Thursday, February 26, 2015
In a completely unexpected and amazing turn of events, I found myself headed for Fort Worth, Texas to judge a barbecue cookoff show for a certain food-themed television network which shall remain nameless. How awesome is that?!?!? As excited as I was, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to grab some Memphis barbecue along the way. Interstate Bar-B-Q is a joint I've had on my Memphis list for a while now, so I thought I'd stop and check it out.
Interstate is owned by Jim Neely, uncle of Food Network's Pat Neely. This seemed like an appropriate pick under the circumstances. It's also close to the interstate (hence the name), which made it an easy pitstop. This place has a fairly simple atmosphere, no fuss. The walls were filled with framed awards and articles, as well as a ton of autographed celebrity photos. Clearly Interstate has had a long and popular history amongst Memphis barbecue lovers.
They have a pretty extensive menu here. I opted for the Sampler Platter: pork ribs, beef ribs, hotlinks, brisket, pork shoulder, bbq spaghetti, beans, potato salad (instead of the advertised coleslaw), and bread. All that for just $21.00, which is relatively inexpensive considering that it's basically a five-meat, three-side plate. This was definitely more food than I needed, but my only other option for a combo was a two-meater, and that wasn't going to cut it. Oh well, if nothing else the sampler was a great way to taste as much of Interstate's barbecue as I could.
Interstate's beans had a pleasantly sweet flavor, with a nice spice blend as well. There was a lot of tender meat mixed right in, too. The potato salad had only a mild mustard flavor, coupled with a good amount of pickles. The bbq spaghetti also tasted great. It was slightly spicy and was loaded with shredded barbecue.
Their brisket came thinly sliced but still had some decent visible bark. My slices were a nice combination of fatty and lean, both of which were very tender and juicy. I was also able to taste the smoke through their tomatoey sauce, which is a rather impressive accomplishment. There wasn't any visible smoke ring, although I'd rather have my brisket taste good than look pretty.
I found the pulled pork a little bland, with only minimal seasoning and not much smoke. In fact, the only thing that had any real flavor to it was the sauce. Maybe mixing some bark into each portion would help things somewhat. The meat was tender enough, but just a tad dry. I'm not the biggest pulled pork fan in general, so I might just be biased.
The all-beef hotlinks had a great flavor and a nice char. They were definitely spicy. I tasted a little smoke, but it's actually quite difficult to make sausage that's exceptionally smoky. Although the coarse grind suggested homemade links, I believe these came from Evergood Fine Foods. Either way, they were really tasty.
Since the pork ribs were drenched in sauce, I decided to just use my fork and save a few dozen napkins. The meat came off with no effort at all (and no, that's not a positive attribute). At least they were tender. There was just a hint of smoke, and the crust had only minimal seasoning. I think if it hadn't been for the sauce, these ribs would have been pretty flavorless.
I saved the beef ribs for last, mostly because they were on the very bottom of my pile-o-food. The beef ribs that I'm used to have a high fat content and literally melt in your mouth. These, however, took considerable effort both to cut and to chew. The flavor was good, but lacking the degree of smoke I expected. Fattier, higher quality beef back ribs would have been a better choice, although I suppose that would definitely increase the price of this combo.
The service at Interstate also left a lot to be desired. My waitress was an incredibly sweet lady, but I never saw her again after she brought my food. I ended up walking to the register and just telling them what I had ordered. Similarly, the hostess sits right up front and talks on her cell phone the entire time, only setting it down temporarily to seat customers. I think this lack of care from the front-of-house staff mirrors my concerns about the pitmasters out back.
While I was finishing up my meal, I overheard a phone call from the table next to me. "Hey man, bring your butt on down to Interstate Bar-B-Q." That should definitely be their official slogan no matter what, but I found myself somewhat underwhelmed by Interstate. I think the term "mediocre" is an unfortunately perfect description of their barbecue. A two-and-a-half star rating for Interstate would probably be more accurate, but I didn't feel like modifying my entire rating system, so I rounded them up to three stars because of the tasty sides.
Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q
2265 S 3rd St
Memphis, TN 38109
Saturday, February 21, 2015
The wife and I had tickets to see Jason Aldean over at Bridgestone Arena, and an early pre-concert dinner seemed like a great idea. Since the tickets were part of my birthday present, I also had the privilege of choosing a restaurant. Puckett's was only a short walk from Bridgestone, which my wife was agreeable to despite the rain and cold temperatures. With several enticing barbecue options on their menu, how could I resist?
Puckett's has a really lively atmosphere, but I suppose that's par for the course in downtown Nashville. It has a much more relaxed feel than a lot of the other restaurants on Broadway though. They sat us right next to the stage. Too bad we were a few hours too early for the live music, which occurs nightly at Puckett's. The music is part of what makes this place popular, so reservations are a must for dinner, even on a weekday.
Our waiter was an extremely friendly local, a "good 'ol boy" as my mother-in-law would say. He gave us some really knowledgeable tips about the menu items, as well as some minor tweaks to make our selections even better. We never had to wait for a drink refill, and he came to check on us fairly often. I always appreciate service like that.
We had skipped lunch in preparation for our 4:30pm dinner, so my stomach was already rumbling. An appetizer was definitely in order. We decided to try the Fried Pickles. Yum!
The pickles were thinly sliced, making them more like chips. They had a mellow pickle flavor, and since I only like pickles in limited quantities, it was just right for me. Some pickle fans might find them lacking though. My wife thought they were a touch too salty, but it didn't bother me. Their fried pickles come served with some sort of chipotle-bacon ranch dressing. The ranch was an awesome compliment to the pickles, though the mild flavor left me wondering where all of the chipotle went.
I had originally planned on getting some of the dry-rubbed, cherry wood-smoked ribs, but at the last minute I decided they might be too messy. After all, I didn't want to spend the whole concert covered in rib juice. The menu says that the "Puckett's BBQ Platter" comes with your choice of pulled pork or chicken. Neither of those are my first choice when it comes to barbecue. Fortunately, our waiter told me (unofficially, of course) that not only could I get beef brisket on the platter, I could also make it a two-meat combo. Done and done. I ordered a duo of brisket and pulled pork. The platter also comes with sweet potato fries, baked beans, and coleslaw, but I substituted potato salad for the slaw.
The fries tasted fresh and homemade. They had a great sweet flavor, which was even better when dipped in the leftover ranch from our fried pickles. Puckett's beans were somewhat spicy and only slightly sweet. They were actually much better than the baked beans I normally encounter. The potato salad was full of big skin-on potatoes, giving it more of a German potato salad quality. It had a nice flavor from the pickles, and the low mayo content let the veggies shine.
I've been trying to acclimate myself to pulled pork ever since moving to Tennessee last summer. It's been a hard row to hoe. My affinity for beef aside, Puckett's pulled pork was nice and tender, with only a moderate amount of smoke. Although, I eventually found some nice pink pieces which had soaked up more smoke than others. The meat also had a nice seasoning blend mixed throughout. I would have liked more bark, but that's a personal preference.
Even though the brisket came out chopped, at least it was chopped into large pieces. And to be fair, I think they usually only serve brisket on sandwiches, so I can't really complain in light of my special menu request. The brisket had more smoke than the pork. It was also decently tender, especially the fattier bits. There was a commendable amount of flavor considering that the seasoned bark had all been trimmed away. I still prefer my brisket sliced, but this was still very tasty.
I tried a bite of my wife's smoked chicken sandwich, along with its jalapeno cornbread pancake bun. It tasted like there was molasses baked right into the bun, although I didn't taste much jalapeno. The chicken was both tender and juicy. There wasn't much smoke that I noticed, but that's not altogether unusual for chicken in my experience. She was happy with her meal, which is all that really matters.
The dessert menu includes something called a Deep Fried Brownie Sundae: brownie batter mixed with their triple threat cookie dough (chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch chips, and pecans), which is then battered, fried, and topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Apparently this dessert took home the blue ribbon at the Southern Fried Festival. As full as we were, there was no way we could resist such obvious deliciousness.
Holy crap it has bacon on top!!! This thing was absolutely incredible. There were so many scrumptious flavors all piled on top of each other. With its state fair-style crispiness, the deep-fried brownie was even better than I imagined it would be. The salty bacon was great with the chocolate, and I really liked the crunchy pecans, too. Not even a crumb was left by the time we were done.
Puckett's isn't a traditional barbecue joint, but they're serving up some really tasty 'que nonetheless. I'm really glad we gave them a try, and I'll definitely be back.
Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant
500 Church St
Nashville, TN 37219
Thursday, February 5, 2015
When my dad invited me along to Las Vegas for this year's Safari Club International convention, I could hardly contain myself. For weeks I anxiously awaited our trip, which of course meant researching and planning some spectacular restaurants to try out. My dad has an odd fascination with eateries he's seen on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, but we saved those for lunchtime. I found John Mull's Meats and Road Kill Grill on Guy Fieri's list of Las Vegas hot spots, and I knew it was sure to satisfy us both.
John Mull's is way out by the North airport, about twelve miles or so from the south end of the strip. Needless to say, this was not a cheap cab ride by any means, so I hoped the food would be worth the trip. This joint has been around since 1954, and the surrounding suburban neighborhood you see today has grown up around them. Their "dining area" consists of canopy-covered picnic tables out on some gravel. I'd bet that gets a touch warm in the summer months.
Even at 1:15pm on a weekday, the line to order stretches outside the entrance door, and they only let people inside five or six at a time. There was a kid making his way through the line taking orders, but all he did was write it on a ticket and give it back to us. I guess that's meant to speed things up, though it didn't seem to be helping the slow-moving line. It ended up taking about twenty-five minutes for us to get inside, and another twenty before we had food in hand.
Inside things are running like an assembly line, yet somehow still far from efficient. All of the meats were pre-sliced and sitting in metal warming trays for serving. It makes me wonder why there was such a long wait for food, since the plating involves minimal effort. The guy working the line was incredibly friendly and energetic though, so I'll give them that one.
True to form, I ordered a 3-Meat Combo of brisket, ribs, and hotlinks. For my two sides, I rather brilliantly picked a potato salad/macaroni salad duo.
The macaroni salad had a high mayo content, which the southerner in me always appreciates. I also liked the plentiful pimentos. The potato salad wasn't very different from the macaroni, as if they just used the same base and substituted potatoes for pasta. Similarities aside, I liked the macaroni salad better, although I suppose I should have gotten beans or something instead.
My meat trio had the hotlinks right on top, so that seemed as good a place to start as any. The casings had a nice snap, while the meat inside was very finely ground. This is an actual meat market, so I'm assuming that the sausage is made in house, but this assumption is unconfirmed as of yet. There wasn't any smoky flavor that I could pinpoint. Even more disappointing, most of the slices weren't spicy at all either, with just one slice that had any real kick to it. East Texas hotlinks these were not.
The razor-thin brisket looked more like deli meat than barbecue. Looks can certainly be deceiving though, because this brisket had a great smoke level and was incredibly tender. The flavors I found were mostly natural beef, salt, and smoke, since they had cut away all of the delicious bark. I can't help but think their brisket wouldn't have been nearly as good had it been sliced thicker, but it was quite tasty in this form.
I saved the massive spare ribs for last. There was plenty of meat to go around here, that's for sure. The ribs were juicy and cooked just right, with only a slight tug needed to separate meat from bone. I tasted some smoke, but not as much as I expected. Smokelessness aside, the slightly sweet glaze was a great flavor addition.
Eating outdoors is something I'm rather accustomed to, but what I don't enjoy is having to spend the entire time fending off swarms of bees. I had to sacrifice my sugary soda just to get them away from me long enough to eat. Granted the presence of bees isn't the restaurant's fault, but you'd think by now they might have figured out a way to combat them.
My overall impression of John Mull's was that they're definitely lacking in terms of organization. Between the $100.00 worth of round trip taxi time (including tips) and the excessive and unnecessary wait for food, I don't think John Mull's is worth all the trouble.
John Mull's Meats and Road Kill Grill
3730 Thom Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89130