Monday, April 1, 2019

Off the Map: Walking Around the Drive-In

BBQ Chicken -- Bar-B-Q King, Charlotte, NC

If you've never been lost within the confines of a fast food restaurant, you've never vacationed with Vodka.
This Statement is True for Both the Upper- and Lower-Case Versions of "Vodka"
Twenty minutes after landing at the Charlotte International Airport, Vodka and her college roommate, Whiskey Sour, can be found staring helplessly at a blank wall within Bar-B-Q King, searching for a menu, an employee, and/or any clue as to what we are supposed to do next.
We're People Who Need GPS for INSIDE a Store
Before long, a sheriff, who is inexplicably stationed within the establishment, implores us to round the corner in order to find the cashier, which is where we can place our order for Guy Fieri's chosen Best Thing I Ever Ate ALL AMERICAN dish, the BBQ chicken.
Personally, We Find Onion Rings More American, but Okay
It appears that we are not actually supposed to be inside Bar-B-Q King at all, since every other patron has remained in his or her car, having their provisions fetched for them, Sonic-style, by employees who have worked here longer than we've been alive. 

Literally, They've Regaled Us with Their Employment Histories
In contrast, our Lyft driver is loitering somewhere within the parking lot, holding our luggage and dignity hostage, as we await our takeout order.
We're Going to Sue Guy If We Lose Our Backup Jeans on Account of His Chicken Choice
Overwhelmed by the menu before us, we place an order for two BBQ combo trays and one Thursday BBQ special, figuring this will give us the chance to sample much of what Bar-B-Q King has to offer.
We'd Appreciate a Better Picture-to-Text Ratio
 Three giant boxes of steaming fried food later, we realize the possible error of our ways.
A BBQ Meal Fit for Kings, So to Speak
Perhaps due to a combination of the quantity, the leisurely pace of Southern efficiency, and our growing angst that our rideshare driver is about to make haste with our underwear, it takes an exceptionally long time for our meal to be prepared. 
Please Speed Up the Pickle Placement
During this lull, we are "entertained" by the aforementioned sheriff, who after ever lengthier pauses, answers such innocuous questions as "What should we see while in Charlotte?" with, "Well... I don't... I don't really... I don't know what you like."
Charlotte, We Have Found the Next Member of Your Tourism Bureau
We eventually arrive, suitcases unscathed, at our hotel to meet our third college roommate, Diet Coke. 
And Immediately Place Before Her a Mountain of Carolina Goodness
Finding a dearth of seating in our room, and discouraged against carting our grub up to the swanky rooftop bar, we hover over the myriad of boxes like pigs lined up at the trough. 

Classing Up the Place Since 2003
Whiskey Sour, who is starving, is moaning with glee at the King's creations. 
It's Worth Noting That We, As Always, Loaded Up on Condiments
Along with Guy's choice, which is a fried chicken dunked in a generous layer of BBQ sauce, we have pulled pork, French fries, onion rings, hushpuppies, cole slaw, baked beans, and rolls with which to contend. 

In Other Words, a Light Meal
Vodka, who despite dragging friends to BBQ places around the country for Best Thing I Ever Ate purposes, does not really enjoy the cuisine, is fairly neutral on the buffet before us, as is Diet Coke. 
How Much Pulled Pork Can One Judge... If One Doesn't Like Pulled Pork?
Due to the addition of the sauce, the chicken is on the soggy side (perhaps why one is encouraged to consume it in the car), and the flavor itself is appropriately sweet and sour, yet still unremarkable. 

Non-Crispy Chicken
The standout item among this array is the small sampling of baked beans (of all things), but despite Whiskey Sour's protests, we refuse to give the chicken itself anymore than a respectable, if average, 3 stars.
That's One Star Per Box
Appropriately, after quantum physics-level of finagling in order to fit our leftovers into the overflowing minibar refrigerator, it is Whiskey Sour who hauls the five-pound box of North Carolina delicacies up north for a final feast, all the while maintaining their 5 star appeal.

Bar-B-Q King's BBQ Chicken: 3 stars

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Off the Map: When You're Better Off Eating in a Gas Station

Burnt Ends on a Bun -- Gates Bar-B-Q, Kansas City, MO

For a city renowned for its barbeque, said joints are strangely absent from Kansas City's Best Thing I Ever Ate list. 
"What Are You Doing in Kansas City? Eating BBQ?" "No, Happy Hour Crawls"
In fact, the only BBQ joint featured was Duff Goldman's favorite, Gates Bar-B-Q, home of the burnt ends on a bun from the ORIGINAL episode. 
Nothing Like Walking Along a Highway in Search of Some Charred Meat
One would think that, as the first ever dish he chose to be featured on the program, it would be especially outstanding. 
No Pressure, Gates
One would be wrong.
Womp Womp
After all, this is Duff that we're talking about, and his taste in BTIEA meals has been, with a few notable exceptions, mediocre at best. 
And Downright Terrible at Worst
Let's just say that his preferences at Gates are not his finest culinary moment.
Like the BBQ Version of Fast Food, Without the "Fast" Component
Ironically, while Joe's Bar-B-Que -- that of the "it's located in a gas station" fame -- seems to be by far the most well-known of Kansas City's meaty enclaves, Gates makes Joe's look downright gourmet. 
Take Your Gallon with a Side of Ribs
The restaurant itself resembles a run-down Pizza Hut, with dimly lit dining rooms and workers that, despite the sign at the entrance proclaiming "entering the smile zone!" are more adept at yelling than grinning.
More Like "Gates, Where Smiles Go to Die"
We order one burnt end sandwich, which comes with pickles and Gates sauce, and after a single look at the concoction, we are not optimistic. 
Sloppy Joe on Steroids
The meat resembles a chunky version of pulled pork, and thanks to the whole "burnt end" bit (which, we acknowledge, is the whole point), it feels like chewing on a mouthful of stray fish bones. 
Doesn't That Sound Appetizing?
The sauce completely overpowers the taste of the beef, which would be fine if it tasted like anything more than acidic ketchup.
Not Doing Much for Your BBQ Reputation, Kansas City
We end up consuming a hearty portion of five bites each before throwing in the towel, and much like all of our other experiences in Kansas City, nobody seems to care about our displeasure.
Guess What, Kansas City? We Don't Care Either
And so, Vodka and Mezcal leave the Midwest with a distinct feeling of "meh," certain only that, if nothing else, at least we'll always have Cleveland.

Gates Bar-B-Q's Burnt Ends on a Bun: 2 stars

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Off the Map: Toto, I've a Feeling We ARE in Kansas After All

Pan-Fried Chicken -- Stroud's Restaurant and Bar, Fairway, KS

By the time Vodka and Mezcal cross state lines and enter Stroud's Restaurant and Bar, home of Simon Majumbar's Best Thing I Ever Ate LAST SUPPER dish, we have already consumed two breakfasts and are about to embark on a barbeque crawl.
We Are Nothing If Not Devoted to Our Cause
Which means, naturally, that we order a full fried chicken dinner including all the proverbial bells and whistles.
Including a Complimentary Basket of Crackers, Because Why Not?
We are here for the pan fried chicken, and perhaps sensing how overwhelmed we seem by the menu, our waitress proposes that we get the lunch special with two pieces of chicken, green beans, potatoes, a soup or salad, and cinnamon rolls. 
So, You Know, a Light Meal
As it happens, said waitress is the only person this entire trip to take even a slight bit of interest in the fact that we do not live within a five-mile radius. 
There's a Whole World Out There
She also reveals that she has worked at Stroud's for thirty years -- "before you girls were born" -- and the fact that she thinks we are still twenty-something endears her to us immediately.
Feel Free to Card Us for the Pitcher of Diet Coke
In a surprising turn of events, the salad that arrives before the rest of the platters proves to be the most unexpectedly pleasing part of the meal. 
Rabbit Food with a Side of Cholesterol
Doused with a gallon of homemade ranch and a healthy smattering of cheese and croutons, it has the exact carb-to-lettuce ratio that we're looking for.
Preparing to Lick the Plate Clean
While we decline to order a cocktail -- even after we spot a beverage called the "chicken choker" -- Stroud's offers a full bar, which somehow seems off-brand for a restaurant that also boasts an entire corner's worth of styrofoam to-go containers. 
We'll Take Our Artisan Cocktail with a Side of Non-Disposable Waste
When Mezcal requests a Diet Coke, an entire pitcher is placed on our table -- a portion soon matched by the bevy of food assembled before us.
The Midwestern Version of Pre-Gaming Thanksgiving
First things first, the chicken about which Simon Majumbar had raved is nothing more than okay. 
It Even Looks Like It's In Desperate Need of a Salt Shaker
While the meat itself is quite moist, it has next to no flavor, and the skin is similarly lacking in seasoning. 
Juicy but Also Blah
After Vodka drowns hers in salt and hot sauce, it is more enjoyable, but still not up to the standards of many of the other fried chickens featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate.
"Kansas Fried Chicken" Doesn't Exactly Have the Same Ring to It
The green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cinnamon rolls are all similarly good enough, but not outstanding. 
And Considering This is Vodka's Third Cinnamon Roll of the Trip, She Should Know
The whole experience feels very similar to Babe's Chicken Dinner House in Texas, where the leftover potential is even more important than the meal itself. 
Have Some Potatoes with Your Gravy
Sadly for us, and for Stroud's rating, we have too much eating ahead of us to partake in a doggie bag, and we head out empty handed.
So Much Styrofoam, So Little Time
"Remember, girls," our waitress calls after us, "you won't be young forever!" And with that uplifting goodbye, we head back down the yellow brick road and out of Kansas without a single chicken bone in tow.

Stroud's Restaurant and Bar's Pan-Fried Chicken: 3 stars

Monday, November 26, 2018

Off the Map: Do Ducks Even Have Tongues?

Duck Tongue Tacos -- Extra Virgin, Kansas City, MO

Kansas City: a town renowned for its barbeque, its jazz, and yanking the tongues out of unsuspecting poultry.
Too Harsh?
Vodka and her friend, Mezcal, are in town for their annual trip to a random metropolis, and after last year's Cleveland adventure, Kansas City has a lot to live up to. 
In Other Words, Where Are the Pierogies?
Right off the bat, things are not off to a rousing start, as rather than the warm welcome we received in the Buckeye state, Kansas City greets us with anywhere from abject apathy to downright displeasure. 
"Why Are You Here?" "Vacation" "Well, That's Strange"
Our solution to their obvious lack of interest in us is to entertain ourselves on a happy hour crawl.
The Answer to Everything Is Booze and Fried Cheese Curds
Four cocktails in and nowhere close to 6:00pm, we decide our best bet is to head to dinner ninety minutes early so we can put ourselves to bed at a reasonable time (for toddlers).
The Most Kansas City Nightlife We Encountered
Perhaps due to our booze consumption, rather than entering Extra Virgin, we stumble into the restaurant next door and have to be escorted to the correct location. 
Classy, Party of Two
We saddle up at a high top table and order a glass of wine (Vodka), a sangria (Mezcal), and a random assortment of tapas dishes (tuna ceviche, Greek salad, charred brussels sprouts).
"Random Assortment" Meaning Vodka Took No Notes
The Most Greenery We've Seen in a While

Ordered More for the Bacon and Less for the Brussels
Plus, of course, the reason we're in town: the duck tongue tacos, as recommended by Curtis Stone on the FRIGHTFULLY GOOD episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Make Way for... Duck Tongues
Despite the fact that we've been eating non-stop for over ten hours, when the food is placed in front of us, we dive in like a pair of ravenous beasts.
Truth, Julia, Truth
"What I appreciate about you is your ability to act like we haven't eaten anything all day," Vodka quips to Mezcal as two wine glasses are places before us. 
"Excuse Me, You Forgot the Rest of My Serving"
The taste of the actual food is at this point muted by Vodka's displeasure at her pour of wine, which appears to be all of a thimble-full.
Hell Hath No Fury Like Vodka with Not Enough Wine
Our feast is relatively tasty, though if anything, the duck tongue tacos are the most forgettable of the plates. 
Tastes Like Chicken. Literally
The tongues themselves taste like... well, not much. 
Perhaps They Should've Added Some Additional Giblets While They Were At It
While we appreciate that the texture of the tongues is not off-putting, its feels like the appeal of this dish is much more from the novelty of the ingredient than the flavor itself.
Not a Whole Lot to Quack About
"Are you okay on wine?" our waitress asks as Vodka all but vertically shakes the final sip directly down her throat.
Why? Are You Offering Free Refills?
"I'd be doing better with a larger pour," Vodka murmurs. And we wonder why no one in Kansas City seems to find us charming....

Extra Virgin's Duck Tongue Tacos: 3 stars