Cafe de Cebu, Las Vegas NV

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Café de Cebu

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Krispy Kang-Kong – Crispy battered water spinach with garlic mayo dip

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Ngo-yong – Cebu’s Chinese Fried Vegetable Lumpia made up of ubod, palm heart flavored with Chinese five-spice powder called Ngohiong

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Lechon Belly de Cebu – Slow roasted and seasoned boneless pork belly

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Chicken Skin BBQ – Chicken skin marinated and grilled in our special barbecue sauce

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Halo-Halo

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Ube Cheesecake

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Cookie Butter Pie

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Located in the cozy corner of a shopping plaza on West Flamingo, Filipino stalwart Café de Cebu had long been on my radar despite a brief October closure by the Health Department for questionable refrigeration practices, and recently reminded of the space by the words of a friend it was for dinner on the night before Memorial Day that I finally stopped in to find myself the only diner in the space, a pleasant experience had thanks to 1-on-1 service more than happy to educate me on a cuisine and culture of which I admittedly have much to learn.

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Proudly displaying accolades from the local press for a sizable menu filled with traditional fare straight out of proprietor Mary Villarante’s native Philippines, a meal at Café de Cebu is likely to find unprepared or timid at a bit of a loss, but with ample descriptions provided both in print and from the waitstaff the biggest question becomes one of portions and predilections, a whole lot of offal to be found amidst items slightly more familiar, the first timer encouraged to do their research and ask advice as ‘signatures’ proved to be not only accessible, but also quite good.

Told that no diner at Cebu should go without the Ngo-yong or highly praised pork belly it was with an order of the former that dining commenced and originally serenaded by a native cooking show with subcaptions I admittedly played the ‘dumb American’ in requesting *my* native Cavaliers be turned on instead, the crunchy fried cylinders of pork and hearts of palm rich in cloves as well as allspice proving a bit too heavy to be fully enjoyed in such quantity, though certainly something worth sharing amongst friends.

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Moving on to a substantial bowl of fried spinach that thankfully suffered from far less sog than did the aforementioned eggrolls, suffice it to say that this $3.99 dish easily justifies its cost despite falling just short of that at Nittaya’s in terms of delicacy while the barbeque chicken skins glazed in sweet sauce prove an equally impressive value for just two-dollars more, even if the crisp flesh isn’t exactly the easiest thing to liberate from a thin skewer of wood.

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At this point turning my full attention to the restaurant’s signature item, my order apparently amongst the last bits left from a fifty-pound roast to begin the day, there is no doubt a reason that many have called the Lechon de Cebu one of the city’s best pieces of pork, and costing just $1 an ounce with orders as small as a half-pound available the small bowl proved just enough for one as skin shattered like glass over supple flesh, a trio of sauces ranging from fermented and funky to sweet and saline each proving more than adequate to temper the fat.

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Unfortunately sold out of several traditional sweets, but offering a few specials in addition to the laminated menu’s offerings, it was with a large bowl of Halo-Halo that a sampling of desserts began and although the purple ube ice cream was a bit less flavorful that I’d have expected the amalgam of textures beneath it was more than happy to compensate – everything from melons to corn and gelatin dispersed amongst ice crystals and cream in a portion more than adequate to share, the same not to be said of tiny circles of inconsequential pie and cheesecake, though at $2 each both the quality and quantity here, too, seemed quite fair.

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THREE STARS: Admitting a lack of familiarity with Filipino food in general there is little doubt that Café de Cebu has a lot to offer those willing to explore the menu, but with servers quick to recommend signatures that often sell out well before closing one wonders whether other items stack up – a question surely requiring a repeat visit earlier in the day, or at least as part a larger group.

RECOMMENDED: Lechon Belly de Cebu, Krispy Kang-Kong.

AVOID: Ngo-Yong unless dining with a group, and arriving late when popular items are prone to be long gone.

TIP: Currently offering $15 off $30 dining vouchers through restaurants.com, those looking for a deal would be well advised to pick one up.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

http://www.cafedecebuvegas.com/

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Posted in Cafe de Cebu, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork

Bally’s Sterling Brunch, Las Vegas NV

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Bally’s Sterling Brunch

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Perrier Jouet Champagne

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BLT Steak Popover with Butter

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(Plate 1 Lobster, Cognac, and Boursin Cheese Omelet / Grilled Lobster Tail with Drawn Butter / American Amia Caviar with Blinis and condiments)

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(Plate 2 Jonah Crab Claws / Poached Jumbo Shrimp / Steamed Alaskan King Crab / Roasted Red Pepper Frittata / Grilled Lobster Tail / American Amia Caviar / Drawn Butter)

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(Plate 3 Prosciutto Eggs Benedict / Lobster Eggs Benedict)

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(Plate 4 Lobster Ravioli / Lobster Bisque / Roasted Slab Bacon)

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(Plate 5 Bread Pudding French Toast with Caramelized Bananas / Belgian Waffles, Fresh Whipped Cream, Macerated Berries with Lemon Zest, Pure Maple Syrup)

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(Plate 6 Grilled Filet Mignon with Rosemary / Lemon Rosemary Airline Chicken Breast / Applewood Smoked Bacon / Roasted Pork Sausage / Chimichurri Crusted Rack of Lamb / Cheddar and Bacon Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes)

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(Plate 7 Lemon Tart / Chocolate Tart / Cheesecake / Pineapple Upside Down Cake / Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Ganache Suckers)

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(Plate 8 Grilled Peaches, Bacon, and Burrata / Chocolate Covered Strawberries / Mixed Nuts / Dates and Apricots / Cheddar, Brie, Blue, Idiazabal Cheese / Yogurt and Granola Parfait)

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(Plate 9 Fruit Tart / Chocolate Caramel Crunch Bar / Peanut Butter Mousse with Chocolate Ganache / Hazelnut Chocolate Tart)

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(Plate 10 Raspberry Chocolate Tart / Passion Fruit Parfait / Strawberry Parfait)

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Heavily clad in silver when it opened its doors to high rollers in 1981, Bally’s Sterling Brunch has undergone a few changes in the last thirty-four years, including a brief closure that saw it reinvented within BLT-Steak in 2014, but still considered a piece of classic Las Vegas on the ‘you’ve got to do it once’ list for locals and tourists alike a visit on the Sunday preceding Memorial Day showed the place to be still going strong even despite a doubling in price across the three decades past.

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Undeniably a pricey experience, currently tallying $90 (or $85 for those presenting a Total Rewards card,) but justified by its boutique nature with all-you-can drink Champagne, Screwdrivers, Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice, or Coffee plus a spread including Grilled Lobsters, American Caviar, and King Crab Legs that far outshine the meager offerings at overwrought spots elsewhere, arrival at the doors of BLT Steak during service is likely to be met by a short line but with reservations the wait is minimal, my 9:30am arrival seeing me seated within five minutes by a GM who showed great skill in memorizing the names of diners at several tables where he checked in frequently to make sure all going according to plan.

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Doing my best to snap a few photos before the buffet was in full swing before returning to my table to find a young waitress that was soon to be overstretched in serving more than a dozen tables, it was with champagne and coffee glass filled that the details of the dining room were described and soon given an enormous cheesy pop-over plus whipped butter by a tall male back-server the experience was underway, the airy bread exceedingly wispy beneath a soft golden shell with cheesy top-notes so pronounced that it almost led me to request another – until I recalled what treasures were to come.

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Acknowledging my limitations as relates to alcohol, and as such imbibing in only two-and-a-half glasses of Perrier Jouet along with at least three-fold as many refills of coffee during the course of my 175 minute stay, it was with a deliberate pace and path that I worked my way through the buffet’s offerings, a first plate featuring the restaurant’s heralded omelet prepped to order with 2oz of caviar, a trio of blinis, and a nicely grilled lobster tail plus freshly drawn butter at its side.

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Generally underwhelmed by buffet seafood, but immediately impressed by both the lobster as well as the caviar, a second trip saw snappy shrimp set beside another tail, more roe, plus two types of crab and although the cold pre-cracked claws were a little more grainy than I’d have hoped the King Crab was as sweet and succulent as most found in fine dining establishments spanning the strip, a follow-up of benedicts from the kitchen taking far too long to prepare and meagerly decorated with protein when compared to what customers can just as easily gather themselves.

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Taken by the delicacy of noodles surrounding lobster ravioli topped in a sauce quite similar to the bisque, but richer when thickened by hot cast iron, and more than a little surprised at just how supple the slab bacon was when sliced to order, it was here that sweets would first be sampled and although the miniature waffles topped with whipped cream and macerated fruit plus a drizzle of maple syrup were a nice balance of crisp, pliable, and yeasty the laminated pastry given a custard bath before being baked into French Toast was an absolute show-stopper, easily amongst the best in the city and far superior to many that cost $17-20 at several 24-hour cafes.

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Spending some time admiring decorations fashioned from reappropriated utensils, the restaurant now nearing half-full with several inebriated patrons pushing the noise level to a dull roar, it was unfortunate that neither the flimsy bacon nor run-of-the-mill sausage were any better than that available at a neighborhood diner while the tiny slice of filet mignon was almost inedibly cooked past well – the tender lamb chops as well as stuffed chicken proving far better seasoned and prepared on my final plate of savories before rounding out the experience in to a quartet of plates featuring small desserts, fruits, cheeses, and nuts.

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At this point losing track of the server who seemed to be covering half the room, it was to the GM that I appealed for another cup of coffee and tasting through each of the sweets presented from the bar up front only two items really stood out – the hazelnut tart for its ability to reinvent Nutella into an ever-so-light mousse and the Cheesecake whose sour thickness was absolutely the opposite, a far better bite found in a small bowl of grilled peaches and candied bacon atop fresh pulled burrata that sat unannounced on the cold bar next to an equally fresh berry and yogurt parfait.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Without a doubt an experience, the quality of the cuisine and beverages easily justifying the cost for fans of shellfish and those capable of drinking their fair share of bubbly brut, Sterling Buffet lived up to its ‘bucket list’ billing as one of those places that everyone should try once, the impetus to return a matter of tastes and budget, particularly in a city where far more vast spreads can be found at a mere fraction of the cost.

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RECOMMENDED: Lobster Tails, Caviar and Blinis, Roasted Slab Bacon, Bread Pudding French Toast with Caramelized Bananas, Hazelnut Chocolate Tart, Grilled Peaches with Bacon and Burrata.

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AVOID: Benedicts, Filet Mignon, Jonah Crab Claws, Cheesecake.

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TIP: Aside from the obvious fact that the free Total Rewards program will save each diner $5, those gambling frequently within the Harrah’s properties would be well advised to inquire about comps, the two tables adjacent to mine clearly known to waiters who addressed each man by name and never presented them a bill.

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WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor

https://www.caesars.com/ballys-las-vegas/restaurants/sterling-brunch#.VWaS0enbJ9A

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Pied Piper Eatery, Nashville TN

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Pied Piper Eatery

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Monty “Python” Cristo – Ham, Turkey, Cheese on Texas Toast, Hand Battered and Fried with Raspberry Sauce and Powdered Sugar

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White Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese

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I’m Goin’ to Graceland (half) – Peanut Butter, Banana, Honey on White Bread, Hand Battered and Deep Fried with Powdered Sugar, served with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

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Pecan Pie

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Chess Pie

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Cinnamon Sugar Bread Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream

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Continuing on despite the recent passing of its owner, Becky Piper, Pied Piper Eatery was the third stop on Tuesday’s breakfast triathlon and with Led Zeppelin followed by The Who, Doors, and Stones quickly playing on entry as tables featuring all four bands plus severeal were found throughout the dining room I knew right away that we were in for an experience, the food in some ways an effect of the concept but quite creative and tasty just the same.

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Greeted by a young woman with ‘old-timey’ mannerisms that seemed surprisingly natural considering her age and side-job fronting a local rock band it was a clever all-day menu both in names and compositions that we investigated, the eventual order entailing one entrée, one included side, and four desserts from which only the odd custard based Pecan Pie was less impressive than the descriptions implied.

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For all intents and purposes a locals oriented rock n’ roll diner with a small prep kitchen tucked behind a white wall with more seating than I’ d imagine is usually necessary, it was with only three other parties present that our meal at Pied Piper took place and opting to have everything delivered at once as a matter of schedule it was to quite the smorgasbord that we were treated, the white macaroni and cheese surprisingly well made with plenty of sharp cheddar balanced by buttery notes atop soft, spiral pasta while the steamy square of bread pudding, proudly touted as being without raisins, was bold with cinnamon and sweetness beneath a melting ball of creamy vanilla ice cream.

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Having already mentioned the pecan pie, it was the seemingly the exact same pie minus pecans that served as Pied Piper’s take on Chess and although far better here than with the nuts the flavor was still somewhat ‘off’ compared to others in the area, the far better investment being a pair of deep-fried specialties including the Presley inspired “I’m Goin’ to Graceland” with honey, bananas, and peanut butter and far too infrequently seen legitimate Monty Cristo, a hand battered stack of ham, turkey, and cheese on Texas toast given a quick bath in hot oil before being patted dry and paired with housemade raspberry puree for a taste both sweet and savory that by itself more than justifies a visit to Pied Piper…in this case, the concept most definitely secondary to the cuisine.

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http://piedpipereatery.com/

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Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Nashville, Pied Piper Eatery, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Yeast, Nashville TN

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Yeast

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Blueberry Kolache

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Cinnamon Roll

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Cinnamon Chocolate Chip French Toast Casserole

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Unapologetically targeting a Breakfast triple-header since later days would largely see my mornings absorbed by the conference for which I was in town, stop two on Tuesday was at East Nashville’s Yeast and known to be the local home of the Kolache I was pleased to find at least a half-dozen takes on the regionally celebrated interpretation of a Czech/Slovak specialty, the eventual order settling on a sticky blueberry circle that was still warm to touch with stewed blueberries sitting at the center of a yeasty, lightly sweet rim.

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Featuring an open kitchen set amidst a small row of buildings housing several local businesses Yeast is without a doubt a mom n’ pop place with a reputation built largely on word of mouth, and with two young ladies providing top-notch service with a smile to a steady stream of traffic it was much to my delight that in addition to the Kolaches two of my other personal favorites were being offered that morning, the ‘casserole’ a substantial upgrade on any savory amalgam of meat and eggs instead featuring bread soaked in custard overnight with ample pockets of chocolate and a light bit of cinnamon that lingered on with each bite.

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Already impressed, but happy to seek a recommendation from servers who seemed to really enjoy what they do, I was told by both ladies that although unauthentic the Cinnamon Roll made from the same dough as the Kolache was perhaps the small bakery’s best item and although the item was saved until later given our extensive eating agenda a gentle rewarming to melt the frosting showed the staff opinions to be true, the pillowy base formed into a gentle curl around butter and cinnamon with frosting that was of the more tangy variety, yet still sweet enough to let you know that what you’re eating is about as indulgent as it comes.

http://www.yeastnashville.com/

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Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Nashville, Tennessee, Vacation, Yeast

Sky Blue Café, Nashville TN

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Sky Blue Café

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Drew’s Brews Coffee

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Croque Madame – Ham, Swiss, French Toast, Hollandaise, Sunny Side Egg

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Brie French Toast – Drizzled with Honey

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PB&J Stuffed French Toast Pancakes

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Unamused by almost every aspect of Pancake Pantry on Monday it was a bit off the grid that breakfasts ventured the following day, and heading to trendy East Nashville where a small corner spot in a residential neighborhood houses Sky Blue Café the experience was a veritable one-eighty from all the hype, a down homey spot full of creativity with great coffee in endless quantity from a local vendor known simply as Drew’s Brews.

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Certainly catering to the growing hipster and wannabe musician population inhabiting much of the area, Sky Blue Café is the sort of place where local artists decorate the walls while community events such as Cornhole tournaments are advertised alongside boardgames it was just seconds after seating that a young man who looked fresh-from-bed greeted us with stubble and an Iggy Pop T-Shirt, orders soon taken and delivered directly from the kitchen by a woman with a huge crown of braids who joked that we’d likely bitten off more than we could chew.

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Dimly lit on the interior, but bathed with sunlight from a lovely day outdoors, it was with great gusto that we tucked in after a long morning run, and starting savory before moving onward to sweets the Americanized take on Croque Madame with French Toast and buttery Hollandaise was inauthentic yet excellent, the Tennessee ham particularly briny but well balanced by cheese, sauce, and egg.

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Refilled with coffee for the umpteenth time, never once requiring a request, it was next the French Toast sandwich stuffed with Brie that caught our attention and although the cheese itself was expectedly mild the addition of honey brought out some of the more creamy notes, no such subtlety necessary or found in the French Toast Pancakes that literally saw two slices of eggy French Toast stuffed with peanut butter and jelly lodged between two pillowy buttermilk pancakes, a meta-food that from my perspective puts the Turducken to shame.

http://skybluecoffee.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Nashville, Pancakes, Pork, Sky Blue Café, Tennessee, Vacation

Josephine, Nashville TN

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Josephine

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Pretzel Bread, House Mustard, Butter

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Charred Snap Peas, Goat Cheese, Radish, Spring Herbs, Bread Crumbs, Honey Lavender

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Bibb Lettuce, Bacon, Croutons, Radishes, Herb Buttermilk Dressing

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Scrapple, Compressed Strawberries, Balsamic Vinegar

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Mustard Dumpling, Pork, Mushrooms, Spring Herbs, Peas

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Spring Pea Agnolotti, Candied Carrot Sauce

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Risotto, Duck, Asparagus, Crimini Mushroom, Lemon

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Housemade Pappardelle, Assorted Mushrooms, Pecorino

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Chocolate and Salty Caramel Tart with Opal Basil, Orange Zest, Meyer Lemon, Chocolate Crunch

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Considered to be one of Nashville’s most inspired kitchens it was somewhat unfortunate that a seat at Josephine’s newly launched 10-by-10 dinner could not be found during my stay, but taking the opportunity to instead dine with my mother and aunt it was just after 7:00pm that we were seated in the restaurant’s front left corner, the unforgiving chairs and pillowed banquets not exactly an ideal arrangement for a long meal, but better than being crowded around the excessively loud bar.

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Admittedly far louder than one might expect for a restaurant considered by some to be ‘fine dining,’ the service at Josephine was perhaps equally surprising with a young staff that was not only a bit less refined than I’d expected, but also a bit discombobulated when it came to describing plates and presenting a bill that nearly doubled the price of a pre-ordered “Large Format” dessert I’d been quoted a price of $35 for when securing it with a credit card just two days before.

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Taking a sort of pan-European approach to Southern ingredients with an ingredient steeped in seasonality and local produce it was with a few questions answered that an order was assembled, the $7 loaf of steaming hot pretzel bread arriving in a matter of minutes along with two salads including lightly charred snap peas with goat cheese and honey from which not a single unimpressive taste or texture would be found.

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Onward with small plates, course two featured a pair of the more interesting plates offered on a menu with no lack of creativity and intrigue, and as much as the description of scrapple may turn some people off it can only be said the version served at Josephine is a whole different ballgame, the compressed meat treated to a light breadcrumb coating and served with elegance amidst greens and balsamic to reign in the natural sapor without burying it, a similar degree of subtlety discovered in poorly named ‘mustard dumplings’ that instead presented like pan-seared Parisian gnocchi with only a hint of the ingredient amidst a rich stew of pork, mushrooms, and peas.

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Having discovered the housemade pastas in the Volunteer State to be almost universally on par with some of the best throughout the United States it was in two plus a plate of creamy risotto that savories would culminate after an unexplained thirty minute delay and although the crispy skinned duck was rosy and rich atop risotto that was marred by too much citrus both the ribbons of al dente pappardelle and tender agnolotti were picture perfect, the morels atop the former a very pleasant surprise while the sweet carrot reduction was as boldly flavored as it was colored, each bite leaving me to wonder if a better spin on peas and carrots has ever been prepared.

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Having already mentioned the pricing issue related to dessert, it was equally perplexing that the already prepared tart was presented in whole tableside before being returned to the kitchen where it took nearly twenty minutes to cut, but setting aside these issues one would be hard pressed to find fault in a single aspect of the dish, a large number of discrepant ingredients coming together to form a flavor profile that ran the gamut from bitter ganache to milk chocolate rocks atop a lacquer of salty caramel while light sours from Meyer Lemon and orange zest melded seamlessly beneath the aromatics of freshly cut opal basil that lingered on the palate, if only for a moment, following each bite.

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www.josephineon12th.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Dessert, Food, Josephine, Josephine on 12th, Nashville, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Nashville TN

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Hattie B’s

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Medium White with Pimento Mac n’ Cheese

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Hot Dark with Red Skin Potato Salad

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Banana Pudding

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Peach Cobbler

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Taking a trip to Belle Meade Plantation between meals three and four it was just prior to the post-work rush that we entered the original Hattie B’s, and finding almost no wait where a nearly two hour line would be noted just a few days later when we passed by it was on the outdoor covered patio that we indulged, nearly every item selected proving exactly how much quality ingredients benefit everything from soul food to fine dining as the fried chicken proved to be amongst the two or three best I’ve ever tasted, a subjectively high standard to say the least.

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Opened near Vanderbilt as recently as 2012 by a father and son team known for their previous work at a nearby Meat-and-Three, Hattie B’s has skyrocketed to the top of most local “hot chicken” lists and receiving long lines of patrons as well as accolades a first bite of the juicy bird immediately explains the fervor – a light bit of heat found in the medium while a great depth of spice but no unnecessarily scorching peppers permeate the “hot” option, a few more degrees available to those interested but not something my Midwestern-born palate was willing to chance on that particular day.

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Equally impressed with Pimento tinged Macaroni and Cheese, and truly surprisingly by skin-on Potato Salad that eschewed all the mustard in favor of cream and acid to balance the bite, it was with a duo of desserts that the meal finished up, the pudding a rather standard rendition with some of the ‘Nilla Wafers left crunchy while the cobbler with fresh peaches was an early summer treat with a whole lot of sweetness that I rather wish I’d have ordered a la mode.

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http://www.hattieb.com/

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Posted in Dessert, Food, Hattie B’s, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Nashville, Tennessee, Vacation

Peg Leg Porker, Nashville TN

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Peg Leg Porker

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Shoulder, Smoked Green Beans, Mac n’ Cheese

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Fried Peach Pie

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Picked for its clever name, strong reviews, and proximity to Arnold’s Country Kitchen it was just after one o’clock that a table at Peg Leg Porker was found and approaching the counter where disappointment was allocated in disinterested service and a death of almost any branded T-shirt made for persons less than Jumbo-sized a small order was none-the-less procured – the “shout a name over the cacophony” service structure not really conducive to a pleasant experience even with the room less than 1/4 full.

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Owned and operated by Carey Bringle, a locally raised man with an intriguing story including survival from childhood cancer that saw his right leg amputated, it should go without saying that much like any place I visit I really wanted to like Peg Leg Porker, and given the Pit-Master’s story plus dedication to the community it was while waiting that I wandered the large room – an indoor bar juxtaposing the outside patio with enough décor to tell the space’s story and accolades without being tacky – no small feat considering several other spots for ‘cue spread across the USA.

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Still a bit put off by the young female cashier who acted as though any small question was a dramatic waste of her time it was perhaps ten minutes before the order was called out and taking the hickory smoked shoulder plus two sides to the table only to be called back 3 minutes later for a another item suffice it to say that the meat had cooled slightly by the time I finally took a taste, the smoky sapor of the pork quite pleasant on its own and best off left that way as both the mild and hot sauce proved far too tomato laden to be properly enjoyed.

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Moving on to sides, a place where several have said Bringle and his team excel, there is good reason to believe the rumors as the creamy macaroni and cheese was far more flavorful than versions at steakhouses much more expensive while the green beans smoked over hickory were unexpectedly delicious with great depth of flavor, the lightly fried peach hand-pie a relatively disappointment comparatively, though not really any better or worse than one might expect from seasonal fruit in a glistening, glazed shell.

http://peglegporker.com/

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Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Nashville TN

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Arnold’s Country Kitchen

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Fried Grouper, Chicken n’ Dumplings, White Beans, Candied Yams, Mac n’ Cheese, Corn Muffin, Pancake, Banana Pudding, Chess Pie, Pecan Pie

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Leaving a fair amount of breakfast from Pancake Pantry on the table before heading north to Gaylord Opryland Resort and Opry Mills mall it was after several hours of walking and shopping that we returned to downtown Nashville for a two-part lunch, the first stop seeing our trio just beat the crowd at Beard Award Winning Arnold’s, a landmark cafeteria-styled luncheonette fabled by locals and tourists alike.

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Open in its current format for nearly as long as I’ve been alive and featuring Southern Classics in a setting where communal seating always at a premium, Arnold’s sits next to a rather sizable parking lot in a rapidly gentrifying area along 8th Ave and with rotating daily specials plus several standby signatures the only real question is how long a wait and what to order – our answers to this being no time at all, and two “Meat & 2s” plus bread and three plates of sweets in our case.

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Not particularly renowned for their service, the staff left to navigate a rather narrow space behind steamer tables brimming with choices as line cooks worked feverishly at their backs, it is perhaps fortunate that many selections are of the ‘help yourself’ variety while mains and hot sides are scooped and slopped on plates to be stacked on trays, a bit of persistence needed in our case to get the chicken n’ dumplings that we’d ordered as the woman taking orders turned her attention elsewhere immediately after scooping up some candied yams and white beans.

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Undoubtedly the most affordable meal of the trip, a whole lot of homestyle cuisine served up for just a shade over twenty bucks, it was immediately after sitting down that we tucked in and although both the pancake and cornbread were almost insufferably dry everything else on the plate was reference standard cafeteria grub – not the sort of ‘upscale American’ being peddled for top dollar elsewhere, just flaky fish beneath golden batter and rich stock with tender noodles and chicken plus the sort of sides you’d associate with holidays at Grandma’s house – the smoky beans particularly delicious, while the yams were sweet enough that they could have served as dessert themselves.

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Moving onward to proper desserts, an older African American man circulating to refill beverages and clear trays in order to promptly seat new patrons, those fancying Southern staples would be well served to visit Arnold’s if only for some pudding and pie, the former a ‘Nilla wafer studded homemade iteration with stick-a-spoon-up-straight thickness and the later a tossup between Pecan and Chess as to which was better, the former almost purely nuts without much filler while the later was amongst the most creamy I’ve tasted despite a top that was cooked till cracking, an absolute steal at just $2.75.

http://www.arnoldscountrykitchen.com/

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The Pancake Pantry, Nashville TN

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Pancake Pantry

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Cornmeal Pancakes with Honey

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Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberry

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Banana Bread Pancakes with Cinnamon Cream Sauce

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Half Order French Toast

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Coffee

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Arriving in Nashville the night before I almost couldn’t wait to finally visit a restaurant my breakfast-loving self had long heard was amongst the best in the region, and opting to avoid rumors of long lines with an early Tuesday arrival our party of three walked right into the Pancake Pantry, a cozy table at the center of a large dining room ours for as long we’d want it, a relatively slow morning never once seeing the space more than half filled.

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Celebrating “50 years & still 23 varieties” in reference to their eponymous griddled specialty it was with water filled and menus in hand that menus were perused and quickly poured the type of atrociously over-roasted coffee that makes it clear why some people absolutely hate the stuff it was thankfully that the kitchen was not overburdened, a trio of pancakes soon arriving alongside half an order of French Toast.

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Unfortunately not offering 100% Maple Syrup, but instead featuring house-made Cinnamon Cream Sauce and some sort of artificial rubbish overly sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup, it was with the French Toast that the tasting began and featuring eggy cinnamon bread not quite soaked to the core the flavor was perfectly fine, though certainly nothing worth writing home about, a slather of butter and cinnamon cream adding a bit more flavor both here and to ‘banana bread’ pancakes that were oblong and lightly tinged in both fruit and nuts without being too sweet or aromatic at all.

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Perhaps making a mistake in eschewing classic buttermilk or signature sweet potato flapjacks it was onward to thin Swedish pancakes that the tasting progressed and although already cool to touch by the time they arrived the flavor of both the light batter and lingonberries were quite pleasant, the far more toothsome cornmeal cakes dressed up in honey proving to be the best bites of the breakfast largely due to the lightly bronzed and buttery exterior, plus the fact that everything else was just so mediocre.

www.thepancakepantry.com

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Posted in Breakfast, Coffee, Cornbread, Food, French Toast, Nashville, Pancake Pantry, Pancakes, Tennessee, The Pancake Pantry, Vacation

Rolf and Daughters, Nashville TN

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Rolf and Daughters

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Orange Shrub with Lime

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Sourdough with Seaweed Butter

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Spring Onion Fritto Misto, Lemon, Bottarga

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Crostini, Stracciatella, Watercress, Olio Nuovo

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Sweet Potato, ‘nduja, Green Onion, Yogurt, Lime

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Potato Gnocchi, Morel, Spring Garlic, Piave

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Sweet Potato Agnolotti, Mustard Greens, Testa

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Squid Ink Campanelle, Florida Squid, Shrimp, ‘nduja, Basil, Breadcrumbs

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Stumptown Cold Brew

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Meyer Lemon and Whole Grain Tart, Pistachios, Olive Oil

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O+S Chocolate Cake, Coffee Panna Cotta, Milk

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Strawberries, Rhubarb, Almond, Coconut

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Unable to predict an arrival time for Nashville on a Monday during which several of the capitol’s best restaurants are closed, it was with good fortune that walk-in only Rolf and Daughters was found to be only 75% full just after 7:00pm and taking a seat at the far end of the communal dining table with several seats separating us from the next party it was to a meal of almost universal excellence that we were treated, the hippest place in town also serving some of the city’s best food.

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Currently helmed by former Gwynnett St. Chef Owen Clark, a man who stunned me with his creative cuisine in Brooklyn during an April 2013 meal that still ranks amongst the most memorable in the borough, the sharable plates at Rolf and Daughters see the young toque revisiting familiar territory with a focus on local produce and bold spice profiles amidst modest amounts of protein and suggested to be enjoyed in a series of three courses by a server extremely well versed in both ingredients and technique one would be hard pressed to name a single savory that could have been improved, even the non-alcoholic orange shrub proving to be the sort of fresh flavor I love as light notes of drinking vinegar lingered beneath a bubbly top note of citrus and soda.

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Inquiring on portions and preparations largely to maximize sampling of several plates amongst our party of three it was with house sourdough and seaweed butter that the meal kicked off and with vegetal brine helping to balance out the flavor-forward starter this is one bread most would benefit to pay for, the crisp crostini draped in watercress, stretchy cheese, and fresh olive oil equally simple yet delicious with an almost absolute lack of sweetness allowing pepper and buttery notes to flood the palate in a surprisingly unrestrained way.

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Moving on the flavors less subtle, it should seem rather obvious that fried spring onions dressed in citrus and briny shaved roe presented a significant upgrade on standard restaurant rings and, although not exactly large enough to share amongst three as a few bites will only leave the diner wanting more, the tender rounds of sweet potato topped in spicy sausage and those same onions were absolutely brilliant, the heat only arriving on the finish as yogurt tinged in lime presents an up-front bit of tang.

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Transitioning next to pastas, all made in house with ingredients that sang of farmer’s markets in the spring, it was in three plates that appetites were invested and although the gnocchi was a bit softer than purists may prefer the addition of nutty cheese, fresh garlic, and earthy morels provided a depth of flavor rarely seen at ‘hip’ restaurants, the sweet potato packed pockets of pasta draped in house-cured testa somewhat resembling the flavor of stewed collards while the al dente Campanelle once again found Calabrian pork working its magic amidst a jumble of sautéed seafood given extra texture by just enough breadcrumbs to make it all work.

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More than impressed by savories, and fondly reminiscing about desserts from my Gwynnett St. experience, it was with a ‘one of each’ order from the sweets section that the meal would conclude, and paired to Stumptown’s bold coldbrew the results were nearly on par with the rest, only the slightly over-applied coconut on a chilled plate of strawberries and rhubarb seemingly out of place, while both the subtle citrus tart crowned in nuts and bitter panna cotta topped in crumbles of cookies and sweet milk ‘powder’ were exactly what I’d expected – a study of contrasts without compromise ready to challenge and surprise.

http://www.rolfanddaughters.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Italian, Nashville, Pork, Rolf and Daughters, Stumptown, Tennessee, Vacation

Muddy’s Bakeshop, Memphis TN

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Muddy’s Bakeshop

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Buttermilk Pie

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Coconut Chess Pie

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Pecan Pie

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Chocolate Chip, Pecan, Bourbon Pie

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Chocolate-Peanut Butter Layer Cake

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Chocolate with Chocolate Buttercream Cupcake, Neapolitan Cupcake, Grasshopper Cupcake, Red Velvet Cupcake

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Selected as a last stop en route from Memphis to Nashville largely as a result of location plus a menu that seemed unlikely not to wow it was just after 2:00pm that we entered Muddy’s Bakeshop, and although service from the trio of young ladies behind the counter couldn’t have been more friendly suffice it to say that a lack of puddings as well as a weekly menu of options far less fanciful than many listed on the website was only the first of many disappointments, the overall quality of all but a few options proving to be far beneath the standard set by dozens of bakeries found throughout the United States.

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Whimsical in nature with gnomes, coffee cups, and several branded items for sale speckled amidst the pastel tinged décor it was with samples of the bakeshop’s rather underwhelming toffee offered that we perused the options and with a few questions answered a nine-piece order was placed, part of it plated for immediate indulgence while the rest was boxed for later consumption – the cupcakes all exceedingly dry just a few hours later with only the ‘Prozac’ titled chocolate on chocolate proving even remotely well flavored as the grasshopper was exceedingly artificial in its ‘mint’ while the red velvet lacked any semblance of cream cheese tang.

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Again finding the simple chocolate cake to be pleasant and moist in a slice of layer-cake upgraded by rich peanut butter frosting it was mostly the pies that had caught our attention from the start and although the ‘buttermilk’ was far less flavorful than other local iterations of Chess, the coconut topped version was absolutely reference standard creaminess beneath lightly toasted curls, a true standout amongst a quartet that also included Pecan pie with too much sticky filler and “Tollhouse Jack” that mostly tasted like an soft and sweet chocolate chip cookie despite the supposed inclusion of both nuts and booze.

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http://www.muddysbakeshop.com/

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Posted in cupcakes, Dessert, Food, Memphis, Muddy's Bakeshop, Tennessee, Vacation

Germantown Commissary, Memphis TN

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Germantown Commissary

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Ribs and Shoulder Platter with a Roll, Deviled Egg, Baked Beans, Coleslaw

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Lemon Ice Box Pie

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Caramel Cake

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Banana Pudding

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Chosen as the final Barbeque stop on the way out of Memphis, Germantown Commissary may not gather the praise of Cozy Corner, Vergo’s, or Central, but tucked into a building absolutely bursting with charm and décor on the west side of town a small line of patrons clearly believed the truth I’d been lead to believe – that the Commissary is perhaps the best spot for ribs and hickory smoked pig in town.

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In reality an old store, the location now open to serve up smoked meats and other delicacies such as wings, tamales, desserts, and sides for over thirty years, Germantown Commissary is the sort of place where a wait of twenty minutes or more is expected during even non-peak times and set alongside an old train track the only thing more interesting than the food, space, and absolutely charming service is when a locomotive soars by without horn or whistle, the very foundation of the building beginning to shake and rumble in a scene reminiscent of days forgot, or at least long passed.

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Deservingly proud of ribs that are butchered in house and served dry after just over 6 hours in a smoker you’d be well served to see if offered a tour, as I was, it was perhaps fifteen minutes after seating that our combo-plate was delivered and with baked beans featuring nearly as much meat as sauce plus slaw that finally had a bit of vinegar amidst the cream it was largely to meats that attention was turned, the 14+ hour shredded pork shoulder exceedingly tender and nicely enhanced with both hot and mild sauces provided at the table while the ribs were smoked literally to the bone, a light pinkness to the flesh and minimal fat despite being the juiciest of the trip – not a bit of sauce needed to be enjoyed by a purist, but further enhancement found with a pinch of dry rub that added an almost molasses-like note.

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Clearly not passing on dessert, several whole cakes and pies plus banana pudding by the *gallon* offered for catering or those choosing to partake at home, it was in a trio of options that the experience would conclude and although the banana pudding was a fine rendition it simply could not hold a candle to either the buttery moist yellow cake beneath a lacquer of caramel frosting nor the meringue topped ice box pie that singlehandedly made me rethink my general blasé feelings about citrus desserts, an almost lemonade sort of sweetness folded into the rich custard while the topping stood tall, proud, and as light as a cloud.

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http://www.commissarybbq.com/

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Posted in Dessert, Food, Germantown Commissary, Memphis, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Uncle Lou’s Famous Fried Chicken, Burgers, and Hot Wings, Memphis TN

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Uncle Lou’s Famous Fried Chicken. Burgers, and Hot Wings

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3 Piece – Old Fashioned Breast, Thigh and Leg with Sweet and Spicy Love

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Honey Butter Biscuits

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Potato Salad

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Cream Corn Nuggets

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Pecan and Coconut Fried Pies

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Spending the bulk of the morning at nearby Graceland it was just after noon that we entered Uncle Lou’s Famous Fried Chicken, and finding the space more than half-filled with locals it was while waiting in line that the menu was perused, a middle-aged African American man greeting me at the counter and coaxing me into ordering a few items I’d originally not intended when his female compatriot informed me that both caramel cake and strawberry banana pudding were already sold out.

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Featured on Fieri’s Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins – and happy to make the fact known both in-store and on their mobile “Fried Chicken. Burgers, and Hot Wings” truck parked outside – suffice it to say that Uncle Lou’s fits the second noun quite well and although not particularly ‘dingy’ the space could certainly use a good scrub down and sprucing up, some adverse GI symptoms experienced later that day not guaranteed to be related, but certainly not helped by a bathroom I’d not recommend visiting, nor a kitchen that all but forced some “sweet and spicy love” atop the dark meat portion of our plate.

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Finding a seat with relative ease, the white walled restaurant soon to fill and generate a line nearly stretching out the door, it was after perhaps ten minutes that food arrived and although the coating surrounding the bird was indeed quite crispy and well-spiced the obviously pre-frozen poultry itself was largely lacking in flavor, a fact likely responsible for the suggestion of sauce that was a bit too sweet and far less fiery than I had originally feared.

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Ignoring the potato salad as the smell alone was far too mustard-laden for my taste, it was onward to biscuits and fritters of cream corn that the tasting progressed, and with both offering soft, piping-hot centers tinged with sweetness offset by golden exterior crunch there was nary a bad bite to be found, the same to be said of two small handpies from a nearby baker that were suggested in place of missing cakes and pudding, the pecan perhaps a bit too heavy in filler while the coconut came across surprisingly natural with a creamy custard center that could easily have been featured as the base of a very elegant slice somewhere more refined.

http://www.unclelousfriedchicken.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Dessert, Food, Memphis, Tennessee, Uncle Lou’s, Uncle Lou’s Famous Fried Chicken, Vacation

Porcellino’s Craft Butcher, Memphis TN

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Porcellino’s Craft Butcher

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Pain au Chocolate, Corn Muffin with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing, Pecan Croissant

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Cold Brew from Relevant Roasters of Memphis

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Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit

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Cinnamon Roll

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Pimento Cheese Gougeres

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Dutch Baby

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Almond Butterscotch Coffee Cake Bread Pudding with Malted Chocolate Gelato

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At this point having thoroughly enjoyed dinners at both Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Hog & Hominy it seemed only logical to spend our last breakfast in Memphis at Porecllino’s, the craft butcher, café, and purveyor of local provisions helmed by Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman located next door.

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Recently opened, and garnering nearly as much acclaim as the two siblings to which it provides its meats, a morning visit to Porcellino’s is perhaps as “European” an experience as can be found in the state of Tennessee, and greeted by a friendly young man who acted as host, server, barista, and a great source of knowledge about the products and the city it was with quite an order that our meal progressed – the items rolling out in four courses precisely as requested while bold coffee was sipped and the space explored.

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Sourcing almost everything used in-house from local purveyors, many of which were also featured on shelves or in a refrigerator case, it was with a trio of pastries that the meal began, and slowly cut up for sharing one would be hard pressed to name a more decadent use of cornmeal than the toothsome iced muffin, nor a more impressive non-traditional croissant than the $7 pecan packed pastry – its shatter on par with the oft-revisited favorite at San Francisco’s Knead Patisserie despite less arching and levity as far more nutty flavor was packed into the still-warm core.

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Moving onward to savories and items freshly prepared in the kitchen it was admittedly taking a bit of a risk that the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese biscuit was ordered given the poor quality of the buttermilk round at Hog & Hominy, yet despite supposedly being the same recipe the version at Porcellino’s was superior in every way, the flavors more pronounced and the crumb far more moist – a buttery lightness found where density once prevailed as the smoky bacon, aged cheddar, and fluffy eggs sat atop a rise nearly twice that of the one offered at a similar price with sausage gravy the night before.

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Unfortunately receiving the pimento cheese gougeres a bit deflated despite flavor and texture that were bold and almost ethereal, respectively, it was next in a cinnamon roll topped with molten frosting that we indulged and with aromatics that greeted the nose from nearly a foot away it was in quickly dispatching the roll that a tiny Dutch Baby was divided up, the crisp ring surrounding a soft center teaming with lemon that would have only been better if served in a full-grown portion, though at $5 the effort invested in the tiny cast iron version was perhaps the bargain of the morning, and certainly not the sort of thing seen anywhere else before.

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At this point again singing the praises of Memphis’ native born Chefs, it was finally an item from the section listed as ‘Dessert’ arrived, and tossing any semblance of discretion to the wind whenever bread pudding is offered the daily Almond Butterscotch Coffee Cake composition was a $7 stunner, the flavors and textures diverse but complimentary thanks to a rich infusion of custard while rich chocolate gelato with light notes of malt slowly melted at its side.

http://porcellinoscraftbutcher.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Coffee, Cornbread, Croissant, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Italian, Memphis, Pancakes, Porcellino's, Porcellino's Craft Butcher, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Hog & Hominy, Memphis TN

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Hog & Hominy

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Biscuits and Gravy

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Deviled Eggs – Lardo, Pickled Mustard Seeds

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Hot Brown – Brioche, Turkey, Porcellino’s Bacon, Fonduta, Gravy, Egg

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Margherita – Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Basil

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Red Eye – Pork Belly, Egg, Fontina, Celery Leaf, Sugo

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Peanut Butter Pie – ‘Nilla Wafer Crust, Vanilla Pudding, Bananas, Whipped Cream, Peanut Brittle

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Carol’s Delightful Smile – Oreo Crust, Malted Chocolate Mousse, Whoppers

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Strawberry Vanilla Pie – Biscuit Crust, Pistachios, Marsala Caramel

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Located across the street from Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer’s more formal Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, and offering an all-day “Sunday Funday” menu even on Mother’s Day, our arrival at Hog & Hominy just after 7:00pm found the dining room absolutely jumping at full capacity, and thankfully having made reservations long in advance it was mere moment before we were seated at the far end of the restaurant directly in front of the Pizzaiolos, the dimly lit area surrounding a wood burning oven a stark contrast to the cacophony outside.

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Named a Best New Restaurant by several publications, and minimally decorated with low ceilings and concrete floors that only seemed to amplify the sound, it was to friendly and efficient service slightly less refined than that across the street that we were treated – a few questions answered leading to a three-course meal during which only a biscuit that seemed a day old and vastly overpriced at $6 would fail to impress.

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Essentially a ‘small shared plates’ sort of space, with menu prices trending from $5-$20 depending on size and complexity as ingredients were universally top notch, it was with the aforementioned biscuit that alongside deviled eggs draped in lardo that the meal began, and arriving quickly on their heels a reinterpreted Hot Brown that took the Louisville staple to new heights with the addition of bacon from the next-door butcher plus shredded turkey and creamy fonduta beneath gravy and an egg that saw the bowl eventually wiped almost dishwasher clean.

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Moving on to pizzas, considered by some to be the very best in Memphis, it seemed almost prerequisite to first taste the house Margherita, and with a leopard-spotted crust rife with char yet still chewy and pliable one might go so far as to call this a new reference standard, the light yeast tickling the palate as mozzarella pooled amidst tomato sauce both acidic and lightly tinged in smoke.

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Remiss to pass on pancakes, even at the late hour, a second pie was instead ordered based on its critical praise and ‘signature’ status, and as much as others at the table weren’t sure such an odd interpretation would suit their palates, the Red Eye in fact turned out to be an absolute showstopper as meaty sugo melded with shredded pork belly beneath a freshly ruptured yolk, the fontina adding its own buttery notes to the mix while leaves of celery added just enough vegetal levity to keep the otherwise hefty flavors in check.

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Rounding out the evening with a different sort of pie, or more appropriately pies, suffice it to say that what Andrew Michael offers in the form of subtlety and elegance amidst its dessert menu is no less apparent in the sweets and Hog & Hominy, and although the signature Malted Chocolate Mousse entitled “Carol’s Delightful Smile” is indeed good, the seasonal specials of Peanut Butter Pie given the ‘Elvis-treatment’ with added bananas and the silky Strawberry Pie on a crust made of buttery biscuits were even better, the former somehow melding two desserts we’d enjoyed earlier that day at Central BBQ into a single slice that stands above the best pies I’ve tasted to date.

http://www.hogandhominy.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Hog & Hominy, Hog and Hominy, Italian, Memphis, Pizza, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

The Second Line, Memphis TN

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Second Line

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The Original Andouille + Crawfish + Pimento Cheese Fries

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The Johnny Snack – Hot Ham + Cheese with Beef Debris with Spinach Madeline

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Pecan Bread Pudding – Salty Caramel + Vanilla Ice Cream

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Opting against Restaurant Iris in favor of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen for Friday dinner, and unable to fit the revered Memphis fine dining establishment into our schedule given their Sunday and Monday closure, it was to Chef Kelly English’s more casual Second Line that we headed for a late 2pm brunch on Mother’s Day and opting to sit at the bar as opposed to waiting for a table it was to Cavs vs. Bulls game four and friendly service from a young female bartender that we were treated, LeBron James’ game winning three and one of the best bread puddings I’ve ever tasted more than making up for a menu already sold out of several items including a Goo-Goo Cluster Sundae ordered early on but given to another table for reasons only explained by a service ‘mistake.’

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Larger in size than it looks from out front, particularly given the al fresco patio tucked behind the restaurant and shared with Iris, Second Line embraces the more casual side of New Orleans cuisine honed by English during his time in the Big Easy training under the tutelage of Chef John Besh, and with nods to his mentor in the form of prawns at the top of the menu it was with a few Second Line signatures that the meal progressed, one sandwich and one appetizer plus the aforementioned dessert providing a sizeable and affordable snack without spoiling appetites for dinner later that night.

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Still crowded despite the off-hour, many ladies and their families lingering over all-you-can-drink mimosas or glasses of champagne despite tables at that point devoid of food, it was perhaps fifteen minutes after ordering that a tray and two cast iron pots arrived, the former containing a ham and cheese Po-Boy topped in rich gravy alongside buttery spinach soufflé while the second Staub piece contained a veritable mountain of hand-cut spuds that maintained plenty of crispness even when topped with bubbling pimento cheese and a heap of spicy sausage plus sweet crustacean that tasted as though it was just plucked from its shell.

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Admittedly a bit miffed that the sundae had been sold out from under our noses, but certainly not willing to pass on Bread Pudding made by a chef trained under Besh, it was much to our surprise that two ramekins of the caramel soaked brioche were served for the price of one and although we’d originally planned to share just one in order to save room for later such restraint was immediately cast by the wayside after the first bite, the custard-soaked brioche with crispy edges still quite capable of soaking up slowly melting ice cream without becoming mushy while toasty candied pecans added just a touch more sweetness to all the butter and vanilla, a classic no less perfect than that at Luke and perhaps even superior given the texture of the base.

http://www.secondlinememphis.com/

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Posted in Bread Pudding, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Memphis, Pork, Tennessee, The Second Line, Vacation

Central BBQ, Memphis TN

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Central BBQ

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Half Rack Ribs, Pulled Chicken, Sliced Brisket, Mac n’ Cheese, Pork Rinds, Rolls

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Pulled Pork Sandwich with Slaw

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Peanut Butter Pie

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Caramel Cake

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Banana Pudding

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Having spent the better part of the morning visiting Sun Records, Beale Street, and the Gibson Guitar Factory before heading to lunch it admittedly came as a bit of a surprise that the line at Central BBQ was quoted as being ‘about 45 minutes’ just prior to 1:00pm given the fact that there were only perhaps eight groups filling the queue, but watching an expediting process that seemed completely random with patrons that never seemed to know exactly what they desired the situation soon made sense, twenty minutes standing in the sun followed by just as many in the shade testing my patience and making me appreciative of spots in Texas and the Carolinas that have the system far better figured out.

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Still the original of two current locations, and according to many locals the best Barbeque in the city, it was perhaps with good fortune that a four-top in the crowded dining room was nabbed mere moments after the requisite receipt was in hand, and waiting for just ten minutes for food while sipping unsweetened tea only seemed to heighten expectations, the results a mixed bag served in two courses only when I approached the cashier to figure out when already-ordered desserts were expected, another delay for those still in line as she had to abandon her post to procure them herself, the absence never really acknowledged or explained.

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Speaking first to savories, suffice it to say that much like other spots in Memphis the reason to visit Central is undoubtedly the pork, and although the pulled shoulder was slightly leaner than one sees in Kansas City or North Carolina the flavor was both moist and quite rich, a similar description applicable to the smoky mopped ribs, though far less so for both beef and chicken that was almost inedibly dry without the addition of plenty of sauce.

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Impressive in sides, both the pork rinds and macaroni and cheese amongst the best in Tennessee while the slaw was still too creamy for my vinegar preferring palate, it was only after the aforementioned confusion that desserts were finally delivered and although the caramel cake was a bit dryer than other impressive iterations on the trip both the Banana pudding and creamy Peanut Butter pie undoubtedly justified both the wait and the calories, the former seemingly made with a cake base in place of wafers while the later was surprisingly light in texture despite robust nuttiness beneath a drizzle of chocolate, each bite compelling another until all three of us sat staring at the empty basket contemplating whether braving the line once again was worth another slice.

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http://cbqmemphis.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Central Barbeque, Central BBQ, Dessert, Food, Memphis, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Gibson’s Donuts, Memphis TN

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Gibson’s Donuts

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Apple Fritter

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Red Velvet

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Glazed Old Fashioned

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Glazed Cruller

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Crumb Cake

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Blueberry Cake

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Caramel Glazed Yeast

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Largely underwhelmed by Brother Juniper’s it was onward to Gibson’s Donuts that the culinary tour of Memphis progressed and with a line nearly thirty deep even at 10:30am on Mother’s Day it was with plenty of time spent perusing selections that I eventually approached the counter, a young man of perhaps 17 years procuring a baker’s-half dozen for our indulgence at the bargain basement total of just $5.72.

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Located in East Memphis, and churning out hot fried dough 24-hours a day with old fashioned technique and friendly service since opening its doors near the University of Memphis many years ago, Gibson’s features no less than twenty varieties of donuts and although the famous NOLA sourced Buttermilk Drops were temporarily sold out during this visit there was certainly no lack of fresh options emerging from the kitchen at a breakneck pace, a total of five of my seven still warm with only the rich Red Velvet and cakey not-really-a-cruller ‘Cruller’ cool to the touch, the later an admitted disappointment as there was not a bit of hollow wispiness or levity to be found.

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Backtracking to warm options, the items above saved to last, tasting began with a melt-in-the-mouth bite of flour and yeast topped in sticky caramel, and moving onward both the sourcream old fashioned and coffee cake-like crumb were textbook iterations, the blueberry equally impressive with a flavor that was surprisingly natural while the apple fritter was easily the star of the show – a light crisp beneath the just-set glaze and no lack of apples or cinnamon to be found amidst the lightly oiled base.

https://www.facebook.com/gibsonsdonuts?fref=ts

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Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Gibson’s Donuts, Memphis, Tennessee, Vacation

Brother Juniper’s, Memphis TN

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Brother Juniper’s

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Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

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Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit

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Two Biscuits with Sorghum and Apple Butter

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Blueberry Pancakes with Pure Maple Syrup

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French Toast Monte Cristo with Ham, Swiss, Strawberry Jam, and Cheese Grits

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Beginning day two in Memphis with a long run on the hotel treadmill it was unfortunately nearly forty minutes after opening that our party arrived at Brother Juniper’s, and paying little attention to the significance of Mother’s Day or the Church crowd, not to mention the restaurant’s small size and popularity, it was to a 45 minute wait that we were greeted – the next door laundry’s WiFi thankfully strong enough to be accessed as top-40 tunes piped in from above.

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Likely Memphis’ most famous breakfast institution, the sort of place serving up a menu of steady classics plus a few daily specials with focus on locally sourced products and scratch-based cooking Brother Juniper’s is the sort of place found in almost any American city, and populated largely by locals induldging in omelettes, Benny’s, batters, and hashes it was to cheery service that we were eventually sat amidst a jammed-packed dining room, patrons of all ages conversing loudly as the clatter of pans frequently rang forth from a window peering into the large kitchen.

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A bit more highly priced than similar spots elsewhere, but featuring several organic products as well as house-made fruit spreads and 100% Maple Syrup plus pure Sorghum it was just moments after the order was placed that coffee was filled, the acrid brew just tepid and nearly undrinkable even with plenty of sweetener – the daily special bundt cake thankfully arriving all warm and gooey minutes thereafter and enjoyed not only on its own merits, but also as a palate cleansing bite with nothing more than water.

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Celebrated for their biscuits, it was with one plain version paired to dark brown sorghum and a biscuit topped in Bacon, Egg, and Cheese that the dining progressed, and although not the best biscuits found in the Volunteer State the buttermilk flavor was quite pronounced while the opportunity to sample several of the spreadable fruits was more than welcomed, the flavors decidedly pure with both raspberry and peach standing out as truly remarkable while Fig was unfortunately not offered that day.

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Onward to griddles, suffice it to say that Pancakes at Brother Juniper’s are of the dense and doughy variety that are more likely to fill one up than to truly impress the palate, and although the pure maple syrup at no extra cost was a welcome addition the skimpy application of blueberries was quite disappointing, our appetites far better invested in a grits richly imbued with sharp cheddar and a griddled Tennessee Ham and Swiss sandwich lightly kissed with cinnamon and topped with Strawberry spread meant to resemble a Monte Cristo.

http://brotherjunipers.com/

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Posted in Breakfast, Brother Juniper’s, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Memphis, Pancakes, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation