Friday, July 26, 2013

Another South Memphis Roadside Smoker - Malia's

The section of Elvis Presley Boulevard just north of Brooks Road in South Memphis seems to be the place to go for finding roadside vendors smoking barbecue. I recently noticed the trailer identifying itself as Malia's sitting in between the A&R on Elvis Presley and the spot where I sampled the pulled pork from the Dr. BBQ bus.

I was planning to get some ribs to-go from A&R when I saw Malia's. Once I spotted the barrel smoker built into the side of the trailer I knew I had to sample some of the food from it.

At the time I stopped the vent was open on the trailer's smoker so I could look in and see the burning coals.

Malia's also had an additional large smoker beside the trailer and offered a fairly lengthy selection of smoked meats.

Since I had originally planned to get ribs from A&R that is what I ordered when I ended up getting dinner from the Malia's trailer instead. The rib plate included one side item so I opted for cole slaw.

I got the half-slab plate for $12 with the ribs served dry with the sauce on the side. They had a great flavor but were fairly tough in places. Malia's uses full spare ribs, which are hard to cook to a consistently tender consistency. I prefer when places use ribs where the tips have been separated from the St. Louis cut. The extra butcher work makes the meat more expensive per pound but the separate cuts are much easier to work with. The extra difficulty in doing full spare ribs correctly is a good indicator of just how much skill is involved for those expert pitmasters who are able to do whole hog well.

I avoid the bread when I eat barbecue to keep my quest as healthy as possible but if you are a fan of white bread with your smoked meat Malia's hooks you up. The styrofoam clamshell that my sauce and slaw came in also included five slices of bread. The slaw was exactly the way I prefer it with plenty of mustard and vinegar. The next time I see the Malia's trailer I'll try either the pulled pork or the smoked sausage or bologna. Actually at just $3 an order for both of them I'll probably try the sausage and the bologna rather than trying to pick one or the other. Full spare ribs are hard to get exactly right, but there is no way the smoked sausages coming from that rig could fail to be perfect.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Great Food with Perfect Little Added Details - BluesFest House of Soulfood

Jackson, TN, continues to impress me with its selection of great Southern food restaurants. 

I'd been noticing the BluesFest House of Soul Food across the street from the mall on Highland in Jackson for several months now. But the parking lot was always empty, making me assume the new restaurant wasn't open yet. I admit I probably should have put more effort into scoping the place out, but it is right down the street from Latham's Meat Company so any time I'd pass by around lunchtime I'd already have a full stomach. In fact, I'd just eaten at Latham's about about a month ago when I noticed the lot at BluesFest was full of cars.

The sign announcing the restaurant's "chitt'lin drive thru" assured me there was some serious soul food being served inside the spacious building.

It turns out that the restaurant had been open for several months locals were beginning to discover it. It made me wish I'd stopped in earlier, but my love for the ribs at Latham's makes it hard for me to not eat there whenever I get a chance.

The inside of the restaurant is heavily decorated with guitars and other blues-related memorabilia and there was blues music playing in the dining room during my visit, which all combined to create a very enjoyable atmosphere.

I had a good feeling about the food as soon as I noticed the bottles of various varieties of homemade hot pepper sauces.

There are a lot of playful little touches that add to the experience at BluesFest. The servers use aluminium trashcan lids as serving platters.

All of the food that I saw looked great. I was torn between the pork chop, the grilled fish and the fried chicken when the man in front of me in line ordered a pork chop with greens and cabbage and I just asked for the same thing he was having. The little touches continued to add up when I realized that all the drinks are served in one quart Mason jars and every meal includes the option of either a dinner roll or your own little cast iron skillet full of fresh cornbread. I'm not sure why anyone would order a plane roll with those choices.

The Italian-seasoned pork chop was baked and smothered with a mix of finely chopped veggies in a tasty broth. It and the sides were all excellent, especially once I hit my greens and cabbage with the homemade green hot pepper sauce. The cornbread was sweeter than I prefer but that might have been something of a blessing since it cause me to just eat a few little pieces instead of devouring the entire skillet full. Everything was good enough that when I'm on Highland in Jackson in the future I'll be faced with a similar dilemma to the one I encounter when I work near the Collierville Square. In Collierville I frequently flip a coin to decide between lunch at Gus's Fried Chicken and Captain John's Barbecue. I'll probably have to do the same thing to pick between lunches at Latham's and BluesFest.

On my was out at BluesFest I stopped by the restroom where the music themed continued. The men's room was labeled B.B. King's while the lady's was labeled Tina Turner's.

House of soulfood bluesfest on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 18, 2013

New Place in Wolfchase - Ty's Bar-B-Que

Attempting to try every barbecue and soul food place around Memphis is a lot like a game of Whack-a-Mole. Existing places close and new places open at a steady pace. I posted about the Wolfchase location of A&R Bar-B-Q in January of last year. I was pretty critical of the ribs I had there, but on return visits I did enjoy some good pulled pork from the restaurant.

That location closed a few months ago, but I recently noticed the space being renovated for a new place called Ty's Bar-B-Q. 

While I was critical of the ribs I had at the Wolfchase A&R, don't let that discourage you from ordering ribs at the Elvis Presley location that cooks in an old-school smokehouse.

I stopped in Ty's during the renovation process back in May and talked with the owner, who told me he was shooting for an opening in mid-June. There was a heavy barbecue aroma in the building during my visit that assured me the new owner was getting himself acquainted with his new pit as well as worrying about cosmetic touches. June came and went before I finally saw an open sign in the window. I wasn't surprised, since renovation work always takes longer and costs more than expected.

The new pig-shaped benches out front were a nice addition.

When I finally spotted an open sign a couple weeks ago I immediately stopped in for lunch. The restaurant has a large collection of trophies from area barbecue competitions on display so I went straight for what I consider the ultimate test of Memphis barbecue -- dry rub ribs.

The rib plate at Ty's only comes with one side so I opted for slaw. It was a good choice. The roughly chopped, mustardy slaw included a nice dusting of dry rub mixed in with it and was delicious.

The ribs had a nice bark, well-rendered fat and good smoke penetration. I'd ordered them with sauce on the side but they ended up being good enough to enjoy sauceless. 

When I stopped in the following week I ordered the pulled pork plate. It comes with two sides so I got beans and slaw.

The baked beans ended up being great as well. They had plenty of meat in them and a nice, thick sauce. I don't eat the bread at the barbecue places I visit, since I try to keep my junk food to a minimum, but if I did Ty's would certainly get extra credit for using buttered Texas Toast like the beloved Bar-B-Q shop in Midtown. The meal was $8.99 and at first glance the pile of pulled pork seemed deceptively small since it was packed together so tightly.

Once I separated the meat with a fork I realized just how big of  a serving it actually was. Like the ribs it was good enough to be enjoyed without any sauce.  

Since the restaurant offered three varieties of sauce I wanted to try them all even though the meat didn't need it. Of the three I was somewhat surprised when I ended up preferring the smoky to the hot and original. I'm normally not a fan of liquid smoke since it seems like cheating. But the smoke flavor in this sauce wasn't overwhelming enough to seem fake, especially since the meat was good enough that even when I did add sauce I was using it sparingly. 

I was happy to find a good, locally-owned barbecue place so close to my parents' house. I usually meet up with my dad for lunch on Tuesdays in that part of town, which happens to be the day that Gridley's nearby is closed. Of the other barbecue options in the area, we were both underwhelmed by the newly-opened Baby Jack's and while Fat Larry's has great brisket the pork there has been unimpressive lately as well. My dad instilled a lot of my love for barbecue. He was traveling for work so he wasn't with me during my first two visits but I look forward to taking him to Ty's soon.  

Ty's Smokehouse BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Place in my Old Hood - Dindie's Soul Food

I recently spotted Dindie's Soul Food on a familiar stretch of Stage Road between Coleman and Austin Peay in Raleigh. I lived in Raleigh up until I was a teenager. The restaurant sits across the the street from the old Raleigh Skateland, which is apparently called the Raleigh Skate Center these days. And it is just a few buildings down from the Living Word Fellowship Church, which was called Living Word Lutheran Church when I went to Cub Scout and Boy Scout meetings there as a youth.

Given my fond memories of the area I was very happy when Dindie's ended up being a great place to eat.

The exterior of the building is pretty drab. I think I remember it being a Chinese restaurant when I was a kid. 

Inside the restaurant is clean and inviting. As I was welcomed in by the friendly owner I noticed that Dindie's also has the honor of being the only soul food restaurant I know of in the city that is endorsed by a professional wrestler -- Eddie "Snowman" Crawford.

After looking over the menu and reading the day's specials I ended up ordering the grilled tilapia with greens and cabbage. It was July 5 and working in the heat the day after the excesses of July 4 left me wanting a relatively light lunch. I loved the seasoning on everything. I never touched the salt, pepper or any of the hot sauces on my table. And the fish was perfectly grilled with plenty of moisture in the fillets.

When I asked the owner he said the restaurant had been open for nearly a year, but a lot of people seemed to just now be noticing it. Given the freshness and quality of the food I expect his business to grow as people who notice and stop in become regular customers and tell their friends.

UPDATE: I stopped back by Dindie's a couple weeks after this post and ended up trying the meatloaf, once again ordering greens and cabbage since they were so good on my first visit. The sides were as good as I remember and the meatloaf was nearly as good as the meatloaf at Southern Hands (the linked Collierville location is closed now but Southern Hands still has a Hickory Hill restaurant). At Dindie's the meatloaf was offered with either a tomato sauce or a brown gravy sauce. I went with the tomato since it sounded closest to the sauce I love at Southern Hands. With Dindie's proximity to Covington Pike, where I frequently work, and the food I've had so far I can tell it will be a regular stop for me in the future.


Dindie's Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bachelor Living for a Weekend - Venison Shoulder, Collard Greens, Corky's and Venomous Spiders

My wife went to Los Angeles to visit an old friend of ours recently meaning I was free to prepare whatever bachelor chow I wanted for myself while she was gone. My first step was to buy up a good supply of collard and mustard greens along with a pack of Nathan's hot dogs.

I also went digging in the freezer and pulled out a box of precooked, heat-and-serve Corky's ribs I'd bought at an area Kroger a few months ago intending to try them. Then things went completely meat crazy when a friend of mine who writes for the Go Carnivore blog and whose wife was out of town with mine decided to have a cookout in his backyard. I thawed out a venison shoulder I had in the freezer and smoked it as my contribution to that feast. (Step-by-step on the smoked venison shoulder is at the bottom of the post if you came here Googling that).

I bought the Corky's frozen ribs on a whim a few months ago curious to see if they were worth eating. I knew they couldn't be worse than a McRib or a pork rib MRE.

Before I could heat up the ribs I had to cook my greens. I normally start out by boiling salt pork in water for about 20 minutes. Easy Way was out of salt pork so I got salt cured pork fat back instead. Salt pork is made from the belly fat of the pig while fat back is from the back. Either one is fine for flavoring greens. I also add a big scoop of bacon grease. With the fat back I had to add more salt latter than I normally do with salt pork. A friend recently mentioned that he boils his greens in beer so I gave that a try as well. He mentioned that any light domestic swill will work. I ended up using about three cans of Bud Light to cover the fat back. It did add a nice extra dimension of flavor to the finished product. 

The most time consuming part of cooking collard greens is cutting out the thick middle stalks. I used two bunches of collards and one bunch of mustard greens. And I always add a diced jalapeno or two along with some crushed red pepper flakes. The collards cooked for a couple hours while I added the mustard greens in with just a couple hours to go.

If you've ever cooked Southern greens, or spinach, or kale, you understand how you can start with an overflowing pot like this... 

...And end up with this after they cook down.

This is how the vacuum-sealed Corky's ribs look when you pull them out of the box.

The instructions on the Corky's ribs said to lay them on foil on a baking tray and then add all the additional sauce from the pouch. The nutrition facts showed that this approach gives you 22 grams of sugar for every three rib bones. No thanks. I used as little of the sauce as possible, even wiping a lot of it off with a paper towel.

The instructions said to sprinkle the ribs with Corky's dry rub after cooking for dry ribs. During a recent stop at Latham's Meat Company I'd picked up some of that restaurant's dry rub so I used it on half the slab. I like the dry rub Corky's uses in its restaurants, but the Latham's rub is what I had on hand.

Interestingly, as much as I love the dry ribs at Latham's, the section of my Corky's ribs with it added tasted way too salty. But the ribs at Latham's don't come with the heavy dusting of rub you see on most restaurants' dry ribs.

The ribs had a nice smoke flavor but were a little dry and tough. That might have come from following the instructions to cook them uncovered but not using much of the sauce. I wrapped the leftovers in foil when I reheated them and they ended up better than my first meal. Overall the frozen ribs were pretty okay, but I don't understand the point of buying them here in Memphis where good fresh ribs are so readily available.

Back in December my friends at Go Carnivore gave me a venison shoulder and said they wanted to see what I could do with it on a smoker. I had been hesitant to try it out of fear of ruining it since venison is so much leaner than the pork meat I was used to cooking on my smoker. But we had a ridiculous amount of food lined up for our cookout so I was able to experiment with little pressure since there would still be plenty to eat even if the shoulder turned out inedible.

We had guys steadily showing up with smokers, each cooking enough to feed everyone there. This is Memphis. We know how to overdo it at a backyard barbecue.

The day before the cookout I'd rubbed the venison shoulder with a heavy coat of pork lard before rubbing it with a mix of mustard, apple cider vinegar and homemade dry rub from my friend Travis.

I smoked it in the same $40 Brinkmann smoker I use for pork. Good barbecue doesn't require expensive equipment. Just attention to detail. I used a mix of lump charcoal and hickory wood.

Be on the lookout for black widow spiders this time of year in the South. I caught this beast living in my smoker when I went to set it up.

Every hour I melted a generous amount of pork lard in a pan on my stove and used it to baste the shoulder before spraying it with pineapple juice and apple cider vinegar.

The total cook time was nine hours; three hours on each side then three hours wrapped in foil. I gave it another good coat of pork lard followed by a coat of barbecue sauce before putting it in the foil. I don't know an exact temperature, but I tried to keep things on the low side of the "ideal" section on the Brinkmann's cheapo temp gauge.

I had no idea what the end result was going to be like when I unwrapped it, but it turned out great.

It ended up being similar to good brisket, with a nice bark and good smoke penetration. The meat stayed tender and moist, which I attribute to the powers of pork lard. Everyone devoured it with no added sauce.

I was feeling generous so I also caught a house fly to feed the black widow I'd caught in my smoker so it could feast as well.