I'm making it my personal mission to single-handedly eat my way across the nation, one delicious animal at a time.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tex's World Famous Bar-B-Q (Nashville, TN)

When you start out the day by ripping the zipper on your slacks completely open within two minutes of getting to work, you need to try to salvage things any way that you can. For me, that meant barbecue. I tossed aside my boring, pre-packed turkey sandwich and headed for Tex's World Famous Bar-B-Q in South Nashville. Plus, I apparently earn triple points on my Southwest Airlines credit card there, so win-win.

Tex's has sort of a western/saloon thing going on, one that probably hasn't changed much in the thirty-five or so years that they've been open. Essentially this means a lot of iron, antiques, and unfinished barn wood, likely aimed at Nashville's tourist population. Hackneyed decor aside, the lively gent working the serving line, who is actually Tim Williams, the owner, was all the atmosphere that this place needed.

These guys offer a suspiciously cheap $9.35 Combo Plate that comes with "All the BBQ's" and two sides. At that price, game on! Judging by all of the other orders I overheard while waiting in line, this is an understandably popular meal choice. Tex's has ribs on Thursdays, but they're sadly not part of the combo meats. Like any good Nashville "meat and three", the sides here are all self-serve. I scooped myself a helping of potato salad and their famous jalapeño beans and saddled up for a quick lunch.

Wow, these beans definitely aren't for wimps. They had a significant heat level, as well as a great flavor from the peppers. In fact, I'd suspect that they might have tossed in a splash or two of jalapeño juice for good measure. The beans themselves were cooked to a perfect al dente. I'm glad I picked potato salad as my second side dish, because I definitely needed it to temper the spicy jalapeños. It had a good crunch from the pickles and pimentos and a good array of spices. The paprika sprinkled on top is mostly just for presentation, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

I started my meat sampler with the pulled pork, which was fairly dry. It did have a good smokiness, but I would have liked some bark and a little more seasoning. There's really not much else to say about it. The thick slice of turkey breast, on the other hand, was thankfully much more tender and moist than it appeared. It was very smoky, too, like a Texas Thanksgiving. I still prefer dark meat to white when it comes to poultry, but the turkey was undeniably tasty.

Their fine-ground smoked sausage had wonderfully crisp casings. There was also much more smoke than I expected. Too bad there wasn't a good dose of coarse black pepper mixed in. It's likely not made in-house, but that's par for the course when it comes to sausage in Tennessee. Like its casing-covered cousin, the bologna (or, as they phonetically spell it here, "baloney") had soaked up plenty of smoke. The smoking process had cooked down the typical mushy texture of this meat, although a little grill char would have really rounded things out.

The large hunks of brisket on my plate had a noticeable smoke ring around the edges, but I found only a mild smoke level when I dug in. There also wasn't much seasoning on the bark, which could have benefited from even salt. Like the pork, it was just sort of dry. One of my larger bites was fairly hard to swallow without the aid of sweet tea. At peak hours, even lean brisket such as this shouldn't be dry.

Smoked turkey was the surprise winner at Tex's World Famous Bar-B-Q, followed by the two store-bought tube steaks. Still, at their prices, it's hard to complain too much.


Tex's World Famous Bar-B-Q
1013 Foster Ave
Nashville, TN 37210
(615) 254-8715

Tex's World Famous Bar B.Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mission BBQ (Nashville, TN)

I'm always a tad suspicious of chain barbecue restaurants, never quite knowing what to expect or how far the apple might fall from the original tree. Perhaps it's because I've been burned far too often by their over-promising and under-delivering. Despite my reservations, I was willing to give Maryland-based Mission BBQ a try when I heard that they had recently opened up a new operation at Opry Mills mall.

Mission BBQ describes their restaurants as having a "patriotic dining room filled with tributes to those who've made Our Country great." Apparently this tribute also includes a daily "salute to the Stars and Stripes" at lunchtime. I certainly don't doubt Mission BBQ's sincerity, and far be it from me to dispel or discourage anyone's patriotism, but on the surface it honestly feels a touch too heavy handed. That being said, their POV will play well here in Middle Tennessee, and the Mission BBQ employees were some of the friendliest I've encountered anywhere, from the ladies at the registers to the guys chopping meat.

To get a true feel for Mission BBQ's meat smoking abilities, I ordered their 3-Meat Market Sampler with brisket, pulled pork, and sausage. Customers can make any of the meat market plates into either XL or XXL combos, with a drink and one or two sides respectively. I picked the XL with a serving of Maggie's Mac-n-Cheese, and I tacked on a "Bay-b-back" rib and a spare rib for good measure. Meats can be sides, too, right?

The mac and cheese was surprisingly good. I loved the crunchy crust on top, as well as the gooey pasta beneath. It was savory and comforting, with the distinct taste of real cheddar cheese.

It was hard not to notice the deep black crust on my solo baby back rib. The meat was nicely seasoned with a great smoke level. However, they sadly gave me the end bone of a rack, so it was rather tough and dry. The meat also came off with the slightest nudge, as is fairly common with overcooked baby backs.

My spare rib appeared to be another end-of-the-rack cut. Sigh. The crust was more of a reddish-orange than pit-black. This pork was significantly more tender than the baby back had been, and the meat stayed put until I was ready to bite down. It was also nice and smoky, with a more mild seasoning than my first rib.

Their brisket is advertised as "Texas inspired" and oak smoked. I admittedly had my doubts, but this was no false advertising. Mission BBQ gives customers the option for moist (aka fatty) or lean brisket, and you'd have to be a fool not to opt for moist. The well-rendered fat made this brisket melt-in-your-mouth tender, a fact I discovered while delicious meat juices rolled down my chin. These slices had a beautifully rosy smoke ring, with flavors to match. The simple seasoning also let the natural beef shine. It was superb.

I opted for Mission BBQ's jalapeño and cheddar sausage, a wise decision if I ever made one. The split links perfectly showcased all of the cheddar and diced peppers. On further examination, I found a great snap to the casing, with a tasty grill char to boot. Mission's sausage uses finely ground meat, sprinkled with finely ground black pepper. The gooey cheese countered the powerful jalapeño heat nicely, and added another dimension of flavor as well. 

Big hunks of delicious bark were scattered all throughout my pile-o-pork. The meat was decently smoky and very tender. It looked dry, but it certainly didn't taste that way. In what I assume is an attempt at nationwide appeal, Mission BBQ offers 10 different sauces from all of the major barbecue traditions, including Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. Personally, I would have rather seen them pick one region to model and run with it. Better yet, show me what Maryland barbecue looks like. In the end, this is purely academic and a rather moot point, since there was no need for sauce whatsoever.

Mission BBQ makes some truly exceptional food, and they should be proud. If they hadn't cheaped out and given me scrap ribs, I suspect that my rating would be a solid five stars.


Mission BBQ
161 Opry Mills Dr
Nashville, TN 37217
(615) 933-5225

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Old Hickory Bar-B-Q (Owensboro, KY)

I blew into town for the International Bar-B-Q Festival, but no trip to Owensboro, Kentucky would be complete without a stop at one of their famous barbecue joints as well. Even though Moonlite Inn has all of the notoriety, I had it on good authority that those who know pick Old Hickory Bar-B-Q instead. With six generations worth of experience behind them, I figured that the folks at Old Hickory probably knew what they were doing by now.

Small-town country restaurants like Old Hickory are what I grew up on, so I felt right at home. Their quaint tables feature the advertising of other local businesses, because in a place like this people still believe in helping one another. The unassuming decor and simplistic atmosphere are also quite welcoming, complete with warm woods and rustic colors. It's not modern, but it is comforting. This is the kind of easy-going restaurant where you come to just kick back and enjoy a pleasant meal with family and friends. Of course, Old Hickory brings in its fair share of tourists as well.

The easy part was ordering Old Hickory's three-meat Combination Plate, the hard part was figuring out which of their nine meats to include. After much agonizing deliberation, I selected sliced mutton, a dark meat quarter-chicken, and pork ribs, with sides of potato salad and onion rings. Customers can opt to get their meats straight from the pit at a mere 50-cent upcharge, and I highly recommend that you do so.

Between the finely diced potatoes and the strong pickle tang, this potato salad was a touch different than what I'm used to. It was also loaded up with pimentos. All of this gave the potato salad a great, potent flavor. I can't say whether the onion rings here are handmade or frozen (although I do have my suspicions), but they hit the spot either way. The crisp batter and light salting was just right.

The mutton looked a little like church picnic stew, but thankfully tasted better. It was very tender and only slightly smoky. There was also a mild sweetness to it from the mop sauce. I found it to be a tad greasy for my liking, although most mutton generally is.

I had been staring longingly at barbecue chicken all morning and was anxious to finally eat some. The delicious, well-seasoned skin was just what I was hoping for. There wasn't much smoke to be found, but the other flavors more than made up for it. The meat itself was tender, though a little on the dry side. I didn't fault them too much for it though, since that's fairly easy to do with barbecue chicken.

The jet-black crust on my pork ribs was a dead giveaway for deliciousness. Each bite of pork was juicy, tender, and perfectly pink. The meat came away cleanly with only a slight tug, just the way it should be. There was also a great smokiness to the ribs, but then again I never expected anything less.

I completely underestimated how full I had gotten during my morning at the International Bar-B-Q Festival, although I suppose eating six barbecue sandwiches and a bunch of stew is bound to do that. I ended up taking over half of my lunch plate home with me. Oh well, I needed something for dinner anyway.


Old Hickory Bar-B-Q
338 Washington Ave
Owensboro, KY 42301
(270) 926-9000

Old Hickory Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

International Bar-B-Q Festival 2016 (Owensboro, KY)

With a mere 140 miles separating me from the legendary smoked mutton of Owensboro, Kentucky, I couldn't pass up a chance to attend the town's 38th Annual International Bar-B-Q Festival. After all, May is National Barbecue Month (apparently). The wife was heading out of town, so I dropped her off bright and early at the airport and set sail for the land of bourbon and bluegrass.

From the moment I stepped out of my truck, I found myself completely engulfed by a fog of pit smoke so thick that I could barely see or breathe. It was heavenly. Owensboro has played host to this festival since its inception in 1979, and it shows. Thousands of people descend on this town annually on the second Sunday in May hoping to get their fill of sweet, smoky 'que.

Barbecue is serious business in Owensboro, particularly amongst the Daviess County church picnics. In fact, the Governor's Cup main-event cooking teams are all local churches! These pious purveyors of smoked meat dish out pulled pork sandwiches, mutton, burgoo, and other bits of awesomeness prior to the 2:00pm judging, with chicken and other meats to follow once the judges have had enough. Don't worry, there's plenty to go around. Each cooking team prepares about 600 pounds of pork and mutton, 400 chickens, and 60 gallons of burgoo.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of visiting Kentucky, perhaps a brief explanation is in order. Burgoo is a spicy stew similar to an Irish stew, which makes sense given the prevalence of Scotch-Irish heritage in the region. It's generally more viscous than soupy, and traditionally includes such meats as venison, squirrel, possum, raccoon, and game fowl. While I've eaten 60% of that list at one point or another, my gastrointestinal tract was hoping for something closer to pork or mutton today. Either way, it would be a great way to warm up on this unusually chilly May morning.

9:30am might seem a little early to start wolfing down several pounds of meat, but barbecue is the breakfast of champions.

St. Pius X
3418 Hwy 144
Owensboro, KY 42303
(270) 684-4745

St. Piux X was the only crew actually serving barbecue when I arrived, despite the advertised 8:00am start time online. They took second place in burgoo and third in chicken and mutton in 2015, plus the award for Team Spirit. They were certainly lively when I walked up. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and a cup of burgoo to get my day started.

I definitely asked for a pulled pork sandwich, but I'm fairly certain that what I received was mutton. No biggie, I was planning on eating plenty of that today anyway. It was fairly spicy and wonderfully acidic, bordering on sweet. The meat was also really tender. I quickly inhaled the whole thing. If the mutton is this good at the St. Pius X church picnic on June 11, they'll be in good shape.

The burgoo was just the thing to warm my bones. I enjoyed all of the corn mixed in, and there was a nice hit of black pepper in each spoonful. I could also taste some definite chili powder, but it wasn't overpowering by any means.

Our Lady of Lourdes
4029 Frederica St
Owensboro, KY 42301
(270) 684-5369

Next up was Our Lady of Lourdes, who placed second for mutton last year. Their picnic is coming up on June 18, so this would no doubt be good practice for the cooking team. This time I ordered a mutton sandwich on purpose, along with another cup of burgoo stew.

The Lourdes burgoo had more meat than my first sampling and more diced potatoes, too. The spices did a great job of opening up my sinuses, but this cup of stew was definitely more about the meat than the seasoning. I liked that.

Mutton is a bit of an acquired taste, I suppose. The meat had a little gristle in it, which actually helped this sandwich in the texture department. The shredded mutton was tender as can be, and it was nice and salty. It was good, but I guess I just prefer pork and beef for the most part.

Precious Blood
3306 Fenmore St
Owensboro, KY 42301
(270) 684-6888

Precious Blood's June 4 church picnic is fast approaching, but the festival is a major fundraiser for them as well. Their burgoo won third place in 2015, and I could tell they were pulling out all the stops this year. Burgoo was the first thing they had ready to sell, so I had to circle around like a hungry vulture until they started slinging sandwiches, too. Once everything was ready to serve, I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and a cup of stew.

This was my first bite of pork for the day, and it was superb. I found nice pieces of bark throughout the heap of juicy, tender meat. I loved the tomatoey acidity, as well as the creeping spiciness that took me by surprise.

Precious Blood's burgoo was also really good. The large chunks of potato made it seem the most stew-like thus far. I also tasted what I believed to be hints of lemon, but I could also just be making things up. Either way, it was tasty.

St. Mary of the Woods
10534 Main Cross St
Whitesville, KY 42378
(270) 233-4196

The St. Mary of the Woods crew has only two weeks of downtime between the festival and their May 22 picnic. They were already sold out of burgoo by the time I made it over to their station, so I ordered a sandwich duo of pulled pork and smoked bologna instead.

Wow, this pulled pork sandwich was definitely my favorite of the event. It had beautifully pink smoky bits throughout and a smoky flavor that would be hard to beat anywhere. The meat was also very tender and deliciously juicy, with plenty of bark and well-rendered fat to go around.

The absolutely massive hunk of bologna, aka Oklahoma prime rib, completely dwarfed its bun. One bite and I was five years old again. There was a surprising smokiness, though no real seasoning. Bologna isn't most people's first pick for barbecue, but I found it rather satisfying.

Life Community Church
2767 Veach Rd
Owensboro, KY 42303
(270) 926-1200

Life Community Church is the first Baptist church to ever the festival's Governor's Cup cookoff, which might put them at a bit of a disadvantage. They don't have a barbecue church picnic like their Catholic counterparts either. The profits they earn at the festival will support Sunrise Children's Services, a nonprofit organization that provides care and hope for Kentucky's hurting families and children through ministry (visit https://www.sunrise.org/ for more information or to donate). I ordered myself a pork sandwich and another cup of burgoo.

Their chopped pork sandwich had a nice mild vinegar flavor and just the right amount of salt. There wasn't much smoke to speak of, but it was decently tender. It was a commendable effort, though I doubt they'll take first prize in the Cup.

The burgoo was the thickest I'd eaten all day, and I actually liked that. I also enjoyed the addition of peas to the mixture, and it was pleasantly spicy. Nicely done.

It's admittedly not a fair head-to-head comparison, but of the five competitors I sampled, I would give top pork honors to St. Mary of the Woods, mutton to St. Pius X, and burgoo to Precious Blood. I wanted to try all seven of the Governor's Cup cookoff teams, but by 11:30am St. Mary Magdalene and Blessed Mother, two of the festival's heavy hitters, hadn't started serving yet.

The sustained 20mph winds brought the already frigid temperatures down to a brisk 42 degrees. I'm not normally a wimp in these situations, but I was underdressed for the wind chill and got to a point where I could no longer feel my fingers enough to type out blog notes on my phone or take pictures. After two hours in the elements, it was time to pack it in. It's probably just as well, since I'm not sure I could have eaten much more anyway. As Peter Hathaway Capstick once wrote, "I felt like an anaconda that had engulfed a pig just a little too large."


International Bar-B-Q Festival 2016
Downtown Owensboro, KY
(270) 926-1100

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Carl's Perfect Pig Bar-B-Que & Grill (White Bluff, TN)

It's often difficult for me to attempt a barbecue excursion during the week, so weekends offer the perfect opportunity to explore some of the more out-of-the-way joints. At nearly an hour's drive from my side of Nashville, Carl's Perfect Pig fit that description nicely. Over the river and through the woods, in search of barbecue I went.

This place has a distinct "More coffee, hun?" country diner feel to it, with high-back wooden booths and tables that were probably built by hand nearby. Their hodgepodge decor includes everything from framed newspaper articles and homemade Father's Day gifts to signed photos of Emeril Lagasse and Pat Sajak. The entire interior is painted pink and white as an homage to pigs everywhere. Well, at least they've got a consistent theme going. I could see Carl himself hard at work back in the kitchen, and I appreciated his hands-on leadership style.

Pork is unsurprisingly the meat of choice at Carl's Perfect Pig. Not being one to rock the boat, I ordered one of their Combo Plates. Fortunately for me, today they had a special pulled pork (which they simply call "bar-b-que") and ribs sampler, which was half the price of their full-size combo and still came with a ton of food. Their combos are all paired with a side of fries, but I humbly requested my potatoes in salad form instead.

Carl's potato salad had a pleasant mustardy zip and a nice acidity, with an ever-so-slight spiciness. I also liked the crunch of the pickles and pimentos, which added to the overall flavor as much as it did the texture.

The big heap of pulled pork was much more than I expected for a sampler. I found each bite tender and really juicy. It was just salty enough to be interesting, with hints of vinegar here and there. There was also a good smoke level, especially in the smoke-kissed pieces of bark mixed throughout.

Despite the sampler's advertised third-rack, I ended up with a half-rack of ribs. I certainly wasn't going to scoff at that. These bad boys were big and meaty, with a beautifully charred, peppered crust. The ribs were even juicier than the pulled pork, and the meat pulled away cleanly. Carl's semisweet honey-based glaze was a perfect contrast to the savory smoke and the tasty char. These were some serious ribs.

I'm quite certain that I received a full-size combo rather than the sampler, and I'm eternally grateful for their mistake. I left Carl's Perfect Pig with a mild case of the meat sweats, but I left happy.


Carl's Perfect Pig Bar-B-Que & Grill
4991 Highway 70 E
White Bluff, TN 37187
(615) 797-4020

Carl's Perfect Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato