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Thursday, June 26, 2014
Fat Boy's BBQ (Antioch, TN)
Moving to a new city is always tough. You have to find a new dentist, a new barber, and, of course, a new favorite barbecue joint. I'd prefer my teeth and my hair to come out perfect the first time around, but I don't mind a little trial and error when it comes to tracking down good 'que. I noticed Fat Boy's BBQ just a few short miles from our new home, and I thought I'd give them a try.
The combination of a giant pink pig and a smoker right out front was a good omen. It also told me that pork would likely be the focal point here. This isn't Texas, so I suppose I shouldn't be shocked to find beef playing second fiddle.
Fat Boy's has a rather divey atmosphere to it. The first thing you notice upon arrival is a presumably load-bearing web of duct tape over a crack in the front door glass. Inside, you'll find a hodgepodge of assorted booths, tables, and chairs. It's a fairly small dining area, with enough seats for 31 dine-in customers by my count. Decor was minimal, at best. I hoped this meant their attention was fixed squarely on the meat.
To get a good feel for their food, I ordered the FB's Sampler: three meats and two small sides. For my meats, I picked brisket, ribs, and pulled pork. Ordinarily I might have selected sausage as the third member of my meaty trio (had it been available, that is), but pulled pork is a much more popular barbecue option in Tennessee. Oh well, when in Rome. Despite the regional preference to the contrary, I did, however, ask for my meat without sauce. Picking side dishes was a bit more difficult. My usual order is potato salad and pinto beans, but I like to venture out of my comfort zone from time to time. I had seen numerous reviews online which raved about Fat Boy's mac and cheese, so I thought I'd give it a shot. For my second side, I decided to try the white beans, which isn't a side dish I've encountered thus far in my barbecue travels, but appears to be a provincial favorite.
The mac and cheese came out piping hot. It was pleasantly creamy and tasted like actual cheese rather than Velveeta. I liked the addition of black pepper, although I would have preferred more of it. This wasn't the best mac I've had, but it was still very good. The beans looked rather intriguing. They had a creamy, soup-like texture: slightly mushy, with plenty of in-tact beans remaining too. I'm not overly familiar with legumes, but they tasted like either cannellini beans or navy. The beans had a nice seasoning and big chunks of meat (ham, I think) mixed in. I'm glad I tried them.
Once I had thoroughly sampled the side dishes, it was time for the main course. The brisket came in thick, Texas-style slices. It had decent bark and a slight smoke ring. Sadly, the fatty layer near the edge looked a little under-rendered. The meat itself had good seasoning and a great smoke level. It was also very tender. Upon closer examination, the fat was more rendered than I had initially thought, but it was still too rubbery. Properly cooked fat should melt in your mouth. All in all, the brisket was pretty good, but it could have used an extra hour or so in the smoker, or perhaps just a touch more heat during the cooking process.
In my admittedly non-expert opinion, a perfect serving of pulled pork should include fairly even amounts of bark, plain pork pieces, and pink-to-red smoky pork pieces. This pulled pork had only plain pieces, which resulted in a fairly bland portion. It had minimal seasoning and almost no smoke. The meat was also a little dry. I guess that's what the tabletop array of sauces is for. Their regular mild sauce was a pretty run-of-the-mill sweet, tomato sauce. The vinegar-based sauce was much tastier, but I feel like I shouldn't have needed it. The pork was actually quite good with the accompanying cornbread-esque pancake though, which is an interesting substitute for rolls and bread.
The big, meaty ribs had a good crust and a nice smoky hue, but here again the fat looked under-rendered. It was better than the brisket fat, though still not translucent enough. The ribs were tender and juicy, with the meat coming off the bone perfectly. I also enjoyed the hefty smoke level as well as the seasoning. These were probably my favorite of the three meats.
Fat Boy's homemade banana pudding seems to be fairly popular as well, so I thought I'd try it despite my exceptionally-full stomach. What can I say, I'm a sucker for good 'nana pudding.
The pudding had a great flavor. It wasn't too runny, nor was it too thick. They also don't skimp on the Nilla wafers or the bananas. My one complaint is that the wafers were a bit soggy, which is probably because they make the pudding a little too far in advance.
Fat Boy's has the potential for really phenomenal barbecue, but they're not quite there yet. Maybe their meat is just specifically designed to be covered in sauce. After all, this region's barbecue style definitely seems to favor sauce much more than Texas does. That being said, ice cream should taste good regardless of whether you pour chocolate syrup on top, and I feel like barbecue should work the same way.
Fat Boy's BBQ
2729 Murfreesboro Pike
Antioch, TN 37013
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Corky's Ribs & BBQ (Memphis, TN)
My wife and I had only been back in Tennessee about a week, the majority of which had been spent unpacking and organizing our belongings (as well as our lives). As a treat, we decided to roll through Memphis to do a little home shopping. Even though it's a far cry from Central Texas-style, I couldn't resist trying out some top shelf Memphis barbecue.
Corky's was the closest to our other pre-determined destinations, so that made for an easy decision. It's also consistently rated as one of the top barbecue joints in Memphis. This place has a lively blues atmosphere which was very inviting. Judging by the photos on the wall, it seems like Corky's has been visited by hundreds of celebrities over the years. I hoped that translated into delicious food rather than just hype.
While the majority of barbecue joints I've encountered are simple counter-service operations, Corky's is full table-service. My wife and I were both exhausted after 2.5 hours of solid shopping (well, I was at least), so we appreciated a more relaxing meal. This is a busy place with lots of tables, and they clearly get plenty of business. After a brief ten minute wait and much anticipation, we were seated and started perusing the menu.
Choosing Corky's as our lunch spot was a no-brainer, but figuring out my order was much more difficult. I definitely wanted some Memphis-style ribs, and I thought I'd also see how they did with a Texas favorite: brisket. My best option for this meaty duo was the Ribs & Beef Killer Combo. I opted for dry ribs rather than wet. When I asked to have my brisket fatty with extra bark, I was informed that "they cut all that off," so I hoped it would be tasty enough as-is. Their combos automatically come with bar-b-q baked beans and coleslaw, but I subbed in hush puppies instead of the slaw.
The beans, as expected, were very sweet. I also found a hint of black pepper, but they weren't really spicy per se. The hush puppies had an amazing crispy batter on the outside, and were somehow both dense and fluffy on the inside. These were spicier than the beans, especially the ones with larger chunks of jalapenos (I think) in them. I also appreciated that these pups were homemade rather than frozen, and I can safely say that they were the best hush puppies I've had to date.
I almost always eat my brisket sliced, but unfortunately this was chopped. It was also loaded up with Corky's thick homemade barbecue sauce. Given these serving choices, coupled with the decision to cut off all of the bark, there was no hope for finding a smoke ring. Undaunted, I dug in anyway. The meat was very tender and juicy, and the sauce had a nice bite of vinegar to it. Since the main flavors here came from the sauce, I could only pinpoint a mild smokiness. Overall I'd say the brisket was rather tasty, but I would have preferred actual slices with bark.
As usual, I saved my ribs for last. These were beautifully pink from the smoke, though I couldn't taste much more of it than with the brisket. Fortunately, there was a great crust and the rub packed a ton of flavor. It might have had just a tad too much salt, but otherwise the rub was awesome. The meat itself was also really tender and came clean off the bone with each bite. All things considered, with only a moderate amount of smoke present I could really taste the natural flavors of the pork quite nicely.
My wife let me try a bite of smoked turkey from her brioche club sandwich. The thin, deli-style slices of turkey were very tender. They also had a decent smoke level and were fairly tasty for poultry.
Even though we were both thoroughly stuffed, dessert sounded too good to pass up. We got a slice of Miss Emma's Chocolate Fudge Pie to share, a la mode of course.
The pie looked absolutely amazing! It was fudgey and delicious, complete with fluffy whipped cream. And just in case the pie itself wasn't sweet enough, there was an extra drizzle of chocolate sauce atop the whole thing. Every bite was exceptionally rich. This was a great palate cleanser.
Corky's is likely top notch 'que by Memphis standards, but I guess I just have a different opinion of what constitutes stellar barbecue. To paraphrase Dorothy, "We're not in Texas anymore." Regardless, the food was all really good.
Corky's Ribs & BBQ
5259 Poplar Ave
Memphis, TN 38119
Friday, June 6, 2014
Round 2: Lockhart Smokehouse (Dallas, TX)
Getting ready to move is always hard, especially when there are so many people to say goodbye to. I was down in Oak Cliff visiting my friend and his new baby, which also happened to be just a few miles from the Bishop Arts district of Dallas. It was a no-brainer to pick Lockhart Smokehouse for dinner.
There are some folks out in the blogosphere who claim that Lockhart Smokehouse is hit-or-miss. I've had the pleasure of eating barbecue from Lockhart on several occasions now, and it's always phenomenal. The care and attention that goes into their food is readily apparent, from both the meat itself and from watching pitmaster Will Fleischman hard at work behind the counter.
I thought I had learned my lesson about over-ordering at Lockhart, but apparently not. It's hard not to try a little bit of everything here. We ended up with a half-pound of brisket, a half-pound of beef shoulder clod, a half-slab of pork ribs, and a few of their original Kreuz sausages. The side dishes here are also really tasty, so we added on potato salad, macaroni, and deviled eggs.
Lockhart's potato salad isn't mustard or mayo-based, but instead comes in their house dressing. It's like German-style potato salad, but with more flavor and spices. The heat level is also really nice. Their mac and cheese seemed exceptionally creamy today. It's very tasty and clearly homemade. This was my first run-in with their deviled eggs, and I'm really glad they found their way into our order. Lockhart fills their eggs with meats based on a rotating schedule, though I neglected to inquire as to today's meat. There was quite a bit of paprika covering it, but I think it was brisket. Regardless, the flavors are fantastic. There is also a nice spiciness to the eggs that pleasantly lingers.
As expected, the sliced brisket was terrific. Typically I have a specific request for my brisket, but today it came out perfect on its own. Each slice had tons of seasoning, especially on the bark (which there was plenty of). There was also a nice amount of smoke. The meat looked solid enough, but was so tender that it crumbled with the slightest touch. I was forced to share the half-pound with my friend, although I seriously considered taking it all and running out the door.
The beef shoulder clod is one of Lockhart's specialties, but this was my first time trying it. This was clearly a leaner cut of meat than the brisket, although what fat there was had been nicely rendered. The crust tasted great, and there was a good smoke level beneath. I wish more barbecue joints would include clod so I could eat it regularly.
It's often difficult to estimate how many ribs to order, but the spare ribs here are so big that a half-rack is plenty for 2-3 people to share. The meaty ribs had a smoke ring that went almost all the way through. Actually, they had the most smoke of all the meats today. The crust on Lockhart's ribs is always very tasty, and the tender, juicy meat is just as delicious.
Their sausages are definitely some of the best in DFW. I know they aren't made in-house, but they're still fantastic. The coarse meat is packed loosely into very crisp casings. I really enjoy the simple seasoning blend, which is predominantly salt and black pepper. A lot of barbecue joints have trouble inserting smoke into their sausage, but Lockhart seems to have conquered that problem quite nicely.
My goal is to visit as many barbecue joints as I can before leaving Texas, although part of me wants to end on a high note. Lockhart Smokehouse is definitely a benchmark that's hard to beat, so maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.
400 West Davis
Dallas, TX 75208
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