Paul’s PBR Review: The Blind Bear

Welcome to another installment of Paul’s PBR Review, where I talk about the best places in Memphis to get a Pabst Blue Ribbon, the Cadillac of beers. Today’s post is about the Blind Bear, a speakeasy opened by three veteran Downtown bartenders in December 2011. The name was a play on common 1920s speakeasy names like “The Blind Pig,” substituting “Bear” since the grizzly bear is the mascot of Memphis’ NBA team.

The Bear is decorated in dark tones typical of a speakeasy. There is a long bar in the back that seats about 16. Two flat-screen TVs are there for patrons to enjoy. On Sundays in the fall the bar is a popular spot among those who play fantasy football, because the Bear subscribes to the NFL’s RedZone channel. Although not a sports bar per se, the Blind Bear has been nationally recognized as one of the best places in Memphis to watch Grizzlies games, perhaps because all three operating partners are big Grizzlies fans.

There is plenty of comfortable lounge seating throughout the speakeasy. There are also blackjack and poker tables, which during the week are covered and used for dining. On Sunday and Tuesday nights the covers come off the poker tables, for free-to-play Texas Hold’em tournaments with a $50 gift card as the prize (6:30 PM Sundays, 8 PM Tuesdays). Up front there is a coin-operated pool table with plenty of rail seating and another flat-screen TV. There is also patio seating outside.

“But Paul,” you’re probably protesting by now, “enough of the description of the place. Get to the important stuff. Do they serve PBR?”

Indeed they do. When the Bear first opened, PBR was on draft and served in Mason jars with handles. Recently, they switched to PBR in 16-ounce cans, to make room for local drafts on tap. The speakeasy has a Foursquare special: The “mayor” on Foursquare (the person who has checked in there the most in the past 60 days) gets one free PBR a day. Well, actually, you get your choice of domestic beer, but why would anyone ever choose anything but PBR for their freebie?

The Bear has entertainment throughout the week. I’ve already mentioned the Sunday and Tuesday poker games. On Wednesday there is trivia with Charles at 8, with a gift card for the winning team. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday there is live music. On the weekends, if you know the password to get in, you can beat the $5 cover charge. They post the password on the Blind Bear Facebook page, usually in the afternoon the day-of. However, your first chance to get the weekend passwords comes on Wednesday, when Charles announced them between trivia rounds. On Saturday and Sunday, the Bear has brunch (“Hung Over Like a Bear Brunch”) until 6 PM, one of the latest brunch times in town for those who make Sunday afternoon their Sunday morning.

A new chef, Fortunato Oliva, recently started at the Blind Bear, and he re-worked the menu, keeping some of the old favorites but adding new items as well. Having recently won poker a couple of times, I decided to use my gift card winnings to step through the new menu. “I’m sure the new dishes are tasty,” I thought to myself, “but what I really want to know is, does the food pair well with PBR?”

Crab cakes (click any image to view larger size)
Crab cakes (click any image to view larger size)

On Monday I went in and tried the crab cakes. In an earlier discussion with Chef Fortunato, I had learned that one of his issues with the old menu was that there was no seafood option. He wanted to get seafood on the menu, and he hoped to create a seafood signature dish. He may well have done it with the crab cakes. You get two enormous cakes with risotto in the center of the plate. If your idea of crab cakes is what they serve at Captain D’s, with lots and lots of breading and one or two tiny pieces of crab, the Bear’s cakes will change your thinking. These crab cakes are all meat – big, lumpy pieces of crab. The risotto provides a nice balance to the cakes, but what really sets off the taste of the crab cakes is the PBR. Seafood and PBR are a match made in heaven, kind of like bees and honey, toast and jam, breasts and tube tops.

One note I’ll make here is that two of the Bear’s servers, Kaylea and Christy, are anti-tube top. BOOOOOOOOOO Kaylea and Christy. What’s really surprising is that they are both good friends with Suzy, who has had photos in this blog many times and who is one of the most pro-tube top people I know.

Chicken paillard
Chicken paillard

On Tuesday I had the chicken paillard. This is chicken that is pounded until it is thin, and then cooked over high heat to get it up to temperature. I have to admit, I ordered this dish early on not so much because of the chicken, but because of one of the sides, crispy Brussels sprouts. I have been a big fan of Brussels sprouts since I was a kid, and I know that they go very well with PBR. However, once my plate came out, I was all about the chicken. The sauce on top was to die for. Not only was it amazing on the chicken, but it went well with the other side that came with the dish, garlic smashed Yukon potatoes. I would like to sit here and tell you that the PBR I was drinking completed this dish, but I can’t – the chicken paillard was so outstanding that I would have enjoyed it even if I had been drinking a Miller Lite or worse (ugh) a Coors Light.

By the way, I acknowledge that some people do like Miller Light and Coors Light, and if so maybe you should watch the Grizzlies at the Bear. During Grizzlies games and one hour before, they have those two beers and Miller High Life in bottles for $2.50.

Creme brulee

After finishing my chicken, I still had 40 minutes to spare before Tuesday night poker. With plenty of gift card space to spare, I decided it was time for dessert. I ordered the creme brûlée. As I was waiting for it, I noticed how much the PBR opened up my palate to prepare me for the next course. It’s kind of like when they give you ginger at a sushi restaurant to clean your palate. PBR kind of naturally does that. Chef Fortunato’s take on creme brûlée is a vanilla creme brûlée with almond brittle and cayenne reduction. It was rich and creamy and complemented the PBR I was drinking beautifully. There were almond pieces atop the dish’s hard shell. I’ve only had creme brûlée a handful of times, but that was the first time I have seen it topped with pieces of nuts.

Angus short rib
Angus short rib

Thursday night I was back at the Bear to try another of Chef Fortunato’s additions to the menu, the Angus short rib. This dish consists of beef short ribs, braised in cola to produce a rich brown gravy on top, along with sides of sweet potato mash and green beans. Beef short ribs are said to be the part of the cow most similar in texture and consistency to pork ribs, and I would agree, although they are a bit fattier. Braising them made them nice and juicy to the point where I hardly needed the PBR at all. However, I would like to mention that the PBR really brought out the taste of the sweet potato mash, and vice versa.

One thing to note about the Blind Bear’s menu – they do have sides available as single servings. They just didn’t have room to print them on the menu. Any side that is available with any entree can be ordered by itself as well. These would include sweet potato mash, haricot vert (green beans), garlic smashed Yukon potatoes, crispy Brussels sprouts, and asparagus tips. There is also one additional, special side which I will get to in a moment.

Pork belly confit

Having tried seafood, poultry, and beef on the Bear’s new menu, Friday night I decided it was time to try pork. I ordered the pork belly confit, described on the menu as “Crisp pork belly, green apples, washed onions, cilantro, ponzu with sweet soy.” Pork belly is a dish that has soared in popularity the last few years. I have to admit the first time I heard of it I thought, “They cook and eat the pig’s stomach? That doesn’t sound very appealing.” But, no, pork belly is a fatty cut of meat from the belly of the pig, the same area from which bacon is cut. Since bacon goes well with PBR, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the pork belly went well with PBR too. I gave a bite to one of my BBQ teammates and he said, “Well, that’s about the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.” The pork is crispy and full of flavor and the sauce it was drizzled in brought out the flavor even more, as did the PBR.

Since I mentioned BBQ, I should probably disclose that the Blind Bear is the bar sponsor of the Memphis in May BBQ Fest team I am on, the Moody Ques.  They joined up with us in the team’s first year, 2012, providing cups and napkins. When the bar situation in the 2012 booth proved to be a complete shitshow, the Bear stepped up and took over the bar for 2013. That year the bar ran smooth as silk, no problems at all, which was great because it was one less thing we had to worry about. We were able to focus more on throwing a good party because there were no problems with liquor. The Bear will be back with us for 2014 and we are delighted to have them.

Pepper jack mac & cheese
Pepper jack mac & cheese

Back to the pork belly… it appeared on the “Hotsy-Totsy” (appetizer) menu, as opposed to my choices earlier in the week which were on “The Great Gatsby” (entree) menu. Therefore, I expected the pork belly to be a smaller size, and decided that I should get a side to go with it. My choice was a classic item dating back to the very first days the Blind Bear was open: Pepper jack mac & cheese. This award-winning dish uses pepper jack cheese instead of cheddar for a one-of-a-kind taste. It’s creamy, as mac & cheese should be, and has just a little spice to make it interesting. They took it off the menu for a while, but it is back and Jeannette promised it will never be taken off the menu again. I really enjoy letting the spiciness build in my mouth through several bites of mac & cheese, and then I wash it out with a sip of ice cold PBR.

By the way, if there’s a person in your dining party who doesn’t like PBR (horrors!) there are other beverages to pair with your food. The Bear has a selection of wines; ask your bartender or server for a recommendation for a good wine to pair with the food you want to order. There is also a “giggle water” menu of mixed drinks.

In my years Downtown I have learned that it is a very good sign for a bar when people who work at other restaurants/bars come there after they get off. They’re in the business themselves, so they know what’s good. It’s not uncommon to walk in the Bear and see people who work at the Majestic, Local, Bluefin, Flying Saucer, and Aldo’s Pizza Pies having food and drink.

I hope this post has convinced you that the Blind Bear is not only a great place to get a PBR, but a great place to have dinner as well. Give the new menu a try; I am sure you will find something you like. The Blind Bear is on the Main Street Mall, just south of Gayoso Avenue. It is open 5 PM to 3 AM Monday-Friday, 3 PM (noon during football season) to 3 AM Saturday and Sunday.


Paul’s PBR Review: The Flying Fish

If you’re looking for a place to get some good, reasonably-priced seafood in the Downtown Memphis core, you can’t go wrong with the Flying Fish. The Fish is on Second Street, across from the Peabody Hotel. Not only is the Fish a great place to get seafood, it’s also a great place to get a PBR.

At the Fish, you order and pay at the cash register as you walk in. You are then given a “pager” that lets you know when your food is ready at the counter. As you stand in line to order, you pass a refrigerated cooler full of beer. You can pick out a beer to pair with your food, and you can even pop it open and drink it as you wait in line. For several years after the Fish opened, you could choose not only a PBR from the cooler, but the rarely-seen PBR Light which comes in a blue and green can, as opposed to the blue and red associated with regular PBR.

PBRNowadays, however, there are no PBR cans to be found at the Fish. That’s not a bad thing, for they have installed PBR on draft. You can get a PBR in a large heavy goblet for under $3. They pour your draft when you place your order at the cash register.

SIDE NOTE: Before I continue with the review, I should mention that the Fish is the “sister” restaurant of the Flying Saucer down the street. The Flying Saucer has over 70 beers on draft and another 130 in bottles. Unfortunately, none of those beers are PBR. I wish they’d carry it but “it is what it is” I suppose.

SIDE NOTE: I could take a note here to mention which of the girls at the Saucer are my “favorites” and how they are beautiful and their smile lights up my day, you know, the way some bloggers do. I could, but I won’t, because that would be unrelated to my review of the Flying Fish. Also, it would be rather creepy.

billybassAs you walk in the Fish, you will notice a large number of plastic fish mounted on the left wall. These are the singing, battery-powered Billy Bass (and his friend, Travis Trout and similar) that were once popular items for Christmas gifts. If you bring them a Billy Bass, they will put it on the wall with your name under it and give you a free fried catfish basket.

SIDE NOTE: The photo above is of my Billy Bass, one of the first to be brought and in the bottom row. It reads “Prof. Paul Ryburn” because manager John May called me “Professor Paul” when he called Flying Saucer trivia. That’s a carryover from the days when I taught at the University of Memphis. Technically, though, I was a full-time instructor rather than a professor.

SIDE NOTE: That’s also from where my “PROFPR” handle at Buzztime trivia at Max’s Sports Bar derives.

SIDE NOTE: Max’s, by the way, serves PBR.

Grilled salmon with sides at the Fish

Not surprisingly, the Fish is best known for, well, its fish. Some of my favorite dishes there are the grilled fish dishes, paired with rice and beans and grilled squash and zucchini. The tilapia and the salmon are perhaps my two favorites. One really cool thing they do is they give you a little cup of pico de gallo with your grilled fish. I like to shovel some fish, rice and beans, and pico into my mouth and then wash it down a sip of PBR, which I derive great pleasure from it.

In addition to grilled plates, they also have fried baskets available, with choices ranging from catfish to chicken to fried oysters. They even have frog legs, a Southern delicacy. For those who like to dip their fried foods, they have a condiment bar with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, and ketchup.

The fries that come with the fried-food baskets are decent, meaning that they are average in taste compared to other restaurants that also serve fries. At your table you will find five different hot sauces you can sprinkle on your fries, if you prefer something with a little more “kick” than ketchup. They range from a mild green sauce to a super-hot habanero sauce. Just be sure you have a full PBR before you try the habanero sauce, for you will need it.

Whole red snapper Vera Cruz
Whole red snapper Vera Cruz

One day, exhibiting my adventurous side, I decided to go for something a little more exotic than the Fish’s grilled filets. I ordered the whole red snapper Vera Cruz, which is a whole fish covered in a delicious tomato sauce with peppers. As you can see in the photo, the fish’s eye is covered with a slice of lemon which tastes delicious when squeezed on the entree. Just be careful not to wash down this dish with your PBR too quickly, because you could very well be swallowing bones!

SIDE NOTE: I remember when I was a little kid and we got take-out from Long John Silver’s. I was told to chew each bite of my fish 32 times, to be sure that I wasn’t about to swallow the bones.

SIDE NOTE: That reminds me of KFC’s recent “I ate the bones! Oh my God, I ate the bones! I ATE THE BONES!” ad series to promote its new boneless Original Recipe chicken. Original Recipe, by the way, tastes great with an ice cold PBR, although you can’t get it at the fast-food chain. You’ll have to go next door to the gas station and buy one out of the cooler.

Hula poppers
Hula poppers

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try more than just the fish items at the Flying Fish, for there are many tasty choices that await you. One such choice is an appetizer, the Hula Poppers. This is jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese and shrimp, and wrapped in bacon. The poppers come with two dipping sauces to complement your food. Of course, it goes without saying that PBR complements the poppers well. Anything wrapped in bacon is a perfect match with PBR.

There are also other non-fish foods that pair well with PBR. The ceviche and the Mexican cocktail will make you feel like you are on a cruise to Cabo San Lucas. A healthy choice is the grilled shrimp salad. By the way, when you order any of the grilled items (whether as an entree or as a topping on a salad), you can request that the cooks “make it snappy.” If you do, your fish will come out covered in a spicy rub, somewhat similar to getting it “blackened” at Cajun restaurants although the taste is not quite the same. The grilled tilapia is one of my favorite dishes to order “snappy.”

Fried jalapeno chips
Fried jalapeno chips

For an inexpensive treat, look to the fried jalapeno chips which are also on the appetizer menu. These are jalapeno slices which are battered and then deep-fried, and then served in a basket with a cup of ranch for dipping. You will need the ranch to balance the “heat” of the jalapeno chips; PBR also works well for this purpose.

There are two dining areas at the Fish, an inner room and an outer room. If you sit inside, the booths against the left wall are a good place to sit. There you will find “fishing tales” of Memphis dignitaries. It can be fun to read them while sipping a PBR. In the outer room, there are garage windows similar to those at the Flying Saucer down the street. When the weather permits, they raise the windows and you can sip your PBR in the fresh air and watch the tourists mill around outside on Second Street. No matter where you sit, the dining is casual, with paper towels provided instead of more formal napkins.

Be sure to look at the board for the daily specials. They will discount dishes like the red snapper Vera Cruz, a pound of boiled shrimp, and all-you-can-eat catfish various nights of the week. When in season (about mid-February to early June) they have fresh boiled crawfish with corn and taters. The crawfish taste great when washed down with a PBR.

SIDE NOTE: You know, another place I had crawfish was at the Overton Square crawfish fest back in April. The crawfish there were good, but they kind of gave me indigestion. Oh well, at least it gave me a story to tell anyone who would listen for the next week.

sundayoystersPerhaps the Fish’s best special of all occurs on Sunday, when they have the “Preacher’s Special,” fresh raw oysters on the half shell for only 50 cents each. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that raw oysters and PBR are a match made in heaven. You can get a dozen oysters and a PBR for under $10, although there’s no reason you should feel required to stop at just one PBR on Sunday Fun Day.

Gizmodo had a recent article on why, how, and where you should start eating bugs. They are a source of protein for people in 80 percent of the world’s countries. If you decide you’re ready to start eating bugs, you can do it at the Fish. They’ve been selling little packets of BBQ crickets by the cash register lately.

SIDE NOTE: However, the Fish does not sell worms. This proves the old marketing saying that you fish with worms because the fish like worms, not because you like worms.

SIDE NOTE: When I was a kid, we took the cat to the vet and she had worms and we had to pay for her treatment. It’s damned expensive to own a cat.

I hope this post has convinced you that the Flying Fish is one of the best places in Memphis to get a PBR. Whether you enjoy it by itself or pair it with items from the Fish’s menu, the PBR at the Fish is a sure winner.

Paul’s PBR Review: Hoop’s Bar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn late 2006, word got out that a new nightclub was going in at the former Elvis Presley’s location on Beale, just west of Second on the north side of the street. It was to be called EP Delta Kitchen. The owners were aiming high: They brought in renowned chef Michael Patrick to prepare food, and after-hours they planned to transform the place into a nightclub manned by some of the area’s top DJs. The club started off as a huge success, with posh patio seating and multiple bars on two levels. They also had nightly specials which were generally a smashing success.

SIDE NOTE: I say “generally” because there were exceptions. For Monday Night Football they put out a food buffet for patrons who were ordering drinks. That sounds like a good idea but those damn chili dogs kept me glued to the toilet all damn day Tuesday. It may not be apropos to refer to defecation so near the beginning of a post, and if it offended you I apologize, but I’m not exactly the first person in the history of blogging to do it.

The one thing the place didn’t have, however, was buy-in from the locals. I mean, I’d stop by from time to time because I knew people who worked there, and occasionally other Downtowners would as well. However, it was not a gathering place for those who lived nearby. We went there on occasion – I had a birthday party on the upper level which was expertly catered by the Chef  and which was one of the best birthdays of my life- but we weren’t there on a nightly basis. One veteran bartender, David Hooper, had plans to change that. He knew there was an entire separate bar on the second floor that was not being used. He worked with EP Delta Kitchen to renovate it into a neighborhood bar, something that I mentioned in an earlier post was something sorely needed in 2007. He decorated it with vintage record albums as part of the bar top and lamp posts as table decorations. Most importantly, Hoop decided to carry PBR in cans.

SIDE NOTE: Hoop’s Bar has been closed since Fall 2008. Some of my “detractors” will undoubtedly bash me for reviewing a bar that has been closed for five years, and I do understand their point. However, you know what they say. Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. And while that may or may not be true, it’s my opinion that it’s perfectly fine to review Hoop’s Bar as a nod to the history of PBR in Downtown Memphis. Not everybody will agree but “it is what it is” I guess.

SIDE NOTE: Instead of worrying about “detractors,” I should be thanking those of you who have had positive things to say about this series. Things like “he’s trying as hard as he can” and “his writing really isn’t THAT bad.” Compliments like that make my day and are the reason I continue writing this blog.

The menu

The goal of Hoop’s was to give our Downtown neighbors a place to hang out near Beale Street. In fact, looking out the second-story windows, one could see directly into Blues City Cafe, one of Beale’s most popular destinations. Hoop wanted to offer a menu which was basic, yet in a nod to the gourmet fare served at EP’s, was a little more upscale than traditional bar food. He also wanted to serve menu items that paired well with PBR.

The hallmark of the menu was the “Badass Burger,” a large burger which was indeed badass. It was an 8-ounce burger cooked on the grill and served with the usual condiments. I cannot tell you how much a PBR set off the natural flavor of ingredients including mustard and tomato. I am normally not a fan of tomato on my burgers, but it is just such a natural fit with a 12 ounce can of PBR that I made an exception at Hoop’s Bar.

Another specialty was “Anna’s Egg Wolls,” a recipe created by Hoop’s wife. I took these home many a night as Paul’s Drunkass Food, and when I did I made sure to have a PBR in the fridge waiting for me, for the PBR greatly accentuated the Asian flavors found within the egg rolls.

The original PBRtini at Hoop's
The original PBRtini at Hoop’s

At the bottom of the menu (zoom in if you can’t see it in the pic above without the help of a microscope) was a classic cocktail that Hoop invented, and which I have since had at many other bars: The PBRtini. About four months after I started ascending the steps to the second floor to hang out at Hoop’s, I noticed it on the menu. I ordered one and Hoop popped a PBR and poured it into one of the bar’s special martini glasses. I have been addicted ever since.

Hoop’s Bar had a big-screen TV which was perfect for watching NFL football when it was on during the fall and winter. When there were no sports to watch, Hoop would put other shows on including South Park. Hoop had an assistant named Tony, and you didn’t want to miss a minute when the place was open because you never knew what the two of them might be up to. One day they had a new machine that would produce the foam in a freshly-opened Guinness can. They poked a hole in the top of a Bud bottle with a hammer and nail, and put it on the contraption. Budweiser sprayed all across the ceiling. (Of course, they would never do that with a PBR, which is too valuable to waste.) After Tony left, Hoop got two new assistants named Ross and Colin, who continued to keep the place fun.

SIDE NOTE: Colin is now one of the proprietors of Blind Bear, which serves PBR.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs 2008 rolled on, the owners of EP Delta Kitchen made some changes which proved to be unsuccessful. For one thing, they failed to emphasize the culinary expertise of their chef properly, and he left for greener pastures. They also changed the format of their nightclub music, causing the club to lose many patrons to the newly-opened Red Rooster down the street. Through it all, Hoop’s Bar continued to draw a solid crowd night in and night out. EP’s finally had to close its doors in Summer 2008. Hoop’s Bar lasted a couple of months longer, but the locals’ crowd in that upstairs bar simply wasn’t enough to pay the rent in such a massive space in a prime location. Hoop’s closed in the fall.

The space occupied by Hoop’s has not reopened since. The main EP space became Republic Nightclub in 2010. They did not serve PBR and charged $11 for a Captain and Coke. Not surprisingly, they were out of business in less than a year. The building has been vacant since.

Hoop went on to open a similar bar in the downstairs of a Cajun restaurant on South Front Street. When that business ran into problems similar to those at EP, Hoop accepted a manager job at Silky O’Sullivan’s, where he is to this day. When I go to Silky’s I drink Hurricanes, so I am not sure if they serve PBR. If they do, it is probably an ingredient in their Diver buckets.

Perhaps one day a commemorative plaque will be erected at Second and Beale denoting Hoop’s Bar as the place where the PBRtini was first served. Whether that happens or not, in less than a year it was open, Hoop’s Bar earned its reputation as one of the best places in Memphis to drink a PBR.

Paul’s PBR Review: Aldo’s Pizza Pies

Aldo's Pizza Pies
Aldo’s Pizza Pies

Downtown has lost a couple of its best places to get pizza over the past decade. Joey’s Pizza, in the 99 Tower building on North Main, was an institution Downtown for years. It had fabulous pizza and a great window to sit in that overlooked the Main Street Mall. However, about six years ago it closed its doors. The Black Diamond, a little dive bar on Beale that stayed open until the wee hours, had unexpectedly good pizza that went well with an ice cold can of PBR. However, it closed so Tater Red’s gift shop could expand. Ferraro’s Pizzeria and Pub opened a few years ago, but it is in the Pinch District, a trolley ride away. For years the Downtown core went without a true pizzeria.

SIDE NOTE: Ferraro’s will likely be the subject of a future PBR Review. However, I will go ahead and mention that during Tuesday trivia, hosted by Kevin Cerrito, at Ferraro’s PBR is only $1. Trivia starts at 8 PM.

On Saturday mornings, I like to hang out at the bar at Bardog Tavern with my “DAWG” John D and whichever other Downtown regulars show up. One Saturday in early 2012, Aldo came over to say hello. At the time Aldo was the proprietor not only of Bardog, but another very successful bar in Midtown called Slider Inn.

An Aldo's pizza, my own personal creation with extra cheese, sausage, and black olives
An Aldo’s pizza, my own personal creation with extra cheese, sausage, and black olives

SIDE NOTE: Both Bardog and Slider Inn serve PBR and will be the subject of future PBR Reviews.

“Paul, are you going to be around for a minute?” Aldo asked. “I have something I want to tell you that I think you will be very excited about.” I assured Aldo that I would stick around and ordered another PBR from bartender Amanda “Panda” Parks. I knew that the news was likely about Aldo’s third venture, Aldo’s Pizza Pies. He wanted to bring Downtown Memphians something they had never had before, true New York-style pizza like he had growing up in Jersey. Thin, big slices of pizza that you could fold over and eat. He showed me a building just north of City Market the summer before, which he intended to be the location. However, when ground-floor space came available in the new Barboro Flats apartment building, Aldo relocated there before the pizzeria even opened its doors.

“I know you’re a fan of beer, Paul,” Aldo said when he came back. “Now, the new place is going to be a restaurant more than a bar, unlike Bardog and Slider. It’s going to be family-friendly, with less of an emphasis on shots and mixed drinks, other than classic Italian mixed drinks that go with the theme. But we are going to be a restaurant for beer lovers. I plan to put a tap wall in with 20, maybe even 25 beers.”

I asked if one of those beers would be PBR. “I’m not sure we’ll have it on tap, like we do at Bardog,” Aldo said. “But I can promise you we will have it in some form.”

Tap wall
Tap wall

In summer of 2012, Aldo’s Pizza Pies opened its doors in the Barboro Flats location, and Aldo was true to his word. There was a 16 ounce can of PBR waiting for me. Aldo had also gone above and beyond his promise: There were not 20 or 25 beers on the tap wall, but 30. In addition, there are another 30 beers in bottles or cans, for a total of 60. Or as I like to refer to them, “PBR and 59 more.”

As Aldo said, the space is mainly a restaurant, with lots of comfortable booth seating. The booths and tables have elevated stands on which your pizza sits as you eat a slice and sip on your PBR. The bar area and the window seating behind it seat about 20. The bar area is nearly always full, no doubt due to the fact that Aldo’s carries PBR in cans. The windows overlook the Main Street Mall, giving customers an excellent view.

At the front counter Aldo’s has pizza slices to go. The “Grab & Go Lunch” is quite popular. For $5, you can pick any slice from behind the counter and get it with a drink to go on weekdays 11-2. For people who need to get back to their desks, but who don’t want to miss out on lunch altogether, this is a great idea.

SIDE NOTE: If you have the time, though, I recommend that you dine in and have a PBR with lunch. Don’t worry, we won’t tell your boss.

Patio dining at Aldo's
Patio dining at Aldo’s

Aldo’s has one of the best patios in Memphis. It’s a large patio that seats about 60, and is a great place to drink a PBR and people-watch as folks walk up and down the Main Street Mall – or, as the night gets late, stumble up and down the Main Street Mall. You also get a view of Local’s patio across the street, which can be unintentionally entertaining at times. This summer Aldo put in considerable effort to cover the patio, shielding guests from unexpected rainfall and the hot summer sun.

Aldo’s sells whole pizzas in 12-inch and 18-inch sizes. There are about a dozen pizzas on the menu to choose from, or you can build your own. Pizzas sell for $14-17 in the 12″ size and $21-25 in the 18″ size.

SIDE NOTE: I’m looking at a menu that is about a year old, so prices could have risen a bit. I suppose I could walk down the street and get a new menu, since I live two blocks away. But I just popped open a PBR and I don’t want to get written a citation for walking down the Main Street Mall with it.

This was one of the first Slices of the Day I tried at Aldo's: The Button Man (tomato sauce, mozzarella, black olive, red onion, green pepper, mushroom) with pepperoni added.
This was one of the first Slices of the Day I tried at Aldo’s: The Button Man (tomato sauce, mozzarella, black olive, red onion, green pepper, mushroom) with pepperoni added.

SIDE NOTE: Or I could just look at the menu on the restaurant website. (Hey Aldo, maybe it’s time to get “Coming Soon” off the site landing page now that you’ve been open for over a year?)

If you don’t want a whole pie, Aldo’s sells your choice of a cheese, vodka, pepperoni, sausage or veggie pizza by the slice. They also have a $4 Slice of the Day which changes daily. This is a good way to try all the different pizzas at Aldo’s while still having money left over for PBR.

One pizza that I have not had a chance to try yet, but can recommend anyway, is The Lombardi with tomato sauce, meatballs, and ricotta. How can I recommend something I haven’t had yet? Because it is made with Aldo’s famous meatballs, which are served at Bardog by themselves and atop hoagies and spaghetti. In the past 5 years “Grandma’s Balls” have become famous in Memphis.

SIDE NOTE: Every year Bardog has an alley party, and one of the events is a meatball-eating contest. Participants get a T-shirt that reads. “I busted Grandma’s balls.” I’ve never participated but if they add a PBR-drinking contest, I’m in.

Grandma’s balls also come on one of six sandwiches on the menu, The Grand Mother. Other sandwiches include The Sardo, an eggplant hoagie; Uncle Carmen, a sausage & peppers hoagie; The Trenton Makes, a classic Italian sub; The Florentine, a chicken and spinach sandwich on ciabatta; and The Balboa, a steak & cheese hoagie.

Goat cheese stuffed peppers
Goat cheese stuffed peppers

One of my favorite appetizers on the menu is goat cheese stuffed peppers. This is pretty much what the name says, peppers stuffed with goat cheese with bread and marinara for dipping. The garlic knots with marinara are another classic Italian appetizer that should not be missed.

The restaurant has salads as well. For some reason I didn’t get a photo the day I tried it, but I have had the antipasto salad and can tell you it’s very good, and about as classic Italian as salads get. The Caprese salad with mozzarella di bufala, tomato, basil and balsamic reduction is another salad that will make you feel like you are in Italy.

All right, it seems like it’s been far too long since I mentioned PBR, so let’s get back to the beer. I mentioned that Aldo’s has 60 beers in bottle and on tap. One thing they started doing fairly recently is a new beer club. If you drink all 60 different beers, you become a member of the club. One of the managers who works there, Findlay, was telling me about it one night. “It’s a really good deal,” he said. “Once you finish your 60 beers and join the club, you get a dollar off any beer for life.”

“Does that include PBR?” I asked, and he replied that it indeed does.

aldostvsIf you’re looking for a place to watch the game, Aldo’s has two TVs with giant 70-inch screens that overlook the bar. I remember being in there one day on a Monday, and they had the Grizzlies on one TV, Monday Night Football on the other, and I had a PBR in my hand. Could it get any more perfect than that?

Speaking of Mondays, it’s Pint Night at Aldo’s. Starting at 5 PM, any pint on the draft wall can be had for the low price of $3, the same price as the regular price of a can of PBR there. Personally, I’d just stick with the PBR on Mondays too, but if you’re looking to get half your 60 beers done for the club as cheaply as possible, that’s the way to go.

As I mentioned earlier, Aldo’s is family-friendly and is a good place to bring kids. Because Aldo’s is an open space, the kids can watch the kitchen staff make the dough and prepare the pizza.

The Gina Bellina
The Gina Bellina

SIDE NOTE: I remember having this experience myself at Shakey’s when I was a little kid. I was too young to drink PBR at the time though. And besides, I don’t think Shakey’s even served PBR.

The kids will appreciate the dessert menu, which includes an Abita root beer float, poured from the tap wall. There are also mini-canellonis, New York cheesecake with strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and lemon sorbet. Just don’t try to buy a PBR for the kids because they card at Aldo’s.

It has been said that beer pairs with food even better than wine does, and in each of these posts I try to spotlight a few of the restaurant’s offerings that go well with PBR. It took me a minute to figure out why the Gina Bellina tastes so good when complemented with a PBR. I tried this pizza on the patio with friends not long after Aldo’s patio first opened. It comes with tomato sauce, goat cheese, mozzarella, spinach, sundried tomato, and black olive. After a few bites and sips, I realized that PBR together with the sundried tomatoes on the pizza made for an excellent dining experience.

Bring Out the Gump
Bring Out the Gump

Another outstanding PBR pairing is the Bring Out the Gump. This pizza has a poblano cream base, with sundried tomato pesto, grilled shrimp, mozzarella, red onion, and basil. Usually I write how PBR brings out the flavor of a dish. This time, however, it was more that the Bring Out the Gump brought out the rich, full taste of the PBR, with the basil and the PBR performing an intricate dance of flavor.

The poblano cream base, by the way, is a fantastic starter for a build-your-own pizza. Other bases include tomato sauce, vodka cream, and garlic & oil. Toppings include bacon, banana pepper, basil, black olive, broccoli, caramelized onion, extra mozzarella, green pepper, ham, jalapeno, mushroom, pepperoni, pineapple, red onion, roasted red pepper, roasted tomato, sausage, anchovy, artichoke heart, BBQ pork, capicola, eggplant, feta, fontina, goat cheese, gorgonzola, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, jerk chicken, mango chutney, meatballs, mozzarella di bufala, ricotta, spinach, and sundried tomato.

The Memphis
Two slices of The Memphis

SIDE NOTE: I have thought about trying a pizza topped with anchovies, but I’m worried I’ll turn into one of those food bloggers who is constantly complaining about food being too salty.

Another of Aldo’s offering that is a natural fit with PBR is The Memphis, which is Aldo’s take on BBQ pizza. The pizza has a BBQ sauce base and is topped with mozzarella, red onions, and pulled pork from one of Memphis’ finest BBQ restaurants, Central BBQ. The pizza also comes topped with slaw, for the experience of a pulled pork sandwich on a pizza. No explanation should be necessary why this goes well with PBR. After all, few foods are more American than BBQ, and what beer is more American than PBR?

Since this post is going up the week before Labor Day, I want to mention an event that will be happening right outside Aldo’s on Saturday, August 31, and Sunday, September 1, 2013: The Memphis Music & Heritage Festival. Dozens of bands on multiple stages, cooking demos, dance demos and more make this festival a lot of fun. Beer is sold at the festival, but it’s not PBR, so if you want a PBR Aldo’s will be a convenient place to go. Those window and patio seats will be premium people-watching real estate for the upcoming weekend.

Give Aldo’s a try and pair the best pizza in town with the best beer in the world: PBR. I’m sure you will agree that Aldo’s is one of the best places to drink PBR in Memphis.

Paul’s PBR Review: Max’s Sports Bar

Max’s logo, as seen on the table rub sold at the bar. Meats seasoned with the rub go really well with PBR.

Welcome to the second installment of Paul’s PBR Review, where I examine the best places in Memphis to drink a PBR. For those of you who prefer RSS, I’ve set up a special Paul’s PBR Review feed here that you can subscribe to.

February 24, 2007 was a sad day for Downtowners. That day marked the closing of Sleep Out Louie’s, a bar where many of the Downtown locals hung out. Sleep Out’s served PBR, and on Sundays it was only $1. Management closed it to turn it into a steak house. That left Downtowners with not many options. One of the bartenders got hired at Holiday Inn, but who wants to hang out at a hotel bar? The Green Beetle was mainly late-night at the time, serving mainly the Raiford’s/Hollywood Disco crowd. The Blue Monkey was still being rebuilt from its 2005 fire. That left Flying Saucer as the de facto locals’ bar for most of 2007. And the Saucer didn’t serve PBR.

I saw a glimmer of hope when I attended the September 2007 South Main Trolley Tour. There were two guys named Brad and Max set up with a booth outside of what used to be a convenience store on G.E. Patterson. They told me they were opening a new sports bar called Calhoun’s, which they wanted to have open by the end of the year. They told me how they were going to have all the games on many TVs, so that there wouldn’t be a bad viewing angle in the place. I asked if they planned to carry PBR and they said yes.

SIDE NOTE: The place across the street, which is now Rizzo’s, was a BBQ  joint when I first moved down here. I walked down and gave it a try one day and ordered something called a “rib sandwich.” It was four bones of pork ribs with sauce between two pieces of white bread. I have to admit I don’t really understand the concept of eating something with bones as a sandwich. It seems more like something you’d get at a gas station on Jackson Avenue than at a Downtown restaurant. I guess other Downtowners agreed with me, for the place went out of business before too long.

On December 31, 2007, Calhoun’s opened, and since all the other Downtown bars were closed until 5 on New Year’s Day, I made my way down there. As a sports bar, Calhoun’s pretty much had to be open for New Year’s sports games. Max was behind the bar and I learned he was an Arkansas fan, so I instantly liked the place. Another reason that I liked the place was the PBR that they sold for $1.50 a pint.

As the year went on, Calhoun’s gained steam not only as a place to watch sports, but as a home for the locals, especially those who lived in the South Main area. The regulars began to bond and came up with their own hijinks. In the fall of 2008 they came up with an event called “Downtown Olympics” which took place at several bars including Calhoun’s. We watched the 2008 election results there. In November, in response to pickets and protests happening around town at the time, the regulars staged a “positive picket.” People marched outside of Max’s carrying signs that read “Too Many TVs!” “Michele Gets Our Refills Too Fast!” “Beer Prices Too Cheap!” Max must have taken note of that last sign, because he raised PBR prices to $2 a draft the following year and $2.50 the year after that.

Michele with bat
Michele with bat

Regarding the “Michele Gets Our Refills Too Fast” sign: That refers to Michele Fields, the main bartender. She is extremely efficient getting PBR poured and served, and she’s known for fitting 17 ounces of PBR into a 16 ounce glass. She has placed in the Memphis Flyer’s Best of Memphis poll for both Best Bartender and Best Server in previous years, and rightfully so. I remember one year when she was at the Best of Memphis party for the bartender award, and I was there for Best Blog. The party was at Minglewood Hall that year and there was a huge food buffet presented by the restaurant winners. We finished our food and Michele started bussing our plates off the table. “Michele, you don’t have to do that, you’re not at work,” I commented. Be forewarned about Michele, though: She will beat yo ass if you walk out on your tab or otherwise cause trouble at her bar. She has a baseball bat to take care of any problems that arise.

SIDE NOTE: I enjoyed the Best of Memphis party but it would have been better if they had served PBR.

In 2010, Calhoun’s started getting cease and desist letters from a seafood restaurant in middle and east Tennessee, also named Calhoun’s. The restaurant’s owners were afraid people might confuse a large seafood restaurant with a tiny sports bar, and asked that the South Main Calhoun’s change its name. After months of legal wrangling, the owners decided to make the most logical name change they could, renaming the place Max’s Sports Bar. I wonder if Calhoun’s the restaurant serves PBR. Probably not.

School lunchroom pizza with extra cheese and bacon added by Michele

Max’s is another place where the PBR complements the food well. They have school lunchroom pizza, and you can add extra cheese and bacon for a small additional fee. The PBR brings out the full, rich flavor of the cheese. Sometimes I wonder if the PBR/pizza combination is served at the annual Oktoberfest in Munich, Bavaria. If not, it should be.

Another Max’s dish that pairs well with PBR is the honey habanero hot wings. In this case, the PBR does not so much add to the flavor as it does take the “edge” off the wings which are almost but not quite suicide hot.

Some patrons prefer to take a break from Max’s and walk nearby to eat. There are two very good BBQ restaurants nearby, Central BBQ and Double J. I won’t offer an opinion as to which is better, but I will note that Double J serves PBR.

SIDE NOTE: You know, I’ve seen the commercials for Burger King’s “Memphis BBQ” sandwich with pulled pork and onions, and I have to say, I don’t think that’s real Memphis BBQ. I mean, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen any BBQ restaurants in Memphis put onions on their sandwich. Now, I could be wrong. After all, you know what they say, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. And while that may or may not be true, my opinion is that Burger King is not serving “real” Memphis BBQ. Take that for what you will.

Max’s is a very popular place during football season. For college games, they post schedules of which games will be on which TVs, so you know exactly where to sit. For NFL games, they have the Sunday package, so you never have to miss out on your favorite team’s game. It’s ideal for fantasy football players who need to be able to keep up with multiple games at once. The bar stools swivel so you don’t have to crane your neck. Just be careful not to spill your PBR.

Basketball season is another time when the bar at Max’s fills up. The place is known as “Grizzville” during Grizzlies games. Especially during Grizzlies away games, the bar is loud and rowdy, the way a sports bar should be when the home team is on TV. During home games, many fans with tickets pre-game and post-game at Max’s. After all, a $2.50 PBR at Max’s sure beats an $8.50 Bud Light at FedExForum.

Max's Foursquare "mayor" Mike with Windell. I bet Mikey would rather be drinking a PBR.
Max’s Foursquare “mayor” Mikey with Windell. I bet Mikey would rather be drinking a PBR.

Max’s has been host to celebrities. In the summer of 2011, Windell Middlebrooks, at the time starring in Miller High Life commercials, came through Max’s on a tour of Memphis. Windell was seen on TV taking High Life out of places he felt were too high-falutin’ to serve his product. Max’s, however, got Windell’s seal of approval.

SIDE NOTE: I guess the paragraph above should have been a “side note” since it didn’t have anything to do with PBR.

When the weather is temperate in the spring and fall months, the regulars like to set up cornhole boards outside on G.E. Patterson Avenue. Max’s regulars Bad Shane and Fireball Joe are considered two of the premier cornhole experts in Memphis, and have been tapped to host cornhole tournaments at regional festivals. Unfortunately, some of those festivals do not sell PBR.

Except during big games, two of the TVs at Max’s are dedicated to the Buzztime game system. With one TV tuned in to poker and another tuned in to trivia, Max’s patrons can compete against each other in a fun, relaxed atmosphere while drinking PBR. Play is done on blue boxes known to the locals as “crack boxes.” Trivia winners earn points which accumulate over time.

Buzztime poker and trivia video screens
Buzztime poker and trivia video screens

SIDE NOTE: Look for “PROFPR” in the list of all-time top ten trivia points winners. That’s me.

On Thursday nights at 7 PM, a Buzztime poker tournament is held. Now, the tournament is played on the video screens, and the $15 prize is smaller than some of the other poker night prizes around Downtown. However, the game is possibly the best Downtown for a few reasons. You can’t rebuy. You can’t get in late. Most importantly, the game is over in two hours so you can get back to drinking your PBR (not that you have to stop drinking it during the game).

If you walk out the back door, you’ll be on Max’s Big Deck, a large patio area which is almost as large as the sports bar itself. It’s a fine place to relax and catch up with friends while sipping a PBR. When the weather permits, there is a TV on the deck so you can drink a PBR while sitting outside and watching your favorite games.

I hope this post has been informative, and if you have not yet had the good fortune to visit Max’s Sports Bar, I hope you will board the Main Street Trolley and ride it to the south end of the line sometime soon and visit this South Main institution. If you do, I am sure you will agree with me that it is a fine place to drink a PBR.

Paul’s PBR Review: The Silly Goose

I didn't feel like walking down and snapping a pic of the Silly Goose sign, so here's a pic of a live goose. The sign isn't that different.
I didn’t feel like walking down and snapping a pic of the Silly Goose sign, so here’s a pic of a live goose. The sign isn’t that different.

Welcome to the first installment of Paul’s PBR Review, a side series on this blog that will explore the best places in Memphis to get a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon (or “PBR” as many locals call it). Although PBR has picked up a reputation as being something of a “hipster beer” the past ten or so years, you don’t have to be a hipster to enjoy it. Many, myself included, feel that it is the most flavorful of the common domestic beers. As a bonus, it’s often one of the most inexpensive too.

SIDE NOTE: These PBR Review posts will be in addition to my regular Downtown news posts, not a replacement for them. I’ve already made a Friday news post today, so scroll down if you haven’t seen it yet.

I’m starting off this series with one of Downtown’s most beloved bars, the Silly Goose. I selected the Silly Goose for my first place to review, because it has PBR two different ways: You can buy it in a 16-ounce can, or a 16-ounce draft. PBR is one of only three beers on draft at the Goose, the other two being local Ghost River beers. They also have a selection of domestic, craft, and import beers in bottles. I don’t believe they have any non-alcoholic beers. They also have one of the largest selections of liquor in Downtown Memphis.

The Silly Goose was opened in 2009 by bar veteran Daniel Masters. Although at first the place was positioned as a locals’ hangout, it has evolved into a swanky lounge, proving that PBR is not too low-brow for the lounge scene. The Goose has comfy lounge furniture inside and out. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights DJ Cody provides the music, and the place gets packed.

SIDE NOTE: Daniel used to be the bartender at another of my favorite bars, Dan McGuinness Downtown, which unfortunately has closed. McGuinness didn’t serve PBR but I went there anyway because I like Daniel. Well, that and the Saucer girls went there after they got off work.

Although PBR has been around in one form or another since the Silly Goose opened (except for those three days when they ran out…grrrrr), the draft beer is a recent addition. It was brought on in spring 2013 because it was known that the Foursquare “mayor” at the time liked PBR draft. Prices are among the cheapest Downtown, $2 a pint at the time of this post. During happy hour the price drops to $1.50.

pbrtini2If you get the PBR in a can, you can ask for it to be made as a “PBRtini.” This cocktail consists of PBR, poured out of a can, into a glass. I will have more to say about PBRtinis at a later date. As you can see in the photo posted here, they even have ways to keep your beer chilled for you, which is important because a martini glass holds about 5 ounces, whereas the PBR cans sold at the Goose are 16 ounces in size.

SIDE NOTE: The Silly Goose has a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar on Sundays. That really doesn’t have anything to do with PBR but I thought I would mention it anyway.

There are various foods you can pair with your PBR at the Silly Goose. One of my favorite combinations is filet cooked “on the stone” and a PBR. They bring out a 700-degree stone to your table and you cook the meat on it yourself, seasoning it to your heart’s content. I have found that the PBR really brings out the flavor of the meat well. The PBR also pairs nicely with the many pizzas sold at the Silly Goose.

SIDE NOTE: A fun thing to do at the Goose is to watch the panhandlers act like fake parking attendants on the Tri-State lot across the street.

On Monday nights, the Silly Goose has poker night. There are overlays to the lounge tables that have drink holders for your PBR. Truly they keep their PBR drinkers in mind at all times. The first-prize at poker is $50, which would buy 25 draft PBRs. The second place prize is $25, which would buy 12 and a half PBRs, 13 if you contribute a dollar of your own to make your total $26.

There’s also a foosball table. However, I never play because it’s hard to play foosball well while holding a PBR.

I hope you have enjoyed this first installment of Paul’s PBR Review. I will try to do this on at least a weekly basis. If you have not been to the Silly Goose, I hope you will give it a try. If you do, I think you will agree with me that it is a great place to drink a PBR.