Thursday, September 5, 2013

Smokey Pig BBQ, Bowling Green, KY

Not, as it turns out, the prettiest town I've ever seen, Bowling Green. Nor did I meet my old friend Bob. But I was passing through with my colleague Buxxx, and when we travel together, we eat barbecue. He's even from Kaintuck, so it was a nice chance for him to fill me in on some local culturez (eg the mutton barbecue that we didn't eat) and try a local establishment.

I did my usual scouting and found Smokey Pig to be the standout. Shows you again, like you needed reminding, that you can't trust Yelp or its colleagues. If this is the best barbecue Bowling Green has to offer, I am plumb sorry for Bowling Green.
I didn't much care for the ordering, which was done at a window, nor the service, which was to pass the food back through said window. Don't accuse me of highfalutin airs; that kinda thing goes just fine sometimes, but this time I didn't like it hardly none. We ate in the back dining room, which was unimpressive even in panorama. Not that it needs to be, right? The food should be all you care about in a place like this. 

Which is why this all was so disappointing. The ribs were really crap - no smoke flavor, tough, and (by association) with lots of unappetizing unrendered fat. I'll say this, the sauce was pretty good, and that's coming from a guy that doesn't usually like molasses-based sauces.

The pulled was tolerable, especially with the dipping sauce. It seems like the thing to get here might be pulled, 'dipped'. I read about that, saw it on the menu, and heard other people order it. The sauce is pretty spicy and oily, and it's a good thing.

The coleslaws were both good! High point! Although we were unsure if they weren't bought in. I like that they have both kinds so you can enjoy the junky sweetness and oiliness of mayo slaw, then feel more virtuous with vinegar.
Aaaaaaand, I made good on another thing I've never eaten before. I was asking Buxxx about chess pie while we were driving (our red mustang...Avis is funny sometimes), and then we got here and beheld the menu whereupon was listed Derby Pie. I capitalize that because it's sort of a proper noun. This was the real thing, bearing the trademark of Kern's, who have registered the concept of Derby Pie. It's sort of a chocolatey, nutty mess, with a crust that's too even to be anything but machined. Buxxx says y'all can get 'em at the Piggly Wiggly too.

I hasten to point out, I got all this food just out of scholarly interest (and company credit card) and ate about half of it before admitting the juice wasn't worth the squeeze, calorie-wise.

By the way, the bathrooms were dirty enough to bother me, expecially in light of the food.
(270) 781-1712

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Due South, Christiansburg VA

The sun dawned orange, especially with the help of Instagram. I was in the greater Roanoke, VA area for a terribly important and completely unproductive business meeting. Actually I had been there the night before too, and I made the team go out for barbecue. That's what I do.
But BBQ in Roanoke doesn't look very good. So I made everyone drive half an hour south-west, to the in-aptly named Due South BBQ. They got the nod for all their mentions of 'pit cooking', lack of extraneous food options (barbecue places shouldn't have salads), and pervasive pig theme.

Sumbitches that they are though, they didn't have half the menu that night, and they strongly recommended that we all get the all-you-can-eat pulled pork special. You start with a sandwich and two sides, then when you eat those down you can get another sandwich and one more side. And another. The slaw and fried okra were nice, the meat was soft and juicy even without sauce, and the variety of sauces were all pretty good.
The ribs were totally good though. They were soft inside, crusty outside (or barky, if you prefer), the pork was tasty, and the slathered sauce wasn't excessive. I wish they had more options on the menu that night so we could have run the gamut like I like doing at every other barbeque place.

Sometimes it feels the gamut done ran me

Man, I almost forgot - they had two guys playing guitar that were totally good. One guy was playing sort of 20's-30's standards, Tin Pan Alley stuff with medium advanced early-jazz chord progressions, and the other guy was playing a crazy cool style of bottleneck swing guitar. None of the usual bottleneck BS, just hitting notes that I'd be pleased to hit with my fingers, let along a metal tube.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Whole Hog Cafe, Bentonville AR

Here we are in backwater Arkansas...I'll let you figure out why. Certainly it was a neat experience, and one I hope to repeat as necessary (like a lather-rinse cycle, only this experience leaves you feeling a little dirty afterward).

I was there with Solly and Earle, and since Earle is down with barbecue, and I don't mind subjecting Solly to my whims (it's good to give your boss some discipline, right?), I mandated that we were having barbecue.

In point of fact, Whole Hog was an easy walk from our hotel - and that's saying something, because our hotel was in the middle of a faceless hotelz-n-chainz strip outside of town. I've forgotten how it went down, but I'm pretty sure I picked the hotel just so's we could walk to the Hog and have barbecue and beerz.
They had a bucket of Shiners, but only one bucket left. Which was OK because those guys weren't into it. Me, I wanna have a good time, all the time, and that mos def includes meet and beerz. Even if it's Texas beer in Arkansas.

We were at the Hog because it was the recommendation of Hoor,  who lived in these parts for a while and does appear to like his food. We also confirmed it with the guys at the 5 & 10. The Hog also confirmed it with all the trophies piled up in the window. I guess there's something in it. But I see now that it's a small chain, and the main office is Little Rock. I feel less kindly toward them now. Next time I'm picking another place.

The ribs were big and soft and meaty, really nice. The brisket was sort of a highlight for me and Solly - it seemed to have been pickled a little before smoking. A bit of a smoked-corned-beef thing going on. And the pulled didn't seem optimal at first, but I found myself continuing to stick forks back into it. Sides were decent, with the exception of the potato salad - almost seemed like it was whitened up with whipped heavy cream, and when you combine that thick 'n' creamy approach with the sliced red potatoes they used for it, it was a real winner. Of course I knew what was coming, because Hoor and the 5 & 10 guys had both suggested that it was a highlight of the Whole Hog experience.

Which was pretty muted, now that I think about it. They close up early, and there weren't even that many people there. It was a Monday. We closed the place down at 8.

No evidence that this isn't the best place in town. It was more real good than great though.
(479) 271-6566

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Karakiya, Sangenjaya (酒の唐木屋)

So I was just out for a random stroll through the nether Western regions of Sancha, ...

No I wasn't. Woody told me about this place. I don't get out so much any more, so I rely on advice.

And I like Liquor and Foods, and I like nothing better than drinking away the afternoon with no obligations. Your level of interest is probably similar to that of this fine fellow strolling by and enlivening my picture. What the heck are we doing outside a neighborhood liquor store?

Ohhh, that's why. It's not a Foods store at all any more. Presumably the mad genius son of the founders was behind this conversion from neighborhood grocery to high-end sake shop? What do they need all these folding chairs for?

And why do the bottles all have these funny labels? Oh good heavens, it's because you can get 60 cc of pretty much anything on the shelf for a low-low price. The Y245 for this guy is actually one of the higher prices for a dram.
This guy is awesome looking, isn't he? It's 'The Black Mask' from Hyakujurou 

(百十郎 黒面 if you're keeping score at home). And you saw above that it's 

all nama, and gen, and jun and dai and all the rest. You couldn't get more adjectives on the label, couldja?
You also couldn't have more fun for $5 if you tried. This is a cool store. Where else could you just line up a few shots of value-priced yamahai sake? This isn't the whole selection by any means either. You could probably drink 60ml shots of different warm yamahai until you passed out.

And there's the problem - all those open bottles of yamahai are sitting around at room temperature. The room's dark and cool compared to outside, but it's not a big fridge - it's still comfortable for extended sittin and drinkin. So most of the bottles have that not so fresh feeling.
I gotta tell ya, it was a struggle to get through those three little glasses of warm yamahai. And I was running out of time for the afternoon (those weren't all the bottle that went before), so I just wanted something refreshing. And there are 12 or 15 fridges against the other walls - you can see some of them above. And they have some good brewery relationships - cf several bottles of Kagiya that I tried. And they have a selection of craft beer. And the have a selection of...what's that thing called, the one the Koreans call makkori? There's a Japanese variant on it, and the styrofoam growlers in the panorama up top were for carrying home a liter or two of it.

There's no food here. I mean, maybe there were some snacks and meat sticks or sumthin. But you mostly need to (and I hear are encouraged to) bring in your own foods from the outside world. And it really seemed like the outside world by the time I staggered out of this rabbit hole and back into the street.

Not that nether Sancha doesn't seem like another world all on its own or nothin. 

Baker Bounce, Sangenjaya (ベーカーバウンス)

So I was just roaming around Sancha, waiting for a liquor store/bar to open at 12 so I could have a few drinks on my way to another appointment (this is what people do in Tokyo. Liquid lunches, all that.), and as I roamed a curious sight hove into view down an extremely typical and very quiet side street.
Heavens, I know that name! I cried. Inwardly, I mean. One doesn't cry out in the streets in Tokyo. It would be a dead giveaway that one doesn't fit in. I figure if I don't engage in open outcry, I can pass for a native and upstanding citizen.

Well, why not? One must sometimes sacrifice novelty for fame. And as the list of posts to the right of the page attests, I am nothing if not a completist about this. Here's what the inside of the original shop looks like (I remember now that they have a branch in Midtown, or did, or something. I'm less of a completist about this stuff than I used to be, you know?) - recreated shabby American diner. How great is that? You'll never be able to go back to a sorta late-40's, early-50's diner in America ever again - no one's going to go back to making the shelves and trim out of wood. The tables were sourced, vintage, in a set, and they all match.

Speaking of 'match', nothing goes better than a set-drink cola, a lunch beer, and some water. Don't you agree? It just seemed like the thing to do, although of course you wouldn't want to alternate between the beer and soda, and I wasn't sure what to drink first. I persevered.
You know right away that you're in Japan by the twee-ness of the presentation. Before I walk about the burger, let me say that the coleslaw was bad. Whatever they're trying to achieve there, they're not, they might be managing it. But if they ARE achieving it, I disagree prima facie with their goals.

The ketchup was weird. And by weird, I mean homemade. They make their own ketchup! And by homemade, I mean "sweetened, smoothed tomato paste". It's awesome that they care enough to make their own ketchup, but ketchup is supposed to have some weird seasonings in it (really, look up a recipe) and just isn't ketchup without vinegar, which this was absent of. Perhaps I should be saying they make their own catsup, and all of this would make sense.

Another thing that doesn't make sense - the chef is constantly firing up and turning off a torch that he uses to melt the cheese and crisp up the bacon. The bacon that they make themselves. I asked one of the guys as I was leaving (since it says 'homemade bacon' on the staff shirts) and he proudly allowed as how they cure and smoke it themselves. That's almost too much, guys.
This is almost too much too. It's a little gross, but burgers aren't supposed to be pretty. Now that you've gotten all the way to this point, let's cut to the chase - I've been eating a lot more burgers recently than I used to, and I would say this can stand up proudly with most of them. By the time you get to the great-burger level, there are enough stylistic differences that you really can't compare, and this has got its own thing going, going well.

Going, going, gonnerino.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Menya Musashi Kosho, Roppongi (麺屋武蔵 虎嘯)

The original concept of this blog was of course 'lunch in Roppongi'. I moved on pretty quickly from that due to the whole 'implosion of my employer and my subsequent relocation to Otemachi', I still have a soft spot for Roppongi lunches.

Actually I don't; I don't have a soft spot for anything about Roppongi. I needed to go to the bank, and after 2 hours of waiting, negotiation and processing, my sherpa Harry and I were pretty well ready for lunch. Bizarrely, I've never blogged the nearby Ippudo branch, and I steered clear of that today too, in favor of the Menya Musashi branch that opened sometime in the last year or two. I don't get to Roppongi much these days.

I was pleased that we could walk in and only wait for 5 minutes; I distinctly remember the Akiba branch of Menya Musashi having reliable lines.

Nice looking store, right? Somehow I thought I had been to more of these guys, each of which I think has a different theme, but in looking back the only one I've been to is Takatora in Baba. The team here is surprisingly mellow for one of these black-paint-and-metal, ikemen places. They're not that ike either, come to think of it. Just guys working hard without any clever synchronized shouting and whatnot. Relaxing, I thought.

Well hey boy, let's get into it. The standard 'ramen' pictured here is a very good bowl; a little bit unique (which is like a little bit pregnant).

The soup is medium-weight, without any over-the-top fat or bone or fish flavor; they also have a shrimp version. They also do a big line in tsukemen, which most people seemed to be having, but I still don't understand the point of those, and I steered us in the normal direction.

The noodles are neat; more like Inaniwa udon than anything else in their wide flattitude. They're also pretty soft and slippery, with a high 'fear quotient', ie feeling that they're going to jump off the chopsticks and onto your lap at any time. I escaped with only minor damage.

Pork may be a highlight at Menya Musashis; it is at Takatora, and the style here was (different and) interesting too - it tasted a lot like canned ham, which I don't mean to sound as bad as it does. I saw a staffer dealing with several huge pans of whole cuts, and they were all vacuum-packed. Are the roasted and then wrapped for transport, or is it possible they could be cooked sous vide to get this texture and flavor?

Based on this egg, they clearly know how to control them a little water temperature, so it seems possible. Boy do I like a nice jellied yolk like this. America has no idea what it's missing with these things.

That's about it. Do you mind if I stop? Roppongi not being a real ramen destination, this is definitely the place you should go if you need noodles.
So I went for a walk afterwards to reminisce, and whaddya know, I was wrong. Turns out there IS a place where smorking is OK.

But only one. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Carl's Perfect Pig, White Bluff (Nashville)

I'm not here to tell you the name is a lie. I'm not even here to complain about 'cajun chicken alfredo' being on the menu. I'm just here to say, this was some good barbecue. Good enough to try desperately to squeeze your snout out the crack in the window when you've been cruelly locked in there, the vapors creeping in to tantalize y'all.
Tempting to say that a place that cares enough to get their own neon is also a place that's going to be very good. I wasn't crazy about Carl's ambience though. It has the feel of a place that's been in bidness for quite a spell where management has kinda took their eye off the ball. There's the thinnest film of 'not clean' on everything, or else it's just worn, and it's disorganized. Specially downstairs where we sat.
But hell, who cares about some trivial concerns like that when Sunday lunch is barbecue? This was definitely meat that was ready earlier in the day, but it was tasty meat. I ate waaaay too much despite this being my fifth meal of barbecue in three days. Ribs were excellent - soft, smoky, a little dry but in that way that's dry and yet soft. And not at all dry like bad pulled pork. Brisket was chunks instead of slices, and was a real good'n. Pulled I don't remember so much. The slaw was vinegar, which I really think is the way to go, especially when you've got a coating of sauce cooked onto the meat like we do here. Helps cut down the richness of the sauce and smoke and fat so it doesn't get cloying.

Carl's. Make the drive if you're trying to eat good barbecue. Studies (mine) have shown that it's a stretch to find anything really good in the center of Nashville.
(615) 797-4020
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Have a nice little walk in the woods after too. This is Narrows of the Harpeth State Park, so named because the Harpeth River does a funny little turn back on itself. It's maybe because the rock of this bluff was too hard to wear away - there's a big fin of rock that you can walk up in 10 or 15 minutes. near the top we saw a group of early-teen girls talking about life and love. And herpes. One seemed to have a boyfriend with the affliction (as does a majority of the population if popular online information sites are to be believed. And they are, without question.). The pertinent quote the bubbled up to us as we walked past was "Were y'all kissin' on each other?" Just a few miles from downtown Nashville, and a world away.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jack's Bar-B-Que, Nashville

We didn't know Jack, but we kinda wanted to. So did a lot of our friends. Had to wait all the way past the bar next door, and through a line inside the premises too.

Here's the funny thing - there was plenty of seating. I mean, it was quiet and kinda empty. It's just that the people at the counter were the antithesis of quick and helpful. By which I mean they were slow, stupid, and uncommunicative. Having so much time in line, we were ready with our order when we finally got to the 'meat station' - here's the meatz we want, these sidez, let's go! But the guy behind the counter was all confuddled by this, as if he couldn't remember more than one meat item at a time.

Jack's on Broadway does have an awesome sign though, eh? The neon flying pigs are indeed animated at night.
Here's our order. I just don't think it's that hard. Pulled plate, rib plate, extra brisket sandwich. Jack isn't big on flexibility, so we had to get the junk bread wrapped around the brisket.

Cornbread's good here. Coleslaw OK, apples canned and boring (or cooked so as to resemble nothing so much as canned, boring apples). Cucumber salad is a nice diversion, not something you hardly never see at no barbecue places.

The ribs had been left to set a spell, so while they were tender inside and heavily bark-y outside, they were a bit dry. You never know. They were more edible than some. The pork I remember as being kinda dry too, even though we watched the guy chopping it (maybe I should call it chopped instead of pulled). The brisket I don't remember. I know it's been over a month since I was there, but when stuff is good, I remember it.

Better luck tomorrow. This is 4 out of the 5 places we went to, and #5 was best. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Martin's BBQ Joint, Nolensville (Nashville)

Research had indicated...
Aww hell, I was just googling. Everyone likes to say "I deeply researched this issue" when they really mean they googled it for 2 minutes. But I spent a good 30 googling barbecue in Nashville. I felt like I could tell from the relative lack of informed discussionz that it wasn't going to be that good. There were two standouts, and this right here is one of them.

I don't usually hold with this style of decoration. Which I think of as 'TGI Friday's". And I hope you don't think me an elitist.

Awww, hell, go ahead and think me an elitist. It's true. I just like good stuff. And I like good ribs, and I'm not shy about saying so when something's bad.
Nor am I shy about slapping my grandma upside the head when something is good, and these right here were good. If I really got into ribs I'd know what cut these were, because it was different from what I think of as 'normal' ribs. Maybe it's 'Kansas City', or maybe it's 'baby back'. The distinguishing feature is a flap of meat that rides up on top, making each rib bigger and meatier and more satisfying then it otherwise has a right to be.

The other distinguishing feature of the ribs is that damn spice that they blanketed the top with. I couldn't place it, and it's probably their secret spice, and it completely ruined things for me. I scraped off most of it off since there was SO MUCH that the layer adhered to the moist rib was covered by a mound of still-dry spice. Ack, why ruin a really-very-good rib this way?

Martin's smokes their pork whole-hog, which is an impressive undertaking, and all the more so because they get it done well. The ribs were exemplary, in part because they seemed to have come out of the smoker pretty freshly - a lot of places really feel like the meat has been sittin a spell before it's served. The pulled and brisket above haven't stayed in my mind, so I'd advise you to straight for ribs and a beer. ANd I WOULD advise you to make the drive down to Nolensville.

I have spoken (again).
(615) 776-1856

Hog Heaven, Nashville

Did I own up about this yet? I coerced Leonard into meeting me in Nashville mainly so I could try playing a $60,000 banjo. (In other news, the $100,000 mandolin on the wall above it was really awesome.) And eat a lot of barbecue. Only when I started researchin, it didn't seem like there was any really great barbecue in Nashville.

Hog Heaven stood out as a contender, one of the places that was purty good, and it was also across the street from our hotel. I mean, front-line-from-the-front-door. We went for lunch today, and Leonard seemed to like it so much that he got it again for a morning snack the next day (although he regretted that when I made him eat at other barbecue places for lunch and dinner after that).

I'm all crazy with the panorama on the keitai these days, so you can see what it looks like around here. This is substantially all the seating - two long picnic tables under the shed. Fortunately this is also on the edge of Centennial Park, so there's no lack of grass seating, or benches if you walk a little.

Well, here's what your money gets you. What looks like a bun is actually, not for the first time, the corn pancakes that Nashvillains call 'corn bread'. Sides were average. In truth, I thought the meat was average too - not overly smoky or porkym which is a shame considering you could smell the smoker from right outside the hotel. What tha point? The sauce could be a highlight for some; it's kept hot, and it's medium spicy and plenty vinegary. For a regular place around Chicago, I'd be quite happy with this. But for being in Tennessee, I was disappointed.

Y'all might be too. Perhaps you should get the chicken-and-white-sauce that they say is their specialty?
(615) 329-1234

One attraction in the park is of course the Parthenon - this is what the good burghers of Nashville did for fun 100 years ago when they were trying to show how cultured and European they were. Things have come to a pretty pass when it's all barbecue and country music these days, and none of the finer things in classical edutainment.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bar-B-Cutie, Nashville

What's up there, sweet cheeks? Leonard and I flew in to Nashville for a long weekend men's trip. Nothing sordid ensued unless you count 5 meals of barbecue in 3 days as sordid. And my intestines sorta did. You know I don't eat that much meat these days.

So I got in after him due to flooding around my departure airport, we picked up a car, and I immediately suggested barbecue. I had scoped the vicinity a little and knew some of the higher-toned establishments that I wanted to try, and also some of the chains. Right near the airport there turned out to be a Whitt's; we pulled in to the parking lot and were so turned off by the obvious fast-foodishness of it that we pulled back out. This branch of Bar-B-Cutie was nearby; I think it's the second company-owned one, from back before they started franchising it out.

You know, it's pretty fast-foody in its own right, with smooth and soulless upgrades to the interior that to my mind clash with the nice retro exterior (which in turn clashes with the soulless nature of the strip malls nearby). I was put off by it, but it was getting late and we were hungry, and what the hell. So we ordered up a mess of food, in what quickly became the pattern for meals all weekend (because it's the pattern for me every time I eat barbecue, and I get annoyed if a restaurant doesn't allow it) - ribs, pulled, brisket, sides.

The ribs were extremely salty but soft enough, and tasty. I believe the pulled was dry here and required a lot of sauce. Brisket I don't remember, which isn't an exciting sign. Fried okra was good, turnip greens and stuffing were not. The pickle bar is a fun addition to the options as well. This was the first, but certainly not the last, time that we got 'corn bread', and it turned out to be little pancakes. That's the style around here.

OK if you need it, otherwise go somewhere more interesting. 
(615) 872-0207

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Angelo's, Fort Worth

So I was in Forth Worth for about 20 hours to have a little meeting. We got in early, visited some stores of the retailer we were meeting, and then were left with 2+ hours of dead time. My colleague, Hoor, looked at me and said "Barbecue" and we were off. It was like a little mad dash to work the phones, seeing what kinda options were available and what showed up where on the best-of lists.

We settled on Angelo's since it was ranked up there and was also close to the meeting location. And I say 'settled', because it's on White Settlement Road, and that prompted more than a few chuckles from us. I was getting ready to say that it's funny how some other bloggers comment on the road's name as being a racist hangover when clearly it's just called that because the White family first settled the area...but no, the town of White Settlement got its name to distinguish it from the nearby Indian settlement.

We opened the doors, got a big whiff of smoke in the face, and said "This is the place." At 11 on a Tuesday, it wasn't that crowded.

I'm shamelessly poaching this picture from the Googlez so y'all can see what it's like inside. And I say 'poaching', because I'm not at all sure where Angelo got all the trophy heads mounted on his walls (nor am I sure how a Sicilian immigrant became the best barbecue smoker in all of the White Settlement). Angelo also likes to 'poach' beers, as we used to say in high school - big goblets of beer. It seemed like almost a requirement to drink one, probably 20 ounces in a half-domed cup with a chunky glass handle. Old ladies had 'em.

Old ladies had big-ass piles of meat in front of em too. Everything's bigger in Texas, including our eyes as we ordered this lunch. I'm not shy about eating, and Hoor is a much healthier boy than me, so we got at least two pounds to nibble on. The ribs on the right were, seriously, the best I've had. I don't feel compelled to go into detail about their smokiness or fattiness or softness or what have you - if I say 'good barbecue', I give you credit for having at least a working knowledge of the genre, and these were the epi-tome of said genre. Brisket in the middle is a Texas thing in general, and was much better than the iffy version I had in Charlotte back in May last year (I see I didn't even blog it, which is prolly fitting). The sausages were fantastic - one meaty guy and one spicy guy - maybe I should be checking out the 'hot links' more often at these places? They do a smoked head cheese too; the staff seemed very proud of it, but we were chicken. (Let's not talk about the sauce or sides, OK?)

I'm unsure what else you need to know here. I went to Nashville a few weeks later, visited 5 barbecue restaurants in 3 days, and would trade all of 'em for another lunch at Angelo's. Plus they ship meat, at very reasonable prices.

Another thing, I don't see anyone on the message boards saying this is NOT the best barbecue in Ft Worth.