Memphis Soul Stew @ Blues City Cafe

Blues City Cafe makes some of the finest sirloin steaks in Memphis. They cook up 4, 5 and 6 pound monsters that people share. Delicious. But with steaks that big, they can’t possibly gauge exactly how many they’ll need on a given night. Where do the extras go?

They end up as sirloin in the Memphis Soul Stew. Piping hot bowl of sirloin meat with potatoes and carrots. After trivia tonight, I decided to wrap up the evening with some Soul Stew. Considering the quality of meat you get for $5.50 for a (huge) bowl, this is one of the best values Downtown.

They have a full bar but I recommend the 16 oz. PBR cans.

Spinach crawfish dip and drunken chicken @ Johnny G’s Creole Kitchen

Last night after drinking umpteen beers at the Saucer, I thought to myself, “It’s time to get something to eat.” I’ve been meaning to try Johnny G’s, the new Creole place around the corner on Beale, so I walked over there.

Johnny G’s is in the old Alley Katz space next to Miss Polly’s Fried Chicken, and it’s run by the same people who run Miss Polly’s, Club 152, Shadows, and Blues City Cafe. After looking over the menu, I decided to go with the spinach crawfish dip as an appetizer, and the Drunken Chicken as my entree.

Spinach crawfish dip

I love anything with crawfish in it, and I lapped up every last bite of the spinach crawfish dip. The consistency of the dip was a little more liquid than the crawfish dip I’ve had at Bar None, different but still quite good. The dip was $7.95 if I remember correctly.

Drunken chicken

The entree I ordered, the Drunken Chicken, was a real bargain at $6.95. I forgot to take a note on exactly what kind of liquor the chicken was cooked in, but it was damn tasty, a unique flavor that immediately brought New Orleans to mind. There was easily enough of it that I could have made a meal of it by itself, without the appetizer. Halfway through, I was stuffed, and the guy in the kitchen looked a little disappointed that I hadn’t finished it. I assured him it wasn’t due to the quality of the meal. The chicken really was hush-yo-mouth, slap-yo-mama, pull-down-a-tube-top good. (Sorry, but it’s the only way I could think of to connect a restaurant review to this month’s theme.)

They have several other Cajun entrees for $6.95. That’s a deal that’s hard to beat, a delicious sit-down dinner on Beale Street for under seven dollars.

My only criticism of the place is that I can’t find a menu online anywhere! Most of the time, when trying a new restaurant, I’ll pull up their menu in advance, and have an idea what I want to order before going in. I probably would have gone in Johnny G’s a lot sooner if I’d seen a menu. If they don’t plan to have a website of their own, I wish they’d at least upload their menu to Mark’s Menus, which they can do for free.

Very impressed with both the taste and the price. I’ll be back for another visit to Johnny G’s soon. Here are a few more pics I took of the place.

Dog of the Day: Tijuana Dog @ Bardog Tavern

Every day Bardog Tavern has a “Dog of the Day,” an enormous gourmet hot dog. I went there for lunch and had today’s dog, and since it’s still fairly early in the day, I figured I’d post a pic.

This is the “Tijuana Dog,” with white queso, red chiles and jalapeno peppers. It sounded good when I saw it on their chalkboard last night, and I hoped it would re-appear as the Dog of the Day today. When it did, I knew that would be lunch.

In honor of the Dog of the Day, I present the following list: The three nastiest cities I’ve ever visited:

3) Los Angeles. Visited in 1998. I was trying to book a hotel, and while searching online I saw an Econo Lodge at Melrose and Vine. “I’ve heard of both of those streets, it must be a good neighborhood,” I reasoned. Nope. Wrong. I walked out of the hotel and there were people of every ethnicity except American hanging around. I thought, it’s too bad I’ve never done any drugs, because I was pretty sure I could score a bag of anything I wanted within two blocks of the hotel. I walked all the way down Melrose to La Cienega Blvd. and back, about a 6 mile walk. Tons of shops full of rude people and overpriced crap. There was a store selling nothing but condoms which was rather interesting. I saw a Jack in the Box with the counter area totally encased in bulletproof glass. The Shoney’s had valet parking. I was scheduled to stay there three days but left after one. There may be nice parts of L.A. but I sure didn’t see them.

2) Tijuana. Went there with a co-worker and two of his friends in November 2000. We parked in San Ysidro, the southernmost neighborhood of San Diego, and walked across the border. There were third-story apartments with bars on the windows despite no apparent way to get to them. The party strip, Avenida de la Revolucion, exceeded Beale Street’s filth by a factor of 100. “You gentlemen get in free if the senorita with you dances,” offered one strip club owner. The club we went to had $10 all-you-can-drink and was full of undergrads from Arizona State who came down there to drink at 18. One of them grinded her ass all over me, and I told her from the way she danced, I could tell she was a virgin. I think I made her cry. On the way home we stopped at “The Real Taco Bell” which was selling pork adobada tacos 3 for $1. I suspect the pig I was eating may have been named Rover or Fido, but I was hungry so I went with it.

1) Spartanburg, South Carolina. My sincere regrets to anyone who has to visit this God-foresaken shithole. They like to say they’re located in the “upstate” of South Carolina, but “armpit of the world” is more accurate. I had the misfortune of teaching a class there when I was a corporate trainer in 1999. The class was actually the most interesting part of the day, because there was NOTHING to do after work. There were a few country buffets full of fried chicken and ribs and that was about it. I was there five days and did not see an attractive woman the entire time. For anyone who complains about Memphis, I recommend vacationing in Spartanburg. You’ll appreciate our fair city so much more. For those familiar with other mid-sized Southern cities, this place makes Pine Bluff, Arkansas look like Paris by comparison.

Yep. I’m back. Hope the four posts today make up for the four days without a post. I’m hanging out at the Second Street Branch Office and I have the netbook with me, so if I hear about anything interesting I’ll post again.

Chicken Tortellini @ Majestic Grille

Recently I met a friend for lunch at the Majestic Grille. I long ago worked my way through the entire lineup of appetizers, salads and flatbreads, so I decided to try something different: One of the entrees, the chicken tortellini.

The pesto alfredo sauce was incredible. Just uploading the photo makes me want this dish again. It has shitake mushrooms as well, and I love mushrooms. As is typical for the Majestic, they gave me a huge serving, and I hated it that I could finish only half of it. You can ask for a to-go box though.

Although the tortellini was yummy, I have to say that penne is my favorite type of pasta, because it’s shaped like little miniature tube tops.

Brunch at South of Beale was quacktacular!

With a lot of the Sunday brunch crew out of town on a canoe trip, I decided to try something new yesterday. I went to South of Beale and had their duck breakfast burrito.

Duck, scrambled eggs and smoked Gouda in a burrito topped with creme fraiche and tomatillo pico de gallo, served with a side of home fries. Really enjoyed it, as well as the big mimosa I got for $3.

After I finished, I walked north to the Saucer, but I made a stop on the way. Pulled out the phone and checked into Foursquare here:

Another key Downtown mayorship regained. I’d been mayor of the Statue of Elvis for about a year when my friend Brian stole it Music Fest weekend. With my checkin yesterday, I got it back. Oh well, Brian is still mayor of Supermoonamageddon and a bunch of other stupid venues he created. Maybe I should bring back the TubeTopalooza rooftop party so I can become mayor of it.

And now it’s Monday. I’ll probably do a lunchtime post. Pint Nite after work, unless I come up with a better plan.

Underground dining comes to Memphis

Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending the first Clandestino Dining event in Memphis. Clandestino is a Chicago-based underground supper club. Attendees view a 7-to-10 course gourmet menu and RSVP and pay in advance, and the venue is not announced until the day before. Venues are usually cool spaces like art galleries and warehouses.

The people who operate Clandestino are on my BBQ team, the Ques Brothers. On Tuesday, they sent out a message to the group, saying they were looking for a photographer who would work for food. I stepped up. They gave me permission to post some of the photos I took on my blog, so here’s a look at what we had to eat:

We began the evening at Art Village Gallery at 410 S. Main for cocktails.
Guanciale-wrapped grilled strawberries were the hors d’oeuvres at Art Village.
We then moved down the street to a second location that had been kept secret from the attendees – the back room of Earnestine & Hazel’s – for dinner.
As the first course was being prepared, guests were entertained by a honky tonk band.
The theme of the menu was the Seven Deadly Sins. The first course, “Greed,” was a Chicken Fried Oyster Po’ Boy, housemade bretzel roll, harissa remoulade, pickled green tomatoes, and watercress.
Second course, “Sloth,” Pea, Mint, and Pork Trotter Soup w/ water cracker.
Third course, “Envy,” Baby lettuce and herb salad, honey vinaigrette, local cheese tasting.
Fourth course was “Lust.” Maize Sope w/ Trout Gravlax, pickled ramps and rhubarb, and fresh strawberries.
At that point we had a palate refresher, Cucumber Oregano Sorbet or as one guest called it, “a cucumber popsicle.” Here’s a pic of the Nuh-Uh Girl eating.
Course five, “Greed,” Foie Gras French Toast w/ Maple Gastrique and Peach Compote. The Nuh-Uh Girl enjoyed this course so much that she came back to the kitchen to see if there were leftovers.
Chef Efrain, in Clandestino-logo apron, carrying the sixth course, “Wrath,” Mustard Green Pappardelle w/ Braised Oxtail Ragu.
Seventh course, “Pride,” Chocolate Basil Ice Cream, Honey Panna Cotta, Chocolate Meringue Cookie, Mexican Chocolate Truffle, and Strawberry Fizz.

When Clandestino Dining started in Chicago, it was originally a true underground dining club, flouting the city/state licensing requirements. This is why venues are only announced the day before the dinner. A few years ago, they went legit, acquiring a catering license. In Memphis they partnered with Circa/Bar None chef John Bragg to make things all nice’n’legit.

Additional photos will be on the Clandestino Dining website soon. The dinner seemed to be well received, and I know they are contemplating a return to Memphis. If you’d like to see them come back, get on their site, shoot them an email and let them know.

Thanks so much to Efrain and his crew for letting me shoot photos, hang out in the kitchen, and eat. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Tuesday trivia at Ferraro’s with Kevin Cerrito

I’ve been meaning to check out Tuesday trivia night at Ferraro’s Pizzeria and Pub since the day it started. However, various obstacles – severe storms, BBQ Fest – kept getting in the way. This week, I got a chance to check it out.

Trivia is hosted by Kevin Cerrito. There are 50 questions: Five rounds of ten questions each. The questions are asked fairly rapid-fire – maybe a minute apart – and once all questions in a round are asked, teams get a few minutes to gather up their answers, ask for questions to be repeated, and get their answer sheets in.

Kevin Cerrito

There’s a prize of pitcher of PBR for the team with the best name. Our team member who specializes in creative names was not available, so we went with my suggestion, “Phone Sex for the Hearing Impaired.” Every team votes for best team name after the second round, and you can’t vote for yourself. Winning name was “Hasta La Vista, Illegitimate Baby.” Obviously it helps to keep up with current events when dreaming up team names.

The setup at Ferraro’s makes for a different team vibe than the Saucer where we used to play. At the Saucer, we’d congregate around the rail or the bar and team members would move around and talk to each other. At Ferraro’s, there are booths. They are large booths that can seat 6, but it’s a snug fit if you do 3 to a side. You better like your teammates because you’ll be getting real cozy with them if you have a full booth. It wasn’t a problem last night, but I can see that being an issue in future weeks for our team in particular, given some of the people who often show up.

Ten of us showed up, and the limit per team is 8, so we split into two teams. I was very happy to end up with Darrin on my team, since he was one of the stars of our team at the Saucer. However, the questions turned out to be more pop-culture oriented than Saucer trivia. There was a “name that tune” round and a round about Schwarzenegger movies, both of which my contributions were practically nil. Our two team members who said “by the way, I suck at trivia” prior to start time ended up contributing as much or more than Darrin or me.

I went with the pitcher of PBR to drink. PBR sells for $7.50 a pitcher or $2 a pint at Ferraro’s. Why have I not been hanging out there more often?

Last night was my first time to try the pizza, and it was absolutely delicious. I got the pepperoni and sausage 8″ bar pie and loved it. That sure is a world of difference (and I mean better than) Pizza Hut’s personal pan pizzas. My teammate sitting on my side of the booth ordered a pepperoni and pineapple pizza, and I made a mental note that I will not be sharing a pizza with her in the future. Pineapple as a topping is something I’ve never been down with. My teammate redeemed herself a few minutes later when she said she likes to sing, but doesn’t go to karaoke nights. Praise the Lord, someone with common sense!

My pizza
My teammate's pizza

For those who smoke, there was ample time between rounds to go out on the patio. Ferraro’s is 18+ so kids can come play trivia too.

Overall, just a real good vibe. I plan a return to Ferraro’s trivia night soon.

Blackened voodoo wings @ Court House Deli

Wednesday I went to Court House Deli and tried their newest item, blackened voodoo wings. Very very tasty and the ranch dressing was a perfect complement.

Every time I go to Court House Deli I marvel at what an assembly line they run at lunchtime rush hour. They get the food out quick and it’s all outstanding. In addition to the wings, I highly recommend the mushroom swiss burger, the crawfish etoufee, the Cajun chili and the red beans and rice.

Chili cheeseburger and tater tots @ Westy’s

Yesterday about 3:00, my friend Clay and I were sitting in our usual spots at the Saucer, trying to figure out where to eat lunch. “Majestic? Kooky Canuck? Happy Mexican? Blues City?” Those are the spots our group visits frequently when we’re hungry. We wanted something different.

Then Clay had a capital idea. “Let’s get on the trolley and ride to Westy’s.” So we did. I got the chili cheeseburger. This is probably not the healthiest item on the menu, but it sure was good. It was served open-faced and smothered in chili, with a choice of fries or tater tots on the side. I went with the tots. I wolfed down most of the cheeseburger, but was too full for the restaurant’s legendary hot fudge pie.

Westy’s has such a huge menu that you can eat there every day for a month and still not get bored with the food. They also deliver to Downtown. I need to spend more time going through Westy’s menu.