New Orleans Day 1: Hanging in The Garden of Eatin’with a Few MoPhos

I have heard mixed things about New Orleans.  Some have told me they love the party atmosphere while others say the city was a mess before Katrina and is even worse after. I landed with “New Orleans is Sinking” playing over and over in my head.  The flight from Detroit was decent and was made more exciting by a half dozen drunkish but well-behaved  guys who were on the way to a bachelor party.

My goals for the day were simple. First, I wanted to get accustomed to the weather which  characterized by constant humidity, warm nights and random thunderstorms.  Second, I wanted to explore the city a little and hit up a few DDDs along the way. Third, I was looking forward to ending by going to the James Beard nominated Mo-Pho for dinner.

Once I hit the hotel, I began my trek toward the lowering garden district which is characterized by small shops and some of the hottest restaurants in NOLA.  Among these eateries lie 4 triple Ds. My first stop was Joey K’s, an American restaurant with a cajun/creole flare and daily specials ranging from oven roasted turkey to ham hocks with lima beans. I was surprised how busy it was given the time of day.   I sat at the bar and was greeted by a friendly waitress who promptly served me a frozen goblet of Abita.  Afterwards, I chatted with the waiter and, given I had just landed, decided to go authentic with the eggplant napoleon appetizer ( I was drawn to the crawfish cream sauce) and rice and beans with smoked sausage. He chuckled a bit and suggested I stick with a side of the rice and beans since the appetizer was “big”. It was a good call.  The eggplant was huge and ridiculously delicious.  It was served piping hot and the sauce was the star.  The rice and beans were bona fide belly friendly and I was quite happy I didn’t opt for the full portion.

In the end, Joey K’s has a fun vibe, good service and great food whether you are looking for comfort food or authentic southern cooking.

Food-4.5 Guyz

Service- 4.5 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guys

Total- 13/15

My second stop was Mahony’s Po’boy which was located just a little down the road in the Garden district.  It wasn’t nearly as busy as Joey K’s but it was a bit later.  Once again, I was greeted by a friendly waitress who recommended a Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager which was the perfect pairing for the heat and humidity.  The Po’Boy is a New Orleans staple which legend says was named after the fact that striking workers were named poor boys and that restaurateurs Benny and Clovis (great names) Martin coined the term for that reason.  The peacemaker is a particular po’boy which at one time contained shrimp and oysters but has evolved (at least in the case of Mahony’s) as a sandwich with one or the other.  After a chat with the waitress, I opted for the fried oyster version.  I realized I’m not really a fan. I love raw oysters and frying them is a disservice, especially when served between a toasted baguette, especially when the condiments are skimpy and the cheese isn’t melted.

mahonys sandwich
The Peacemaker $14.95

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 3 Guyz

Total- 10.5 Guyz

My third stop in the Garden district was the Creole creamery,a rather unorthodox DDD in the fact that all they serve is ice cream.  From reading the reviews, I was told to expect bold and unique flavours.  Deep down I was hoping for something really cool like rice and beans but that said, there was still some interesting choices.  Even better was the fact they offered a 4 scoop sampler for $4.50 which allowed for a little diversity.  I decided on cream cheese, hibiscus cranberry, thai basil coconut and magnolia flower. When I have ice cream I hope the custard base balanced enough to give great mouth feel but not so overwhelming that it masks the unique flavour of each offering.  CC passed the test.  Each scoop was distinct and recognizable.  The magnolia flower was the best of the bunch; it was subtle but very present. The environment was very American ice cream parlor but the service was quite laissez-fare.

creole creamery ice cream
Croele Cream Cheese, Hibiscus Cranberry, Thai Basil Coconut and Magnolia Flower Sampler  $4.50

Food- 4/5 Guyz

Service- 3/5 Guyz

Vibe- 3.5/5 Guyz

Total- 10.5/15 Guyz

I was hoping that a 15 km walk through the garden of eatin’ would burn some of the food I ate and get me ready for my nightcap at MoPho. Lead by James Beard and food and wine “best new chef” Michael Gulotta, MoPho is best described as Southeast Asia by way of New Orleans. I was excited to see how exactly the two would be fused.

The location is a bit of a hike out of our New Orleans core and the space itself is very stripmally. That said, the interior is a trendy interpretation of a Thai joint and they have a great and nicely cheesy patio out back which we braved along with the normal early summer humidity of Louisiana.

For the most part, the menu was straight forward Thai and Vietnamese with a little Southeast America in the form of Cedar Key clams and P and J oysters.  Other hints of New Orleans included Creole cream cheese (similar to the aforementioned ice cream) roti and  annatto (a condiment commonly used in Latin food sometimes in the Philippines) beignets. They also offer a nice array of local pints which strengthened the local flare just a bit.  

We ordered an array of dishes including the Som Tan salad, mimita brisket, clams, paella, the pork belly bowl, wings, brussel sprouts and the lamb curry. In general, the flavours were very South Asian and one would need to use their imagination a little to fully appreciate any huge gulf coast influence.  That said, the food had good, aggressive flavours and a nice amount of spice. If you are a fan of a delicate pho, “the standard” was a bit heavy compared to most I have had.  The roti and the beignets were delicious.  The brussel were the comfort foodie food and the wings were a decent representation of this seemingly southeast staple.

In the end, I was hoping for more of a Southeast meets Southeast experience but that said, it was still a tasty experience in Thai/Vietnamese fare.  In general, Day 1 was a good day. Traditional food started the day and some Asian fusion ended it.  It was clear I needed a few more days of stuffing my face before I could reach a verdict on the state of the dining scene in a city that the Tragically Hip have assured me has been sinking for almost 30 years.

MoPho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Waffles, Kibble, Rhine and PBR in Cincinnati

I reverted back to increasing my Diner, Diners and Drives tally on my recent trip to Cincinnati.  It was an easy call since three of them are less than a block away from each other on bustling Vine street. Over the course of two days I hit all three; one for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner.

When Guy Fieri was only 10 years old, WKRP in Cincinatti hit the air.  I remember watching the short lived sitcom (four seasons to be exact) as a kid.  It featured a group of misfit radio personalities at a radio station in the Ohio city.  The cast, headed by Andy Travis (not to be mistaken for Randy Travis) featured the likes of Johnny Fever, Venus Flytrap and Jennifer Marlowe.  Andy may have precluded the hipster movement by frequently donning plaid shirts and luscious locks.  Howard Hesseman, who played Johnny Fever,  went on have success as the lead in the sitcom Head of the Class and Loni Anderson will go down in history for certain features and for being remembered as Mrs. Burt Reynolds until the end of time.

wkrp_cincinnati_complete_series_dvd
The Cast of WKRP in Cincinnati

 

In honour of this cult favorite, here’s an overview of Taste of Belgium, Bakersfield and Senate, three of Cincinnati’s Vine street triple D joints.

W- (Waffles and Wright).

Taste of Belgium boasts waffles done right so it seemed to be the ideal breakfast spot.  The decor had the brick walls and tiled floor characteristic of Over-the-Rhine eateries. We were seated and greeted but a waiter with a definite chip (unfortunately not chocolate) on his shoulder.  He was efficient but far from welcoming.  I ordered a decent Americano and the McWaffle, a breakfast sandwich containing egg, bacon, cheese and served with a side of maple syrup.   The waffle itself was far from the fluffy batter you might bake up at the free Hampton breakfast.  It was much denser and more filling.  It flirted with dryness but was helped by the syrup.  The combination of everything made for a good but not remarkable bite that was a lot sweeter than the service.

 

Daniel Wright is the brainchild behind Senate, the street food pub which revolves around the ultimate street meat..the hotdog.  In addition to tube steak (including a daily dog names after a celebrity), there are a number of items including bites, burgers and sandwiches. It had a good vibe highlighted by a long packed bar surrounded by tables. Since it was over twenty degrees, the front window/patio was open and I managed to score a seat overlooking the street.  Our waitress was attentive although somewhat overshadowed by this dude in a vest and tie walking around like an..umm…senator.  As tempting as the Mama June celebrity dog of the day was (you can imagine the toppings), I opted for the best selling trailer park burger, mainly because it was topped with Cincinnati’s own Grippo’s crushed BBQ chips atop a bacon wrapped dog and finished with slaw and american cheese. It was a delicious mess.

senate dog
Senate Trailer Park Dog $10

K-(Kentucky and Kibbles)

Bakersfield is a taqueria which is gradually expanding in all directions from it’s Cincinnati epicentre.  Also focusing on Mexican food, the booze menu is expansive, not only including traditional tequila but also whisky from the neighbouring state of  Kentucky.  In fact, I was there on a Monday night which meant I could get a shot of Bulleit for $3.  Add a $2 boot of PBR and I’m two thirds of my way to a George Thorogood song for $5. I felt bad to the bone.  As for kibbles, the guacamole at Bakersfield was fresh and chunky (which I’m sure is Cincinnati style)  and aggressively seasoned with garlic which was paired nicely with one of the best (and spicy margaritas) I’ve had in a while.

R- (Restaurants Over-the-Rhine)

Defined as one of the most historic neighbourhoods in the US, the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati has deep German roots and architecture dating from the 19th century.  Over the years, it has debilitated into one of the sketchiest area in the states.  For example, the area was used as the backdrop for the 1991 movie “A Rage in Harlem” because of it’s resemblance to 1950’s Harlem.  However, over the past decade or so, there has been major restoration, at least along the southern part of Vine St, resulting in a trendy neighbourhood full of shops and restaurants including the trio of triple D’s mentioned in this blog.  I was speaking to a table of locals at Bakersfield and they confirmed this restoration story, telling me that crossing Liberty street to the North after dark was once  a death wish but ven that is slowing changing.  That said, I late took a drive north up Vine St.to check out the University of Cinicinnati  and passed through one of the most decrepit neighbourhoods I remember, easily rivaling  Michigan St. in Detroit, parts of  Harlem and the worst part of San Francisco’s tenderloin district.   Restaurants like Taste of Belgium, Senate and Bakersfield are part of the nucleus in a molecule of hope working through the celebration of food.

1383
Cool Floor at Taste of Belgium indicative of Cincinnati architecture.

P (Pastor, Potstickers and Poutine)

The foundation of the Bakersfield menu is the taco and there are almost 10 to choose from.  They pride themselves on making their own tortillas and ironically, that was the weakest part.  I felt they tasted a little raw as if they were only fried on one side.  They were nicely presented on a large tray with abundant fillings at a reasonable price point of $3-4 each. The pork belly pastor were a good representation and the spicy cochinita pibil and huitlacoche tacos were quite unique.

Meanwhile at Senate, the potstickers were full of extreme Asian flavours and the poutine was served with short rib and cheese  and since a white gravy was used instead of the traditional (at least in Canadian terms) brown one, it was more creamy than squeaky and quite rich to say the least.

My Take

Based on my ongoing Guyz rating for diners, drive-ins and dives, none were a disaster but  I’ll  give top taste, service and vibe points to Senate. The vibe of all three were helped by the cool architecture but the buzz at Senate and Bakersfield was much better than the sleepiness and snarkiness of Taste of Belgium.  Service wise, both Bakersfield and Senate were pretty good. Regarding the food, the Senate hot dogs, in addition to being pretty delicious, are a great concept especially with the rotating celebrity choice of the day.  The Bakersfield guacamole was good and the tacos were average.  Taste of Belgium served a decent breakfast.

In the end, Over-the-Rhine is a fun and buzzing area with a number of funky restaurants, shops and snacks.  In fact, Vine Street may be the best thing in Cincinnati’s food scene since WKRP’s  turkey bombing of the Pinedale mall on Thanksgiving in 1978.

Senate

Food- 4/5 Guyz
Service- 4/5 Guyz
Vibe- 4.5/5 Guys

Total- 12.5/15 Guyz

Senate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bakersfield

Food- 3.5/5  Guyz
Service- 4/5 Guyz
Vibe- 4/5 Guyz

Total- 11.5/Guyz

Bakersfield OTR Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Taste of Belgium

Food- 3.5/5 Guyz
Service- 3/5 Guyz
Vibe- 3/5 Guyz

Total- 9.5/15 Guyz

Taste of Belgium Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

DDD: Showdogs, Show dogs and Why I’m Boycotting Wendy’s

Like most people,  I can get easily irritated.  Right now, I’m boycotting Wendy’s because of the ridiculous commercials which spoof  70’s and 80’s tunes while skinny Wendy (aka Red) dresses up like thw singers and makes out with a pretzel bun. When I posted this on facebook, one of my good friends asked me why I would go to Wendy’s anyway. Good point.

 

Another thing that bugs me are dog shows.  Before I go on, I’m not claiming for a second that my complete annoyance by things like this are normal.  I think it’s like a phobia;  I have a physical reaction to these types of things.  The thought of an arena filled with people who pay to watch others dress up like turn of the century debutantes and walk dogs among fake grass turns my stomach.  They give the dogs  ridiculous names like Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot (aka: “Sadie”) and make the audience watch as their pooches get dental exams, enemas and other invasive medical procedures. Personally, I’d rather watch a dog chase his tail or stick his nose up another’s ass in a thirty second youtube clip while sitting in my underwear.

Showdogs in San Francisco couldn’t be further from the Westminster Kennel dog show.  Suits and ties are replaced by piercings, jeans and tees.  Fake grass is replaced with, based on my observations of the some of the staff and clientele, real grass that just might happen to be rolled into a small white paper. Canine conversations are no longer about four-legged friends but about the rest of America’s obesssion…the hotdog.  It is estimated that Amercians eat 20 billion hot dogs a year.  It is also estimated that there are about 83 million owned dogs in the USA.  What isn’t known is how many of the 20 billion hot dogs are eaten by the 83 million dogs in a given year.  That said, it makes perfect sense to focus a restaurant on the beloved frank.

The menu at Showdogs is simple.  In addition to a small breakfast menu, there are a number of renditions of the American favorite as well as a few classic American sandwiches like the burger and fried chicken.  In addition, there are all the words foodies wanna see in a menu including organic, house made,hand dipped and special sauce.  My trigger words include “sharp cheddar” and “chili” so I had to try the chili cheese dog ($10).  I asked the guy behind the counter what should complement the dog and without hesitation he recommended the onion rings for $5. Along with it, there is a good selection of local brews which, when you drink enough, can almost make a dog show tolerable.  In particular , the  Hell or High Watermelon from the 21st Amendment brewery was memorable ( I later drank a six-pack with my uncle in Pennsylvania).  The food was equally as memorable.  I mean, a hot dog and onion rings has boundries regarding creative licence but it still has to be tasty.  The think and crunchy onion rings were among the best I’ve had especially when eaten with any of the house made sauces available.

Chili Cheese Dog ($10), onion rings ($5) and a Happy hour $4 pint
Chili Cheese Dog ($10), onion rings ($5) and a Happy hour $4 pint

 

My Take

My mom used to boil hot dogs until they split, throw them on a bun and yes, they tasted like lips and assholes.  Since then, the hot dog has evolved beyond the ball diamond and street corner cart and  have become the focal point of many menus across North America. In fact, a hot dog by Dougie Dog in Vancouver is served topped with Kobe beef and Lobster and soaked in 100 year old Louis XIII cognac has just attained the Guinness nod for the world’s most expensive hot dog with an estimated value of $2300.

World's Most Expensive Hot Dog $2300
World’s Most Expensive Hot Dog $2300

 

Showdogs has embraced the dog and elevated it to a decent meal.  The vibe, service and experience was the complete package in this establishment that definitely qualifies as a dive. S0 while skinny Wendy is making out with a pretzel bun while singing an Eric Carmen ballad and people jam into Madison Square Garden wearing  their Sunday best to watch dogs walk their owners,  I’d  rather grab a pint, listen to Pearl Jam in the background and eat a dog instead of watching them.

Show Dogs on Urbanspoon

DDD:Toking at Tommy’s Joynt although Cheech was the Californian

I was excited to drop into Tommy’s Joynt for an afternoon bite.    Touted as San Francisco’s original Hofbrau, it has been serving a menu centred on carved meat sandwiches since 1947.  They take pride in a no frills attitude and keeping prices low.  In fact, the only three  menu items over ten bucks are the famous Buffalo Stew, braised  oxtails with pasta (served Monday) and  braised  lamb shanks with vegetables (served Thursday and Sunday).  The hunks of meat sitting in the cafeteria style chafing dishes right inside the door while the rest of the place is a seating area complete with a bar serving local craft draught, international bottles and  cheapish cocktails. The cast of characters ranged from young to old, regulars to tourists and hipsters to those with with artificial hips.  The decor is a reminder that it’s been open for almost 70 years.  Hundreds of knick-knacks fill the walls, shelves and any other square inch of available space.  It’s like a yard sale on steroids.  They’ve never changed their style, they just added to it. It’s like a timeline of post WWII Americana scattered all over the place.

Apparently Tommy’s is “Where Turkey is King” so I strolled to the counter and ordered the roast turkey sandwich for $6 along with a side of mixed pickled beans for $2.65.  The guy behind the counter pulled out the bird, carved some meat off the bird and slapped it on a fresh baguette with a side of au jus.  As magical as Tommy’s was, they still couldn’t solve the dry poultry issue.  You can’t keep a turkey in a chafing dish and expect it to stay moist.  That said, the au jus added flavour and moisture to the sandwich.  The bean salad was pretty typical.  I thought things like the barrel of complimentary pickles (complete with a sign telling you not to abuse the pickle pecking privlegdes) to the  strategically placed mustard jars were a nice touch.

Turkey Sandwich $6 with Pickled Bean Salad $2.65
Turkey Sandwich $6 with Pickled Bean Salad $2.65

My Take

Tommy’s Joynt is a west coast version of a Hofbrau, a casual German eatery with focus on beer and food.   Having no idea who the place is named after, I figured it might be Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame). Ironically, Cheech is the Californian (Chong is a good old Canadian).  I mean, the psychedelic paint job on the outside, the easy access to copious amounts of food, some clientele that look like they have hot boxed a few million times and even the fact it has “joynt’ in the name makes my theory somewhat viable. In fact, after a drag one might relish staring intently at the numerous trinkets which populate the walls and shelves.  That said, the food was reasonable, the vibe was good but it just didn’t give me the “high”  some of the other Diners, Drive-ins and Dives did.

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guyz

Total- 11.5 Guyz

Tommy's Joynt on Urbanspoon

Reciting the Litany of the Saints along Elvis Presley Boulevard- A Trip to Marlowe’s

My trip down the music highway ended in downtown Memphis. After hitting the hotel and checking in, I decided on dinner along Elvis Presley Blvd to familiarize myself with the strip in anticipation of my visit to Graceland the next day. Running on fumes, the valet parking guy assured me there were plenty of gas stations along the strip. Despite my basic competence and ability to read google maps, I took a wrong turn to make things exciting. Once I found my bearings, I watched the gas gauge countdown…15 km…10km….5 km….0 km. The Jetta is a bit forgiving and it certainly wasn’t the first time I needed to pray to St. Frances of Rome, the patron saint of travelers (who was said to have an angel light her path with a lantern and protect her from hazards,  for assistance).  In fact, I was so desperate I even sent a prayer or two to St. Elvis Aaron Presley himself.

My prayers seemed to work because on the horizon I could see a gas station with the words “diesel” written across the sign.  A closer inspection of the property quickly shifted my  beseeching to St. Christopher, the patron saint of protection against muggers.  I reluctantly pulled in despite seeing a rather well lit and clean gas station across the street that may or may not have had diesel so I couldn’t risk it.  I went in, slid my credit card  through the hole in the Plexiglas to the apathetic attendant and scurried out.  I pumped and got out of dodge.

A couple of miles down the road I saw Marlowe’s, my destination for the evening.  Featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it’s known more for a wide array of paraphernalia dedicated to the king.  For example, it runs a free pink Cadillac shuttle from local hotels.  The interior is filled with hundreds of tributes to Elvis…there are pictures, a barber chair, his karate outfit and a looping video of his greatest live performances. My fear was that this was a typical tourist trap and that more effort was put into the decor than the food. I have faith in St. Guy Fieri, however, and that troth was confirmed when I saw the majestic smoker that sat beside the gift shop.

Marlowe's Smoker
Marlowe’s Smoker
Marlowe's Interior
Marlowe’s Interior

It goes without saying that I had every intention of raiding the smoker.  So, I conspired with my daughters to maximize my exposure to the various proteins.  They split a BBQ combo which included 2 entrees and 2 sides ($22.95).  Not to get into the nature versus nurture discussion but the fact that my youngest daughter’s love for slaw parallels mine would make for a good case study.  With her slaw she ordered the  brisket, ribs and fries. The meat was tender and full of smoky flavour despite efforts to douce them with copious amounts of sauce. Not that the BBQ sauce wassn’t good; there was just a lot of it.  My daughter gave the slaw two thumbs up.

Slaw and Fries
Slaw and Fries

 

Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95
Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95

 

I decided on the BBQ spaghetti so I could indulge on the BBQ pork and experience what the menu calls “Italian Food-Memphis Style”.  In keeping with the Tennessee tradition of serving sides as big as the mains, the spaghetti came with a good size bowl of beans and mac and cheese.  Once again, the predominate flavour was the delicious BBQ sauce which doused the spaghetti. The pork was delicious and matched the ribs and brisket in rich, smoky flavour.  The mac and cheese and beans were  good B-sides to the proteins.

BBQ Pasta $13.95
BBQ Pasta $11.95
Mac and Cheese and side of beans
Mac and Cheese and  beans

My Take

Marlowe’s succeeds in that it puts the food before the fact that it located only minutes from Graceland.  Sure, you are inundated with all things Elvis including a pink limo, but the commitment to good food is evident, highlighted by the very impressive smoker  which “graces” the busy interior.  The smoked meats were delicious even though they were heavily sauced in the traditional Memphis “wet” style.  Like I mentioned, the B-sides made for good eating as well.

It goes to show that flashy gimmicks can exist in conjunction with big taste and flavour. Despite the need to pray to St. Frances and St. Christopher to get to Marlowe’s, there was no need to extend invocation to St Lawrence, the patron saint of restaurateurs. I explored the origin of St. Lawrence.  Such namesakes  include the Laurentian mountains and the gulf of St. Lawrence,  one of Canada’s most important waterways.  What’s more interesting is the morbid reason he is associated with restaurants.  Without going into detail, he was martyred by fire. In fact, many depictions have him holding a grid iron (see below).  Ribs anyone?

 

Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river
Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river

 

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 4.5

Total:12/15 Guyz

 

Marlowe's Ribs & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bro, After Getting Me to the Greek in Nashville I had Happy Days at Arnold’s

The plan for day 3 was to hit a few diners, drive-ins and dives in Nashville.  The breakfast plan was Athens family restaurant which was the only DDD open for breakfast. Guy’s visit focused more on the traditional greek entrees but I find breakfast still gives you a good idea of a restaurant as a whole.

Upon arrival, it had all the hallmarks of a tradional greek diner:

1.  Blue and white decor in an otherwise sterile environment.

2.  An aged sign with character including missing letters on the letter board.

2. A moderately pleasant waitress with an accent.

3. A massive menu.

4. A spattering of regulars sucking back copious amounts of coffee while reading the newspaper.

5.  A reminder that Greece is not known for coffee.

 

Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES
Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES

Since we arrived prior to 10am, the choices were limited to breakfast which was a bit of blessing given the huge amount of choice.  The downside was an inability to try any of the traditional dishes that attracted Guy here in the first place.  That said, I believe the ability to execute a terrific breakfast is indicative of the rest of the menu, especially when ordering the Achilles’ (pardon the pun)  heel of many morning joints; eggs Benedict. Perfect poached eggs with tangy and creamy hollandaise atop ample meat is an art. My two daughters had a case of “I lack any sort of ambition prior to high noon”, so they opted for a simple breakfast special. None had a particularly exciting presentation but was reflective of the restaurant’s concept in general.  After all, not everybody garnishes their dishes at home with parsley sprigs or drizzled sauces in shape of the Parthenon.

The Eggs Benedict ($12) was delicious.  Nicely cooked poached eggs sat atop a thick slice of  in-house smoked ham. The Hollandaise sauce was delicate and flavorful.  I ordered it with fruit and was reminded that strawberries are delicious when they don’t have to travel clear across a continent to get to your table. It wasn’t the prettiest plate but was quite easy to devour.

Eggs Benny $12
Eggs Benny $12

My Take

Athens’ is stereotypical greek family restaurant. I can only comment on breakfast but it was a tasty way to start a day in Nashville.  The breakfast specials were a good value (around $6 each).  Predictably, the coffee was bad and food was good.  It lacks any significant vibe but they don’t claim they have one either. It’s a pleasant boring. Hmmmm…sounds like a Russell Brand movie.

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

 

Athens Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

Afterwards, I embarked on a walking tour on the two most expensive universities in Tennessee. Vanderbilt tops $40000 per year while Belmont comes in a little under $30000.  Both campuses were beautiful.  They are also very big.  My daughters were less than impressed with the half marathon I brought them on.  The advantage was I was able to work up an appetite to tackle Arnold’s country kitchen, one of the most iconic eateries in Nashville. Promising one of the best “meat and three” meals in Tennessee, Arnold’s offers authentic southern food at decent prices.  Normally I attempt to avoid lunch rushes, but I didn’t want to test my luck against two mercurial teenage girls.  As expected, the place was packed. The diversity of patrons ranged  from young children to business professionals.   As I stood in line I noticed the James Beard medals and numerous celebrity endorsements which lined the walls.  Despite the length of the line, things moved quickly and we had food on our trays within 15 minutes. For me, it was roast beef, creamed corn, mac and cheese and turnip greens.  The girls split fried chicken, green salad, cole slaw and mac and cheese.  For dessert, we had spicy chocolate and strawberry pie respectively. With drinks (ice tea of course), the final tally was less than $30. To this my daughter’s comment was the fact that the entire meal was the same price as the plate of southern vegetables at Husk the night before. I see an economics major in somebody’s future.

What $30 gets you at Arnold's Country Kitchen.
What $30 gets you at Arnold’s Country Kitchen.

Simply put, this place is worth the hype.  Each component of the meal was among the best I’ve had. The roast beef was a perfect medium rare.  The mac and cheese and creamed corn were like a young hollywood starlet: rich but not overly heavy.  The bitterness of the tender  greens were evident but dulled by vibrant seasoning, creating a perfect balance.  The chocolate pie was divine; the bittersweet of the chocolate combined with the subtle heat of the peppers created a trinity of taste sensations more divine that of a French or Louisiana mirepoix. The girls’ fired chicken was equally fantastic.

Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.
Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.

My Take

There is always the fear that restaurants with as much hype as Arnold’s country kitchen will be a let down. From the first bite it was evident that the medals, endorsements and accolades were all well deserved. Tender roast beef, fried chicken that could easily be the envy of Colonel Sanders and his army of Kentuckians, delicious sides and incredible desserts highlight a simple and authentic southern menu.  I understand why they call it soul food…because eats like these hit some kind of sensory receptors on the soul itself.  I honestly pondered getting in line again for another round but after two university campus tours and a rather lengthy walk downtown, the anticipated angst of my two daughters outweighed my desire for a collective meat and six.

Taste: 5/5 Guyz

Service: 4/5 Guyz

Vibe-5/5 Guyz

Total : 14/15 Guyz

 

 

Arnold's Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The afternoon involved driving west down the music highway to Memphis but not before a stop at Bro’s Cajun cuisine on the way out.  It took me a few tries to find it.  Perched up a hill on Charlotte street, the best identifier is a white boat in a parking lot with the name of the restaurant written in red across the side.  After a small jaunt up the hill, I walked into the place.  The interior was a cross between a beach house, a bus station and a butcher shop.  We were quickly greeted by a trio of characters I later identified as the chef, the waitress and some dude who hangs out like Norm Peterson or a similar sitcom character.  We ordered takeout and had a seat at a table while waiting.  Norm started up a conversation which included but was not limited to “Where y’all from?” “Is it cold in Canada? I heard it’s nice up there!” and “Make sure you put a tack on the map board over there.” Shortly after he got scolded by the waitress for not doing anything to help  around the restaurant.  When I mentioned we were on our way to Memphis and asked what’s fun to do there, her response was “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never been to Memphis”.

I order a triad of Cajun mainstays; gumbo, rice and beans and jambalaya.  In all three dishes, the sausage was the dominant player.  Although this created a bit of monotony throughout the meal, in the end the dishes delivered on the promise of bold flavours. Since I haven’t been to Louisiana,  I can’t comment on the authenticity but I imagine given what I know about Cajun cooking it would safe to say it’s a true representation. The prices were fantastic and the portions were huge.

Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya   ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)
Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)

My Take

For those who can’t make it to Louisiana, I’m confident that Bro’s would be an adequate fill-in for a Cajun craving.  The food is delicious although a little monotonous.  When you enter, you feel like family but maybe too much so as you thrown into a bit of a sitcom situation and can’t help wondering if there’s a camera running somewhere.  I mean, would it really be out of the question?  A Louisiana clan moves north to Tennessee to make it big in Music city by converting people from fried chicken to gumbo.  Maybe they would call it “Bro Goes Country” or “North of 35”.

Food: 4/5 Guyz

Service:3.5/5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5/5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

Bro's Cajun Cuisine on Urbanspoon

So, it was off to Memphis for a little Elvis, blues and more culinary quests, of course.

 

 

 

Tearing it up at Terry’s Turf Club

Day two was an early drive into Tennessee.  My goal was simple…drive 8 hours to make a reservation at Husk, GQ’s sixth ranked restaurant in the US.  Of course there would be a stop or two along the way but at the time I didn’t realize I had the assistance of a change in time zone to grant me an extra hour to complete this daunting task.

Part of the plan was to conveniently arrive in Cincinnati around lunch, allowing me to pop into Terry’s Turf Club.  Terry’s is one of these places that has been elevated to elite status in the  world of edible Americana.  It has been featured on numerous shows and articles including a visit from Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

The exterior could easily be mistaken for an Ohio garage sale.  Worn collectibles grace the entire length of the joint.  Inside, there’s enough neon to put the Vegas strip to shame. We were greeted by Jim, a friendly maître d’ who informed us we were the first guests of the day and guided us to our seats.  He was wearing the first of many Bluetooth earpieces I saw during my travels, an artifact that is near extinct north of the border but is alive and well in the USA.

Terry's Turf Club- Outside
Terry’s Turf Club- Outside

Terry’s is a burger place.  You choose a patty (ranging from lump crab to filet mignon), choose your cheese, decide if you want onions and/or banana peppers  and finish with optional toppings for an additional cost.  The waitress highly recommended the red wine, wild mushroom and truffle sauce since it was not only her favorite, it was Guy’s choice on the show.  I decided to infuse a little irony and add a fried egg (Guy’s nemesis) to the mix. In the end, it was a $13 burger served with potato chips (fries were another $2.25).

I also ordered a TTC deviled egg with shrimp ($3.25) and some pepper paw poppers ($4) to start.   The first is a half egg topped with a mango-jalapeno marinated shrimp and filled with a mix of yolk, bearnaise, ghetto mustard and crème fraiche.  It was delicious.  The filling was thick and hearty. The tanginess was nicely offset by the sweetness and subtle heat of the shrimp. The poppers were an interesting spin on traditional bar food.  They are not fried and stuffed with their four cheese mix instead of the traditional cream cheese.  They were tasty.  The peppers were a natural blend of sweet and spice.  The filling had a punch but it was a bit gritty.

Devilled Egg $3.25
TTC Devilled Egg with Shrimp $3.25
Poppers $4
Pepper Paw Poppers $4

While waiting for the burgers, Jim came by and engaged in a very interesting discussion about the restaurant and a past trip to London, Ontario.  He and all the staff were extremely friendly and really created a cool vibe, especially when mixed with the copious numbers of neon lights and other symbols of Americana.  For example, in an effort to be clean, neat and polite Canadians, we were eating peanuts and nicely stacking the shells on the table.  One staff member came by, shook his head in a friendly way and threw them on the floor.

Terry's Turf Club- Inside
Terry’s Turf Club- Inside

The burgers arrived in decent time.  Eight ounces of meat sat between a nicely grilled bun and sat on a paper Dixie plate.  The potato chips were nothing more than decoration.  Along with the burger came a large serrated knife for the sole purpose of slicing the monstrosity in half to make eating it somewhat possible. As the burger, the meat was a bit stringy, the sauce was a bit salty and the egg was a bit overdone. Collectively, it was a good burger but not a great burger.

Terry's Burgers ($8.50-$13)
Terry’s Burgers ($8.50-$13)
Tool for Burger Dissection
Tool for Burger Dissection

My Take

Terry’s is a must see if you are in search of what I call “Edible Americana”.  The decor is over the top, overflowing with neon, tin and advertisements of yesteryear. The service is superb and sincere. The food is more than acceptable (I really enjoyed the deviled egg) but not among the pinnacle of recreating America’s most beloved foods, the burger.   The prices are reasonable unless you can’t fight the temptation to add numerous condiments to the half pound of meat which fills the well-toasted bun. In the end, Terry’s is worth a stop if you’re looking for cheesiness as part of American road trip.  If you’re looking for cheese slapped on the best burger on the planet, however, you may be disappointed. 

Food– 3.5 Guyz

Service– 5 Guyz

Vibe– 5 Guyz

Total: 13.5/15

 

Terry's Turf Club on Urbanspoon