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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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!"


Smoke Et Al
Nashville, TN
(615) 601-5993

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Helen's Bar-B-Q (Brownsville, TN)

To call Helen's Bar-B-Q an institution would be quite the understatement. Helen Turner, one of the few female pitmasters in the South, has manned (womanned?) the country-style open pits at her namesake barbecue joint for the past thirty years. With that in mind, I figured that a slight detour off the interstate and over to Brownsville, Tennessee was well worth the added travel time. If nothing else, the massive cotton fields that lay betwixt would be rather scenic, and perhaps the impending Memphis traffic would die down a bit by the time I finished my pit stop.

Helen's exterior signage is so worn and faded that I had to pull a u-turn just to find the place, missing it on the first pass. The term "hole in the wall" comes to mind, although "dilapidated house" might be a touch more accurate. They do have a couple of tables inside, but at non-peak hours these mostly seem to function as an employee lounge area. No skin off my back, it was nice enough outside that their picnic tables were a welcome dining choice.

You won't find any multi-meat combos advertised on Helen's menu, but don't be afraid to ask. Helen is a sweetheart, and she's more than willing to accommodate custom orders. I went all-in with a plate of pulled pork, ribs, and Polish sausage with their obligatory accompaniment of beans, potato salad and coleslaw. Even though I typically take my barbecue sauce on the side, I decided to take a chance with Helen. I did, however, stick with the mild sauce, so as not to tempt fate any more than necessary today.

Theirs was more of a mashed potato salad than the diced-spud variety that I'm accustomed to. Still, it was rather tasty, especially with all of the pickles mixed in. Frequent readers know that I'm not a big slaw fan in general, but Helen's was pleasant enough. I did like the finely shredded cabbage, since me and big hunks o' vegetables aren't always on friendly terms. The beans had sort of a mild sweetness to them. They were fine, but I think a little jalapeño would have really sealed the deal.

I'm not entirely sure that the sausage qualified as Polish, seeming closer to the standard bright red hotlinks of East Texas fame. It had a great flavor with just enough spiciness to make things interesting. I do prefer my links to come with more of a snap to the casing though, the kind that you'll only find with sausage that's actually been cooked on a heated surface, whereas this link struck me as more boiled than smoked or grilled. Nonetheless, I still ate the whole thing with a smile on my face, so that should tell you something.

The pulled pork was tender and commendably juicy. I longed for some bark, but the well-rendered fat made up for things in that department (mostly, at least). Smoke shined through the barbecue sauce beautifully, meaning that the sauce is there as a flavor addition rather than the sole source. Just as God intended. Helen's sauce has a base that's not quite tomato, not quite vinegar. But one thing's for sure, it's delicious.

By the look of their ribs, I was expecting overcooked, fall-off-the-bone mush. I couldn't have been more wrong. The rosy meat was perfectly cooked and perfectly smoky, with just the right amount of seasoning to compliment without being overpowering. Much like the pulled pork, the ribs showcased a great marriage of natural flavors and sauce, each standing its own nicely.

I'm still a believer in predominantly sauceless meat, but Helen's Bar-B-Q almost brought me over to the dark side. Well done.


Helen's Bar-B-Q
1016 N. Washington Ave
Brownsville, TN 38012
(731) 779-3255

Helen's Bar Bq Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, September 9, 2016

Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que (Denver, CO)

With just over two and a half hours to burn before my connecting flight to Montrose, Colorado, I thought I'd take a gander at what sort of barbecue could be had at Denver International. Almost three years ago to the day, I found myself sorely disappointed with what passed for pulled pork at Lefty's Colorado Trail Grille over in Terminal A. I was cautiously optimistic that Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que would yield better results. If nothing else, I figured that I could always wash things down with a few local brews.

Unsurprisingly, nearly everything here is aviation-themed, including the somewhat perplexing handwashing sink right behind the hostess stand. I guess they expect people to get a little messy with the ribs. Far from a hole-in-the-wall joint, Aviator's is more of a sit-down bar and grill, complete with the standard wall o' televisions. What Aviator's lacks in non-airplane ambiance it certainly makes up for in people watching, and I had a prime spot beside the pedestrian throughway.

According to the Aviator's menu, their smoking is done with a combination of apple and hickory. This fruity/salty combo surely works great for pork and poultry, though I had my doubts about pairing it with beef. I was also unsure how far away this smoking was being done, but figured that I'd find out soon enough. Exorbitant airport prices aside, I ordered the Smoky Combo of smokehouse chicken, baby back ribs, and kielbasa sausage, plus a little brisket for a $3.00 upcharge. After all, when you're already paying $24.00 for a meal, what's another three bucks? This combo also came with mandatory potato salad, which was just fine by me.

Their delicious mayo-based potato salad was laden with black pepper and pickles. The red onion was a nice touch, too. Each bite was both savory and slightly acidic, with just enough natural potato flavor present to still be noticeable.

While the lean slices of brisket looked tasty enough, the meat was fairly dry. It also lacked much meaningful smoke, though it could be found here and there if you really concentrated. There was decent seasoning on the bark, little as there was to be had. Overall the brisket was ok, but certainly not intensely satisfying.

A nice spiral scoring on the kielbasa added a flair of sophistication to my lunch. The sausage had a great char on it, obvious to both the eyes and the taste buds alike. There was also an ever-rising heat level that really crept up on me. I sincerely doubt that the kielbasa was made in house, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. Particularly the spices!

Much like the rest of my plate, the chicken looked pretty dry, but thankfully it couldn't have turned out more juicy and tender. The blackened skin packed most of the flavors, and they were perfect. I couldn't pinpoint more than a modicum of smoke here either, though that's fairly common with barbecue chicken.

When I ordered, I was told that nothing came pre-sauced, but apparently that didn't extend to the ribs. There wasn't much to these bones at all; they were exceptionally tiny, even for baby backs. The meat came right off the bone, as expected but definitely not desired. The thick slathering of "barbecue sauce" tasted like 95% ketchup, so much so that I couldn't make it past my first rib.

The two best meats of my lunch turned out to be the ones that I was initially the least excited about. I finished my chicken and kielbasa, polished off my pilsner, and headed to my gate. Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que will do just fine on an extended layover, but it wouldn't fare quite so well out in the wild.


Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que
Denver International Airport
Terminal B, Mezzanine
8500 Pena Blvd.
Denver, CO 80249
(303) 342-6865

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish (Nashville, TN)

I've had TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish on my lunchtime to-do list for a while now, although I can't seem to remember why. It isn't exactly in the ritziest of Nashville's neighborhoods, but it is relatively close to my office. Best I can tell, they operate out of the attached garage to a converted house, while a crummy tattoo parlor and a "doctor" occupy the main living quarters. What can I say, I guess I'm just a sucker for hole-in-the-wall barbecue shacks.

My initial plan was to dine-in, but on closer observation I'm not really sure that TJ's is a dine-in type of establishment. Their cash-only drive-thru line appears to be the only option, although they do allow walk-ups before dark. Just as well, all of the barred windows didn't really lend much to the ambiance, and I'd have felt a lot more comfortable with my Kimber locked and loaded on my hip anyway.

When a place has its two signature dishes right in the name, you'd be a fool not to try them both. I ordered up some pulled pork on cornbread and a whiting fish sandwich, with a side order of potato salad to round things out. The food took a little longer than expected, but I hoped that just meant they were busy frying my fish fresh.

The potato salad was mostly ok, but there wasn't a ton of flavor to be had aside from its mustard base. My hunch is that it came from the grocery store.

I made sure to ask for the pulled pork without sauce in order to get a true sense of their smoking prowess. The cornbread was nice and buttery, though dense and pretty dry. My bottom piece was hard as a rock. The pork itself looked lifeless and gray, but I suppose looks can be deceiving, at least somewhat. Although it, like the cornbread, was fairly dry, the pork did pack a ton of smoke and seasoning. It was sort of lukewarm, and while I hate to cast unsubstantiated aspersions on a place, I think that their pork had simply been reheated from another day.

According to the menu, TJ's has been rated "#1 Fish" by The Tennessean newspaper. As far as when that rating was made or in what context, I really have no idea. Their whiting fish sandwich comes standard with mustard, pickles, onions and hot sauce, and I saw no reason to mix things up. TJ's fresh, flaky white fish was fried perfectly golden. The batter and the spice level on my gigantic fillets was excellent! Their hot sauce was just enough to add intermittent pops of flavor, and the pickles provided a pleasant crunchy texture. I'm not sure the mustard added a lot to the equation, but I suppose it did contribute to the overall combined taste if nothing else.

Were I to rate TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish on the whiting sandwich alone, this would have been a glowing review. Sadly, there's more to the story than just seafood. TJ's would really have something special if they served their pulled pork as fresh as they do the fish. Until then, it will exist as a great fish house and a mediocre barbecue joint.


TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish
1104 Ed Temple Blvd
Nashville, TN 37209
(615) 329-1200

Monday, August 15, 2016

Lil' Choo Choo BBQ (Nashville, TN)

I've long been intrigued by the Lil' Choo Choo BBQ food truck and their locomotive-themed smoker. A few months back, a fire broke out in a small retail strip in south Nashville, snuffing out several businesses in its wake. From these ashes, Lil' Choo Choo's first brick and mortar operation took root.

According to their seldom-updated Facebook page, Lil' Choo Choo's grand opening was originally scheduled for August 1, 2016. Due to unforeseen delays in obtaining their Use and Occupancy certification, things got pushed back a couple of weeks to August 15. I had eagerly watched this joint take shape, and my heart was set on attending the grand opening, no matter the date. After all, what kind of barbecue fanatic would I be if I didn't show up on Day One to scope things out?

The interior at Lil' Choo Choo BBQ is a lot more bright and modern than you'd expect for this part of town, no offense intended. Railroad crossing signs, train-line logos, and neons tie their whole aesthetic together nicely. It's cohesive and amusing without being over-the-top or kitschy.

First-day jitters and hiccups are common for restaurant openings, but from what I could tell things here got off without a hitch. All of the employees were super friendly and checked on me often. They also knew the menu well, and I heard them giving good suggestions to indecisive customers studying the menu. Clearly the owners had spent plenty of time making sure that their staff were trained properly. Kudos.

Lil' Choo Choo's train theme unsurprisingly spills over into their menu as well. Menu items with names like The Conductor, The Penn Station, and The Brakeman made things interesting as well as fun. But with three meats and two sides, the L&N dinner plate is definitely the way to go. I loaded mine up with pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket, Porter Potato Salad and Highrail Jalapeño Mac and Cheese. All aboard! Next stop: obesity.

The mac and cheese had a ton of delicious, melty cheddar coupled with a distinct bite from the jalapeño peppers. It was just spicy enough to make things exciting without destroying my palate. I could really taste the dill in this potato salad. I'm not generally a dill fan, but for some reason potato salad is my one exception. The mayo base wasn't overly thick, which I liked. I also enjoyed the crunch from the assorted veggie mix-ins.

Unlike a lot of smoked poultry
out there, their chicken was tender as could be and not the least bit dry. My serving came with big hunks of spectacular skin scattered throughout. The crispy, blackened skin obviously had the most flavor, but the rest of the juicy meat also carried a great smokiness. This was a stellar effort for barbecue chicken.

The thin-sliced brisket had plenty of nicely-seasoned bark to go around. It had a prominent smoke ring and an equally smoky taste. I received a nice combination of lean and fatty slices, with both kinds being tender and hard to stop eating. What fat I did get was well rendered, enhancing the already smoky meat even more.

Not to be outdone, the pulled pork had a great smoke level as well. Each bite was tender, juicy, and full of savory bark. I'm sure it works well for sandwiches, but I loved it all by its lonesome. Lil' Choo Choo has half-a-dozen different sauces available, though I doubt that any of them could have improved upon the natural pork.

I'm really glad that I was able to make it for the grand opening. If Lil' Choo Choo BBQ keeps slinging out food of the caliber I tasted today, they'll definitely be among Nashville's top players.


Lil' Choo Choo BBQ
1609F Murfreesboro Pike
Nashville, TN 37217
(615) 218-3988

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mary's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que Pit (Nashville, TN)

With an immediate need to give my eyes a break from the endless spreadsheets, as well as a growing need to calm my rumbling stomach, I set out in search of a quick workday barbecue lunch. Mary's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que Pit is one of the few places close to my office that I hadn't yet crossed off my to-do list, so I figured that today was as good a time as any.

This north-Nashville landmark has been in operation for over half-a-century. Mary herself has since passed away, and her granddaughter and grandson-in-law now run the show. I hoped that Mary passed down her culinary know-how along with the bricks and mortar.

Once you get within sight of the old walk-up-service windows on the building's front facade, Mary's immediately seems something quite ancient. The windows are no longer in use, but their nostalgia-inducing presence is still felt. That aside, Mary's is rather unassuming and plain as far as restaurants go. If you were expecting anything remotely resembling ambiance here, then you came to the wrong place. Mary's is about one thing and one thing only: food.

There are no multi-meat combos (and, incidentally, no beef) on the menu at Mary's, but that didn't stop me from creating a sandwich duo to compensate. My lunch o' smoked goodness included a pork shoulder sandwich and a dark-meat chicken sandwich, as well as a side of potato salad. I was surely going to spend the rest of the workday in a full-on food coma.

The potato salad came pre-prepared out of a store-bought tub. Ugh. It was passable, but really not worth describing in detail. My compliments to Kroger, I suppose.

Their regular pork shoulder sandwiches are served on basic grocery store hamburger buns, so corncakes are definitely the way to go. Unfortunately for me, they were out of corncakes today, so I settled for the hamburger bun. Thanks again, Kroger! The pork was tender and moderately juicy but didn't pack a lot of punch in the smoke department. There wasn't much seasoning to be found either, even though there was plenty of bark to go around. I did enjoy the crunch and acidity of the pickle slices that they added though.

To my surprise, the chicken sandwich was literally just a bone-in leg quarter stuck between some white bread, as opposed to the customary pulled chicken. The bread had soaked up so much juice that it was a soggy, useless addition. On first glance, the chicken skin looked a lot more pale than I expected for barbecue chicken. I dug in anyway, and my initial bite revealed an excellent heat level from the spices. The meat itself was a little dry, and the skin was a little limp. There was no meaningful smoke to be found here either. All in all, the chicken was fairly boring despite its spiciness.

I wish I could have visited Mary's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que Pit in its heyday. Sadly, the current iteration of Mary's isn't worth a return trip.


Mary's Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que Pit
1106 Jefferson St
Nashville, TN 37208
(615) 256-7696

Mary's Pit Bar-B-Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hot Chicks (Nashville, TN)

Somehow I neglected to pack my lunch today, and I was about to make a quick sandwich run when I noticed a flyer for Hot Chicks in my office breakroom. I was already intrigued when I thought it was just a chicken shack, even more so when I discovered barbecue on the menu! Hot Chicks was only a few blocks away from work, so I rolled the dice.

Hot Chicks occupies a renovated house near Nashville's Centennial Park in midtown. I went in the door that I assumed to be the main entrance, but I'm pretty sure I chose wrong. It's mostly still all house in here as far as the layout and ambiance goes, with the addition of a small bar area. Interior tables are a bit limited, with a nice outdoor patio space available to supplement. I left that for another day when the heat index was only in the double-digits.

For a place that dubs itself the "House of Chicken," I was naturally expecting any and all barbecue options here to be, well, chicken. Nope. The barbecue at Hot Chicks consists entirely of pork shoulder and ribs. In fact, chicken makes up less than a quarter of their available entree items. The rest is a mix of shrimp, fish, beef, and pork dishes. Their online menu also seems to vary considerably from what I was presented with in-house. Confused but undaunted, I ordered a Pork Shoulder Plate (since ribs are only Friday/Saturday fare) with mac and cheese and potato salad as my two sides.

Despite being their first customer of the day (even half an hour after opening), my order took over twenty minutes to come out. That's a rather long time for a lunch order, especially in barbecue world with the theoretically-limited effort involved in tossing together a one-meat, two-side plate. The only other table had arrived at least five minutes after I did, yet they were served much sooner. That being said, my lunch did look awesome when it finally made its way to the table.

The mayo-based, German-style potato salad was served only slightly chilled, just the way I like it. Big slices of new potatoes, chives, and crumbled bacon made for a perfect combination. It was very savory and very creamy. Their large elbow pasta tasted fairly standard, although the gooey mac and cheese was the epitome of comfort food. It was also fresh and piping hot, but could have used a little elevation in the taste department.

Naturally, I requested my sauce on the side so as to properly test the pork's mettle. I found it tender and exceptionally juicy. There were plenty of smoke-kissed bits of pork scattered throughout, with only a mild smokiness upon closer examination. The dominant flavor was a slightly-acidic sweetness from their mop sauce, coupled with natural porky goodness. Some of the bark and fattier bites did pack more of a punch though. It's difficult to convert a Texan away from brisket, but this was pretty decent as far as pulled pork goes.

I was admittedly more impressed with the barbecue at Hot Chicks than I initially expected. They have a few kinks to work out, both in terms of service and food, but I definitely want to come back on a Friday to scope out their ribs. Were I writing a general restaurant review rather than strictly a barbecue critique, their slow and sloppy service probably would have knocked them down at least one notch. Fortunately for Hot Chicks, I am not The Restaurant Fiend. The Yelp/TripAdvisor version of this commentary, however, will be rated appropriately.


Hot Chicks
117 28th Ave N
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 649-8816

Monday, July 4, 2016

RR BBQ (Rimrock, AZ)

We came to Sedona, Arizona for a quick weekend getaway. The tall red rocks were as beautiful and majestic as the people were quirky. It's the only place I've been where you can take a rugged ATV tour and get your aura photographed afterward. With all of our pre-planned adventure and sightseeing complete, I coaxed my way into a last-minute stop in Rimrock for a quick barbecue lunch on our drive back to the Phoenix airport.

RR BBQ, or, more appropriately pronounced, "Double R", has sort of a southwest bistro motif going on. The entire place is chock-full of painted cow skulls, Native American and cowboy artwork, and, of course, tons of turquoise and copper.  It was all very clean and open and new. They also have a nice bar and a great outdoor patio space, although it was far too hot today to enjoy the latter. Double R makes good use of their scattered chalkboards, suggesting that the menu items and specials rotate often.

I was instantly drawn to the RR BBQ Platter, which comes with a quarter-pound of pulled pork or turkey (no poultry for me today), a quarter-pound of brisket, and a quarter-slab of baby back ribs. For my sides, I eagerly picked their smoked potato salad and pepper jack mac and cheese. This was definitely more food than I needed (a fact pointed out several times by my usually-correct wife), but I couldn't help myself.

Double R's potato salad was absolutely superb. There was just enough mayo to hold everything together, letting the skin-on potatoes do most of the heavy lifting. This made it somehow creamy and chunky at the same time. It had a great texture from all of the green onions and pickles, which only had a mild acidity. The macaroni was a little runny for my liking, but tasted great. The spicy pepper jack cheese added a nice zip, the downfall being that it's not really a cheese that's conducive to melting properly. I did appreciate the big shell pasta though.

The brisket came in the form of lean, thin-ish slices, but it was much more tender than I expected. I didn't find any visible smoke ring, making the only color a rather unappealing, dull gray. There was only a mild smokiness, and it could have really benefited from some extra spices and more bark.

My pulled pork was also very tender, but kind of watery, if that makes sense. I think they may have poured a liquidy marinade of some sort over the top, though I'm not entirely sure. Whatever it was, it didn't add much in terms of flavor. The pork had minimal seasoning, and there wasn't much smoke to be found either.

The baby back ribs were definitely the winner amongst this platter's meaty components. Here again, they were lacking more than minimal smoky flavors, but I did enjoy the light drizzling of Double R's sweet barbecue sauce. The ribs were tender and very juicy, and the meat stayed put until each subsequent bite. This is no easy feat when it comes to baby backs, so I commend them for that. The pork was also nice and pink, just the way I like it.

All in all, Double R BBQ was ok, but their four-star rating on Yelp and TripAdvisor is probably at least one star too high. Although, to be fair, they do rank fifth out of all five restaurants in this tiny community. I will say that my wife thoroughly enjoyed her Santa Fe Grilled Chicken wrap, which I suppose is bound to count for something.


5155 N Dave Wingfield Road
Rimrock, AZ 86335
(928) 592-9220

RR BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Clyde's on Church (Nashville, TN)

Even though Clyde's on Church (an offshoot of a popular, similarly-named Chattanooga, Tennessee joint) has only been open since early March, it's already developing quite the reputation amongst Nashvillians. Maybe it's the food; maybe it's the foosball, shuffleboard, and ping pong tables; maybe it's the general funky attitude. Whatever it is, I was certainly intrigued. I could have easily walked the mere half-mile from my office to Clyde's, but considering the heat and the humidity, I embraced my inner laziness and drove.

Predictably, my party of one resulted in seating at the bar, which I actually prefer in these scenarios. The atmosphere here is even more lively than I had imagined. Great classic rock tunes and neon signs surely play well during happy hour, but they made my lunch run more enjoyable as well. I briefly considered attempting a solo game of ping pong against the wall, limited only by persistent thoughts of "what would my wife say?" Maybe next time...

The menu at Clyde's ranges from fried chicken, bahn mi sandwiches, and jerk pork to baked potato soup, veggie/vegan burgers, and kale salads. A motley assortment indeed, although I was most interested in their smoked selections. Clyde's doesn't have any barbecue combos, unless you count their Pork and Wing plate, but that never stopped me before. I started with an appetizer of BBQ Potato Skins. These bad boys come topped with pulled pork, house-made pimento cheese, green onion, and sour cream. I asked for my barbecue sauce on the side, just in case.

Without question, the potato skins looked incredible. A decent amount of smoke shone through, despite the gooey cheese and luscious sour cream. I could also see ample evidence of pink smoky pork jutting out. The crunch of green onions and crispy potato peel added a great texture to each bite. Suffice to say that I never once considered using my side of barbecue sauce.

For the main event, I ordered their Texas Style Smoked Brisket plate, which comes with Texas toast, baked beans, and your choice of slaw. I decided to rock the boat a little bit. Instead of beans, I subbed in some gouda creamed corn (at a slight upcharge). As for the slaw, my options here were for mayo and hot mustard varieties, but not being a fan of slaw in general, I politely requested red potato salad.

The potato salad came with big hunks of red potatoes and only minimal dressing. I found the acidity of the pickles very prominent, perhaps the most dominant flavor present. It was served differently than most potato salads I've eaten, and I really enjoyed it. The creamed corn was absolutely spectacular. The mass of melty gouda on top paired perfectly with the al dente kernels beneath. It was worth every bit of the $2.50 upcharge.

Their brisket is allegedly slow smoked in a sweet and spicy marinade of sorts, which they describe as "traditional". Perhaps I'm simply a barbecue purist, but, when it comes to Texas brisket, the only traditional marinade is no marinade. The same holds true for barbecue sauce, incidentally. [end rant] My brisket came out in regrettable chunks rather than the expected slices. That being said, it had an awesome smokiness and was very tender to boot. I also received my meat from the fatty point (aka deckle), which helped to soak up even more yummy smoke. There was plenty of delicious black bark mixed throughout, all of which had a ton of seasoning. I didn't notice any spiciness from the marinade, although it did make things a little more liquidy than I prefer. Regardless of this minor nitpicking, the brisket was exceptionally tasty.

Clyde's on Church may be more of a bar or local hangout than it is a traditional barbecue joint, but, when it comes to smoked meat, these guys definitely know what they're doing.


Clyde's on Church
1700 Church St
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 432-2928

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hickory River Smokehouse (Mary Esther, FL)

The weather decided not to cooperate with us, putting our planned beach outing on hold for the time being. Oh well, that gave me a great excuse to suggest a barbecue lunch instead. I initially had my sights set on finding some new non-chain barbecue to try around Destin-Fort Walton Beach, but honestly, the pictures I saw of the deliciously-smoky, Texas-style meats pouring out of Hickory River Smokehouse were enough to change my mind. Besides, with only seven locations (six of which are in Illinois and Ohio), we're not exactly talking Dickey's Barbecue Pit or Shane's Rib Shack here.

It was just a quick pop onto the Panhandle mainland from our digs out on Okaloosa Island. Hickory River has a distinct log cabin feel to it, and the warm woods made me feel right at home. Everyone working here was super friendly, especially our server, and the country music hits blaring over the speakers made things rather lively. In short, there was a great atmosphere all the way around.

Even though I had a big scrumptious doughnut for breakfast, I was certainly in the mood for an appetizer. We ordered a round of fried pickles to warm up our palates.

The pickles came out piping hot, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Their housemade batter was beautifully crisp and well seasoned. I also appreciated and enjoyed the acidity of the pickles themselves. It was certainly a great way to start things off, and needless to say, they didn't last long.

Hickory River has a three-meat "Create Your Own BBQ Plate" option, and you'd be a fool not to order it. I got mine with sliced brisket, pulled pork, and baby back ribs, as well as sides of potato salad and white cheddar mac and cheese. I didn't have any real intention of eating barbecue sauce, but I did get a sampling of their Mixed (not quite hot, not quite mild) sauce on the side just in case.

I love white cheddar, and this macaroni didn't disappoint. There was just enough cheesy goodness without being drowned in goo. The white cheddar offered sharper flavors than the standard yellow variety. I also enjoyed the big hunks of skin-on spuds in my potato salad, which had just the right texture. It was creamy and delicious, with a good crunch of pimentos and pickles. I think there may have been some bacon mixed in as well, but I was inhaling it too fast to know for sure.

The brisket had a prominent smoke ring, which was a good sign. I could tell right away that this was a leaner cut of beef. It was very tender, if only a tad dry for my liking (that sounds oxymoronic, I know). On the plus side, the brisket was quite smoky and had a flavorful spice blend on the bark. I still would have preferred a fatty cut, but it was pretty decent nonetheless.

My eyes were instantly drawn to the red smoky bits scattered all throughout the equally smoky pork. It was more what I would call chopped than pulled, but that lent to its tenderness. The meat was also really juicy from the light drizzling of thin sauce, which thankfully didn't do much to mask the natural pork taste. I had to exercise some serious discipline to leave enough pork behind for leftovers.

The ribs had a good dark crust with perfectly pink meat beneath. This was probably the smokiest of my three meats, making the ribs extra savory. The semi-sweet rib glaze was good, although not really Texas-style. I think they also could have spent a little less time in the smoker so as to avoid the "falling off the bone" thing, but otherwise they were very good.

Mrs. Barbecue Fiend ended up with a smoked turkey BLT sandwich, which she found to be exceptionally tasty. She was kind enough to share some of her poultry, and I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment. The turkey was tender and juicy, with a mild yet distinct smokiness.

Hickory River is a few tweaks and touch-ups away from having some really phenomenal barbecue. Even in its current state, it's still a good lunch option that gave us a nice break from seafood.


Hickory River Smokehouse
321 Mary Esther Blvd
Mary Esther, FL 32569
(850) 362-6474

Hickory River Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato