31 July 2009

Friday Night Slice, from Africa

Friday Night Slice has been on hiatus throughout July, but will return next week continuing on our quest to find the best pizza in Middle Tennessee.

I took a break from the blogging as I traveled to Kenya to work with children in Kitui and in the Kibera slum of Nairobi.



During my stay in Kenya, I was served many local dishes (rice, kale, potato, roots, pumpkin leaves and other things), but pizza is not a commonly served dish.



Around Nairobi, there are several "Pizza Inn" take-out and delivery locations (unrelated to the American franchisee) that serve a wide variety of pizzas with unique topping combinations - a popular one, interestingly, is the barbecue pork pizza. But where I was able to order a slice of pizza towards the end of my trip was in the upscale Westgate Centre on the west side of town.



The pizza was a rustic, farmhouse-style pie baked in rectangular metal pans inside large electric ovens. The crust was good; it had a very average doughy flavor with a heavy dusting of flour where it was hand-rolled and pushed into the pan. The sauce was very distinct and while it was a thick, tomato-based sauce, it had spices that my palette was unable to identify. Overall, it was somewhat sweet with very earthy flavors and a little tiny bit of heat. Pepperoni was not a topping option (prosciutto, mushrooms, spinach and broccoli are the most commonly chosen), so I simply went with cheese. Like the Italians, these Kenyan chefs used a thick, creamy buffalo mozzarella. All of the buffalo mozzarella that I've tasted in the past (primarily on pizzas throughout central and Northern Italy) has a rich, buttery taste. The cheese on this pizza had the rich, complex flavor that I would expect, but it was a little more on the sour side and a lot heavier on the salt than I enjoy. Thankfully, I was not in Kenya for the pizza.

I had an extraordinary trip, but am glad to be home with my family and will get back to talking pizza with you again very soon!


* * * * *

Coming Soon - Brothers' Pizza Company in Franklin, Mineo's Wings, Pizza and Raw Bar in Cool Springs and more!

29 July 2009

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Bone Suckin' Sauce



Bone Suckin' Sauce. I'll tell you right off the bat that this sauce gets an 'A'. This is one is special. It's one of those sauces that from the first taste is just right on. It's a Western Carolina-style sauce, and based on the last few Western Carolina sauces I've tried, I'm beginning to think that they're onto something over there. True to form, one is thin - just barely coating a spoon. It's got an unassuming, slightly sweet aroma. The flavor is just a little bit sweeter than you think it will be, for a sauce this thin. But of course there's a lot of vinegar flavor, too. In fact, it's perhaps the most perfect blend of sweet and tangy that I've yet encountered. It's the golden ratio, baby! And there's more great flavors just below the surface - notes of bright citrus, tingly pepper, and mellow onion. Really, the only way it could be better is if it was a little bit spicier. But hey, they make a hot version, so maybe that's the ticket.

Grade: A

24 July 2009

BBQ IN THE NEWS: Bar-B-Cutie goes Back-to-Back!



Once might have been a fluke, but twice in a row is clearly a trend. The Tennessean's readers have spoken, and local chain Bar-B-Cutie is once again not only the best barbecue restuarant, but the best overall restaurant in Nashville. Yes, the Toast of Music City award winners were unveiled today, and once again there are gaffes. I am especially baffled by the award for best burger going to...Steak-Out?

Bar-B-Cutie once again cleaned up, winning best barbecue and best overall, and finishing third in both "Best Lunch" and "Friendliest Family Dining". Last year, I wondered whether there was some initiative by Bar-B-Cutie to get out the vote, or if, unbeknownst to me, the place really is that popular with Middle Tennesseans. I visited a Bar-B-Cutie earlier this year, and while the ribs were lackluster, the pulled pork sandwich was actually not that bad. So I guess I can conceive of them winning the barbecue category. But Bar-B-Cutie winning best overall restaurant completely destroys the credibility of the whole awards. Again. Once might have been a fluke, but twice in a row is clearly a trend.

If the moon were made of bbq spare ribs, would you eat it?

If fast food were presented to you a little differently, would you be more inclined to eat it? Check out these, deconstructed then reconstructed, fast food meals at FancyFastFood.com. I guess you could consider this molecular gastronomy on a budget.

23 July 2009

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Black Swan



Did you know - the recipe for the first barbecue sauce ever created came from the cook on a British trading ship?



Just to be clear, that's Black SWAN, not that other notorious British trading vessel - the Black ROCK.

Anyway, with its centuries old recipe, the sauce claims to be "all natural." But like some other products that claim to be all natural, it does contain high fructose corn syrup.

Did you know - unlike "organic," for which there are strict FDA requirements that must be met, there are no specific FDA requirements to use the word "natural" in a product description?

As much as I kid, though, Black Swan's sauce does have a decidedly earthy, wholesome flavor. The sauce tastes more strongly of tomato than most, with onion, pepper, and garlic complements. There is a little bit of brown sugar sweetness and a little bit of vinegary tang. It's not cloyingly sweet or overwhelmingly spicy, just a nice unassuming fresh flavor.

Grade: B+

Music Thursday: Sympathy For The Devil

The Rolling Stones - Sympathy For The Devil

21 July 2009

Sympathy Food

Nothing says "You're In My Prayers" like a bowl of mac and cheese.

Today I read about an interesting new business: sympathy food. The folks at SympathyFood.com have taken a new slant on the concept of comfort food, selling turkey dinners, pies, and yes, mac and cheese to comfort loved ones in times of sorrow. Started by former funeral home director David Storke, Sympathy Food offers a "comforting alternative to flowers."



I'm sorry for your loss. Enjoy these pork chops.

May your memories - and these pinto beans - bring you comfort.

A sun sets on Earth, a sun rises in Heaven. Warm at 250 degrees for 25 minutes.

20 July 2009

NASHVILLE BARBECUE: Part 14 - Catching up in Nashville



Before we continue our counterclockwise trek around Nashville's surrounding counties, I wanted to take a look at a couple of new barbecue restaurants in the city that are generating some buzz.



East Nashville has a new takeaway barbecue joint. Phil's Bar-B-Que is the first one of the east side's barbecue places to actually be located on the area's main commercial corridor - Gallatin Road. It's located just south of Trinity Lane in tiny building with twin drive-thru windows. Despite the presence of a cooker on the back of the truck in the picture, I think that most of the actual cooking is done on a permanently constructed cooker under those trees behind the restaurant (you can just barely see it).



Any hot sauce with a posted warning is serious business!



The sandwich comes overflowing with pulled pork, unadorned by sauce or anything else. And although the meat was a bit dry, it was generously seasoned, having a rich, savory, salty taste. The bark pieces were especially tasty.



On both occasions that I visited Phil's, the ribs left some to be desired. They are St. Louis style spare ribs with a lot of meat on the bones. And although the ribs generally had good flavor, the texture was off. They were cooked past falling-off-the-bone to the point where the meat had a mushy, almost gelatinous texture. Hopefully they will improve as the place continues to work out the kinks.



Barbecue comes to the Gulch. In a nice counterpoint to all of the trendy urban professional-oriented chains that have been popping up in this neighborhood, Jimmy Carl's Lunch Box has opened in a familiar setting - the Station Inn.



I love the Station Inn so much. It's on the short list of things that I always try to recommend to visitors from out of town, especially if they can go on a Monday night and see the Time Jumpers. As the landscape around it continues to be transformed into Condo Paradise, the Station Inn is morphing from typical neighborhood joint to cultural anomaly, and that just makes me love it more.

One of the things that's been mentioned a lot already about the Jimmy Carl's experience is how naturally the Station Inn transitions from music venue to barbecue joint. In terms of atmosphere, proprietors Pat Isbey and Russell Nelson could not have asked for a better location. The interior of the place literally feels like a 50 year old barbecue joint.



All of the meat is cooked on a newly constructed concrete slab outside the building in a large offset smoker. The side items are prepared at another kitchen offsite, because the Station Inn has no kitchen!



As you can see, the pulled pork sandwich is overflowing with meat - I challenge you to find the bottom bun in the picture. The meat is fresh and tender, with lots of smoke flavor and the hot barbecue sauce is a great addition.



The ribs are outstanding. Not only were they cooked to perfect tenderness, they were cooked to perfect tenderness each time that I visited, and that is saying something in a business where consistency can be tough to come by. The meat is not falling off the bone, but pulls away easily with each bite, leaving clean bone behind. The seasoning and flavor of the ribs seem to be still slightly evolving. The smoke flavor, which was a bit strong on my first visit, has been toned down since. The ribs are not sauced, which is normally not my preference, but in this case there is lots of flavor provided by the generously applied rub.

One thing that I immediately noticed on the menu is that at the bottom, it says "Try the Beans." And after trying them, let me reiterate the message - "try the beans." They are about the best baked beans that I've had in a restaurant, this side of Gates & Sons. Three different kinds of beans, lots of chunks of pork and beef, onions, and they are plenty sweet, too.

Highlights: Jimmy Carl's ribs (Real Good)

Disclaimer: Please note that these reports are based on particular servings of barbecue at a particular day and time. Barbecue can be prone to fluctuation. Your experiences may vary.

More reports in this series:
Part 1 - The Legends
Part 2 - The Chain Gang
Part 3 - Local Chains
Part 4 - Jefferson Street
Part 5 - Clarksville Highway
Part 6 - East Nashville
Part 7 - The West Side
Part 8 - Memphis Imports
Part 9 - T for Texas
Part 10 - Williamson County
Part 11 - Murfreesboro
Part 12 - La Vergne & Smyrna
Part 13 - Wilson County
Part 14 - Catching Up in Nashville
Part 15 - Hendersonville & White House
Part 16 - Portland & Gallatin
Part 17 - Robertson County
Part 18 - Dickson County
Part 19 - "Barbecue by any other name..."
Part 20 - Places We Missed
Part 21 - More Places We Missed

16 July 2009

Music Thursday: Jack-Ass



It's a strange invitation...and it's kind of a strange look for Beck, isn't it? I don't remember him ever being so clean cut. He looks kind of like Dave Foley. Or Richie Cunningham. Anyway, I think Odelay is still probably the best thing he's ever done. Where else are you going to hear a song that samples a donkey?

15 July 2009

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Hog's Ass



Not to be confused with biting a WARThog's ass, which apparently can make you very sick.



This is another one by Sauce Crafters. Like the label says, this one is HOT!, powered by the notorious habanero pepper. But it's got a great complex flavor that goes beyond simple scorched earth - a little bit sweet and tangy, with garlic and lots of onion bits floating around. But still...HOT!

Grade: A-

1st Annual Slow Cooker Competition

The Food Network Southern Food & Wine Festival at Gaylord Opryland takes place on July 31 - August 2. This event is a combination of seminars, cooking demos, and high dollar meals with Food Network celebs. They are also introducing the 1st Annual Slow Cooker Competition. Entry Fees are $350.00 but will be reduced to $50.00 if the contestant stays at the hotel Friday & Saturday night. So get your pot roast ready and start slow cookin'. The first 80 people to sign up are in it to win it.

Here are the rules:
Contest Rules:

1. Each contestant:
1. Will be furnished with a 6ft. prep table and a 6ft. cooking table as well as a Slow Cooker and electrical outlet.
2. Will be given same “bonus” ingredients at the same time on Monday before the competition. Each of the “bonus” ingredients may be used.
3. Will be given same “staple” ingredients at the same time on Monday before the competition. Minimum three of the five “staple” ingredients must be used.
4. Must bring their own personal cooking utensils including any knives, spoons, cutting boards, measuring spoons & cups, etc. No utensils will be provided to any contestant.
5. Will turn in their dish at 3pm for judging.


2. Judging:
1. Each contestants dish will be judged on the following:

+ Creativity
+ Taste
+ Temperature
+ Appearance

2. Judges panel will be made up of three local Chefs and all decisions are final.

Anyone interested in entering should submit your application via mail to Amanda Taylor, Gaylord Opryland Special Events, 2802 Opryland Drive, Nashville, TN 37214, or email it to ataylor@gaylordhotels.com

09 July 2009

Music Thursday: Trunk Fulla Amps

Got Trunk Fulla Amps?

Self - Trunk Fulla Amps (Radio Edit)

08 July 2009

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Charlie's Hard Times Honey Mustard



It's recession buster barbecue sauce! Sauce Crafters sells a wide variety of different sauces - most of them hot sauces, all of them with colorful names (I am especially fond of Sauce Bitch, and its accompanying press release "Want to Buy Some Sauce Bitch"). The theme here is "subprime lending crisis," with a down and out businessman burning stock certificates in a 55 gallon barrel on the label, and the following message.



If you're wondering just how "not rich" the price is, vis-a-vis our discussion last week, it's $5.00 for a 12 ounce bottle, which comes out to about 42 cents per ounce. That puts it somewhere in the neighborhood of the most expensive barbecue sauces not named Williams-Sonoma. Oh well, I suppose it's still a clever theme.

It's called a "honey mustard barbecue sauce," and in this case, the mustard is definitely the dominant part of the equation - this is no sissy sweet honey mustard. The bite of the mustard is bold, aided by vinegar, but there is just enough sweetness to keep it from being overwhelming. And I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a barbecue sauce made by a hot sauce company has some heat to it, too. Overall, this sauce has great flavor and a smooth consistency, and it would be a great complement to pork, but also probably pretty good with some chicken tenders.

Grade: B+

07 July 2009

Hot As Cluck Debuts @ The Hot Chicken Fest

On July 4th team Ulika jumped into a phone booth to become Hot As Cluck Fried Chicken. What was the occasion? Well, it was the Nashville Hot Chicken Festival of course. Here are some pics from our adventure. Congrats to Pollo Sauve for taking home the trophy. They only announced the winner, but we are pretty sure that we finished second (at least in our minds). We had a great time out at East Park and we want to thank the festival origanizers for allowing us to participate and to all of our supporters (you know who you are).


Prince's Vending Crew


Honorary Ulika Members


Trimming the Chicken


Using the Thermapen to make sure the oil is just right


Wet Hand, Dry Hand


If it comes in a dropper you know it's HOT.


Cooking chicken


Adding the finishing touches


Secret Ingredient


Former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell trying to shigg me


Our Hot Chicken Turn-In


The Judging Begins


Drivin & Fryin


Team Rutledge


Pollo Sauve in action


The winner - Pollo Sauve

04 July 2009

Music City Hot Chicken Festival



We're headed to the Music City Hot Chicken Festival - follow my tweets for all of the updates and check back here in the next few days for photos and results.

Happy 4th of July!

01 July 2009

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Williams-Sonoma Maple Mesquite BBQ Sauce



I love Williams-Sonoma. I know it's totally yuppie, but they have good shit. And when I can afford it, I like to buy good shit. And while most everything at Williams-Sonoma is expensive, I have always found their foodstuffs to be especially outrageously priced. $14 for a jar of tomato relish? Yep. $28.00 for a 3 ounce jar of truffled salt? Yep. And those frozen croissants that Oprah likes so much? $39.95 for 15. So I really shouldn't be suprised that their barbecue sauce is no exception.



Thirteen bucks for about 18 fluid ounces of barbecue sauce. That comes out to about $0.72 per fluid ounce. Let's see how that compares with other commercially available barbecue sauces.



Yep. Even some of the biggest names in the barbecue business - notorious gravy trainers like Rendezvous and Arthur Bryant's - are charging just over half what Williams-Sonoma is per fluid ounce. But hey, it's Williams-Sonoma. I'm sure people will pay it.

Okay, so it's a little expensive. It might be worth it if it's really good. So how does this high dollar barbecue sauce actually taste? Not very good, I'm afraid. I'm not sure what they were going for in the test kitchen where this was conceived (other than maybe a marketable combination of culinary buzzwords). Maple and mesquite are not two flavors that I would have thought would go well together, and, at least in this case, they don't. The aroma is mysterious, with the scent of maple syrup swirling amongst the usual suspects of tomato, vinegar and worcestershire sauce. The flavor is nothing short of strange - the strong distinct flavor of maple syrup gives way to a tangy sweet smokiness. It actually tastes like it might be a pretty good barbecue sauce if they'd left out the maple syrup (or at least cut back on it). I guess in the end, this sauce is exactly what it says it is. It's maple. And it's mesquite. I just don't think it works.

Grade: C