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

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Banjo's (Nashville, TN)




I'm a big fan of food trucks for many reasons. These mobile eateries often offer some of the most unique menu items you'll find, and I admire their willingness to experiment with daily specials. Banjo's truck was scheduled for a lunch run out in Madison, Tennessee today, which isn't exactly close to my office distance-wise, but with interstate driving it really doesn't take any longer to get there than a trip to East Nashville.


Chicken and waffles is always awesome, but Banjo's goes all-in with their Pulled Pork Waffle in addition to the usual poultry. Besides the obvious, this dish comes topped with blue cheese coleslaw and drizzled with your choice of sauce. I picked their cilantro-jalapeño ranch to jazz things up, especially since the traditional barbecue sauce option was a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's. Well, it turns out the sauce doesn't come pre-drizzled anymore, but there were several bottles set out for customers to add as desired. This was already more than enough food for lunch, but I would have been remiss if I didn't also sample their Baby Back Ribs. The ribs are accompanied by blue cheese slaw as well, but I subbed in some ranchero beans instead. Although I had initially requested loaded potato salad as my side, that's now a "seasonal item" for some reason. None of these hiccups were deal-breakers by any means, but they did make the ordering process a little frustrating.

Banjo's three-man crew may not be enough, or at the very least the one they have isn't efficient. They started taking orders ten minutes later than scheduled. I was the fifth person in line, and it was thirty minutes later before I had my food in hand. Apparently it took some time for them to get the fryer hot, and since they've decided to start including French fries with their rib baskets, I got caught in the wake as well. The guy who handed me my order apologized and assured me that their food was worth the wait. Since I basically spent my entire lunch break plus fifteen minutes merely acquiring food, I hoped that he was right.



The blue cheese gave Banjo's coleslaw a really interesting bite, which I liked much more than the basic mayo variety. I found the pork tender and juicy, and it was adequately seasoned. There were hints of smoke in each forkful, as well as a matching rosy color from the smoke. That said, the pork was a little watery, like it had been hanging out in its own juices for too long. The waffle itself was a great vehicle for this dish. Mine was light and fluffy, and the lack of sweetness helped it pair nicely with the savory pork and pungent blue cheese. I thought that the addition of ranch dressing made for a great combination, and although the cilantro was definitely present, I didn't notice any jalapeño in it. Perhaps jalapeños are seasonal as well?

Standard frozen fries were nothing special and don't really warrant further mention. The ranchero beans were ok, but didn't particularly wow me. I was expecting ranch-style pinto beans by the name, so goopy baked beans were a bit of a disappointment. They also ran pretty heavy on the sauce. As for the ribs, I'll be honest, they didn't look all that great. There was a nice pink coloration on the pork, and the meat was certainly tender, but the crust (if you can even call it that) was fairly soggy. Even the heavy dose of dry rub had gotten mushy and caked on, partially because I think they're using too many powdered ingredients and not enough crystallized ones. The rub also tasted a lot like Old Bay seasoning, though spicier, and there was so much of it that I couldn't taste the advertised hickory/maple/cherry smoke. That may have been the biggest shame of all. Well, that and the fact that four ribs, fries, and a quarter-cup of baked beans cost me $12.00.

Obviously some degree of advanced cooking is required with food truck barbecue. I don't know how long beforehand Banjo's smokes their meat, but it's definitely too long. When barbecue sits around and just steams itself to death, the end result approaches pot roast territory.

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Banjo's
Nashville, TN
(615) 486-4794
https://www.banjosfood.com/

Monday, February 13, 2017

G'z Bbq & Catering




My first attempt to explore G'z Bbq came in June 2016. I had thought it prudent to sneak in one last dose of barbecue before the hordes of tourists descended on Nashville for that year's CMA Fest. I arrived at G'z at 11:25am on a Wednesday, a time at which they should have already been open for twenty-five minutes per their advertised business hours. Instead, the lady working there informed me that they weren't open yet because they "still had to warm everything up; the meats aren't ready." Apparently this "warming up" process was slated to take another thirty to forty-five minutes, and it gave me no confidence whatsoever in the quality or freshness of their barbecue. With a limited amount of time for my lunch break, I cut my losses and picked up a Jimmy John's sandwich instead.

Fast forward to today, when I finally psyched myself up enough to make another run at G'z Bbq, partially (ok, mostly) because I discovered that my first choice for a barbecue lunch adventure had recently closed up shop.


This time around was a completely different scene. The two guys getting everything set up were lively, friendly, and generally hilarious. We chatted for a bit about the finer points of smoked meatloaf, smoked catfish, and brisket chili. The place was empty thus far, and I hoped that it would make up in food what it lacked in ambiance. After all, who needs more than a simple table and chairs when you have outstanding barbecue?


Once again I found myself in a comboless establishment. I'm glad that I double-checked though, because they offered me an off-menu sampler of ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder. This is about as close to the Texas Trinity as you're going to find in most parts of Tennessee, so I ran with it. I picked out sides of potato salad and smoked cabbage. I'm not really a big cabbage eater, but these guys said that it was their specialty. Sold.

The plating process took a lot longer than I expected, mostly because they had to warm up the meats for my order. Sigh. Luckily, they were using a flat-top grill rather than the microwave, but still. I did notice that the smoker out front was pretty much dead when I rolled up, so maybe they smoke everything overnight? Once boxed, my entire order got finished off with a heavy dusting of dry rub.



As advertised, the cabbage was phenomenal, and that's saying a lot coming from me. It retained just enough crunch to keep the overall texture in check, and mild smoky undertones came through in each bite. Their mustard-based potato salad was also tasty. I found it a little sweeter than most, with plenty of pickles and pimentos to go around.

Despite my concerns about the re-heating process, G'z brisket was truly exceptional. It couldn't have been more tender, and the well-rendered fat absolutely melted in my mouth. The deep black bark and beautiful red ring both screamed "Smoke!", as did the flavors. I also found a great seasoning on the bark, which the extra dusting of rub helped to bring to the forefront. This was one of the few briskets I've eaten in Tennessee which was worthy of the name.

The rough-chopped pork shoulder did not disappoint either. Well, not too much anyway. The meat was very tender with quite a bit of bark mixed in. That said, it was slightly dry, but still very good. I enjoyed the moderate smoke level as well as the spice blend. Even though it was a big harder to pinpoint the natural pork amidst all of the dry rub, the end result was savory and delicious.

My meaty spare ribs were encased in a dark, beckoning crust. I don't like my ribs falling off the bone, but these took a little more effort than I'd prefer. In fact, trying to cut apart my rack with a plastic fork and knife (admittedly not the best tools for the job) was exceedingly difficult. The smokiness was immediately apparent upon first bite and the pork was perfectly rosy, so I was willing to overlook some of the flaws.

The clear winner in this meat trio was the brisket, which is no easy feat for most non-Texans. I'd really love to taste G'z Bbq fresh off the pit, because I'm sure it's absolutely amazing.

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G'z Bbq & Catering
925 Gallatin Ave
Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 953-6385
http://www.gzsbbq.com/

G'z BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Round 2: B & C Melrose BBQ (Nashville, TN)




This week I have been trying to slowly acquaint my little Barbecue Fiend with his daycare before I have to go back to work. On the first day, I intended to leave him there for an hour but I only lasted forty-five minutes, because I'm totally THAT parent. B & C Melrose is literally two minutes down the street from the daycare, so I thought that some awesome barbecue might be a great way to calm my nerves for a while on Day Two.


The dining room, which admittedly is not overly-spacious to begin with, went from empty to full within the first twenty minutes that this joint was open. By then the order line was also out the door, and if you've had the pleasure of eating B & C's barbecue before, then you know why. I was definitely glad to have gotten there early today.


On my first outing to B & C, I created my own quasi-combo of ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. All three were phenomenal, but I wanted to mix things up a little on this return trip. I went with a plate of pulled pork over grits and an order of their smoked and fried wings. The lunch plates all come with two side dishes, and since mine already came with a heaping helping of grits, I narrowed things down to corn pudding and baked potato salad. B & C offers garlic cheese grits every day, but I decided to get my pork over their grit-of-the-day, which happened to be jalapeño on this occasion.



The baked potato salad came with skin-on red potatoes and plenty of mayo to bind them together. It was very creamy, although big hunks of pickle added a good crisp texture and some nice acidity as well. The corn was warm and comforting on this cold, rainy morning. I found the kernels to be neither mushy nor crunchy, but rather a pleasant al dente. It was also fairly sweet, as one might expect.

I was wowed by B & C's pulled pork last time, and today was no different. It was exceptionally tender and decently juicy. There was also a moderate smokiness and a nice seasoning to be had on each piece of bark. The meat carried a good salty savoriness in each bite, making it impossible to put my fork down. The pork was fabulous on its own, but today I decided to try it dipped in B & C's mustard barbecue sauce just for kicks. It was very zesty, with a mild spiciness as well. The sauce was a great addition to the meat, but even better was the combination of pork and grits. Their grits are light and fluffy and full of flavor. They had just enough jalapeño to spice things up without completely dominating or overpowering my palate. B & C has been rated "Best Grits" by the Nashville Scene, and there's a reason for it.

Although I only ordered and paid for a dozen wings, they brought out ten. Oh well, I certainly wasn't going to complain. Since I'm not the biggest fan of sauced wings, and in order to get a good feel for the natural flavors, I requested my wings dry. At first bite, I knew that I was in for a treat. Beautifully crisp and heavily-seasoned skin encased the juicy chicken beneath. Some might find them a little much in the salt department, but I thought they were just right. There was tender meat on each and every bite of each and every wing, not to mention a nice mild smoke level. B & C offers ranch and blue cheese for dipping, but do yourself a favor and use the mustard barbecue sauce instead. You'll thank me.

B & C helped me successfully last a solid two hours before I made the run back to daycare, a marked improvement over the first day.

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

B & C Melrose BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Round 2: Whole Hog Cafe (Little Rock, AR)




In what has quickly become an annual tradition with my in-laws, we picked up an order of delicious barbecue from Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock to celebrate Christmas Eve. Clearly I married well.


Truth be told, I much prefer this Cantrell Road location to the other branch I've sampled over on Markham Street. In fact, the barbecue I had from the Cantrell joint is what inspired me to start this blog some four years ago, making today's meal a homecoming of sorts. My first go-round here was before I began adding photos to my blog posts, so I made sure to take a few snapshots this time.



My mother-in-law placed a hefty order of pulled pork, brisket, and sausage, as well as potato salad, baked beans, and coleslaw on the side. Since my wife doesn't particularly enjoy any of those side dishes, we also picked up a small portion of cheesy corn for her. I hoped that she would be kind enough to share.


Large slices of skin-on potatoes in a mayo/sour cream base made for the perfect potato salad. The sour cream added enough flavor that excess spices weren't really required, and the diced chives gave it a pleasant texture as well. Their baked beans are a good combination of sweet and spicy, and they were obviously homemade. Although slaw isn't exactly my favorite food, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed theirs. It was nicely peppered, crunchy, and only slightly sweet from the dressing. The corn was creamy and cooked just al dente enough to hold its shape. It wasn't exactly what I envisioned when I heard "cheesy corn," but it was tasty nonetheless.

Rather than being shredded into oblivion, the pulled pork came in nice big hunks of meaty goodness, complete with much more bark than I expected to find. It was tender and well-seasoned, especially the salty bark. I noticed only a moderate smoke level, typical of most pulled pork. Their pork doesn't need sauce, but it does tend to enhance things nicely here. My favorite of the Whole Hog sauces is the #6 "rich mustard and vinegar," so much so that I didn't even bother with the others today. It was nice and tangy with good hits of acidity.

The brisket slices were a little on the thin side, and a lean cut to be sure. My initial 2012 visit to the Cantrell Road location yielded nice fatty beef, but the large catering order we picked up from Markham Street in 2013 was more similar to what I found today. It's possible that Whole Hog utilizes thinner, lean slices for large orders to try and keep the meat more tender, or perhaps they've just changed up their modus operandi altogether. Regardless, the brisket was certainly tender and exceptionally smoky.

My definite favorite of the meats was the sausage. It wasn't quite the coarse-ground variety that I'm accustomed to from Central Texas, but it was much better than the over-processed mush that most places serve. The meat was sprinkled with a good helping of black pepper, and it was quite juicy. The casings also had a great snap to them, which any Texan can tell you is key to a good sausage.

Whole Hog didn't quite live up to my expectations, but it was most certainly great barbecue. Perhaps I was simply remembering that first meal with rose-colored glasses, or perhaps I was simply too inexperienced and impressionable back then. Either way, I was grateful for my dinner, and I hope that Whole Hog Cafe is on the menu next Christmas.

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Whole Hog Cafe
2516 Cantrell Rd
Little Rock, AR 72202
(501) 664-5025
http://www.wholehogcafe.com/

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Love Bus (Nashville, TN)




I saw The Love Bus food truck (well, food bus) while I was out running a quick errand this morning, and I made a last minute decision to stop by. Because why not?


I had my doubts about this refurbished school bus barbecue, but everything that I observed coming out of their "kitchen" both looked and smelled delicious. Oh well, at least the TriStar Centennial hospital was right next door if I happened to need medical attention. I grabbed a pulled pork sandwich, plus a couple of their signature Soul Roll eggrolls: the Mac Daddy and the Chicken Philly. Orders trickled out of the window at a snail's pace, and I hoped that my increasingly long detour would be worth it.



Their Mac Daddy roll is a glorious combination of smoked bacon and cheesy macaroni. I bit in, and my immediate reaction was, "Wow!!!" The flaky eggroll wrapper was the perfect vehicle for the gooey mac and cheese, and the salty bacon gave things some much needed savoriness. When I read "the cheesiest" in this roll's description, I naturally assumed that they were referring to the classic Kraft product slogan. Well, if they're using blue-box macaroni in this dish, they sure fooled me.

As its name might imply, the Chicken Philly eggroll consists of smoked chicken, sauteed onions and peppers, a three-cheese blend, and barbecue sauce. I didn't catch any smoke in this eggroll, but I didn't really expect to either. Despite its lack of smoke, the chicken was at least juicy and salty. The crisp bell peppers and pungent onions were a nice touch too, invoking a little Philly cheese steak nostalgia.

To my surprise and my delight, The Love Bus serves up seasoned hand-cut fries instead of the all-too-typical frozen crinkles. Their heavy dusting of spices jazzed things up nicely. Fries wouldn't have been my first choice to accompany a barbecue sandwich, but I did enjoy them immensely.

The pulled pork sandwich was spot-on. It had a pleasant smokiness throughout, as well as plenty of jet-black bark mixed in. I found hints of barbecue sauce here and there, but thankfully only enough to add a slight sweetness and a little acidity. Although I remain doubtful that the pork was smoked on-bus, it certainly was tender, juicy, and very flavorful. The crunchy purple slaw was also a welcome addition. It was visually appealing and enhanced both the taste and texture of this sandwich.

I must admit, The Love Bus isn't a place that you'd expect to find awesome barbecue, at least not with a cursory book-by-its-cover examination. Those preconceptions aside, their 'que is definitely worth a try.

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The Love Bus
Nashville, TN
http://www.lovebusnashville.com/

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Row Kitchen & Pub (Nashville, TN)




I had originally brought some Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch today, but after staring at a computer screen for nearly four solid hours, I was in desperate need of a change of scenery. Given the exceptionally pleasant fall weather, I moseyed on over to The Row to see what sort of meaty deliciousness I could scare up.


The Row has a fantastic atmosphere that's a blend of rustic and modern. Everything has sort of a reclaimed barnwood feel to it, but without going full-on farmhouse sheik. It's essentially the restaurant version of a house on HGTV's "Fixer Upper," except instead of shiplap or an open-concept kitchen they've got a bar, a sound stage, and an immense patio. There is also a large indoor dining space if the elements are being uncooperative.


I have a weakness for deviled eggs, so there was no way I could resist their Deviled Eggs 5-Way appetizer! These eggs each come with their own homage to Southern cooking: pimento cheese, chow chow, bacon, dill pickle, and spoonfish caviar. Not having the slightest idea what a spoonfish was, this one took some research. Apparently the caviar is harvested from paddlefish, the term "spoonfish" being merely a nickname of sorts. They're native to the Mississippi River basin, making them about as Southern as chicken fried steak, if not just a tad bit unconventional.


The pimento cheese was creamy and decadent, with a distinct cheddarness to it. I'm not entirely sure that I've actually eaten chow chow before, but I am sure that I enjoyed the sweet acidity of theirs. The crisp, salty bacon was everything that you'd want it to be, and the dill pickle had a nice crunch coupled with pleasantly pungent hits of vinegar. As for the infamous spoonfish caviar, it was much saltier than I would have imagined, and I liked it a lot.

For the main course, I couldn't decide between a pulled pork plate or a brisket plate, so I did the only logical thing and asked for an off-menu combo. Thankfully, they were happy to oblige. Their plates automatically come with a spicy corncake and slaw, as well as one additional side. I picked the bacon mac and cheese for fairly obvious reasons.


Wow, this was definitely not basic box macaroni. The small cast iron dish allowed the sides to crisp up a little, and the layer of melty cheese right on top was a great bridge between the gooey spiral pasta and the crispy crumbled bacon. This dish was savory, comforting, and absolutely scrumptious. The corncake was surprisingly fluffy and moist, with a good balance between sweet and heat. It was an excellent pairing for barbecue.

My rough-chopped brisket was tender, juicy, and perfectly smoky. I found nice pieces of fat, bark, and rosy smoke ring mixed throughout, which enhanced the flavors and the smokiness at every turn. The well-rendered fatty pieces absolutely melted in my mouth, as God intended. There was just enough seasoning to be interesting without overpowering or masking the natural meat flavors.

The pulled pork was even more juicy than the brisket had been, at least compared to the non-fatty pieces of beef. It had a more tempered smoke level, which is about par for the course with pork. The chunks of bark that I found did pack more of a smoky punch, and they seem to have carried more of the seasonings as well. Although the pork certainly didn't need any sauce, I gave the Alabama White a twirl anyway. It was creamy and zesty, which complemented the pork nicely.

Admittedly, I went into The Row expecting to find a three-star barbecue lunch, four stars tops. But when I looked back through my notes, I realized that I couldn't find any criticisms to justify anything less than top marks. Color me impressed.

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The Row Kitchen & Pub
110 Lyle Ave
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 321-1224
http://therownashville.com/

The Row Kitchen & Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

South Street (Nashville, TN)




Today's lunch adventure was to a place whose official name is South Street Original Smokehouse, Crab Shack & Authentic Dive Bar. For the sake of simplicity, let's just stick with South Street.


South Street is, at most, a ten-minute stroll from my office building and an equally short hop from the Vanderbilt University main campus. They've apparently been in operation since 1991, but even as a Vanderbilt undergrad in the early 2000s, this place somehow stayed off my radar. Better late than never, I suppose.

Judging by the scene outside, part of me was expecting sort of a Joe's Crab Shack vibe, but there was surprisingly little vibe of any kind to speak of. It's basically just a combination of unpainted shiplap and red brick, with not much else in terms of decor. Although, there are a couple of random trees and a treehouse running right through the main entrance, which I guess counts for something.


They have a Smokehouse Trio combo plate available, but not being in the mood for sausage, I went all-in with the BBQ Half Feast: a half-pound of pulled pork, a half-rack of ribs, and a half-chicken with two sides, for which I picked Cuban corn and homemade tater tots. Clearly there would be some leftovers coming out of this lunch, or at least there should. The phrase "my eyes were bigger than my stomach" doesn't even begin to describe the enormity of this plate.


The automatic jalapeño cornbread was commendable. It was only slightly spicy, but not the least bit dry or crumbly. Their Cuban corn was charred beautifully. It came topped with a sprinkle of cilantro and cojita cheese, in true street corn fashion. Of my side dishes, the homemade tater tots were the clear front-runner. The crispy panko batter and creamy potato interior blended together nicely, almost like a potato croqueta.

South Street smokes their pork over hickory, after which point it's pulled by hand. My helping had plenty of bark mixed in, as well as a nice smoke level throughout. There were also hints of vinegar from the mop sauce. It was decently tender, with only a few moments of dryness. The pork was admirable, but with room for improvement.

The Chicken is pumped with South Street's secret blend of seasonings, then smoked. I found a tasty blend of spices on the skin (my favorite part!), and the meat beneath was definitely juicy. A mild smokiness was about what you'd expect for barbecue chicken. It comes with a side of Alabama white sauce for dipping, and although it wasn't really necessary, this spicy sauce certainly jazzed things up a bit.

Their ribs come dry rubbed, which I generally prefer to sauce. They could have used much more seasoning though, such that I wouldn't really call it a true dry rub. These bones also weren't quite as juicy as I would have liked, but they were undeniably smoky. The crust was a little overly crisp, like bacon that's been cooked too long, perhaps from finishing on the grill or in the broiler. Overall, the ribs were ok, but fell short in a few key areas.

I'm glad that I finally discovered South Street. Things were a little hit or miss, but I enjoyed my meal enough warrant a return trip. A word to the wise though: If you are dining alone and order the massively excessive Half Feast like I did, be prepared to get a lot of judgmental stares from the other customers. Don't worry though, they're just jealous.

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South Street
907 20th Ave South
Nashville, TN 37212
(615) 320-5555
http://www.pansouth.net/southstreet/

South Street Original Crab Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, October 28, 2016

Coast 2 Coast BBQ (Nashville, TN)




My wife and I spent a day at St. Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville bringing our precious baby boy into this world, plus a few more days recovering while we oohed and awed over how amazingly cute he is. The hospital provided my wife's meals, but as I was more or less on my own in that regard, I wandered down to their Balance Kitchen cafeteria to check things out. I never would have thought that hospital barbecue would be worth a flip, but the exceptionally smoky smell emanating from the cafeteria's Coast 2 Coast BBQ counter was enough to make me reconsider.


The barbecue at Coast 2 Coast is supposedly smoked on-site, although I'm not entirely sure how or where, and I can't imagine that pit smoke is exceptionally healthy in a hospital. Perhaps a pressure smoker or an indoor electric smoker? With my expectations low, I assumed that they would simply be spooning pre-cut meat out of containers and into sloppy joe-style sandwiches. I was pleasantly surprised to find an actual knife man slicing, chopping, and plating everything to order.


I thought I had ordered their two-meat Combo, but what I was handed was simply a giant plate of pulled pork and Texas-style brisket. Side dishes seemed to be an extra charge, and although I briefly considered adding something on, to be honest nothing that I saw struck me as overly appealing. Oh well, I'm really a carnivore at heart anyway.


The fatty, moist brisket was chock-full of deliciously rendered fat. Thick slices are much more difficult to keep juicy and tender, but Coast 2 Coast pulled it off nicely. There was a great smoke level in each bite, particularly in the salty black bark. I also noticed a slight sweetness to the bark from their marinade, but I couldn't quite discern the dominant flavors (other than sugar, that is). This was certainly a commendable brisket.

You really can't serve barbecue in Tennessee without having pulled pork on the menu, and often you'll find that those two terms are synonymous. Coast 2 Coast's pork was just a tad dry but still had a great flavor, especially in the bark that was scattered throughout my heap of meat. There was a nice smokiness here, as well as the same sweet marinade that I had tasted in the brisket. They did have sauce available on the side, although the marinade is probably about all the sauce you need with this dish.

Coast 2 Coast offers some fairly successful barbecue in a fairly unexpected setting. After the first of what I can only assume will be many, many sleepless nights sitting up with our little boy, it was nice to find a little smoky sustenance at St. Thomas Midtown.

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Coast 2 Coast BBQ
St. Thomas Midtown Hospital
2000 Church St
Nashville, TN 37236
http://www.sthealth.com/locations/saint-thomas-midtown-hospital

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Neighbors of Sylvan Park (Nashville, TN)




Neighbors of Sylvan Park isn't a place that I've necessarily heard much about, but lately I've had a desire to expand my lunch options beyond the usual walking distance radius around my office. Located in (surprise, surprise) Nashville's Sylvan Park neighborhood, Neighbors would certainly provide a change in scenery, and I'm always anxious to expand my barbecue horizons.


This place is fairly dark and dingy, with a dive bar look that's matched by its dive bar smell. I guess Neighbors is technically a non-smoking establishment, but with all of the employees taking cigarette breaks out on the back patio, I sure couldn't tell the difference. The patio itself is actually pretty nice, all things considered. The decor here is probably what you'd expect: old cracked bar stools and about as much random crap as they could possibly fit on the painted cinderblock walls. I also noticed more flies circling around than I typically care to see while dining. Their music choices were pretty rocking, so I suppose that's something to be grateful for.


The menu at Neighbors is mostly an assortment of barbecue and Tex-Mex, with a few salad options tossed in for the lady-folk. I ordered a six-pack of mild smoked wings for a quick appetizer, followed by their pulled pork sandwich lunch special. All of the specials automatically come with chips, and since a substitution apparently wasn't possible, I added on a side of potato salad as well. Because the only thing better than meat and potatoes is meat and double potatoes.



My wings came out piping hot, which generally a good sign. These little fellas are dry-rubbed and smoked on a combination of hickory and apple wood for about five hours, and although that sounds great in theory, I couldn't really pinpoint any smoke here. The flavors I did find, however, were very savory, with almost an extra-peppery Old Bay seasoning thing going on. The chicken was rather tender, but the skin, while flavorful, could have been a little more crispy for my liking. I suspect that the excessive powdered spices in their dry rub prevented it from crisping up properly.

I had my option of barbecue, salt and vinegar, or jalapeño chips, but I stuck with regular. Super adventurous, I know. Not being overly excited about run-of-the-mill bagged chips, I simply took them home to include with another day's lunch. The potato salad was exceptionally thick and viscous. There wasn't much in the flavor department, but at least they tried to spruce things up with a dusting of paprika. Spicy Hungarian paprika may have been a better choice though.

The massive pile-o-pork was quite literally spilling out of its toasty brioche bun. There was plenty of bark to go around, and it was spectacular. The meat itself was juicy and seasoned well. A moderate smoke level was just enough to make things interesting. Their barbecue sauce comes on the side by default, and there's no reason to add it to the already delicious pork. I appreciated the use of brioche, which was infinitely better than the unfortunately-standard grocery store hamburger bun that I normally find on my barbecue excursions. In my opinion, a little bit of crunchy slaw would have really completed this sandwich, but it was still impressive even without it.

If you can get past the visual and olfactory shortcomings, the barbecue at Neighbors of Sylvan Park is actually pretty good, and certainly better than expected. But it's definitely not the kind of place you'd take a girl on date night, at least not if you intended on having a second date. Food-wise, Neighbors is probably more like a solid three and a half stars, but the awesome pulled pork was enough to spur my generosity today.

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Neighbors of Sylvan Park
4425 Murphy Rd
Nashville, TN 37209
(615) 942-5052
http://neighborssylvanpark.com

Neighbors Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Smoke Et Al (Nashville, TN)




I had actually packed my lunch today, but when I found out that the Smoke Et Al food truck was at nearby Centennial Park, suddenly my leftover hotdogs lost their charm.


Smoke Et Al labels themselves as a "boutique smokin' food truck that goes beyond just BBQ." I'd say that's highly accurate. The gourmet barbecue food truck game is one that I hope to get into myself someday, so I was very interested to see what these guys could do with their mobile eatery. Judging by all of the enthusiasm that encircled them at Centennial Park, Smoke Et All seems to be doing quite well.

Their proteins and other ingredients are mostly all locally sourced, which means that what you're getting here is super fresh. My biggest dilemma was trying to narrow my lunch order down from the entire menu to just one or two items. In the end, I went with a BBQ Plate of brisket, fried pickled okra, and Yazoo mac n' cheese. I also added on an order of their illustrious Hot Ribs, because meats can be dessert too, right?



The okra was fried beautifully - crisp and lightly battered. Using pickled okra added a whole other dimension of flavor and acidity. It didn't have any of the usual dreaded okra sliminess either. Smoke Et Al serves this side dish with a traditional northern Alabama white barbecue sauce for dipping. The sauce was a perfect accompaniment, adding the right amount of creaminess to both counteract and compliment the acid. Their macaroni is made with Yazoo brewery's Gerst amber ale, a three-cheese blend, smoked Cheetos, and scallions. This concoction is one that you really need to try in order to fully understand and appreciate. The play between the gooey cheese and the crunchy Cheetos is amazing, and I loved the added bite of the green onion as well.

Smoke Et Al sprinkles their marinated, thin-sliced brisket with a little extra dry rub for good measure. The prominent smokiness was readily apparent upon first bite, and the flavors built with each bite thereafter. I also found a fantastic blend of spices on each sampling. The spices didn't detract from the natural beef flavors one bit, instead amplifying things nicely. Their brisket was tender as could be, and the fattier slices were very well rendered. It comes served with a side of barbecue sauce, but trust me, you don't need it.

Hot Ribs are Smoke Et Al's answer to the over-hyped Nashville hot chicken craze. These baby backs definitely pack a punch, but it's worth getting the hot sauce over mild. I saved them for last, both because of the impending heat level and the inevitable mess that I'd make of myself. The ribs are smoked, flash fried, tossed in hot sauce, and sprinkled with an array of spices. That I could still taste the smoke through the sweet/spicy sauce really says a lot. The meat was cooked just right, too: tender enough to come off cleanly with each bite, yet not overcooked such that things were "falling off the bone". In short, they were spectacular.

There are a lot of brick-and-mortar joints who can't hold a candle to Smoke Et Al's barbecue prowess. As the British say, "Well done you!"

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Smoke Et Al
Nashville, TN
(615) 601-5993
http://www.smokeetal.com/