. Fire up the pit, here I come!!!!!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Decatur, AL)




This weekend my wife and I found ourselves heading south to Birmingham so that she could play fairy godmother at the baptism of our friends' cute new baby. As if that wasn't exciting enough on its own, I also managed to talk my way into a lunchtime pit stop (pun very much intended) at Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, Alabama.


Here's a little bit of history for context. Bob Gibson started selling barbecue nearly 90 years ago from a makeshift table of wooden planks nailed to a tree in his backyard. Bob's signature white barbecue sauce was a huge part of his continually-rising success. Now-renouned pitmaster Chris Lilly married into the Gibson family, and in 1992 he joined their barbecue operations as well. With Chris's help, Big Bob Gibson developed a new red barbecue sauce that rivaled their famous white sauce. Since then, these guys have won too many competition awards to list, including Memphis in May, the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational, numerous state championships, etc, etc.

I've seen Chris Lilly compete on television countless times, and I even have one of his cookbooks (Fire & Smoke) on my shelf at home. I'm also pretty stoked to watch him and his team compete at the upcoming Jack Daniel's competition in Lynchburg next month. I was certain that it wouldn't be Chris at the helm today, and I realize that competition barbecue is vastly different from its restaurant-quality cousin. With that in mind, I made sure to temper my expectations appropriately.

Given Big Bob Gibson's fame and popularity, I was expecting a hefty Saturday lunch crowd, but we walked in and got a booth at 12:30 with no wait at all. This place has kind of a diner vibe going on. Their awards are prominently displayed right as you walk in the door, and most of the wood-paneled walls are covered with framed articles from Southern Living and the like. There's no need to be humble when you have their credentials.




Naturally, I went for the Big Bob Gibson combo: St. Louis-style spare ribs and a quarter chicken. This way I'd get to try both their red and white barbecue sauces. I'm not normally a big sauce guy, but I made an exception today. For my sides, I picked their red skin potato salad and kettle baked beans.


The beans were nice and sweet. I found a few bits of pepper mixed in, but I couldn't find any spiciness. The mayo-based potato salad was also fairly tasty. It had a hefty amount of onion, which gave it a good bite. These were both decent sides, but nothing all that special.

I was expecting to have my chicken pre-dunked in white sauce, like it is in every television show about Big Bob Gibson's I've ever seen. When I asked the waitress about it, she instead pointed me to the bottle of white sauce on the table. Really? Who knows how long that's been sitting there? The room-temperature bottled sauce didn't come out as thinly as I had hoped. At least it had a nice vinegary tang to it. The chicken had a crispy skin, though it could have been seasoned a little more. I got dark meat so it didn't dry out very much. There was only a mild smoky taste here. I think I liked the sauce more than I liked the chicken, which is an unusual thing for me to say.

For my money, St. Louis-cut ribs are the only way to go. These had a sweet glaze and a good crust, though not much bark. I liked the seasoning blend on the crust too, but there wasn't enough of it. Just like with the chicken, I only found a minimal amount of smoke in the ribs. I was also disappointed that the meat fell right off the bone with almost no effort on my part. Properly cooked rib meat should stay put until each subsequent bite, not come off all at once. I added their "championship" red sauce just for kicks. It came from a bottle on the table too, so my expectations were low. It was good, but there wasn't anything that jumped out at me as overwhelmingly delicious. I've had grocery store barbecue sauces that tasted about the same.

When we left, we stepped outside into a veritable fog of pit smoke. I wish more of it had found its way into our food. Sadly, I may have once again fallen victim to hype. Perhaps Chris Lilly has shifted too much of his focus onto the competition circuit to the detriment of the restaurant that started it all.

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Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
1715 6th Ave SE
Decatur, AL 35601
(256) 350-6969
http://www.bigbobgibson.com/

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Edley's Bar-B-Que (Nashville, TN)




I've been dying to try out Edley's since we moved back to Nashville a few months ago. I had some errands to run in town this morning, so I took the opportunity to add barbecue to my to-do list.


You'll find Edley's in the up-and-coming 12 South neighborhood of Nashville, which I think was mostly just residential when we lived here eight years ago. The atmosphere is a good combination of modern and rustic. It's a lively place with a full bar, so I might be back for happy hour sometime soon. The line to order had nearly doubled within a few minutes of my 11:30 arrival. Clearly this joint is a local favorite. I'm told that brisket runs out fast, so get there early if you want beef.


I don't normally do barbecue sandwiches, but Edley's Tuck Special sounded too good to resist: a brisket sandwich with house made spicy pimento cheese, an over-easy egg, red and white barbecue sauces, and pickles. It doesn't get much more Southern than that. Well, I suppose they could have added a fried something-or-other, but I digress. The Texan in me requires that my brisket be sliced instead of chopped (even in sammich form), so I made sure to double-check when ordering. Rather than pressing my luck by adding on another entree, I decided to make my Tuck a combo with potato salad and mac-n-cheese on the side.


The mayonnaise-based potato salad was very tasty. Skin-on potatoes were a good choice. There was much more potato than veggie in the mix, which worked well here. The macaroni was far from basic Easy Mac. I really enjoyed the crumbly topping and spices. It was gooey and creamy from the various cheeses they use, and was much better than the mac and cheese I usually find in my barbecue travels. Most of the time I end up leaving a portion of my side dishes behind, but today I finished every last bite.

It was hard to decide exactly how to tackle the towering Tuck Special, so I assembled a pile of napkins and dove right in. The runny egg yolk burst the instant I gripped the sandwich. After thoroughly making a mess of myself and the table, I gave in and opted for a knife and fork instead. Wow, this sandwich was deliciously complex! I managed to find a few bits of plain brisket, which had a great smoky flavor as well as a slight spiciness. The meat was very tender, due in part to the fattier slices I received. Edley's pimento cheese comes out almost like a patty and definitely has some heat to it as well. The addition of the mayo-based white barbecue sauce was really interesting, while the pickles added acidity, sweetness, and a much-needed crunch. I wasn't sure how the egg would play out, but it actually tied everything together beautifully. This sandwich was incredible all the way around!

I'll always be a sucker for the classics, but Edley's proves that barbecue doesn't necessarily have to be simple to be amazing. I will definitely be back to sample their more traditional barbecue items.

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Edley's Bar-B-Que
2706 12th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 953-2951
http://edleysbbq.com/

Edley's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 5, 2014

Judge Bean's Bar-B-Que (Brentwood, TN)




Let me preface this by saying that I'm pretty particular about my hair. Lately I've started driving almost 30 minutes from my house to Brentwood to get my hair cut. What can I say, I'm a diva. As much as I like my new barber, I'm not a big fan of the drive. Luckily for me, there are several barbecue joints in the Brentwood area to make the trip more worthwhile. Today I decided to scope out Judge Bean's Bar-B-Que.


This place is owned by Aubrey "Judge" Bean, who has been a fixture of Nashville barbecue for over a decade. As a native Texan, Judge Bean unsurprisingly and thankfully gravitates toward brisket rather than pulled pork. A man after my own heart. He is also apparently a descendent of the infamous Texas lawman Judge Roy Bean, which is just awesome.

I liked the warm wood that covered the floor and walls, and the tin roof added a nice rustic touch. The stuffed deer heads, bobcats, and armadillos made me feel right at home. There was plenty of Texas Longhorns memorabilia thrown around too, but not a single piece of Aggie decor. Sorry, Aggs. And at the risk alienating any of my Volunteer friends, it was nice to see the correct usage of the abbreviation "UT", as well as the proper shade of orange, being used in Tennessee.

Part of me was anticipating a counter-service barbecue joint, but Judge Bean's uses waitresses. As I frequently do when dining alone, I saddled up to the bar. It's much less awkward and it allows me to watch TV whilst chowing down. The very friendly bartender took great care of me. In fact, everyone I encountered here was exceptionally welcoming. Clearly the staff has been instructed on the finer points of Texas charm as well as Texas 'que.



Since Judge Bean's specializes in Texas-style barbecue, and since I was feeling a little homesick, a Texas Trinity was in order. I got their 3-Meat Smokehouse Combo with brisket, ribs, and sausage, as well as potato salad and cowboy beans for my two sides. I also couldn't help tacking on a piece of their so-called Texas Sushi for good measure.



My Texas Sushi appetizer came out first. What you have here is a jalapeno stuffed with sausage and cream cheese, wrapped in brisket. It's kind of like a California roll, except for men. I de-toothpicked my "sushi" and dug right in. The brisket had a nice smoke ring and was quite tender despite being a leaner cut of meat. I also liked the addition of the sausage, which had a good amount of seasoning. I found a great hit of smoke and heat in each bite, tempered nicely by the cream cheese. Good thing I had a big glass of sweet tea to cool things down. The entire thing was absolutely fantastic, and it made me really excited to try these meats again in the main course.

I enjoyed their mayonnaise-based potato salad, which was a nice change of pace from the mustard-based potato salads I usually find in my travels. Without the overpowering mustard flavors, I could really taste the pickles and pimento. It was also interesting to see the potatoes sliced (like au gratin potatoes) rather than diced or chopped. According to the menu, the cowboy beans are "not a sleeping partners favorite," so I'll apologize in advance to Mrs. Barbecue Fiend. The beans had a ton of flavor, and there was definitely some spiciness to them. They reminded me of the beans you'll find out at the deer lease.

The brisket had a deep red smoke ring which perfectly matched the equally smoky flavor. The dark black bark was also extremely tasty. Though lean, the brisket was magnificently tender. What little fat there was had been rendered beautifully. In addition to signifying the proper cooking time/temperature, this also tells me that Judge Bean's truly cares about their product. I wish I had requested a fatty cut, but this was still really good.

Barbecued sausage seems to be a rare find in Middle Tennessee, so the Czech in me was happy to see it at Judge Bean's. The casings were very crisp, with each bite "popping" in my mouth. I could really taste the smoke, which isn't always the case with sausage. This was most assuredly not made in-house, but it was still really tasty. I was also hoping for a coarse grind, though that's just a personal preference.

I customarily leave my ribs for last, mostly to limit how greasy and meat-covered my cell phone gets while I'm typing out blog notes. These ribs didn't have as much of a crust as I was expecting. I did, however, appreciate that they weren't served drowning in sauce. The meat was very tender, but sadly had no bone retention. Perhaps this was an attempt to appease local demands for "falling-off-the-bone" ribs, or perhaps Judge Bean is merely employing one of the many Texas barbecue traditions besides my beloved Central Texas-style. That being said, they had a nice smoke level and an all-around great flavor.

The brisket was definitely my favorite meat here. Next time I eat at Judge Bean's, I may just order up a dozen pieces of Texas Sushi and call it good.

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Judge Bean's Bar-B-Que
7022 Church St East
Brentwood, TN 37027
(615) 823-2280
http://www.judgebeans.com/

Judge Bean's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Music City BBQ Festival 2014 (Nashville, TN)




When I heard it was time for the annual Music City BBQ Festival, I couldn't resist checking it out. My wife graciously agreed to be my wingman for the festivities. We haven't had much time for outdoor activities lately, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for some fun.


First, I'd like to note that this event was severely lacking in terms of communication and organization. Since I anticipated a large turnout, I wanted to get tickets a few weeks in advance. The official festival website provided a link where interested folks could procure tickets ahead of time. Problem is, the link took you to some info about the 2013 festival, with no place to buy tickets. I emailed the information address - no response. I sent a Facebook message to the official page - no response. I made two Facebook comments to their own posts - no response. Finally, I discovered a third-party website that had tickets available. Sheesh.

Tickets were only $10 per person for a two-day admission pass, which seemed reasonable enough. Since the majority of the festivities were slated for Saturday and I had no desire to fight end-of-week rush hour traffic, at the last minute I decided to forgo my Friday passes. Mrs. Barbecue Fiend was also pretty tired from working all day, so I thought I'd let her get some rest so we could go full force on Saturday. Besides, the two-day pass was only a dollar extra anyway.

This summer in Nashville has been amazingly mild, though the BBQ festival landed on what was probably the hottest day thus far. Apparently this weekend at the fairgrounds was also some sort of giant flea market and/or swap meet. We had to wade through a swamp of $2 socks, homemade honey, and used mannequins to find the right part of the grounds. Finally we found an oasis of tents and smokers.


From some initial research, it seems like there are only 3-4 commercial barbecue vendors from which to procure meat. Weird. Apparently there aren't many joints willing to pay for the health inspection necessary to be a festival vendor. I hoped maybe this year's festival would be different, but sadly not. This event is mostly just a barbecue cook-off and not really much of a festival. In fact, all of the regular brick-and-mortar Nashville barbecue joints I saw there were competing rather than selling. What a shame. At least some of the teams had hilarious names. Here are some of my favorites: Porkasaurus, The Ashholes, Master Basters, Smokin' Hot Butts, and Rub Down South. Brilliant, just brilliant.



Savage Catering
(931) 397-4411


Savage Catering was the first barbecue vendor we came across upon entering the festival. I scoured the Internet for almost an hour, but couldn't find any reference to this operation whatsoever. Perhaps they're new to the food game. The guys running this booth were incredibly friendly, so I was happy to give them a shot. Although it's not my normal barbecue order, I decided to try their BBQ Nachos, which are made with Boston Butt rather than basic pulled pork. My wife got an ear of grilled corn, as if that's what a normal person eats at a barbecue festival.


What I received was a massive pile of shredded pork butt atop normal nacho fixins. The meat was tender, though bordering on mushy. It likely had been steaming itself to death in a warming pan for quite some time. Needless to say, there was no smoky taste whatsoever. The sweet, vinegary sauce was decent enough, but tasted a little odd when coupled with the canned nacho cheese sauce. Looks like I should have opted for grilled corn, too.

Paradise Ridge BBQ
(615) 202-8636
http://www.paradiseridgecatering.com/


Next up was Paradise Ridge, which is another Nashville-area catering operation. Apparently they also serve up 'que at the Green Door Gourmet CSA farm (community-supported agriculture) from time to time via a run-down food truck. Their signage referenced a reserve grand champion win from some barbecue cookoff in Shreveport, Louisiana, though I'm not sure how long ago that particular competition was. Just to be safe, I went with a small order of three pork ribs, no sides.


I understand that large-scale, off-site barbecue is much more difficult to perfect, but the mangled ribs I received looked completely unappetizing. They were drowning in sauce, though I've come to expect as much in this region. There was some evidence of a smoke ring, but absolutely no smoke that I could taste. The meat fell apart at the slightest touch, meaning they were completely overcooked. I was also pretty unimpressed with the sauce, which was more like sweet ketchup. These definitely were not award-winning ribs.

There was one other barbecue vendor that I didn't try, but after an hour and a half of sweltering heat, bad barbecue, and sheer boredom, my wife and I were both ready to leave. This was a really disappointing "festival". Honestly, the best-tasting thing I had came in the form of a 12-ounce can:


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Music City BBQ Festival 2014
Tennessee State Fairgrounds
500 Wedgewood Ave
Nashville, TN 37203
http://www.musiccitybbqfestival.com/

Monday, August 11, 2014

Zimmerhanzel's Bar-B-Que (Smithville, TX)




About two months ago I left my native Texas behind and moved to Tennessee. I've been having brisket withdrawals ever since. Even the brisket I do find is often trimmed of its delicious bark and fat, although I can't figure out why. When I had the opportunity to come home for a visit, the first item on my list was some old fashioned Czech-style 'que. Today was my grandmother's 90th birthday, which is an amazing accomplishment. She's still quite the spring chicken at her age and seemed rather pleased at the prospect of celebratory barbecue from Zimmerhanzel's in Smithville. Done and done.


Zimmerhanzel's has been serving up delicious meat since 1980 (with only a brief hiatus), but finally made the Texas Monthly Top 50 list in 2013. They also got honorable mention nods in 2003 and 2008. Personally, I think their spot on the actual list was way overdue.

I had called in my order three days early just to be safe. Since there were eighteen mouths to feed, we grabbed quite a bit of everything: five pounds of brisket, four pounds of sausage, three slabs of ribs, and, against my better judgment, three barbecue chickens (quartered). Hopefully twenty or so pounds of meat would be enough, but you can't be too careful. We also added on some potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, and pinto beans for good measure.

Their parking lot was packed at 11:45 when I arrived, and there was a line 15 deep between me and the counter. Zimmerhanzel's is a pretty no-frills establishment, unless you count all the deer mounts that is. The older gentleman six spots ahead of me asked for ribs, but sadly was denied because of a "large order" they had to fill. I felt bad for him, though not bad enough to give up any of my ribs. Good thing I planned ahead. The folks here were nice enough to help carry everything out to my vehicle, which was much appreciated.


Even though we weren't officially eating barbecue until dinner, it all looked and smelled too good to resist an advance lunch-size "sample" for myself. Ok, so maybe it was a large sample. Don't judge.



The potato salad was creamy, though not whipped or mashed. It had a great crunch and a great taste. I'm not usually a fan of coleslaw, but this was pretty tasty. I liked the finely-shredded veggies, as well as the pleasant sweetness. The macaroni salad came in the form of unpretentious elbow mac and was also interestingly sweet. My two-year-old niece absolutely inhaled it (seriously, she almost choked), so clearly it was good. The pinto beans had a nice flavor, with just the right amount of salt. All in all, this fearsome foursome of side dishes was terrific.

Sides thoroughly sampled, it was time for the meat. I started with the brisket, which looked fantastic. Naturally I helped myself to the fattier slices. Each one had a quarter-inch smoke ring, as well as a great smoky taste. The fat was rendered beautifully and melted in my mouth. Each bite was very tender. I could have easily eaten another ten or twelve slices, but decided against it.

The individual links of sausage weighed in at about 1/6 of a pound each, give or take. Zimmerhanzel's homemade all-beef links had big chunks of black pepper scattered throughout, which I could definitely taste in each bite. I loved the coarse grind on the meat. It reminds me of home. The casings also had a great snap, further evidencing the perfect cooking time.

Barbecue chicken isn't generally my favorite. I thoroughly enjoy the skin (who doesn't?), but I find that the meat is often way too dry. This chicken, however, was really juicy. The dark meat was especially tender. The skin was delicious, as expected, and had soaked up plenty of smoke. I might have to rethink my aversion to barbecue chicken after this.

The thick, meaty spare ribs were coated with a nice salt and pepper rub, which made them look extra delicious. Sometimes the simplest seasoning blends turn out the best. The red smoky hue went almost all the way to the core. Each bite of tender rib meat came away cleanly and was packed with smoke. It was hard to stop eating once I had built up some inertia.

Everything we had from Zimmerhanzel's was absolutely amazing. As happy as I was with our meal, the birthday girl was even happier. I'm glad that I (and Zimmerhanzel's) could help give her the special day she deserved.

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Zimmerhanzel's Bar-B-Que
307 Royston St - Loop 230
Smithville, TX 78957
(512) 237-4244
http://zimmerhanzelsbarbeque.com/

Zimmerhanzel's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Gambling Stick (Nashville, TN)




Lately I've been searching for a good butcher shop. Nothing fancy, just something better than the Kroger meat department. When I discovered that a small barbecue venture known as The Gambling Stick operates out of east Nashville's Porter Road Butcher on Saturdays, I had no choice but to check things out.


What exactly is a "gambling stick"? Well, according to their Facebook page: "The gambling stick is an old Appalachian name for a stick used to hang a pig from the limb of a tree or staked down sapling. The stick is threaded through the heels of the pig and supports its weight while being harvested. The gamble is whether or not the stick can support the weight of the pig, if not the whole contrivance could come crashing down on the butcher's head." While this certainly makes for a fun anecdote, I was more interested in their Dueling Brisket: beef brisket vs. pork brisket (pigsket). Pigsket generally isn't a commercially-available cut of meat, but one of the guys (possibly both of them) works at the shop, so he saves himself the pigsket out of each pig they butcher. I'm sure that means all of their other meats are prime cuts as well. Well played.

The Gambling Stick is a pretty simple operation: smoker, table, coolers. What more do you need? I'd love to see these guys get their own brick-and-mortar shop, but for now their beach canopy setup at Porter Road Butcher works just fine. It's a pretty symbiotic relationship anyway, so maybe that's better. The butcher shop has some picnic tables on their patio, which works great for lunch. The smell of delicious smoke was almost too much to handle. I had to get my hands (and lips) on some barbecue ASAP!




Each week The Gambling Stick has a slightly different menu. Today's special Barbecue Plate came with two meats, a summer vegetable salad, baked beans, cornbread, and sauce. Considering my third option was pulled pork, the choice of two meats was a no-brainer: brisket and pigsket.


Their summer salad had quite the assortment of julienned veggies: zucchini, squash, green beans, red onion, bell pepper, and probably some other stuff. I'm not a big vegetable person, but it was actually really nice. The light, crisp vegetables were a good pairing with the heavy meat. I also really enjoyed the baked beans, which had only a slight sweetness to them and were more savory than typical baked beans. There were big chunks of meat mixed right in, coupled with just a touch of heat. The cornbread came straight from a cast iron skillet. Mmmmmmm. Sweet, buttery, fantastic.

For a native Texan, brisket was a welcome sight in a land of pulled pork. I asked for mine extra fatty, just to be sure. The crust was black as night, with a deep red smoke ring beneath. It was extremely tender, and each bite was packed with smoke and their tasty rub. I can easily say that this was some of the best brisket I've had in Nashville so far.

Even though I knew this pigsket was likely coming from the lower portion of the pig's shoulder, I still wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Overall, it tasted similar to a pork loin, except way better and much more tender. No surprise, the pigsket had a great smoke level. The combination of crisp bark and well-rendered fat was awesome. This might be my new favorite cut of pork.

The meat was so good on its own that I completely forgot to try the sauce, which is exactly the way it should be. Despite the 25-minute drive, I will definitely be back. Since I was planning on firing up my charcoal pit this weekend anyway, I also snagged a few links of beef kielbasa and some massive quarter-pound shortrib hotdogs from the butcher shop. Score.

UPDATE (August 3, 2014): As happy as I was with The Gambling Stick's barbecue, I thought I'd also share the fruits of my own labor. The shortrib hotdogs and beef kielbasa I got from Porter Road Butcher were spectacular, as were the bone-in pork steaks I had acquired elsewhere.




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The Gambling Stick
Porter Road Butcher - East
501 Gallatin Ave
Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 650-4440
info@thegamblingstick.com
https://www.facebook.com/TheGamblingStick

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rippy's (Nashville, TN)




Downtown Nashville is an awesome place for live music, but surprisingly there aren't just too many barbecue joints to pick from. Jack's has a prominent place on Broadway (Nashville's main drag), and although their 'que is delicious, the line usually stretches halfway to the Cumberland River. I found Rippy's across the street and hoped it would be good, too. As expensive as property must be in this area of town, I'm sure they have to sell tons of meat to stay in business. Fingers crossed.


Not to be outdone, Rippy's had live music going tonight. The old 90s country was actually really good. Nashville is the kind of city where it's not at all unusual to see folks two-stepping in the middle of a restaurant. Rippy's is big enough that there are actually multiple sections with separate live bands. The walls must be pretty well insulated, because I couldn't even hear the other band from my side of the restaurant.

I was dining alone and they seemed pretty busy, so I just grabbed a seat at the bar. It was right next to the open doors in front, which put me in a prime position to feel the amazing cool breeze blowing through. The bartender was friendly and really attentive. All in all, this place had a really pleasant atmosphere.



Although it's clearly the norm for this region, pulled pork isn't really my thing. I also had no interest in barbecue chicken. By process of elimination, that left me with pork loin or ribs. I rolled the dice and ordered a Half Portion Dinner (6 bones) of Rippy's Signature Ribs. The ribs come with two sides, so I picked potato salad and onion rings. The menu didn't specify whether the ribs were wet or dry, but I hoped for the latter.


The potato salad was nice and creamy. It had a great flavor, and I thoroughly enjoyed the crunch from the pickles, etc. I also liked that the mustard base wasn't overpowering. The onion rings looked fresh rather than frozen. They had a great batter and were fried nice and golden. This was an excellent pick for a side dish.

Much to my delight, the ribs came with a dry rub. I was able to cut them apart with minimal effort, suggesting that they were slightly overdone. It seemed like the ribs were more suited for a fork and knife, so I acquiesced. They had a great smoke level, which matched perfectly with the evident smoke ring. My main issue with the ribs was the inconsistency. The first bite was fairly spicy, coupled with just a touch of sweetness. It was also decently tender. Other bites were more bland and weren't spicy at all, and the meat nearest the center was a bit dry. I was surprised to find so many differences in only seven inches of meat.

Rippy's wasn't the best barbecue I've ever had, but it was certainly passable. I'd go back for the drinks and music, although I'd likely order a burger instead.

**********

Rippy's
429 Broadway
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 244-7477
http://www.rippysbarandgrill.com/

Rippy's Smokin' Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 4, 2014

Music City Hot Chicken Festival 2014 (Nashville, TN)

I don't really remember "hot chicken" being that big of a deal when we last lived in Nashville 8 years ago. Apparently now it's the bee's knees. We had some new friends competing in the amateur cook-off at the Music City Hot Chicken Festival, so I gathered up my trusty Tums and we headed to East Park to scope things out. After all, it was Independence Day, and fried chicken is about as close to apple pie as you can get.


Today was 80 degrees and sunny, which made for a beautiful Fourth of July. While there is live music throughout the afternoon, the main focus at this festival is clearly food. All of the lines for the various food and drink stands were unbelievably long. The beer line was the longest of all, so I decided to abstain under the circumstances. Interestingly, the shortest line was the one for free watermelon. Weird.




With lines of eager chicken-loving patrons stretching from one end of the park to the other, I knew I'd only have enough patience for one round of hot chicken. But which one to choose? Hattie B's is new on the Nashville hot chicken scene, and has apparently exploded out of the gate. Bolton's is supposed to be awesome too, but isn't quite as spicy as some of the others. 400 Degrees sounded like too much heat for me to handle. In the end, we decided to go with the originator of the entire hot chicken genre: Prince's Hot Chicken.

Prince's Hot Chicken
123 Ewing Dr
Nashville, TN 37207
(615) 226-9442
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack on Urbanspoon


The line for Prince's Hot Chicken was clearly the longest, but if you're going to wait, you might as well wait for the original. Prince's has been featured on Man v. Food and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and has also apparently won a James Beard Award somewhere along the way. We stood in line for 50 minutes until it was time to place our order, after which we got an order number and waited another 40 minutes. Sigh.

According to the small menu sign, the only option was for an order of Chicken Tenders and Fries. Upon inquiry, I was told that the heat level was "medium," unless you wanted to wuss out and beg for plain chicken. After paying for a standard order, I saw a few people with onion rings, which I wasn't aware was an option. Oh well. The staff all wore t-shirts imprinted with the slogan, "And you thought it was hot going in!" I hoped they were joking, but I was also prepared for the worst.


You know when something's so spicy that you can't even taste it? Yeah, that's what this was. It could have been seasoned tree bark for all I could tell. There was an overpowering amount of cayenne and probably a dozen other kinds of pepper...and it was only their medium heat level! Hot chicken is traditionally served with pickle slices, which are meant to temper the heat a little. They did help, though I'm not sure why exactly. The batter was nice and crisp, and the chicken was pretty juicy. By the end I had developed a little bit of a tolerance, so I could actually taste what I was eating. The flavors were decent, but still an asinine amount of heat. Part of the problem was that the chicken itself was so hot from the fryer that my mouth had trouble differentiating between temperature heat and spice heat. Scorched taste buds aside, I did enjoy the seasoned fries. They were fairly standard crinkle fries, but the seasoning blend was pretty awesome. I'm sure the seasoned onion rings would have been even better. All in all, I'm glad I tried the hot chicken, although I'm still in disbelief that I intentionally waited an hour and a half just to torture myself with two chicken tenders and some fries.

Once I had regained some feeling in my mouth, we were on the hunt for a non-spicy food option. We hoped there would be a few four-legged animals represented here, too. It's the South, so of course barbecue can be found almost anywhere. The once-gigantic line for B&C had slowed to a trickle by the time we were done with the chicken nonsense. I also noticed a sign for peach sweet tea, which sounded like a perfect way to cool down.

B&C Catering
2617 Franklin Pike
Unit 112
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 457-3473
http://baconandcaviar.com/catering
B & C Melrose BBQ on Urbanspoon


B&C (Bacon & Caviar) has operations in Nashville's Berry Hill neighborhood (B&C Melrose) and in the farmer's market (B&C Market). I've been dying to try out their barbecue since we moved back, and this was the perfect opportunity. It's a little unfair to judge a barbecue joint by mass-produced meat that has been sitting in warming pans for hours, so I also want to sample their brick-and-mortar 'que sometime for a true assessment. Our only option for barbecue today seemed to be Pulled Pork Sliders. Good enough for me.


I have to say, pulled pork and peach tea was an awesome change of pace after the torturous hot chicken. These sliders consisted of pulled pork (obviously), coleslaw, pickles, and just a touch of barbecue sauce. The pickles really stood out as the most dominant flavor, followed by the semi-sweet sauce. I liked the tender pork, but I was hoping for more smoke. There also weren't any smoky bits or bark. The crunch of the slaw was nice. I generally don't eat coleslaw, although barbecue sandwiches are the main exception. The sliders were definitely tasty, but could have been better in my opinion. That being said, I'm sure the vast majority of barbecue joints would have trouble maintaining their usual quality in such massive quantities. Now I have an excuse to try B&C's bbq again.

Nashville can keep their hot chicken. I'll take a nice brisket any day of the week. Regardless, the Music City Hot Chicken Festival was a fun way to celebrate Independence Day. Go 'merica!

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Music City Hot Chicken Festival 2014
East Park
700 Woodland St
Nashville, TN 37206
http://hot-chicken.com/festival/