Tuesday, July 4, 2017
The wife and I came back to Destin for a few days of fun and sun before she started her new job, this time with our eight-month-old little man in tow. Barbecue was obviously on the non-beach part of my agenda. I had thought about trying someplace new, but with Buck's Smokehouse just across the bridge, what would be the point in that? A bird in the hand, as they say.
As soon as we hit their parking lot, the smell of delicious pit smoke was welcoming me back. Buck's covered patio is a perfect spot to sit and chill while still taking in as much beach air as possible. We got there just after opening time, so things were still a little slow in the customer department, but I have no doubt that business would be booming for Independence Day. After all, the Fourth of July and barbecue are about as much of a patriotic combination as apple pie and, well, barbecue!
I wanted to mix things up a little and sample some of Buck's offerings that I didn't get to try last time. Ribs were a no-brainer, so I snagged a half-rack with a side of fries. They were completely out of poultry during my first encounter, which made a two-meat combo of barbecue chicken and sausage an easy decision as well. Plus, chicken would be great for my son who just this week started trying out table food! For the combo, I picked mac and cheese and bbq beans as sides. Last but not least, I tacked on some smoked tuna dip for fun. It is the beach, after all, making seafood almost obligatory.
Skin-on handcut fries were a worthy accompaniment to our lunch. The fries didn't stand out per se, but I was glad to have them nonetheless. The mac and cheese was about average, the same as I found it last time. That said, it was perfectly comforting, and loads of gooey cheese is always great. As for the beans, I found them both sweet and flavorful. There were also big pieces of pork scattered throughout. My preference is generally for ranch-style beans over baked, but my son loved these sugary legumes.
My big St. Louis-style ribs were certainly meaty. Buck's dry rub was nice and salty, with plenty of crusty bark to top things off. There was a great smokiness, exemplified by a prominent smoke ring. The meat came off the bone with only a slight tug, just as it should.
The chicken, not to be outdone, was also tender and moist. I found a decadent skin full of seasoning, and the meat beneath wasn't the least bit dry. That was quite the feat considering the big white meat quarter-chicken I received. I also took notice of the moderate smoke level, which isn't something you taste in most barbecue chicken out there. Despite only having one tooth, my son wolfed down his tiny bites of chicken with gusto!
Just like before, Buck's sausage was outstanding. The crisp casings snapped well, and the coarse-ground meat inside was soft and tender. I noticed plenty of meat juice trickling down my chin, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Their sausage isn't exactly what I would call spicy, but there's definitely enough black pepper to make things interesting.
I'm a big fan of meat salads in general, and the tuna dip did not disappoint. The tuna had hints of smoke here and there, which was an interesting flavor profile to find in fish. It was sweet and savory at the same time, and I loved the raw white onion. There was also a spiciness that crept up on me with each subsequent bite. Forget the crackers and just shovel this stuff in by the forkful!
Buck's met all of the expectations I had from my previous visit, and in some ways even exceeded them. If you need a little break from seafood, this place is by far the best choice you could make.
303 Harbor Blvd.
Destin, FL 32541
Friday, June 9, 2017
There would be plenty of fish to go around during my three-day Bahamian adventure, but I wanted to throw some land-faring animals into the mix, too. As luck would have it, there was a barbecue restaurant right in the Atlantis resort where I was staying. But I didn't want overpriced touristy food, I wanted real local cuisine. My cab driver recommended Bahama Grill as a place to score both ribs and conch, and his sentiments were shared by three other locals that I spoke with. Done and done.
One thing I learned rather quickly is that most of these restaurants don't have a numbered physical address, just a general street location. Luckily my driver knew where to find the place. It had just started to rain when I arrived at Bahama Grill, so perfect timing. I think I was their only customer, certainly the only one sitting up top on the colorful covered patio. There was a pleasant breeze from the storm, but any relaxing tropical atmosphere that might have been had was drowned out by the noisy truck traffic directly below.
Beach body be damned, I ordered up a half-rack of pork ribs, a half-rack of beef ribs, and a half-dozen conch balls. Who needs side dishes anyway? My food took a while to come out, certainly longer than expected. I guess they were working on island time.
The conch balls were magnificent. Far from a pre-packaged frozen appetizer, these little deep fried delights were full of fresh ground conch, rolled with herbs and spices. They were light and fluffy, and the handbreaded balls fell apart with ease. Conch is about as chewy as the average calamari, but more flavorful in my opinion. I also loved the accompanying remoulade-type sauce, which certainly jazzed things up a bit.
There may have only been four beef ribs to this supposed half-rack, but they were certainly massive. The tender, succulent meat had a good char from the grill, but no smoke that I could uncover. A thick slathering of semi-sweet barbecue sauce produced the dominant flavors here. While the beef itself was tasty, I do wish they had removed the membrane from the bottom of my rack. A couple of the ribs were also pretty fatty, and despite the nice black char on the fat, it wasn't very well rendered.
Although rather diminutive compared to the beef ribs, the pork bones were still big and meaty in their own right. There was a great crust that was noticeably more well seasoned than I found on their beef counterparts. The meat came off of the ribs cleanly just as it should, with only a little effort needed. As expected, the same thick barbecue sauce dominated things here as well. I didn't find any smoke on the pork ribs either, but the tasty grill char was more prominent.
I'm guessing that Bahama Grill charbroils or chargrills their ribs instead of properly smoking them, but they still made for a decent lunch. Even though the ribs weren't quite up to my usual standards, they're probably about the best you'll find on this island chain. Hey, at least the conch was good!
Bahama Grill Cafe
West Bay Street
Monday, May 29, 2017
I always see Bread of Heaven Bar-B-Q's rather stationary food trailer at inopportune times, like when I've already eaten or when I have firm lunch plans. Today, however, I had the day off and no one to answer to except my seven-month-old baby. Since he was the only one of us who wanted carrots and pears for lunch, I decided to treat myself to some Memorial Day barbecue.
From what I can tell, this food trailer started out in Knoxville, Tennessee and migrated to Nashville a couple of years ago. You can normally find Bread of Heaven down in Antioch at the corner of Murfreesboro Pike and Mt. View Road. I don't know if they have any sort of regular days or hours, I just know that I've never seen the trailer parked anywhere else. That corner is pretty visible real estate, so I can't blame them for staying put. Location, location, location.
Since I hadn't eaten any sort of meaningful breakfast, I loaded up with a pulled pork sandwich, a half-rack of ribs, and sides of potato salad and baked beans. I couldn't see anything at all on the other side of the trailer's thick black window screens, so I just had to have a little faith and hope for the best.
The beans were sweet, but not overly so. There was also a good mix of onion and peppers in each bite. A welcome change from standard baked beans, these were very enjoyable. Bread of Heaven's potato salad was creamy with medium-diced potatoes. The base was a nice mustard/mayo combination, with a pleasant crunch of pickles here and there.
I assumed that there would be a bottom bun beneath my massive pile o' pork, but I wouldn't know for sure until I dug in. There was no point in even attempting to eat this like a sandwich, so I took the bread as more of an accompaniment and opted for a fork instead of my hands. I was instantly taken aback by the remarkable smokiness, way more than I had expected. The pork was tender and decently juicy, and it was just salty enough to be interesting. My portion came without any bark, but there were plenty of other flavors to go around even without it.
The small baby back ribs were actually loaded with tender, succulent meat. Bread of Heaven's well-smoked pork came off the bone cleanly with the appropriate effort. I noticed a rosy smoke ring just around the edges of each rib, while each bite produced a good burst of smoke. There was also a nice seasoning on the deep burgundy crust, although I wish it had been a little crispier. I was getting full halfway through my rack, but the ribs were so tasty that I was able to power through to the end.
My order came with several cups of barbecue sauce on the side, but I couldn't possibly fathom a need for it. Their meat was spectacular all on its own! Needless to say, Bread of Heaven Bar-B-Q surpassed my expectations and then some.
Bread of Heaven Bar-B-Q
3501 Murfreesboro Pike
Antioch, TN 37013
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Truth be told, The Pie Wagon was not my first choice for lunch today. But when life hands you lemons, throw them away and eat barbecue. This cafeteria-style "meat and three" only has pulled pork on Thursdays, with its normal meat offerings looking more like chicken fried steak, pan fried catfish, meat loaf, and salisbury steak. Since the place has been open in one form or another for just shy of a hundred years, I thought I might as well give The Pie Wagon a shot.
From the outside, The Pie Wagon looks like a sleazy old nightclub. On the inside, it looks like a sleazy old cafeteria. At least there's a little consistency there I guess. As close as this restaurant is to booming areas of Nashville like Vanderbilt University, Music Row, and the Gulch, The Pie Wagon seems as though it hasn't gotten a facelift in decades. Sadly enough, the restaurant moved to its current location a mere fifteen years ago, so I guess the "1970s charm" was intentional. I think going back to The Pie Wagon's original trolley car version from the twenties would have been a much better choice. After all, hipsters love retro.
I went with The Pie Wagon's classic "meat and two" option with smoked pulled pork, green beans, and mac and cheese. I could have added on an additional meat and gotten more side dishes, but honestly not much else looked appetizing enough. Their plates also come with your choice of bread, for which I picked the jalapeño cornbread.
My cornbread was a tad on the dry side, but otherwise was pretty tasty. I found actual corn kernels scattered about, plus the unmistakable fire of jalapeños. The pan of mac and cheese that I saw in the serving line had a good burnt cheesy crust on it, yet somehow none of that made it into my helping. It was run-of-the-mill elbow macaroni and cheese sauce of the Kraft variety. Sadly, the green beans tasted about the same. They could have easily been dumped out of a can, and although there was a nice saltiness to them, there were no other noticeable flavors. I'm not suggesting that The Pie Wagon can't use canned side dishes as a base to start with, but for crying out loud add some boiled bacon and onions to the green beans so customers can at least pretend they're eating homemade food. I don't know for certain whether their sides were homemade or canned, but you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
The pulled pork was a little watery for my liking, likely a byproduct of hanging out in the warming pan for a little too long. It was tender though. There were slight vinegar overtones to be had, and every now and then I caught a faint hint of smoke, but there wasn't a lot of either flavor to go around. I didn't see any bark at all, not that I really expected to find any here. Barbecue sauce probably would have helped I suppose. It wasn't the worst pulled pork I've eaten by any means, but it wasn't exceptionally good either.
Overall impression, The Pie Wagon struck me as the sort of place you'd take your grandma for lunch if you just needed to feed her but didn't really care whether she enjoyed her meal or not. Well, at least it was only $10.00.
The Pie Wagon
1302 Division St
Nashville, TN 37203
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
It's so much easier when the barbecue comes to me! I've been searching for an opportunity to test out the Thunderbird food truck and their enticing smoked chicken. This endeavor took a little more effort than anticipated, but I eventually tracked them down.
A few weeks ago, I made my first attempt to enjoy Thunderbird's poultry. According to their official website and their Facebook feed, Thunderbird was setting up shop at the partially-completed ONEC1TY Nashville, which I say as if I had even the slightest idea what ONEC1TY is. From what I could find online, this sustainably-designed complex is "a vibrant urban community...that will serve as a center of technology-enabled commercial, residential, research and retail activity catering to the idea that mindful healthy living can be made easy." Translation: some feel-good millennial hipster crap. Not exactly the kind of place that you'd expect to find barbecue chicken, but I go where the smoke takes me.
I drove and walked around the advertised 8 City Boulevard location for half an hour, but there was no sign of their truck anywhere. Finally I gave up and snagged a sandwich to salvage the few remaining minutes of my lunch break. After commenting on Thunderbird's Facebook page to vent my frustrations, they responded promptly and apologized profusely. Apparently they had been required to set up off of another entrance to the ONEC1TY compound, far removed from the actual address they had posted for lunch service. They also mentioned that they had arrived to that spot at 11:30am, although both their website and Facebook post confirmed an 11:00am scheduled start time. Thunderbird offered to comp my lunch if/when I came back to try them another day, which I certainly appreciated, but that's not how I roll.
Thunderbird was slated for another lunch service at ONEC1TY Nashville today. Armed with the newfound knowledge that 8 City Boulevard really means a parking lot sort of nearby 8 City Boulevard, and that 11:00am means 11:30am, I decided to give the Thunderbird truck another go.
Unable to decide between the Thunder Thighs and the Thunder Wings, I did the only sensible thing and ordered a couple of each, as well as a side of the Smoked Mac and Cheese. These three items are all smoked over pecan wood, and that was readily apparent. The delicious smoky aroma permeated my truck instantly and drew the envy of my coworkers upon my return. Within minutes of sitting down at my cubicle, I had several of them peeking over the top like Wilson from Home Improvement.
I was initially unsure about the identity of the peppers protruding from my helping of macaroni, but one bite was more than enough to confirm that these were definitely jalapeños. The creamy cheese within helped to temper the heat somewhat, and the crusty melted cheddar on top had absorbed a good deal of the pecan smoke. While this wasn't your standard "comfort food" mac and cheese, it was immensely tasty and a welcome addition to the plate.
The crispy skin on my meat was so dark and black from the smoke that I almost didn't believe it was chicken. Both the wings and thighs were heavily seasoned, with a clear emphasis on pepper. I found the chicken to be an interesting combination of smoky, spicy, and sweet. The sweetness in particular was a surprise, with the overall the flavors being spicy but well-balanced. Every single bite of this yardbird was moist and super juicy, particularly the dark meat thighs. I found myself longing for some Alabama white sauce, if for no other reason than to render assistance to my burning tongue.
So, in the end, was Thunderbird's smoked chicken worth all of the extra effort? You're darn right it was!
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.