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!!!!!

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

St. Patrick's Irish Picnic 2015 (McEwen, TN)




I've been jonesing for a good church picnic ever since my wife and I moved from Texas to Tennessee last year. We've attended some fun festivals and events here and there, but it's just not the same. Luckily for us, St. Patrick's Church in McEwen, Tennessee holds an annual picnic which was once heralded by The Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest outdoor barbecue. How could I possibly resist?


In order to raise funds for a new church bell, St. Patrick's held their first picnic in 1854, with pigs and sheep donated by local farmers. The event was such a success that church members turned it into an annual fundraiser for the church's school. Over a century and a half later, the picnic is still churning out barbecue that numerous publications have labeled as some of the best in the state. Clearly the folks at St. Patrick's know what they're doing. One thing that keeps the crowds coming back year after year is the legendary and secretive St. Patrick's barbecue sauce, the recipe for which is known only to one church member whose family brought it over from Ireland. I couldn't wait to try it.


Each year, St. Patrick's serves up some twenty thousand pounds of hickory-smoked pulled pork to hordes of hungry picnic-goers. While McEwen's normal population is in the neighborhood of seventeen hundred, it's not at all unusual to see that number rise to twenty-five thousand during picnic weekend. To satisfy the massive crowds, church members and other volunteers man the smokers for twenty-four hours straight and start selling pork by 7:00am. Wow! They also had chicken halves for Friday's lunch, but sadly I missed out on that.

 
The Czech/German church picnics that I frequented during my Texan youth were primarily focused on things like fried chicken, polka, bingo, and beer. I was excited to see what wonders an Irish barbecue picnic would hold. In addition to the run-of-the-mill ring toss, fish pond, and cake walk-type games, there was some really great live music. We listened to the Maple Valley Boys for a while, then the Harpeth Band. They were both really talented, with a mixture of country and bluegrass styles. It wasn't polka, but it made for a fun afternoon nonetheless.



While I had initially considered getting a pulled pork sandwich or some barbecue nachos, I couldn't resist their $8.00 dinner plate of pulled pork, green beans, potato salad, coleslaw, dessert, and sweet tea. That was quite a deal, plus they had a fried chicken option for my wife, who isn't nearly the barbecue fanatic that I am.



I was completely taken aback by the gigantic plate of food that I received for a measly eight bucks! The potato salad was really delicious, with a great crunch from all of the pickles and onions. Its base was a mustard/mayo combination, which provided a nice mustardy flavor without being completely overpowered. Unusual color aside, the coleslaw was rather excellent. According to some after-the-fact information given to me by one of my readers, the yellow color in their slaw comes from turmeric. This is also most likely the source of the spiciness that caught my attention every now and then. Mayonnaise-based coleslaws are not my favorite side dish, so this was a welcome change of pace. Although the green beans obviously came from a can, the addition of spices and pork transformed them into something homemade.

Despite being cooked in absolutely massive quantities, the pulled pork was phenomenal. It was much smokier than the majority of pulled pork that I've encountered. The meat was also very tender and juicy. The seasoning was simple, but just right. The pieces of bark, of which I found plenty, were even tastier. This was definitely some of the best pulled pork that I've had. I'm not generally a big fan of barbecue sauce, but I really liked this one. The tomato and vinegar sauce had a good kick and a nice acidity. St. Patrick's also sells this stuff by the bottle, and it's clear why.

For my dessert, I ended up picking what I thought was carrot cake, but which turned out to be a sort of gingerbread-esque spice cake. It was moist and delicious, with a great punch of cinnamon and nutmeg. The homemade buttercream frosting was sweet and perfectly whipped. I wish I knew which of their parishioners had made this amazing cake so that I could thank them in person.

My wife wanted to grab a snack before we left, and I was in complete agreement. Although her cinnamon and brown sugar funnel cake looked fabulous, I wasn't really in the mood for anything sweet. I certainly didn't need it, but I threw caution to the wind and picked up a pulled pork sandwich for my snack/early dinner.



This sandwich was absolutely packed with pulled pork in quantities that rivaled my prior lunch plate, and it was just as tasty. No sauce was needed here either, but the pickles did add some nice sour notes. I ended up with even more bark than in round one, and I loved every bite.

The only bad part to our day was having to make the hour-and-a-half drive home on an incredibly full stomach. We will definitely be attending the 2016 picnic, and next time I'll come prepared to bring back several pounds of St. Patrick's delicious pulled pork!

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161st St. Patrick's Irish Picnic
St. Patrick's Church
175 Saint Patrick St
McEwen, TN 37101
(931) 582-3633
http://www.stpatrickmcewen.org/

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint (Nolensville, TN)




This weekend I realized that, although my wife and I had been back in Nashville for a year now, somehow I hadn't yet eaten at Martin's. My head hung low, but I turned my shame into determination and drove down to Nolensville to bask in their barbecue-filled glory.


The smell of delicious pit smoke caught my attention before I'd even set foot outside my truck. This was a good sign. Martin's parking lot was already filling up, forcing me to head toward the back of the building. Fortunately, it was here that I found their enormous "Whole Hog Rig" mobile smokehouse, which I sincerely hoped was ready for action.


In true "barbecue joint" fashion, Martin's has a really lively and fun atmosphere. I don't think they could have possibly stuck more crap on the walls, although it didn't really feel that junky. The large lunch crowd already amassed at 11:15am told me that this was clearly a favorite amongst Nolensville locals. I was tempted to make use of their great outdoor patio space, but it was far too hot and muggy for that today.



Pat Martin's barbecue philosophy is right on the menu: "No freezer, no microwaves. We cook everything fresh every day." Good, because I expect nothing less. My eyes immediately zeroed in on the Big Momma Sampler, which the menu says feeds two people. That sounded like more of a challenge than a suggestion, and I was up for it. The Big Momma comes with four ribs, a quarter-pound of pulled pork, and a quarter-pound of brisket, as well as two sides. Hushpuppies were a no brainer, and for some bizarre reason I picked broccoli salad as my second side dish...on purpose. I opted for spare ribs over baby backs (dry rub, of course) and got my other meats sans the sauce.


The broccoli salad was pleasantly sweet, with a good tartness from the cranberries. Pine nuts were a welcome addition in terms of texture. I was also glad to see that the broccoli wasn't overrun with mayonnaise. It was tasty and light, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The hushpuppies definitely looked homemade. They were crisp on the outside with an amazingly fluffy center. Each bite had the right amount of seasoning, too. The side dishes were great, but it was time for the main event.

As a native Texan, I instinctively went for the brisket first. It had a nice dark crust and a beautiful smoke ring to match. There was also plenty of smoky flavor to go around, though the bark was especially good. A simple rub was all that was needed to enhance the natural beefiness. My slices were lean, but by no means dry. To put it mildly, the brisket was delicious.

There were smoke-kissed bits scattered throughout the huge pile of pulled pork. I was also glad to see large pieces of pork rather than chopped sandwich-style meat. There was a fair amount of black pepper mixed in, with a decent smoke level to boot. The pork was very tender, but the fattier portions were definitely my favorite. I considered adding some sauce for fun, though it didn't really need it.

I generally leave my ribs for last during barbecue outings, which was difficult since these looked incredible. Few things upset me more than to find overcooked ribs mistakenly described as "fall-off-the-bone tender." Martin's ribs, however, were cooked perfectly. The third-rack cut apart with ease, but still had just the right amount of bone retention. The juicy rib meat was beautifully pink and was definitely the smokiest of the three. While the ribs were great on their own, the awesome dry rub took things to a whole other level. It added some nice heat, too. I had inhaled three of my four ribs before I could bring myself to stop and jot down a few notes. They were absolutely phenomenal.

Despite being more food than any one person should consume, I'm proud to say that I ate every bit of my Big Momma Sampler. Martin's met, nay exceeded, every expectation that I had. Although I'm sure that their Mt. Juliet and Belmont locations are great, too, I'm glad that I got to try out the original joint.

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Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
7238 Nolensville Rd
Nolensville, TN 37135
(615) 776-1856
http://www.martinsbbqjoint.com/

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Red, White & Boom 2015 (Nashville, TN)

This year, Music City was pulling out all the stops in celebration of America's birthday. They had planned a fireworks display like none other, one which would supposedly be the largest in the country. As much as I wanted to see this explosive extravaganza in all of its glory, there was no way I was going to fight the downtown crowds or deal with the nightmare that would be finding a parking spot. When I heard that the Adventure Science Center would be hosting a "Red, White & Boom" fireworks viewing party from their parking lot, which overlooks downtown from up on the hillside, I immediately jumped online and bought a pair of tickets for my wife and I.


Fireworks were clearly the main draw, but our "Red, White & Boom" tickets also included entry into the Adventure Science Center from 6:00pm to 10:00pm. We had a great time running around and playing with all of the children's science stuff. They had a few live science demonstrations which were really fun, like balloon bursts and liquid nitrogen bombs. The astronomy area was definitely our favorite part of the Center. It was especially cool learning more about the New Horizons space probe, which I've been waiting to arrive at Pluto since 2006.


After about an hour or so of science-filled fun, we were ready to grab some dinner. I was ecstatic to see a duo of food trucks parked right out front, as well as an ice cream tent. Fantastic!

Electric Sliders
(770) 241-2489
http://www.electricsliders.com/


Sliders can be a little boring, but the folks at Electric Sliders have put some serious innovation into their menu. With ingredients like apple-almond-fig jam, sriracha mayo, and lemon-herb cheddar cream cheese, these mini-burgers are anything but boring. The employees themselves were also very lively and embodied a cheerfulness that mirrored their food. Everything on the menu sounded great, but I ended up ordering a Two-Slider Combo with the Piggy Stardust and the Disco Demi.


Their Piggy Stardust slider is stacked high with pulled pork, pimento cheese, fried pickled onions, and a bourbon-balsamic barbecue sauce on a brioche bun. Although the pulled pork wasn't as smoky as it could have been, it was certainly smokier than I expected it to be. It was also seasoned well, but I would have liked some bark in the mix. The fried onions added a great crunchy texture, while the pimento cheese gave it a nice creaminess. The barbecue sauce was more like a bourbon-balsamic vinaigrette, and I liked that much better. My Piggy Stardust was really tasty, especially for food truck barbecue.

Despite its all-beef patty, the Disco Demi is a far cry from the standard cheeseburger. It's got sharp cheddar, pickled onions, arugula, white truffle vinaigrette, and a rosemary demi-glace on brioche. Yum! The beef patty was delicious with an awesome sear on it, and the melty sharp cheddar was a perfect pairing. The pickled onions and arugula gave this burger a good crunch and a great flavor. The white truffle also made things super tasty, but I didn't catch any rosemary. Regardless, I liked it a lot.

I made a huge mess of myself with these sliders, and it was totally worth it.

Music City Pie Co.
(615) 918-0001
https://www.facebook.com/MusicCityPieCo?fref=ts


Even though we had already filled up on sliders, there's always room for pie. Music City Pie Co. had some interesting savory pies to choose from, and their pizza slices were selling like hotcakes. Under different circumstances I probably would have sampled some of these menu items, but today I had my sights set on the Banana Pudding Pie.


Like any good Southerner, I'm a sucker for 'nana pudding. Theirs had big chunks of banana mixed into a sweet, gooey pudding. The warm buttery crust was also spectacular, and the sugary whipped cream tied everything together nicely. This was basically just banana pudding served in a pie crust bowl. To be honest, I was hoping for more of a fried pie, but it was still really delicious.

Let Freedom Sing!
http://www.visitmusiccity.com/visitors/july4th

Science? Check. Food? Double check. Now let's blow some stuff up! Nashville's "Let Freedom Sing!" fireworks display was happening rain or shine. The forecast called for plenty of rain all night long, so we made sure to pack a few ponchos and umbrellas. At 9:45pm on the dot, the Nashville Symphony's musical accompaniment cued up and the mortar shells started flying.



Considering all of the trees and the annoyingly-large Country Club Vodka billboard, our view wasn't quite as unobstructed as was promised. The rain clouds and the obnoxious people standing right in front of us didn't help either. I really enjoyed the fireworks, and the Nashville Symphony did a great job as always. That being said, I feel like it was rather egregious not to end things with the "Star Spangled Banner," or at the very least include it somewhere in the musical score. I'm not sure that the Adventure Science Center's "Red, White & Boom" was worth the $35.00 tickets after all, but we still had a fun night. Happy Birthday, America!

video

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Adventure Science Center
800 Fort Negley Blvd
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 862-5160
http://www.adventuresci.org/