Sunday, April 16, 2017
My wife and I had planned our little man's baby dedication at church for Easter, and as a result we needed to feed several friends and family members who were kind enough to join us on this momentous occasion. Barbecue immediately came to mind, for obvious reasons. In terms of both quality and selection, Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint was an easy decision for our meal. I called in an order a week early, which they told me that I could pick up at 10:00am on Saturday (an hour before opening). At that time, I was sure to score the day's first fruits.
I had ordered up a heck of a feast: two pounds of pulled pork, two pounds of brisket, two quartered chickens, four links of beef sausage, and a quart each of potato salad, macaroni and cheese, broccoli salad, and pinto beans. Plus a duo of pecan and fudge pie for dessert. All this to feed eight adults and one child! I may or may not have intentionally over-ordered, hoping for some leftovers to take to work the following week. We weren't eating this massive smorgasbord until Sunday, but it didn't seem fair to rate Martin's 'que on a reheated basis. So I did the only respectable thing and sampled all of our non-dessert food before anyone else arrived.
I invariably start my barbecue reviews by tasting the side dishes, which was made all the more difficult by the fact that I had to endure the smell of delicious smoke for my entire twenty-minute drive back home. The potato salad was creamy and crunchy at the same time, with plenty of potato skins for added texture (and I guess some vitamins too, if you're into that sort of thing). It was also slightly spicy, a welcome surprise. The macaroni was as homey and delicious as you might expect. Far from blue-box mac and cheese, the large elbow pasta and gooey melted cheese were just right. I found the pinto beans to be savory and perfectly al dente, much preferable to overly-sweet baked beans. Cheddar and cranberries offered a vibrant array of flavors in the broccoli salad. This was the only one of our sides that I had eaten before from Martin's, and I think I may have enjoyed it even more this time around.
As for the meats, first up was their pulled pork. Rather than the finely-shredded pork I was expecting, we received big hunks of porcine goodness. It was tender and exceptionally juicy, with slight vinegar overtones from the mop sauce. The bark was well seasoned and moderately smoky, but not so much as to mask the natural pork flavors. In short, it was prepared exactly as it should be.
Good smoked sausage isn't something I find much of outside of Texas, but this was really tasty. Each link had loads of black pepper scattered throughout. There was a good snap to the casings, which exploded with yummy beef juice when sliced. All of the pepper produced a slight spiciness, balanced out by just enough salt to make things interesting.
On my first outing to Martin's, I received some rather lean slices of brisket. They were fantastic, but I always find myself longing for the fatty brisket point. Today I was in luck, and it was astonishing how good the brisket was (a sentiment shared later by every single one of our guests). Its jet black bark was loaded with flavor, and the tender meat beneath was super moist. Salt and smoke were immediately present on my tongue. The fat was so well rendered that I could have eaten it with a straw (and might have too, had I been alone at the time). Truly fantastic.
I just sliced off a small sample of the chicken, since there wasn't really a great way to covertly sneak a whole quarter-chicken ahead of time. A dark meat thigh hit the spot today. The meat was tender and incredibly moist, and the flavorful skin was seasoned to a T. There was an unexpected heat level that crept up slowly with each subsequent bite. It was also very smoky, an unusual quality for barbecue chicken.
Even though it would be ungentlemanly to review Martin's based on anything less than the fresh meat that I had received Saturday morning, I thought it worth mentioning how things turned out during the reheating process. In order to preserve as much moisture as possible while the meats warmed up in a 300 degree oven, I drizzled a little beef broth over the brisket and sausage, put a few dollops of butter in with the chicken, and added a swirl of apple juice to the pulled pork. Certainly there were a few deficiencies that I noticed in comparison to the fresh versions of each meat, but, in all honestly, they were very negligible. If I hadn't had a reference point from the day before, the reheated meat would have still merited at least a four-star rating.
Frequent readers know that I am not much of a sauce person when it comes to barbecue. That said, our sauce options looked far too good to pass up today.
Each of the four sauces was tasty in its own right, but these were my favorite meat/sauce combinations: brisket with their thin, vinegar-based Jack's Creek, pulled pork and the zesty Alabama White, and chicken with the mustard-heavy Palmetto Gold. Although these may not be the pairings you would expect, they are the ones that I found the most cohesive overall.
The food was all so good that I ended up eating far too much in far too short of a time. After a few hours of letting my stomach settle, it was time for dessert. I didn't quite feel up to two whole slices of pecan and fudge pie, so my wife and I split a slice of each.
The pecan pie was gooey, crunchy, and spectacular. Pecan pie can often suffer from too much sugar, but this one was just sweet enough without hurting my teeth. Martin's fudge pie, on the other hand, was ever so decadent. Its rich chocolate flavors hung in my mouth, making me crave a big glass of cold milk. The crust on both pies was nice and buttery, so no need to discard that in favor of the filling.
I really can't say enough about how awesome our meal from Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint was. They have several satellite locations scattered across Nashville metro, as well as spots in Louisville, Kentucky and Morgantown, West Virginia. But for my money, I'll stick with the original down in Nolensville.
Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
7238 Nolensville Rd
Nolensville, TN 37135
Friday, March 24, 2017
Another food truck review? Yup! Smokin' Buttz has been on my agenda for a while. I randomly checked their calendar while researching lunch options today, and lo and behold they were scheduled for an 11:00am service just a short hop away. Exactly where I found Roscoe's last week, as it happens. Some might call that a coincidence, but I took it as a sign from the universe that this was meant to be.
Food trailers seem to be a popular option for Nashville's mobile barbecue eateries, maybe because of the space it leaves for a pit or smoker out back. These guys were pretty no-nonsense when it came to taking and preparing my order, but they were also polite and cordial throughout the process. I don't think it took five minutes in between parking my truck and hopping back inside it with food in hand. Excellent.
Of their few sandwich options, the Gut Buster was impossible to resist: pulled pork (or pulled chicken if you prefer), barbecue sauce, nacho cheese, and jalapeños. Sides are extra, and I tacked on some of their mesquite coleslaw. I didn't really need a second sandwich, but since pulled chicken is their only other meat offering, I felt somewhat obliged to give the Mesquite sandwich a whirl, too. This one I took with BBQ baked beans. Good thing I don't go back to see my doctor until September, plenty of time to burn things off.
The mesquite coleslaw was fresh and crunchy, with a refreshing combination of sweet and spicy flavors. If all coleslaw was like this, I'd probably eat it more often. They describe their beans as "sweet hickory BBQ baked beans with a hint of southern comfort." I found them as sweet as advertised, but also peppery and savory at the same time. Perhaps that was the aforementioned southern comfort.
My Gut Buster looked like quite the monstrosity, and certainly much different than the usual barbecue sammiches I eat. This bad boy was loaded with rosy smoke-kissed pork, which had only a mild smoke level. Even though the sliced jalapeños definitely packed a wallop, a healthy dose of nacho cheese helped to temper the heat a bit. Their sweet barbecue sauce didn't add much on its own, but coupled with the cheese it was actually really tasty.
Unnecessary as it was, I enjoyed the Mesquite sandwich. It came piled high with tender, juicy pulled chicken. A lot of barbecue chicken comes out sort of dry, so this was a welcome surprise. Having a good mix of white and dark meat probably helped in this regard. It actually struck me as a little smokier than the pork, though not by much. Pickles added both a pleasant acidity and a crunchy texture to the mix. The barbecue sauce was fine, but oddly I found myself longing for more nacho cheese.
I was really impressed with Smokin' Buttz. Many of the long-standing joints I've visited don't match the quality of barbecue coming out of this tiny trailer. It's worth mentioning that, based on the lingering headache that I acquired afterward, either the nacho cheese or the barbecue sauce likely contains some MSG (monosodium glutamate). That's not really a criticism of their food, but rather a heads-up for those customers who are negatively affected by this additive/preservative like I often am. Headache or not, it was worth it.
Friday, March 17, 2017
I seem to be on a bit of a food truck kick lately, partially because I've already investigated most of the brick-and-mortar barbecue joints near my office, but also because I have a general affinity for them. Roscoe's Smoked Bar-B-Que is a local food truck whose Internet presence is limited to a Facebook profile with about 450 likes, a Twitter feed with just over 100 followers, and an introductory page on the Nashville Food Truck Association website. In this day and age, that makes Roscoe's virtually unknown. So when I found out that they were going to be having a lunch run less than a mile from me, I did the only sensible thing and headed on over.
Technically Roscoe's is more of a food trailer than a food truck, but that's just semantics. These guys were supposed to be slinging out 'que at 11:00am, but I watched them prep until a quarter-after when they actually began service. Maybe the light rain was a factor, so I'll cut them some slack there. And if nothing else it gave me a few minutes to chat with Roscoe himself, who is an incredibly friendly guy and a Navy vet to boot.
Most barbecue food trucks don't offer traditional multi-meat combos (at least not in my experience), and Roscoe's was no exception. They do have a few options for one-meat/one-side plates, and I happily doubled up on those to create my own combo. I ordered a three-bone rib plate with potato salad, as well as a pulled pork sandwich with a side of their Cajun slaw. I'm not big on sauce, except as an optional add-on, so I took my sandwich with it on the side.
The sugary, mustard-heavy potato salad didn't taste exceptionally homemade, more like what I've seen coming out of large containers from Kroger. Regardless of its origins, I like mine more savory than sweet, with extra pickles for crunch. Roscoe's Cajun slaw had an interesting pink color reminiscent of pickled onions. The slaw was super spicy and loaded with vinegar, which definitely qualifies as Cajun in my book. That being said, it struck me as more of a sauerkraut than a coleslaw, but I digress. I enjoyed the flavors, even if it was more sour than my puckering lips cared for.
A cold Bunny Bread hamburger bun was sort of a sad vehicle for what otherwise appeared to be a great pulled pork sandwich. The pork itself was tender though lukewarm, which I doubt was because of the five-minute trip back to my desk to eat it. There was a mild smokiness to the meat. I found a little more smoke in the bark, but it didn't present much in the seasoning department. Essentially, the sandwich looked fantastic but only tasted about average.
In contrast, my big meaty spare ribs were cooked perfectly. None of that "falling off the bone" nonsense here. Each bite came away cleanly, as it should. The pink, juicy pork had just the right amount of smoke, and the spice blend on the crust was both noticeable and enjoyable. I also appreciated that the ribs weren't drowning in sauce, which is a rare commodity in Middle Tennessee.
Roscoe's Smoked Bar-B-Que started off sort of ho-hum, but came out swinging big time when it came to the ribs. There are definitely some areas where they could make improvements, and I would encourage them to add a little more flair and finesse to their choice of ingredients. I could be wrong about the store-bought nature of the potato salad, although I'd bet dollars to donuts that I'm correct. Bunny Bread is an understandably frugal choice for Roscoe's sandwiches, and even though I love their ridiculous spokes-rabbit and his perplexing catch phrase ("That's what I said!"), a homemade bun just elevates things so much more in terms of flavor and overall appeal. All that aside, Roscoe's provided me with a good lunch, and I'm happy that I gave them a shot.
Roscoe's Smoked Bar-B-Que
Monday, March 13, 2017
Swett's Restaurant, which not-so-humbly describes itself as "a gathering place for Nashville's movers and shakers," has one of the least appetizing names imaginable. That said, this restaurant does feature several smokehouse selections, and that was enough to pique my interest.
A cafeteria-style eatery, Swett's has been dishing out southern cooking for over sixty years. Things here are simple and practical, albeit a bit dated. With the exception of a few aesthetic upgrades, I imagine that the restaurant looks relatively the same as it did back in the 1950s, but that didn't seem to bother the line of people waiting to order or the tour bus that pulled up shortly after my arrival. In fact, many of the folks I saw there probably prefer it that way. As for any of Nashville's movers and shakers, the only person that came close to that description was a "gentleman" who easily weighed in at an earth-shaking 400 pounds.
One of the first sights you see upon entering Swett's is their smokehouse room. It was empty and pitch black, with a sign directing patrons to grab their barbecue at the main cafeteria line. Part of me had been holding out hope that things would be cut-to-order here, but to no avail. I grabbed a tray and took my place in line, unsure of how long beforehand the smokehouse had finished cooking for the day.
The rotating barbecue options at Swett's include brisket, chicken wings, beef ribs, smoked pork chops, barbecue chicken, and rib tips. Today's options were limited to pork shoulder and pork ribs, so I took a helping of each. Sides were certainly plentiful, many of which were better suited to the soul food entrees than the smoked ones, so I picked creamed corn and pinto beans as my accompaniments.
Swett's pinto beans didn't look like much, but I guess I should have heeded the age-old adage about books and covers. There was a surprising depth of flavor - a combination of saltiness and vinegary acidity, coupled with something else that I couldn't quite discern. The large glob of creamed corn was creamy and sweet, as one might expect. Not much popped taste-wise aside from the natural corn, but that was pleasant enough in its own right.
Before hitting my plate, the ribs had been swimming in a pan full of sauce for who knows how long. As a result of their sauce bath, the meat was falling off the bone at each gentle prod. Well, at least what meat there was to be had, since two of my three were more bone than meat. The pink meat appeared to have been smoked well, but all of the tomato-heavy, semi-spicy sauce prevented me from tasting any of it. Don't get me wrong, I liked the sauce just fine, but I'd rather have my ribs be something other than a vehicle for barbecue sauce. If that's all I wanted, I could have just subbed in bread for the ribs and saved myself some money.
Unlike its bone-in cousin, the pulled pork escaped the sauce, but only by specific request. I made the right call there, because the pork was tender and chock-full of potent smoke. Pieces of bark throughout added even more flavor, including a savory seasoning blend. If it had one flaw, it was just a touch too dry. But overall, a spectacular effort.
This is precisely why I always go for a multi-meat plate of food whenever possible. You never know which selections are going to be magnificent and which are going to be subpar. Had I ordered only pulled pork, or had I actually been able to taste the pork ribs themselves, this likely would have been a four-star meal. Ribs aside, the rest of my lunch was quite good, and I found myself reasonably impressed by Swett's Restaurant.
2725 Clifton Ave
Nashville, TN 37209
Friday, February 17, 2017
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.
Monday, February 13, 2017
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.
G'z Bbq & Catering
925 Gallatin Ave
Nashville, TN 37206
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
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.
B & C Melrose BBQ
2617 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37204
Saturday, December 24, 2016
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.
Whole Hog Cafe
2516 Cantrell Rd
Little Rock, AR 72202
Friday, December 2, 2016
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.
The Love Bus
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
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.
The Row Kitchen & Pub
110 Lyle Ave
Nashville, TN 37203