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

Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Memphis TN

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Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen

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Crostini – Olive Tapanade

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Scallops – Mushroom, Pears, Meyer Lemon, Green Garlic, Dashi

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AM Breakfast – 63 Degree Poached Egg, Pork Belly, Polenta, AM Pork Rinds

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Panzanella – Crab, Crème Fraiche, Asparagus, Brown Butter, Egg Yolk

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Mafalde – Duck, Macadamia Nut Pesto, Fennel, Vermouth, Ricotta Salata

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Potato Gnocchi – Lentils, Newman Farm Pork, Kale

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Agnolotti – Morel, Peas, Black Truffle, Tarragon, Lemon

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Bucatini – Short Rib Ragu, Taleggio, Serrano, Shiitake, Panna Gratta

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Quail – Almond, Masa, Broccoli Rabe, Walnuts, Hominy, Sumac Agrodolce, Red Onion Reduction

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Maw Maw’s Ravioli – Maw Maw’s Gravy

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AM Cannoli – Caputo Brother’s Ricotta, Vanilla, Raspberry Sauce, Chocolate

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Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding – Brown Butter Pecan Powder, Salt Caramel Gelato

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Maple Tart – Fudge, Meringue, Caramel, Popcorn Crumble

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Budino – Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Toffee

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Popcorn Gelato – Cracker Jack Caramel Sauce

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Arguably Memphis’ most celebrated restaurant, a Beard Award Semi-Finalist having now spawned a more casual sibling and whole animal butchery shop with an attached café across the street, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen was selected for dinner on Saturday night long before tickets to Game 3 of the Memphis vs. Golden State series were put on sale, and having originally considered rescheduling the meal to avoid feeling rushed it was with good fortune that the decision was made to dine as planned as an absolutely stunning four-course meal was completed in just over one hundred minutes, a quick drive putting me in my 200-level seat just seconds before opening tip.

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Truly a story of local boys done well, Chefs Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer citing their grandmothers and the city of Memphis as inspirations behind upscale yet rustic Italian cooking honed in kitchens ranging from home to Calabria, a meal at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen walks the fine line between family and formality, the décor minimalist with service that is exceedingly attentive without being overbearing – our time constraints not just navigated, but pacing that was absolutely perfect as food was delivered at timely intervals with thorough descriptions of techniques and ingredients never for lack.

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Changing the menu up daily, occasionally sometimes during the course of service depending on availability of seasonal ingredients and meats butchered at the duo’s Porcellino’s Craft Butcher, it was with antipasti that the meal began and with several new items focusing on spring vegetables both the sashimi-style scallops and tangy Panzanella were exceptionally light and vibrant, the signature “AM Breakfast” obviously far less so given the heft of its ingredients, though certainly no less delicious with a smoky-smooth leftover sauce more than justifying the use of fresh baked bread to wipe the bowl clean.

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Proud to produce each and every pasta in-house round two featured a trio of options deemed ‘lighter’ by our server, and as much as one might have expected the Mafalde laced with confit duck to tickle my fancy this elegant flavor splashed with Vermouth only scratched the surface of what the kitchen is truly capable of, both the pillowy potato dumplings in vegetal pork ragu and the brilliant Agnolotti teaming with earth and aromatics plus light citrus proving even more inspired with the later amongst the best plates seen during an eight day stay in the state of Tennessee.

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Interested in the secondi, but unable to resist more pasta, course three featured two-more plates of noodles alongside a pan seared quail dressed up with broccoli rabe, blistered hominy, nuts, and two sauces that acted to accentuate the mild gaminess of the bird, and as good as the other pastas were these heavier options were no less delicious, the hollow bucatini al dente beneath rich ragu while the signature ravioli was rich with meat and aged cheese, the ‘family secret’ gravy smoky and complex with mild acidity and only a hint of sweetness, undoubtedly the result of time, love, and many years of tweaking.

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Never one to forgo the sweets, particularly from a menu on which nearly everything sounded exemplary, it was in a quintet that the meal would end and with popcorn gelato topped in cracker-jack caramel proving a perfect savory-meets-sweet transition a recommendation as to which dessert was “best” would be a fool’s endeavor as each was entirely different and none less than exemplary, the fried cannoli shell with whipped mascarpone undoubtedly the lightest of the group while the maple tart and chocolate budino were creamy and decadent, the ‘toffee pudding’ streaked in cocoa falling somewhere in between with a dense sponge not unlike the figgy English version but flavors much closely approximating those of a Snickers Bar, the creamy gelato slowly melting into a puddle of sweet saltiness quickly sopped up by the crumbled meringue-like powder.

http://andrewmichaelitaliankitchen.com/

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Posted in Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Bread Basket, Breakfast, Crab, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Italian, Memphis, Pork, Tennessee, Truffle, Vacation

Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous, Memphis TN

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Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous

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Charcoal Ribs and Shoulder Combo with Beans and Slaw

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Potato Salad

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Rolls

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Pleasing locals and tourists alike with Barbeque and kitsch since 1948, Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous was an obvious ‘must visit’ while exploring downtown Memphis and with just a fifteen minute wait for a four-top around 2pm on Saturday the word ‘experience’ immediately comes to mind when trying to summarize our stay – neither the food nor service particularly excellent when compared to other spots in town but the décor and vibe undoubtedly worth the effort, if only to understand what all the fuss is about.

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Founded by Mr. Vergos, a man considered to be one of Downtown Memphis’s founding fathers, and now the official smoked meat purveyor of nearby FedEx Arena, the space containing Rendezvous is a sprawling affair of three stories divided into several rooms with hundreds, if not thousands, of knick-knacks and decorations strewn about, and offering tons to explore for those willing to wander amidst tables suffice it to say that the upstairs bar and waiting area is not the best place to wait unless one truly needs a drink – the trophy case alone offering more than enough eye candy to pass a half-hour as old blues plays from jukebox driven speakers overhead.

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Known mostly for charcoal broiled dry-rub pork ribs, but also offering shoulder, chicken, beef, and lamb it was admittedly just after Gus’s and Cozy Corner that we sat down in the back room of Rendezvous and bearing in mind even more dining obligations prior to Warriors vs. Grizzlies Game 3 it was entirely in the restaurant’s signatures that we invested, the $19.75 combo plate plus a small cup of potato salad delivered after a nearly 40-minute wait, though beverages were frequently filled throughout.

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Eventually receiving our food, piping hot and glistening beneath the dim lights even considering the lack of sauce, it was with the shoulder that the tasting began and although a hefty note of smoke imbued each bite the sapor of the pig itself was almost imperceptible, a notable leanness and lack of skin really doing the pulled pork a disservice while the same cooking process acts to amplify flavors in the far fattier ribs, each piece falling from the bone with a shell of spice giving way to supple flesh quite unlike that found elsewhere in Memphis or anywhere else – not my personal ‘favorite’ of the trip, but understandably well praised by generations past and undoubtedly many more to come…even if they do refuse to serve any form of dessert.

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http://hogsfly.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Charles Vergo’s, Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous, Food, Memphis, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Cozy Corner, Memphis TN

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Cozy Corner

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Cornish Hen

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2-Bone Ribs, Slaw, Beans, Bread

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Banana Pudding

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Recently relocated from the famous baby blue location across the street, it was with admitted disappointment that I approached the counter adjacent to Encore Café to order some barbecue, but thankfully what Cozy Corner has lost in charm and history has been well retained in the quality of the smoked meats, a Memphis tradition almost as heralded as Blues and The King.

Apparently inhabiting its small window for just over a month, the original location to be razed or renovated depending on the state of a building currently being assessed, it was to the pleasant greetings of two young women that I was greeted on approach and with the kitchen team hard at work serving up Styrofoam clamshells of ‘cue to a patronage that continues to seek them out the only question was how much to order in addition to the famous Cornish Hen – an answer made easy by a number of small offerings and a total bill of just under $20 for what would turn out to be quite a bit of food.

Offering items with the option of dry rub, or mopped with sauce, it was perhaps five minutes after placing an order that items were readied and returning to the table with plasticware in hand the richness of smoky sweetness tempted right through the packaging, the first bites of two small ribs that were surprisingly supple despite being almost entirely meat temporarily making me wish I’d ordered more, the bread proving a amicable mop for leftover sauce while the sides were mostly forgettable, though certainly not bad.

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Transitioning next to the much acclaimed bird, a surprisingly ample specimen with crisp skin almost too much for the white knife to handle, it was after a few minutes of fumbling that I gave into temptation and literally taking matters into my hand the phrase ‘finger licking good’ could not have been more appropriate, a deep smoke ring present in both dark and white meat with the sort of juiciness one generally associates with fried poultry, each bite as good as the last beneath the tangy barbecue and destination-worthy enough that it is easy to forgive the lack of charm in the current space, if not the lackluster banana pudding that tasted as though it came straight from the back of an off-brand Jell-o box.

http://cozycornerbbq.com/

Cozy Corner Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Cozy Corner, Cozy Corner BBQ, Dessert, Food, Memphis, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Mason TN

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Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken

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Four Piece + a Breast with Beans, Slaw, Bread

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Pecan Pie

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Chess Pie

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Banana Pudding

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Now available in a few US Cities, with more to come, the story of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken began in Mason Tennessee, and located a bit off the beaten path between Nashville and Memphis along Hwy 70 a pilgrimage to the place where it all started is perhaps not on everyone’s agenda, yet for those willing to make the thirty minute diversion a rewarding experience is available, the small hall steeped in as much history as it is in oil and spices.

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Officially built and opened in 1973 by Gus’s father, a carpenter named Napoleon who handed a recipe much older than the space down to his son, the small house containing an open kitchen and dining area with décor that seems unchanged since long before Gus’s 2007 passing is a homey sort of place and with nothing but locals present as three women cooked while a fourth provided charming service the order essentially wrote itself – one half a bird with sides and two desserts, a complimentary third as an added bonus to take on the road.

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Fried to order, but merely a fifteen minute wait compared to the hour-long lines at the famous Memphis location, it was largely listening to locals kibitz with one another that we waited and no sooner had we finished our beverages that refills were offered along with the object of our desire, each bite of the juicy bird rife with seasoning and spice without being “hot” and the skin literally shattering to tooth, any bits that fell off placed on a piece of white bread with a dash of hot sauce making a sandwich every bit as delicious as it was debaucherous.

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Personally finding the slaw to be a bit too one-note and creamy, but impressed by baked beans with a nice nose of smoke, it was onward to desserts that the meal progressed and with each pie emerging from the oven no more than a half hour prior to service the creamy custard of the Chess was just set while the warm Pecan slice was almost entirely lacking in ‘filler,’ both texture and flavor benefitting tremendously with a buttery nuttiness as opposed to overt sweetness – a descriptor no one would rightfully apply to a jar of pudding that featured bananas at their peak of ripeness in a creamy housemade base with whipped cream and ‘Nilla wafers not for lack.

http://gusfriedchicken.com/mason-tennessee-location/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Dessert, Food, Gus’s, Gus’s Fried Chicken, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Mason, Memphis, Nashville, Tennessee, Vacation

Loveless Café, Nashville TN

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Loveless Café

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Coffee

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Unlimited Buttermilk Biscuits with Housemade Strawberry, Blackberry, Peach Jam

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Pecan Pancakes with Maple Bacon, Sorghum

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French Toast with Housemade Sausage and Sorghum

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Biscuit Sampler – Fried Chicken, Pulled Pork, Aged Ham, Pimento Cheese & Fried Green Tomato with Cheese Grits

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Pecan Pie, Chocolate Chess, Banana Pudding

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Chess Pie

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Conveniently located just off the route from Nashville to Memphis, Loveless Café and the small village of stores around it are nothing short of a Tennessee Landmark, and fresh off the redeye from LAX our arrival at the former hotel preceded its opening by a mere fifteen minutes, a line of six already formed with the sizable restaurant nearly 100% full by the time we left just after 8:15.

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Featuring concepts of sustainability, scratch-based cooking, and a menu of Southern diner classics spanning from breakfast through lunch to supper, it was almost immediately upon seating that water was poured while coffee was readied and although the brew itself was a bit acrid without sweetener the refills were spot on and spontaneous, though food did take a bit longer than would be expected as our server was spread thinly throughout the largest room in the house, at times even drawn to the al fresco seating to assist others at a table of twelve.

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Sipping coffee with orders placed it would not be long before a plate of Loveless’ signature buttermilk biscuits was delivered, and paired with a trio of housemade jams plus requested sorghum and honey it goes without saying that the fluffy golden rounds are indeed quite delicious, though for my money there are better to be found not only in Nashville but also parts of the Carolinas as well as at Yardbird, still the reference standard, though admittedly theirs are not refilled freely on request.

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Moving on to entrees, another piping hot cup of coffee poured, it was largely a matter of sampling widely that led to an order of even more biscuits and with each of the four golden rounds topped differently one would be hard pressed to name a winner amongst the group, the crispy chicken and tender pulled pork rousing curiosity of just how good a full plate dinner at Loveless might be while the tart green tomato topped with spicy pimento cheese was as ‘Southern’ as it gets, certainly not the sort of stuff you see served for breakfast anywhere back home.

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Moving next to the French Toast and Pancakes, suffice it to say that both are competent takes on classic American breakfast staples, and with the buttermilk fresh plus the bread homemade the only real question is whether to indulge in Maple Syrup, local Honey, or thick amber Sorghum as the topping of choice, from my standpoint a decision that entailed a little of each before deeming the decision a tossup, the Sorghum almost a bit *too* sweet on the vanilla and cinnamon dipped toast but absolutely delightful when mellowed by the ample amount of toasted pecans added to the pancakes for just a buck.

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Unwilling to forgo desserts, 7:45 in the morning or not, what started as a sampler of three miniature pies and puddings quickly expanded to a quartet when the server brought chocolate chess instead of original, and with a pure butter crust serving as the base to both reference standard iterations it speaks volumes that the pecan pie was actually the best of them all, a dearth of ‘filler’ allowing the caramelized nuts and brown sugar to shine without being overly sweet – a similar degree of subtlety offered by banana pudding that used house whipped cream and softened vanilla wafers amidst thick chopped fruit and a smooth yellow base to deliver an experience that was not only texturally pleasing but also shockingly natural, a quality far too infrequently found in a dessert where boxed pudding is far too frequently meant to suffice.

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http://www.lovelesscafe.com/

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Loveless Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Basket, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Loveless Cafe, Nashville, Pancakes, Pork, Tennessee, Vacation

Fox’s Donut Den, Nashville TN

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Fox’s Donut Den

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Yeast Star

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Maple Old Fashioned

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Apple Fritter

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Glazed Chocolate Cake

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Yeasted Strawberry

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Cro-Do

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Cream Filled Chocolate Glazed

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Named to several “Best of” lists in various online and print media, Fox’s Donut Den was the first stop after hopping off the plane at BNA and arriving just moments after the sizable storefront unlocked the doors it was even before pulling the handle that the smell of yeast mingling with sugar could be smelled, even over the scent of exhaust as a stream of locals literally drove up, parked with engine still engaged, and ran in to grab a donut and coffee before heading back to the road.

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Every bit an oldschool doughnuttery, though happy to experiment with the occasionally novelty such as baked donut bread or the donut-croissant hybrid, a first glance at the Donut Den would lead one to believe there are hundreds of options, but instead featuring several duplicates spread across several cases the best approach is to stick to the left side of the space and choose amongst favorites – a lack of buttermilk bar or blueberry leading to a Half-Dozen +1 approach tallying $14.17.

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Taking a seat at one of several vinyl booths, the Formica tabletops telling tale of just how long Fox’s has been serving the city of Nashville, our tasting began with raised, yeasted options and with both the chocolate frosted star and Simpsons-style Strawberry ring proving light, fluffy, and virtually oilless the craftsmanship was immediately evident, a wispy cream filled pocked proving equally well crafted as we transitioned to cake based options and other novelties both new and classic.

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Speaking first to the ‘new,’ it must be noted that Fox’s ‘Cro-Do’ is a good riff on Ansel’s invention with well separated layers and a lightness that allows buttery notes to shine, and while the substantial apple fritter was equally low in grease amidst ample cinnamon-laced apples neither the chocolate cake nor the old fashioned managed to impress in the least as the crumb of each was far too dry – the old-fashioned, which was described as a ‘cruller,’ nearly inedible without a beverage in hand, and even than not worth the cost or calories…a damned shame as the maple icing was itself quite excellent, a flavor far less ‘sweet’ than would be expected given its thick application.

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https://www.facebook.com/FoxsDonutDen

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Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Donut Den, Food, Fox's Donut Den, Nashville, Tennessee, Vacation

Gina’s Bistro, Las Vegas NV

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Gina’s Bistro

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Bread, Butter, Olive Oil, Balsamic

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Arancini – Arborio rice filled with bolognese sauce, peas, and mozzarella, breaded, fried and served hot w/marinara sauce

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Antipasto Italiano (for 2) – Prosciutto Parma, salame, cheeses, and olives

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Melanzane alla Parmigiana – Oven baked, breaded eggplant w/marinara sauce and mozzarella served w/side of angelhair spaghetti in marinara

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Pollo alla Parmigiana – Breaded chicken baked w/ marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese served w/side of angelhair spaghetti in marinara

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Gnocchi ai 4 Formaggi – Potatoes & flour dumpling in a four cheeses sauce

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Strozzapreti alla Norcina – Priest choker’ elongated hand rolled pasta, fresh sausage ragu in a tomato cream & truffle oil

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Ziti alla Salsiccia e Mozzarella – Hand Rolled Ziti w/ Italian Sausage, Baked with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Tiramisu

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Cannoli

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Tucked away on South Durango in a small shopping complex, just like many local gems that those merely visiting Sin City will never even know to exist, Gina’s Bistro is one of those mom n’ pop places I’d passed by a hundred times before finally deciding to stop in and touting “authentic Italian recipes” amidst a setting that vibes of an older couple’s home the experience is one of well crafted food at a good price, while service ranks amongst the very best in Vegas…and bearing mind the city in which we live, not in a ‘damned by faint praise’ way.

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Truly the sort of place where ‘dining out’ feels much more like ‘eating dinner in the house of an old friend,’ a visit to Gina’s Bistro first sees the glint of a small kitchen tucked behind the hostess stand and quickly seated at a cozy four-top flanked in old photos and paintings it was mere moments before water was poured and perusing the menu while chewing crusty bread served alongside butter, olive oil, and balsamic a list of several specials was recited, a simply grilled fish atop orzo tempting though the housemade pasta inevitably got the nod.

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Treated to soft Italian opera, the volume appropriate to shroud conversation without ever trending loud, it was not long before a duo of appetizers would arrive and although I personally would have not ordered the $19 Antipasto given the unexciting options, both the prosciutto and olives proved pleasant and sharable while a somewhat undersized duo of arancini proved far more interesting, though a bit more melted cheese and less ground meat would have certainly been preferred.

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Moving on to entrees, an order of five proving a bit aggressive for just three diners when taking into account bowls of angelhair served with both plates of parm, it was with share-plates replenished and bread relinquished that a vast tasting began, the hand formed gnocchi a bit overcooked and sticky beneath rich cheese sauce while both ziti and priest-choker pasta were prepared perfectly al dente with no lack of flavor from housemade Italian sausage to be found.

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Having already noted the duo of plates served ‘alla Parmigiana,’ it was perhaps an unfortunate choice to do both items on the same day alongside so much other food, for as good as the baked eggplant iteration was with a light breading overlying the baked vegetable and bold tomato sauce draped in cheese, the thinly pounded chicken was almost entirely flavorless beneath the same accoutrements, a slight oiliness reserving me to only a few bites, though by the end of the meal the plate – like all the others – was clean.

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Limited in sweets, the options comprising small, conservative classics with $5 prices perhaps a bit much when compared to other similar spots in the city, it was a single cannoli with surprisingly delicate filling that joined an equally light tiramisu alongside coffee, and chatting with friends as a few more locals filtered in to half-fill the seating one really couldn’t help but see the pride in both the maitre d’ and waiter’s faces as they circulated the room warmly welcoming each guest, water refilled for the umpteenth time without request as lit candles were placed at the center of each table.

TWO AND A HALF STARS: Setting aside the fact that many of the classic plates are made using store bought dried pasta, and focusing mostly on what the mother and nephew team is doing in house, Gina’s Bistro is the sort of restaurant unlikely to wow but happy to please, the service and setting “Un-Vegasy” in the best of ways while the food is often times quite good, particularly considering the price.

RECOMMENDED: Strozzapreti alla Norcina, Melanzane alla Parmigiana.

AVOID: Pollo alla Parmigiana, Gnocchi ai 4 Formaggi.

TIP: Daily specials are occasionally listed on the restaurant’s social media, though those interested in specifics (or special requests) would do well to call during normal business hours from 4p-9p Sunday through Thursday, and until 10p on Friday or Saturday night.

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

http://www.ginasbistrolv.com/

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Posted in Bread Basket, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Gina's Bistro, Gnocchi, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, Pork, Tiramisu

Gotta Love Cheesecake, Las Vegas NV

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Gotta Love Cheesecake

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Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Frosted Oatmeal Cookie

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White Chocolate and Michigan Cherry Cookie

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Turtle Cheesecake

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Banana Pudding Cheesecake

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Recently opened in the Northwest, a tucked away Strip-mall location a few hundred yards from Santa Fe Station Casino, Gotta Love Cheesecake has received a fair bit of press for a mom n’ pop – or, rather, mother and daughter – sort of place, and stopping in just after 2pm following a rather hefty lunch at Old School Pizzeria I found mother Kathy present and happy to chat, her childhood outside of Toronto and years in Michigan showing familiar sensibilities to my upbringing no less than thirty miles away and the sort of work ethic that seems well honed by those raised in Midwest.

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Rarely one to ‘seek out’ cheesecake, mostly because there are simply other desserts that I prefer but also because the dessert intrinsically runs quite heavy, it was with rumors that this version proves much ‘lighter’ than average that I approached my order and discussing the fact that ‘almost any’ flavor can be created with enough advanced notice I decided to invest my appetite in the two selections that most tickled my fancy, both of them apparently amongst the store’s three best sellers, as well as four cookies to a total tally of just over thirteen bucks.

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Charming in décor, themes of hope, God, and family featuring prominently amidst old photographs and cozy tables with Free WiFi for those choosing to dine-in, it was largely due to later plans that I opted to take my goods to go, and sitting down to sample the goods just over an hour later along with some coffee the trio of cookies proved good, if not particularly memorable, as flavors trended a bit sweeter than I’d have preferred; a lone exception found in the smallish dried cherry versions that benefitted the butteriness of white chocolate to help rein in the sugary dough.

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Moving on to the bakery’s eponymous item, each ‘personal sized’ cake selling for a mere $4.95, it was with some skepticism that cut into the caramel swirled Turtle, and first tasting the cake before adding nutty chocolate topping to the rest I’m happy to say that rumors of fluffiness are indeed fact, each bite more akin to a panna cotta or semi-freddo in heft than it is to the New York style popularized by Juniors’ while neither richness nor flavor is forsaken.

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Setting aside part of the Turtle for later, and moving on to a similarly textured cake topped with soft banana pudding atop a graham cracker crust that is thick enough to require a little bit of work but mildly flavored enough to not overwhelm the cream cheese taste, those who fancy the Southern Classic would be well served to stop by and sample this masterpiece because although certainly not ‘authentic’ the flavor profile is every bit on point, and completely devoid of the artificial banana tones that oft mar the original and render it cloyingly sweet.

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THREE AND A HALF STARS: Considering the name of the space it should seem logical that the Cheesecakes are where anyone visiting Gotta Love Cheesecake should invest their appetites and expect to be well rewarded, the cookies and other treats such as cupcakes and cookies apparently of varying quality based on reports from both myself and others.

RECOMMENDED: Turtle Cheesecake, Banana Pudding Cheesecake.

AVOID: Frosted Oatmeal Cookie

TIP: Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10a-6p, those interested in ordering a large-scale cheesecake or requesting a special flavor are encouraged to stop in or contact the team directly as most items can be created with 24-48 hours’ notice.

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

http://www.gottalovecheesecake.com

Gotta Love Cheesecake on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dessert, Food, Gotta Love Cheesecake, Las Vegas, Nevada

Old School Pizzeria, North Las Vegas NV

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Old School Pizzeria

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Garlic Rosemary Knots, Whole Cloves, Garlic Aioli (Half Order)

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Vegas Meets Italy – Smoked Mozzarella, Ricotta, Pistachios, China Ranch Dates, Date Cream Sauce, Fresh Arugula, Thin Sliced Prosciutto, Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

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Regina Margherita – Fresh Torn Basil, Fresh Mozzarella, Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce

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Cannolis

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Located in North Las Vegas, across from Cannery North which is essentially just south of Siberia according to many Las Vegans, Old School Pizzeria had long been bookmarked for a visit, and stopping in after an early movie at Galaxy Theaters I found the small pizzeria just over half full – a couple of folks already enjoying a meal while others awaited to-go orders, an Air Force Squadron from nearby Nellis entering mere moments in my wake.

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Small in size and modest in décor, the menu by Gio Mauro written in chalk with locally sourced produce and top-quality purveyors like Mary’s Free Range Chickens featured prominently amidst options both classic and creative, a visit to Old School starts at the counter across from stainless-steel ovens and tempting with several individual orders plus several items to share the only question is where best to invest, my order of one appetizer, a 50/50 small Specialty Pie, and a trio of cannoli tallying just shy of $25 though a mistake in preparation would instead see two full pizzas arrive for the price of just one.

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Using only naturally leavened dough, the sort which maintains great stretch and subtle yeast even when nicely charred, it was with a small order of garlic knots that the meal began and with ample butter serving to carry notes of rosemary high on the palate my original skepticism for accompanying “ranch” was quickly dispelled, the rich aioli far lighter than I’d ever expected…though perhaps best avoided for those on a first date as the garlic aromatics are indeed quite profound.

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Having mentioned the small hiccup in my half-and-half pie it was after perhaps twenty minutes of surfing free WiFi that the first single-style pizza was served, and quickly offering to make amends with my second choice free of charge it was only at the Pizzaiolo’s insistence that I finally agreed, the Regina Margherita served just fifteen minutes later and offering a whole lot of leftovers eventually gifted to a homeless man out front of Santa Fe Station en route home.

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Speaking to the quality of both pies, and beginning with the crust as any great pizza should, one would be hard pressed to name a better electric fired pie outside of Dom DiMarco’s, but with a crust even more crisp yet pliable plus far less ‘branding’ the smoky rim at Old School ups the ante substantially in both texture and taste, a similar compliment offered to boldly acidic tomato sauce virtually devoid of sugar on a Margherita that could have perhaps used a bit more time to melt the cheese, and even moreso to the sweet meets savory “Vegas Meets Italy” that finds fresh arugula providing an apt foil to thinly cut pork plus figs and their infused cream, the pistachios and ample ricotta rounding out textures in each hearty bite.

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Limited in desserts, but offering cannolis that they proudly boast as ‘filled to order’ it was without hesitation that a trio was ordered and packed as if to go I assured the young cashier that such a thing would be entirely unnecessary, each crisp shell packed delicately with whipped ricotta and sweet mascarpone on par with those at Naked City for best in the city – a trio costing less than just one soggy pre-filled tube at Carlo’s Bakery on the Strip.

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS: Forgiving the mistake in my order as service recovery went well beyond what was necessary, I’ll officially label myself a convert in naming Old School Pizzeria the best in a city with no lack of designer pies from which to choose. Family owned and operated, without the benefit of a celebrity chef boasting ten ovens or an address including South Las Vegas Boulevard, Old School Pizzeria is the sort of place doing things ‘right,’ each hand crafted pie receiving careful attention and quality ingredients in a less than likely location well worth the drive.

RECOMMENDED: Vegas Meets Italy, Cannoli.

AVOID: Going during peak hours when particularly hungry as wait times are dependent on not only the significant attention to detail, but also the presence of only one oven.

TIP: Offering several rotating specials, many made at the whim of the chef, those looking for something along with their pizza are encouraged to call and inquire, the sausage stuffed wings a hit amongst the military men while the previous day’s ‘nduja and burrata bruschetta is something I’d have ordered without hesitation if available during my stay.

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

http://www.pizzaoldschool.com/

Old School Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dessert, Food, Italian, Las Vegas, Nevada, North Las Vegas, Old School Pizzeria, Pizza, Pork

Lumberjacks Restaurant, North Las Vegas NV

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Lumberjacks Restaurant

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Coffee

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Jumbo Biscuit with Honey

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Griddle Sampler – Flapjacks, French Toast, Banana Bread French Toast, Sunny Side Up Eggs, Applewood Smoked Bacon

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Deep Fried Apple Bread Pudding with Bourbon Cream Sauce and Caramel

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Located on Craig Road in North Las Vegas, and part of a small chain featuring the slogan “Where the Big Boys Eat,” it was largely on a whim that I decided to visit Lumberjacks Restaurant en route to an early showing of The Avengers at Galaxy Theaters and although the bloated movie was more than a little disappointing the breakfast served amidst log cabin décor was far better than rumors or reviews would have it, even if portions didn’t really seem all that large to someone sporting a pretty good appetite despite his deceiving frame.

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Cleverly themed, but far less ‘branded’ than Hash House a Go Go or Black Bear Diner…or any restaurant under the Daniel Boulud banner, to be fair…guests arriving at Lumberjacks are greeted by the large statue of a hirsuit woodsman out front and upon entering by ‘yes sir/yes ma’am’ service plus a large case of cakes and pies, an “ultimate burger bar” with tables flanking it on both sides before an open kitchen to their rear.

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Offering options of breakfast, lunch, and dinner with almost the entire menu available throughout regular business hours, it was with little hesitation that I flipped directly to the section labeled griddles and after a few questions about what was featured in the pastry case my order essentially wrote itself, a request to have items sent out as they were ready resulting in two courses served over the course of forty-five minutes during which only inaccessible “free” WiFi and having to repeatedly request coffee refills marred an otherwise pleasant stay.

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Homey in design, with tables and chairs set peripherally as banquets and booths lined the middle of the room, it was in a sort of alcove that I sat and within only ten minutes of ordering I was in the midst of sugaring my second cup of coffee when my dessert-as-appetizer arrived, the plate described as “deep fried bread pudding” proving to be a sort of devilish mashup somewhere between traditional custard soaked brioche and an apple fritter with a crispy golden exterior gilded by glistening caramel plus a sidecar of custard lightly tinged with booze.

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Almost certain that neither my entrée nor a housemade biscuit would trump the bread pudding in decadence, quality, or inspiration it was nonetheless to a large plate of proteins and carbs that I was treated next and although my assumptions would indeed be born out as none but the nutty banana bread with a gently seared exterior was particularly memorable it wasn’t as though any of the options was particularly ‘bad,’ just standard run-of-the-mill breakfast fare served at a good price with both flapjacks and French Toast happy to sop up pure maple syrup ported from home while the large biscuit was piping hot and flaky with ample notes of buttermilk beneath whipped butter and honey, both.

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THREE STARS: Setting aside the out-of-the-way location and service that was far less attentive than would be expected from a restaurant less than a quarter full, Lumberjacks Restaurant is comparable to spots like The Cracked Egg, Egg Works, Mr. Mama’s, Jamms’, and several others in terms of price, quality, and portions – the deep fried bread pudding amongst the very finest examples in The Valley, and something I’d suggest justifying the thirty minute trip North.

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RECOMMENDED: Deep Fried Apple Bread Pudding, Banana Bread French Toast.

AVOID: For those fancying a thicker, fluffier pancake a trip elsewhere would be advised as those at Lumberjacks are truly ‘Flapjacks” in nature, the batter thin and the crumb a bit more densw than some might prefer.

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TIP: Open at 7am Seven Days a week, those looking at ‘dinner for breakfast’ would be advised to call in advance as certain items are only available after 11a, while breakfast options are served from open to close.

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

http://www.lumberjacksrestaurant.com

Lumberjacks Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Posted in Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Las Vegas, Lumberjacks, Lumberjacks Restaurant, Nevada, North Las Vegas, Pancakes, Pork

Taco Maria, Costa Mesa CA

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Taco Maria

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Canapes – Pickled Carrot, Pork Trotter with Scallion Aioli, Suzuki with Nori Chip

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Betabeles – Beet, Winter Citrus, Quinoa, Jalapenos, Cilantro, Dill

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Enchilada ‘Suiza’ de Ortigas – Black Trumpets, Huitlacoche, Queso Oaxaca, Stinging Nettles

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Arroz con Cangrejo – Dungeness Crab, Jasmine Rice, Green Chile, Chicken Skin

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Sopa de Chicharron – Asparagus, Ricotta, Spring Garlic, Radish, Pork Rind

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Pozole de Abulon – Abalone and Hominy Stew, Brassicas, Meyer Lemon, Olive Oil

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Sopa de Crema – Ocean Trout, Cultured Cream, English Peas, Potato, Caviar

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Birria de Cordero – Lamb Loin and Neck, Fava Bean, Coffee, Turnip, Lime

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Carnitas de Tocino – Sweet Braised Bacon, Rio Zape Beans, Grilled Cabbage, Mandarinquat

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Burnt Strawberry Atole

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Already on my culinary radar even before Carlo Salgado was named to Food & Wine’s list of Best New Chefs, dinner at Taco Maria was originally slated to be a five person affair, but when two friends miscalculated the drive-time to Orange County our party was suddenly cut to three – our trio taking the opportunity to exchange al fresco seating for a large four-top in full view of a kitchen turning out the sort of Mexican cuisine I imagine few have experienced to date.

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Interestingly located amidst an outdoor shopping center focused on home décor and modernist design with local vendors showing their goods at small booths surrounding “The OC Mix” center court, Taco Maria is nothing short of a work of passion, and named after the Chef’s Mother with a prix-fixe menu of four courses with options at each for a mere $65 everything from the ingredients to the inspiration behind each plate is the very definition of ‘culinart arts,’ the complexity of each dish matched only by its appeal to the eye and flavors that challenge as well as delight.

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Small in size and high in demand, a good thing for the restaurant but perhaps not for diners as service did at times feel rushed, the meal began with a trio of canapés that wakened the palate with their diversity and opting to approach the menu so that all eight plates could be sampled a first course of beet salad set beside enchiladas immediately showed a strong hand for balance, the former matching notes of earth to citrus and heated aromatics while the rolled tortilla beneath green sauce was a chlorophyll tinged ode to umami as huitlacoche’s signature flavor tickled the palate in each bite.

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Moving briskly to soup beside porridge, the later apparently becoming a bit of a ‘signature’ though frequently changed up due to the seasonality of ingredients, it can only be said that while the vibrant potage was indeed quite tasty with more asparagus flavor than anything offered on Maude’s monthly menu the night before there is undoubtedly a reason why the Arroz has received such acclaim, each bite offering something slightly different from that before it with plenty of picked crab showing its diverse flavor profile, at times acting as a sweet foil to chiles while otherwise offering an oceanic tinge to perfectly cooked rice dotted with bits of crispy skin.

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Increasing in size, and in complexity, with each progressive course the third round featured anything but the ‘same ol’ pozole as tender abalone found itself swimming in a brilliant green broth of mustard greens and griddled hominy lightly kissed by acid plus something slightly sweet, and served as the alternative to moist yet flaky trout over cultured cream with peas and caviar one would be hard pressed to determine which dish was superior – a decision from which we were fortunately spared as there was more than enough of each to go around.

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Aware that dessert is ‘modest,’ despite the Chef’s training in pastry, the final proper course of the evening featured two substantial cuts of protein bathed in broth and although one in our group generally does not favor lamb this was again a situation where no bite was less than inspired and delicious, the thick cut of belly braised until the fat had just melded to muscle while the lamb was tender and funky in a dark pool of reduced stock with bitters and acid somewhat harkening a mole as coffee replaced cocoa in a most surprising way.

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Treated last to a warm cup of strawberry scented cornmeal cream that reminded me of tapioca pudding that had not yet set, it was with the bill paid that Chef Salgado stepped away from his kitchen to thank us for coming in, and exactly as humble as many have described the youthful looking 35 year old OC native one can only assume the accolades will continue to arrive – a return for brunch or some of the tacos perfected during his time in a food truck will no doubt find their way into a future trip…particularly should he opt to put those well-trained pastry skills back on display.

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http://www.tacomaria.com/

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Posted in California, Costa Mesa, Crab, Dessert, Food, Los Angeles, Orange County, Pork, Taco Maria, Tasting Menu, Vacation

Afters Ice Cream, Fountain Valley CA

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Afters Ice Cream

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Samples – Milk and Cereal Ice Cream, Cookie Monster, Almond Cookie

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Glazed Milky Bun with Almond Cookie Ice Cream, Cap’n Crunch

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Highly praised by friends in Orange County, and proudly declaring themselves the inventors of the “Milky Bun,” curiosity got the best of me shortly after arriving in Costa Mesa/Fountain Valley, the small shop tucked inside a local shopping complex barely demarcated by a sign as several youngsters sat on the patio eating sundaes as well as Afters signature item.

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Apparently one of two locations, each with a small selection of house-made ice creams and toppings ranging from mochi to M&Ms, my arrival at Afters was greeted by four young Asian teenagers and offered samples of several flavors that ranged from smooth and creamy to just plain ‘sweet’ while textures were not quite on par with many artisan outfits across the country, it was eventually in one Milky Bun that I invested, the fill –> top –> heat –> glaze…or cream –> fill –> seal –> eat as they describe it…process taking just over three minutes before I exited the small space having exchanged $5 for the treat.

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Acknowledging that Afters is more about novelty than being something truly ‘gourmet’ it was none the less to a pleasant juxtaposition of glazed heat over cool and crunchy center that my teeth pierced the bun, and opting for the mildness of almond cookie ice cream topped with a handful of Cap’n Crunch the experience was exactly as expected, a fun little ice cream sandwich that seems destined to be gussied up and sold at a premium as the concept expands east.

http://aftersicecream.com/

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Posted in Afters, Afters Ice Cream, California, Costa Mesa, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Los Angeles, Orange County, Vacation