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!!!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Smokies BBQ (Nashville, TN)




I've been trying to cut back on my barbecue outings for both financial and health reasons. Today, however, I decided to splurge and treat myself to some birthday barbecue for lunch. Smokies BBQ finally opened their doors a few weeks ago on the day before Thanksgiving. I was hoping to be there for the grand opening, but we were out of town visiting family. Better late than never.


Smokies is an offshoot of Mack + Kate's restaurant down in Franklin, which generally gravitates toward more contemporary, upscale Southern fare. Their new barbecue operation is located in a run-down and easy-to-miss shopping center in south-Nashville. I arrived at 11:15am, and despite the advertised 11:00 opening time, the doors were still locked. I waited out in my truck and tried to be patient. By 11:20, Smokies was finally open for business.

The decor at Smokies was as trendy/rustic as you'd expect from Mack + Kate's. They also had their fair share of holiday decorations out and about. It felt more like a Southern bistro than a barbecue joint. I was fairly cold the entire time, especially when employees were coming in and out of the cooking area. Granted it was 45 degrees outside, but still.




Since there weren't any combo plates on the menu, an appetizer seemed in order. I decided to try out their Smoked Deviled Eggs to start things off. For my entree, I ordered the Beef Brisket Platter. Although I wanted to sample several meats, in my experience, as goes the brisket so goes the rest of the barbecue. I asked for a fatty cut of brisket, which was met by a rather perplexed stare from the girl at the counter. She acquiesced, but still seemed confused by my request. Clearly she's not a barbecue aficionado. Their platters come with two sides, for which picked potato salad and macaroni and cheese. $14.00 sounded a bit steep for a one-meat plate, so I expected the food to blow me away.


My smoked deviled eggs came plated with an unnecessary assortment of tomatoes and sliced cucumbers, which I felt no compulsion to eat. The eggs were good, but I all I could taste was whole grain mustard. I was also disappointed by the complete lack of smoke. Some of the best deviled eggs I've had from barbecue joints come with a little smoked meat mixed in, which is what I was expecting here. I was glad to have them either way, since my main course was taking much longer than it should have.


The big glob of potato salad didn't really look that appealing. As with the deviled eggs, the only flavor I found was an overpowering amount of mustard. There was only a minimal crunch to break up the creamy texture, so I moved on. The hard crust of cheese atop my macaroni meant it had obviously been baked in a pan. I could see some specks of black pepper, so I had higher hopes for this side dish. It was a little lukewarm for my liking. I also would have preferred more gooey cheese, but at least I could taste the pepper. There was absolutely no reason to serve either of these two sides on butcher paper, when a small plastic or styrofoam container would have sufficed. It gave me the impression that they were trying to imitate the serving style of a small-town meat market, though sadly playing a game that they didn't quite understand.

Honestly, I wasn't really sure what this brisket-themed monstrosity was on my platter. Best I could tell, it was a cornbread pancake, topped with sliced brisket, topped with coleslaw, topped with barbecue sauce. The cornbread itself was moist and pleasantly sweet, though the parts directly beneath the meat had turned to complete mush. I pulled apart the tower-o-food and managed to find a little bit of plain brisket to sample. It was a thick slice with good black bark, but it was a tad dry and had sort of a pot roast quality to it. The meat was also fairly lean, despite my initial request. The bark was tasty, but I found only minimal smoke, most of which was masked by the molasses-heavy barbecue sauce. And when I say "molasses-heavy," I mean that molasses was literally the only flavor I could taste. The coleslaw was nice and crunchy. However, I feel like the slaw should come without dressing (or at least with significantly less) if you're going to cover it with sauce anyway. Otherwise there's a weird mayo-molasses thing going on, which doesn't work any better with brisket than it does with coleslaw. If this is how they're going to serve their barbecue, then perhaps the menu description should say something other than just "beef brisket platter" so that patrons know what to expect.

Out of politeness, I tried to exit clandestinely so as not to draw attention to the fact that I left over half of my food uneaten. Despite my sneakiness, I somehow managed to knock over my chair in the process, causing the entire restaurant to stare. Figures.

I feel really bad giving Smokies BBQ such a negative review because I understand how much time, money, and effort it takes to open a new restaurant. That being said, I found nothing to justify a higher rating. It seems like this place is too focused on reinventing the wheel, when all you really need is four or five spices and some care and love at the smoker. I'm sure the food at Smokies BBQ would play well with the posh Williamson County crowd that likely frequents Mack + Kate's other establishment. Fans of traditional barbecue, on the other hand, are sure to be disappointed. I know I was.

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Smokies BBQ
212 Thompson Ln
Nashville, TN 37211
(615) 292-3838
http://www.smokiesbbqtn.com/

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Shorty Small's (Little Rock, AR)




I've driven past Shorty Small's every time we have come to Little Rock to visit the in-laws, but the group consensus for dining out is typically in favor of Whole Hog Cafe or Larry's Pizza. As much as I love our usual eateries, I was itching to try someplace new. On this trip I managed to coax us out of our comfort zone and into Shorty Small's.


Whoever decorated Shorty Small's seems partial to garage sales and flea markets. This place is more along the lines of a TGI Friday's or a Chili's rather than a true barbecue joint, but it seemed worth a shot nonetheless. The interior was dimly lit, covered in wood from floor to ceiling, and all in all a little divey. For some unknown reason, their menu is in the form of a newspaper. In terms of ambiance, the only saving grace was a small gameroom with a skill crane and Street Fighter.



There were several barbecue combos on the menu, but nothing beyond a two-meater. I picked their Ribs and Brisket Combo, which the menu describes as "shorty's favorite combination! jumpin' off-the-bone tender. ribs and bbq brisket served with all the fixin's!" According to our waiter, the default "fixin's" consist of coleslaw, beans, and fries. I politely requested loaded mashed potatoes instead of slaw and also asked for my sauce on the side. Potato salad would have been my first choice for a substitute, but it was nowhere on the menu. Oh well.


My combo ended up being an absolutely huge plate of food, the majority of which was non-meat. The loaded mashed potatoes were quite good. They tasted like a baked potato for all intents and purposes. The seasoning was decent, but nothing exotic. My baked beans were pretty basic. Aside from the onion and a very slight spiciness, they were sort of bland. The fries were of the standard frozen variety and not worthy of further description.

The brisket came sliced razor thin, with no bark or smoke ring to be found. In my opinion, such thin slices are much better suited for a sandwich than a knife and fork. I could taste only minimal smoke, but at least I could taste it. The brisket was decently tender, so I suppose that's something. These slices weren't exceptionally fatty, although they weren't particularly thin either. I tried it with the sauce, which was way too thick and incredibly artificial, like bottled Sweet Baby Ray's or KC Masterpiece.

As advertised, the rib meat was somewhat falling off the bone, but I was pleased to find a little remaining bone retention. The crust was decent enough, and there was a nice char as well. I couldn't pinpoint any visual signs of smoke. The meat was juicy enough, but it could have been a little more tender. Like the brisket, the ribs were only minimally smoky. I did, however, enjoy the slight sugary aftertaste from the glaze.

I'm sure the enormous portions are how they justify making this a $17.00 entree, but I would rather have a smaller portion of better food. Shorty Small's wasn't world class barbecue, but it was somewhat better than I anticipated. On Tuesdays they have $5.00 off of ribs and $1.00 Pabst Blue Ribbon drafts, which I suppose might be worth coming back for.

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Shorty Small's
11100 N Rodney Parham Rd
Little Rock, AR 72212
(501) 224-3344
http://www.shortysmalls.com/

Shorty Small's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Papa Turney's Old Fashion BBQ (Hermitage, TN)




After several months of being cooped up on a temporary house-husband gig, I desperately needed a change of scenery. Papa Turney's Old Fashion BBQ (I'm pretty sure there's an "ed" missing somewhere, but I digress) isn't too far from my house, so I thought I'd give them a try. That way I could indulge my inner barbecue lover and still make it back home in time to do a few loads of laundry. Sigh.


The official address for Papa Turney's is a bit confusing. The restaurant itself isn't on Bell Road, although the turn-in for the Nashville Shores Marina is. Papa Turney's opened up this new location less than a mile away from their old spot, but it wasn't until a few months ago that the original operation shut down completely. Their new home overlooks Percy Priest Lake and the marina, which is certainly a nice change of pace. It was far too cold for any aquatic activities today, but I'm sure this location will be booming come springtime.



This seems to be a family operation. Papa Turney (aka Mike) himself came over and chatted me up for a bit. I learned a little about the history of the Turney family, which was pretty cool. He also described their quality control standards and said that he has no problem throwing away a whole rack of ribs if something doesn't look or taste just right. Papa Turney struck me as a genuinely friendly guy who really loves what he does.

By the looks of things, Papa Turney's has live music fairly regularly. I'm sure that plays well (no pun intended) with the marina crowd. The cool dude on acoustic blues guitar today was pretty decent, and it definitely livened things up a bit.



I ended up with a combo plate of brisket, ribs, and hotlinks, with potato salad and mac and cheese on the side. I also made sure to request sauceless meat, and they were happy to oblige. Part of me really wanted to tack on some of their "brisket butt" (basically the thicker end of a beef tenderloin), but $60.00 per pound is too rich for my blood. According to some old menu pictures I found online, they've raised the price of this specialty meat by $15.00 a pound. That's kind of a steep jump, but I guess they're trying to pay for the new location. Too bad.


The macaroni looked like basic Easy Mac, but it had a nice cheesy flavor. It was also great comfort food on a chilly day. I could see plenty of diced pickle scattered throughout the mayo-based potato salad, and I could definitely taste the hard boiled egg. It was a little too sweet for my liking, but otherwise very good.

Truth be told, I had originally intended to order pulled pork as part of my three-meat combo, but my Texas Trinity reflex must have kicked in and instinctively ordered "brisket, ribs, sausage." I actually didn't realize it until my order came out. Oh well. The hotlink sausage was good, though not overly spicy. It had a good crisp casing, too. The finely-ground meat was a tad mushy, almost like boudin without the rice. I couldn't pinpoint all of the spices I was tasting, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. It was definitely different than the East Texas hotlinks I'm used to.

Sadly, their brisket comes chopped, and it also came inside a mini slider bun. Barbecue sandwiches are fine in certain circumstances, but I feel like a combo plate should contain slices. When Papa Turney learned that I am a native Texan, he instantly told me that they serve the brisket chopped because it actually comes out too tender to slice properly. That makes sense, and even though the meat was lean, it was definitely tender and juicy. I also found a decent smoke level, as well as good pieces of chopped bark and smoke ring. The seasoning was simple, but tasty. Their brisket was much better than I had anticipated.

The pork ribs had a nice crust and a dark pink smoky hue. The rib meat fell off the bone with almost no effort, but still clung to itself nicely. It was moderately smoky and had a good amount of salt. The pork was also very juicy. Something about the texture wasn't quite right, but then again I'm also accustomed to Central Texas barbecue, so who knows.

For no reason in particular, Papa Turney offered me a free mini Chess Pie to take home. I definitely wasn't turning down his delicious generosity.


In a word, delicious! The pie was very gooey and flaky, despite being prepackaged. It had a diabetes-inducing amount of sugar and butter, which can only be found in Southern desserts. I also noticed hints of what I think were brown sugar and vanilla. Next time I hit up Papa Turney's, I'm buying at least a dozen of these!

I'm really glad I decided to give Papa Turney's a shot. These guys truly care about their craft, and it shows.

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Papa Turney's Old Fashion BBQ
Nashville Shores Marina
3979 Bell Rd
Hermitage, TN 37076
(615) 866-8850
http://www.papaturneysbbq.com/

Papa Turney's Old Fashion BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hog Heaven (Nashville, TN)




After a brutal day at the DMV and running other various mind-numbing errands, I found myself in need of some serious barbecue therapy. Hog Heaven is situated fairly close to Vanderbilt University, but somehow they managed to stay off my radar during my tenure there. This was the closest barbecue joint to my current location, so I thought I'd give them a try.


The spectacular Centennial Park across the street is the only ambiance you'll find at Hog Heaven. It's basically just a shack with a screened-in porch. Their two picnic tables offer enough seating for about 14-16 people, assuming you don't mind squeezing in next to strangers. I've eaten awesome barbecue from even more run-down spots than this, so I wasn't too worried.



I normally go for a combo of some sort, but they didn't have any on the menu. The only option for beef was a pulled brisket plate, and I wasn't really in the mood for chicken or turkey. That narrowed things down to pork, which is probably the most appropriate order at a place called Hog Heaven anyway. I got their Spareribs Plate, with potato salad and white beans on the side, plus the automatic pancake-style cornbread. I made sure to ask for sauce on the side and was presented with a handful of options, of which the white barbecue sauce sounded the best. The guy at the counter assured me that it was an excellent dipping sauce for ribs.


All of the sides looked pretty good from the outset. The cornbread was ok, though a tad dry. Luckily for me, the potato salad was creamy and rather tasty. There was a good blend of spices and plenty of bite from all of the red onion mixed throughout. My beans had an interesting flavor, kind of like a bean soup without all the liquid. They also had some mild after tones that I can mostly accurately describe as sweet, but I don't think that's quite right either.

The slightly-mangled ribs appeared to have a good crust. That being said, all of the meat fell off in my fingers, which is usually a bad sign. I found a decent smoky flavor, but otherwise the ribs were kind of bland. Even the crust was devoid of seasoning. Some parts of the meat were a little tough as well. Although I'm not a big sauce guy in general, I thought the white barbecue sauce might help jazz things up a little. This was just what the ribs needed. The white sauce was much zestier than regular red barbecue sauce. It was almost like a southwest ranch dressing, but better. It also added some heat, which played nicely. I know that white barbecue sauce is generally reserved for poultry, but I really enjoyed pairing it with the pork ribs.

My favorite part of this meal was definitely the white barbecue sauce, but it wasn't enough to salvage the mediocre ribs. Hog Heaven needs to spend less time on the condiments and more time on the meat.

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Hog Heaven
115 27th Ave N
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 329-1234
http://www.hogheavenbbq.com/

Hog Heaven on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue 2014 (Lynchburg, TN)

Every year on the fourth Saturday of October, teams, judges, and fans some 25,000 strong descend on the tiny town of Lynchburg, Tennessee for one of the most renowned and prestigious barbecue competitions in the world. There was no way I could resist. We headed south to the Lynchburg Hollow to bask in all of the smoke-filled glory that is known simply as "The Jack."


This year there were nineteen countries being represented, as well as teams from each of the fifty states. To qualify for The Jack, teams must have already won a competition of fifty or more competitors, or have won a state championship event of twenty-five or more competitors. The teams I was most excited about were Cool Smoke (2013 winner of The Jack), Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (2014 winner of Memphis in May), Texas Pepper Jelly, and Bar-B-Que Commanders (2014 winner of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo). No surprise, I saw Chris Lilly hard at work inside the Big Bob Gibson tent. I was also really anxious to check out some of the international competitors like The Meat Sweats (Australia), Gone Fish'n (Bahamas), Sieben Schwaben (Germany), and Flaming Pig BBQ (Sweden). I also had a sort of random connection to team Fire Dancer BBQ from Arkansas, which was their only state representative. We searched diligently for their tent, hoping to score some competition-level samples, but sadly we weren't able to track them down.




Interestingly, although it's home to the Jack Daniel's distillery, Moore County, Tennessee is a dry county. The only admission fee for this event was a voluntary donation to the Moore County high school, although I'm sure the potential alcohol sales revenue would have been much more substantial. Being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I didn't try to circumvent the rules in any way. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

While barbecue is clearly the main draw, The Jack also offers plenty of other non-meat activities. One event that caught my interest was the Butt Bowling, where participants use a frozen Boston Butt to bowl over law pins. This seemed like a waste of good meat, but at least they were having fun. We also found dozens and dozens of booths selling a lot of really cool handmade items, both decorative and edible. There was also some really great live bluegrass music in and around the town square, so every once in a while we'd find a spot in the shade to listen and cool off.



There was certainly a massive crowd, which I'm sure was every bit of 25,000. After a brief warm-up perusing the teams and the vendors, it was time for barbecue!

House of Hickory
1107 Dickerson Pike
Nashville, TN 37207
(615) 226-6266
http://www.houseofhickorybbq.com/


We decided to start things off with House of Hickory, which is a Nashville operation. It looks like they are mostly in the wholesale and food service business, with some catering on the side. Most of the other food vendors I saw seemed like catering companies as well, so no problem there. Not wanting to fill up on side dishes, I ordered a Rib Sampler (three bones) for us all to share.


These half-mangled ribs didn't really look that appealing, so I hoped they at least tasted better than they looked. There was a good crust, which was only slightly sweet. The meat was tender, but sadly so overcooked that it had already fallen off the bone before we began eating. I found no discernible smoke flavor in the meat, or any other flavors for that matter. The only thing that somewhat salvaged these ribs was the sugary glaze, but even that only made them mediocre.

Texas Rib Rangers
2402 Sherwood
Denton, TX 76209
(940) 565-1983
http://www.texasribrangers.com/


Based out of Denton, Texas, I had higher hopes for the Texas Rib Rangers. We've seen these guys around some of the Dallas events before, so I was a little surprised that they were way out in Lynchburg. Their banner boasted a "1st Place B-B-Q Sauce" win from the 1999 Jack Daniel's cookoff, but no awards from the past fifteen years. Hmm. I ended up ordering a 3-Bone rib sampler and some brisket. They had combos available, but I saw them scooping potato salad out of store-bought cartons. No thank you.


Their ribs were big and meaty, but lacked the black smoke-laden crust that I expected. The crust also had minimal seasoning and no smoke that I could taste either, making it fairly bland. The rib meat clung to the bone just the way it should. It was also decently tender. There was, however, way too much fat on these ribs, which is an unusual complaint for me to have. Despite my hopes, the ribs were pretty disappointing.

Even more disappointing, our brisket came chopped. Instead of doing things the right way and having sliced brisket for plates and chopped brisket for sandwiches, these guys were lazy and just pre-chopped everything. The meat was tender, but had no smoke and no other flavors beyond the tiniest pinch of salt. The few bits of bark I managed to dig out had a little seasoning at least. This was a poor excuse for brisket, and it makes me sad that this was the sole representation of Texas barbecue.


There were a few other barbecue vendors that I considered trying, but we made the mistake of filling up on fried Oreos and "refreshments." Mediocre food aside, we actually had a lot of fun here. The Jack was worth the short drive from Nashville to Lynchburg, and I'll definitely be back next year.

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Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue
182 Lynchburg Hwy
Lynchburg, TN 37352
http://www.jackdaniels.com/bbq

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cozy Corner Restaurant (Memphis, TN)




I was anxious to get back home from Little Rock, but I couldn't resist another barbecue stop in Memphis on the way. For some reason, Cozy Corner seemed like a better pick than some of the more well known places. This would make my seventh smoked meat meal in six days, so I might need to slow things down a little. I'm sure my future cardiologist would agree.


Despite their generic name, Cozy Corner Restaurant is definitely a barbecue joint. This place doesn't look like much from the outside, or the inside for that matter. It seems like little has changed since they opened doors in 1977. When it comes to barbecue, I learned long ago that some of the best meat often comes from small, humble operations like this one. I'm sure these guys do just fine in the finance department, but it's clear that their main goal is simply to serve folks the best barbecue possible.



I was initially considering an order of their smoked Cornish hen, which isn't something you'll find in many other barbecue joints. When I rolled up and started taking a few pictures, another customer instantly instructed me to try the ribs and the chicken wings. As he put it, "You can get pulled pork anywhere, but their ribs can't be beat." Who am I to question such enthusiastic advice? I ordered a 2-Rib 2-Wing Plate, dry rub on the ribs of course. I also picked bbq spaghetti and potato salad as my side dishes.


The potato salad was creamy and sweet, with just enough in the veggie department to add a little texture. It tasted like a mustard/mayo combination, which is the best kind in my opinion. I've never had bbq spaghetti before, but apparently it's a pretty popular side dish in Memphis. The spaghetti tasted just like you'd expect: pasta with barbecue sauce. It was also a touch spicy, suggesting chili powder.

Cozy Corner's ribs were thick and meaty with a nice dark crust. The heavy dusting of coarse black pepper was actually reminiscent of central Texas-style ribs, and that's quite a compliment coming from a native Texan. I found great smoke, mixed with the unmistakable flavor of charcoal. The meat was also cooked perfectly. It clung to the bone, but came away cleanly with each bite. Wow, outstanding.

Their huge smoked wings were awesome, too. Not to tempt fate, I got my wings mild rather than hot. The peppery skin was crisp and absolutely packed with flavor. It had soaked up the smoke quite nicely. The tender meat below was also very juicy. I could have eaten a dozen of these, but then I'd likely fall asleep at the wheel.

My grandpa used to say that you could always tell a Bohemian girl because she'd have poppyseed in her teeth. Along those same lines, you can always tell a good barbecue joint because you'll leave with your teeth coated in black pepper. Cozy Corner may not have as much notoriety as places like Rendezvous, Interstate, or Corky's, but this little spot should be on the top of everyone's to-do list.

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Cozy Corner Restaurant
745 N Parkway
Memphis, TN 38105
(901) 527-9158
http://www.cozycornerbbq.com/

Cozy Corner Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 17, 2014

Central BBQ (Memphis, TN)




I seem to be traveling a lot lately. Today I found myself headed for Little Rock to retrieve some Halloween yard cutouts that my father-in-law had made for us. Since we were planning on a sophisticated and refined "Endless Shrimp" dinner at Red Lobster, I was specifically told to come hungry. I can usually put away 70-80 shrimp on an empty stomach, but when you're driving through Memphis it's almost impossible not to stop for barbecue. I decided on a quick lunch at Central BBQ, partially because they make their own pork rinds!


Central BBQ has consistently been ranked one of the top barbecue restaurants in Memphis for the past decade. They also seem to be a favorite of Southern Living and Garden & Gun (yes, I subscribe to both). Central has opened up a couple of satellite operations around town, but I wanted to check out the original. Sadly, when I arrived I was informed that they were closed while the floor was being remodeled. I had already psyched myself up to try Central, so I headed for their downtown location.

There was a line out the door at 11:15. Sigh. I had a little wiggle room in my schedule, so it wasn't a huge problem. No surprise, the two-year-old downtown operation is noticeably newer and has a bluesy/touristy atmosphere. The order counter is just inside the double doors, so I'm sure there are normally customers waiting along the sidewalk. I don't know if this was intentional, but it definitely gives passersby the impression that Central is insanely popular. They also have a large covered patio, which was perfect on a cool day like today.




I'm normally a brisket kind of guy, but this is Memphis. I got a half-slab rib plate: half wet, half dry. Their plates come with two sides, and I picked potato salad and the homecooked pork rinds which brought me here in the first place.


Central's potato salad was really good. It had some nice spice to it from the paprika sprinkled on top, as well as a decent crunch of pickle in each bite. The pork rinds looked excellent, and indeed they were. They were wonderfully crisp and dusted with just the right amount of salt. I considered getting a few bags of pork rinds to take home with me, but I didn't have time to wait again in the ever-growing line to order.

The dark crust on my dry ribs was quite inviting. When I cut the rack apart, I found a pink smoke ring coupled with a prominent smoky flavor. The succulent pork was cooked perfectly. It was close to falling off the bone, but thankfully still hung on nicely. Central has four different barbecue sauces available to try, though none were needed. These ribs were great on their own.

I found the wet ribs to be delicious in their own right. The sugary glaze was still light enough that I could taste the smoke. It had also caramelized on the crust somewhat, adding a pleasant sweetness and sticky texture. Since they were part of the same rack, I was surprised that the wet ribs were a little tougher than the dry ones. Hmm, weird.

All things considered, Central BBQ was pretty awesome. Hopefully next time I can hit up the original location.

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Central BBQ
147 E Butler Ave
Memphis, TN 38108
(901) 672-7760
http://cbqmemphis.com/

Central BBQ on Urbanspoon