Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Off the Map: At Least It's Not Pork or Chicken

Surf and Turf -- Restaurant Iris, Memphis, TN
For our final Memphis Best Thing I Ever Ate dining experience, Vodka and friends decide to employ Uber to drive us ten minutes down the street so that our designated driver, Whiskey Sour, can have a cocktail (or preferably, two or three). 
"FINALLY" --Vodka
When said Uber driver arrives, he proceeds to get inexplicably lost in a parking lot, performing multiple U-turns and causing Vodka's trigger rating finger to rest squarely above two stars.
Buddy, You Are Literally Taking Us RIGHT DOWN THE STREET. Pull It Together
And then he finds "I Want It That Way" on the radio, cranks it up to a deafening volume, and instigates a full-on singalong among the four of us, and (even more miraculously) gets us to our dinner destination without too much more grief.
One Star for Driving, Five Stars for Soundtrack Selection
"Way to be saved by the Backstreet Boys, buddy," we mumble as we slide out of his car and through the door of Restaurant Iris, home of Claire Robinson's Best Thing I Ever Ate GUILTY PLEASURE dish, the surf and turf. Now compared to the other places we have ventured so far on this trip, Restaurant Iris is much classier. 
A Festive Table Which Does Not Belong to Us
Located in a converted Victorian-type house, the space is instantly charming, and we settle down at a corner table to properly complete our weekend in Memphis.
Almost Got Run Over By Our Own Uber Driver While Trying to Nab This Shot
And then they turn on the air.
Nothing Like Adding More Draft to a Drafty Old House
Now Vodka, who typically has fire running through her veins, is not easily put off by a smattering of cold air, but the wind flowing from the vent directly below our table is particularly icebergian in nature. It's so intense that our entire tablecloth begins blowing toward the ceiling, causing Diet Coke to scramble in a mad dash to get away from it.
We Didn't Realize This Place Came With Its Own Weather Pattern
Eventually, our waitress places a cocktail menu over the vent in order to shield us from its wrath, but not before Vodka has ordered the Boulevardier, and Whiskey Sour, a glass of Chardonnay. 
Not a Very Hearty Pour on the Chardonnay There, Iris
For dinner, Diet Coke chooses the lamb shank pappardelle, Whiskey Sour the Gulf Shrimp curry, and Vodka, the specified surf and turf, which consists of a New York Strip steak stuffed with fried oysters and blue cheese.
Herein Lie the Actual Descriptions, as Vodka Does Not Feel Like Typing Them
And as heavy and decadent as that sounds after two full days of non-stop consumption, at the very least, Vodka is grateful that it doesn't feature pork or chicken.
Beef: It's What's For Dinner. Thank Goodness
As we await our entrees, we are each given a deliciously warm roll to munch on, along with an amuse bouche of something that looks like a miniature avocado toast. 
Again, We've Reached the Point in Our Trip Where We Stop Paying Attention to What We Jam in Our Mouths
This Is Bread
And when the surf and turf arrives -- apparently one of the only dishes here which is never rotated off of the menu -- it looks just as ridiculous as described. 
Well, This Should Last Vodka At Least  Three Days
A solid hunk of meat rests in the middle of the plate, sliced horizontally down the middle and stuffed with fried oysters and chunks of blue cheese. 

How, Exactly, Does One Eat This Thing?
What looks like a blue cheese hollandaise sauce coats the top and spills over the side, and the whole thing rests atop a bed of diced potatoes.
Somebody Please Send Assistance
In other words, it's A LOT.
Ate All The Oysters and Five Bites of the Steak
Tasting the dish reveals it to be good, if a bit overly decadent. The steak is nicely cooked, the fried oysters are lovely (if sparse, compared to the other ingredients), and the blue cheese adds an interesting tang to the proceedings. But after a few more bites, the fact that the blue cheese seems to have seeped into every pour of the meat means that it starts to have an overpowering effect on every thing else happening on the plate. Is this dish good? Yes. Interesting? Yes. But would we order it again? No.
And Speaking of Decadent, Iris Doesn't Really Seem to Do Anything Halfway
Do Airlines Allow To-Go Bags on Board?

Of the three dishes at hand, Vodka prefers Diet Coke's lamb shank pappardelle, and she would certainly return to try other items on the menu. But the surf and turf, as guilty pleasurable as it might be, just may feature too much guilt for not enough pleasure.
The Cocktail Though? Absolutely No Guilt There
And while we enjoyed Restaurant Iris, it can't hold a candle to our true favorite place in all of Memphis, the Peabody Hotel, home of not only the famous Duck March, but also of an ornate lobby bar complete with chandeliers, piano playing, and an extensive cocktail list. 
Our Top 5-Star Choice of the Trip
So if you ask us, the Peabody should be the number one Best Thing I Ever Ate feature in Memphis. And if the Food Network doesn't agree, well, we don't really give a quack.

Restaurant Iris's Surf and Turf: 4 stars

Monday, January 30, 2017

Off the Map: After All That, They're Buying a Sprite?

Pork Rib Tips -- Tom's Barbeque and Deli, Memphis, TN
Tom's Barbeque and Deli

The good thing about venturing to Tom's Barbeque and Deli for Guy Fieri's Best Thing I Ever Ate GRILLED pork rib tips is that at least they're not fried chicken. The bad news about it is that we're still trying to digest our FIVE different pork dishes from the day before.
Please Be Gentle on Us, Tom
To say we're not hungry upon entering Tom's would be an understatement, which leads to yet another awkward conversation between Vodka and the workers, when they are flummoxed as to why we wouldn't want more food.
Please Allow Us to Show You Our Five-Page Color-Coded Itinerary, and Maybe You'll Understand
"Can we get the pork rib tips?"
"How much?"
"What's the least amount I can order?"
"How many of you?"
"How about a pound?"
"Oh no, that's too much."
"A half pound? But you wouldn't get many each."
"Can we do a quarter pound?"
"Then you'll only get a taste."
"That's what we want, a taste."
"Then I'll just give you a taste."
"Oh... okay."
It's Like the Who's on First of BBQ Pork Tip Conversations
Vodka is then handed a plate with three strips of charred meat and an accompanying side of barbeque sauce, which she dutifully brings to the cashier.

"That's on the house!" one of the workers manning the grill shouts.

Free?! Oh no. Now we have to give them 5 stars.
Or At Least We'll Pretend It's 5 Stars Until We Leave
Assembling at one of the tables, which seem suspiciously like pieces bought half-price at a lawn furniture sale, it takes us a while to figure out how to consume said rib tips. 
Deck Furniture Without the Deck
The bones themselves are doused with a generous helping of dry rub, with just the barest amount of meat visible on each piece. 
Okay, Soooo... How Do We Eat This?
We eventually figure out how to pull the sections apart and begin dunking it in the sauce before scraping the meat off with our teeth. 
Now We Understand the Toothbrush Machine Stationed at the Exit
On the one hand, we find the tips a good alternative to ribs themselves, which often seem like too heavy a meal to consume on their own. But on the other hand, they're just not that great. 
Also, Even Without All of the Other Bones We've Chewed on Today, They're Not That Appetizing to Look At
Diet Coke takes all of one bite, Vodka takes about five, while Whiskey Sour, never one to turn down a free meal, takes care of the rest. The workers circle around every once in a while to get our thoughts, and considering this is the first meal in nearly 250 blog entries that we have been given for free (that is, without complaining to the management first), we would give the service itself a solid 5 stars.

We just can't be that generous toward their rib tips.
Call Us Ungrateful, but We Have Our Standards
In the end, Diet Coke gets up to purchase a Sprite, and we assume that the staff at Tom's is judging us heavily. But because people in Memphis are kinder than we are, they keep their mouths shut, and accept a plate full of empty rib tips as their only payment.

Tom's Barbeque and Deli's Pork Rib Tips: 3 stars

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Off the Map: Conquering the South, One Fried Chicken at a Time

World Famous Fried Chicken -- Gus's Fried Chicken, Southaven, MS
Gus's Fried Chicken

"That was really good. Gus better work." And with that, said while leaving Uncle Lou's Southern Kitchen, Vodka and her friends have laid down the gauntlet on our next fried chicken stop of the day.
Time to Raise the Roof, Gus
In truth, Gus's Fried Chicken is more of a Memphis institution, but since none of us have ever been to Mississippi, we've decided to cross the border in order to go to the franchise in Southaven
Mississippi: The State We've Known How to Spell the Longest
When we pull up, we expect another "shack"-type joint -- the kind we've become accustomed to when it comes to ordering hunks of meat by the pound. Instead, we find a sit-down restaurant with actual table service -- albeit one that serves their meals on paper plates and their beverages in styrofoam cups.
Clearly, the EPA Hasn't Made It to Southaven Yet
We order three pieces of the Hot and Spicy World Famous Fried Chicken, as chosen by Claire Robinson on the FRIED CHICKEN episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate. We choose three fried chicken breasts, and once again, we are heartened by our waitress's kind reaction to us essentially declaring, "We'll have water and one entree."
Southern Charm at Its Finest
Our platter arrives with additional plates to spare, and Vodka is feeling tentative after her first encounter with "hot chicken" in Nashville (which nearly set her head on fire). 
Dear Chicken, Please Don't Kill Us
Thankfully, Gus's variety is much more mild, and also much less messy than Uncle Lou's. More of a classic fried chicken variety, the skin is extremely crisp and crunchy, while the meat inside remains perfectly moist. 
Still Life of Chicken Meat
The spices are subtle without being overwhelming, and whenever they start to become too hot for our tastes, the provided cole slaw gives the perfect antidote. 
Never Quite Understood the Penchant for Including a Solitary Piece of White Bread with Southern Cuisine
In the end, we decide that we have to rate Gus's identically to Uncle Lou's -- it is very, very good fried chicken, but it doesn't reach quite that 5 star level to set it apart.
A Stellar First Taste of Mississippi Living
All of that said, however, being that we have collectively already eaten multiple chickens today, we must give credit where credit is due. Because we did, after all, gnaw all of our respective chickens down to the bone.  

Gus's Fried Chicken's World Famous Fried Chicken: 4 stars

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Off the Map: The Fried Chicken Version of Cheers

Fried Chicken with Sweet Spicy Love Sauce -- Uncle Lou's Southern Kitchen, Memphis, TN
Uncle Lou's Southern Kitchen

If day one in Memphis was the reign of pulled pork, day two is the reign of fried chicken. The morning begins with a drive over the Mississippi to Arkansas, merely to say we've been there, including a stop at the fast food chain, Krystal's (which Vodka insists on referring to as Krystal Milkquake, in reference to its most famous product). 
Nothing like Coffee and a Milkquake at 8:00 AM
Without thinking much about it, she places an order for a chicken biscuit sandwich... meaning that she just added yet another fried chicken dish to her day's consumption.
Just Trying to Match the Pulled Pork Quota from Yesterday
Thankfully, we have a four hour respite in Graceland to allow the chicken and milkquakes to settle before we head to Uncle Lou's Southern Kitchen, home of fried chicken with sweet spicy love sauce, as recommended by Guy Fieri on the WITH MY HANDS episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate
Obviously, Guy Made an Impression on the Carpeting
Located in a nondescript strip mall on the side of an even more nondescript road, it's hard to tell what we're getting ourselves into from the outside. 
Hey, Pete and Sam -- Now THIS Is Some Clear Signage
But as soon as we open the doors, we are greeted by a jolly man wearing a polo shirt embroidered with the words "Uncle Lou." Not only does he say hello warmly, but upon hearing that we have ventured to his establishment all the way from New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, respectively, he proceeds to start hugging us. 
Hey Uncle Lou, We Barely Even Hug One Another
Vodka inquires about ordering some fried chicken, and, in what has become a pattern in Memphis, Uncle Lou is insistent that ordering just one piece each will not be enough. 
If You Saw the Size of Our Milkquakes, You Would Agree That It Is, In Fact, Enough
We halfheartedly try to explain how much more we have to eat today, and Uncle Lou eventually relents, taking our order himself for two breasts and a thigh. It appears all chicken comes with the choice of two sauces (homestyle or sweet spicy love) and the sweet spicy love can be mild or hot. Vodka and Diet Coke, the spice wimps, choose mild, while Whiskey Sour goes for hot.
And Just to Prove Who the Adventurous One Is, It's Tagged with a Pepper
We settle in at one of the side tables and glance around the premises, where it becomes clear that not only is everyone else here a local, but they also all seem to have long-standing relationships with Uncle Lou himself. Our new friend can now be found in the corner holding a toddler, while another patron exits and tells us, unprovoked, "This is the best chicken you'll ever have." It's essentially like dining at the fried chicken version of Cheers.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name and Writes a Review on a Paper Towel
Our chicken is escorted to our table moments later, and it looks unlike any fried chicken we've seen before. Namely, it looks more like grilled barbeque chicken with a slightly more textured skin. 
Interesting Meat You Have Here, Uncle Lou
Whiskey Sour ties a napkin around her neck to serve as a bib for what is sure to be a messy exercise, and we dive in.
In Her Defense, We Saddled Her with the Messy Plate
And the chicken, well, it is truly delicious. 
Way to Not Lie, Random Patrons Reviewing It for Us
The meat itself is juicy, the skin has a gentle crisp, and the sauce completely lives up to its "sweet spicy love" name. On the tongue, the creation has the distinct taste of slightly smoky sweet barbeque sauce, but the longer is rests on the palate, the more the heat reveals itself, until our lips have a very mild burn going on.
Good to the Last Drop
In the end, we decide that as good as this chicken is, it doesn't quite hit the 5 star mark, mostly because we prefer a bigger crunch, and that's just not what Uncle Lou's is meant to do. And so, it is being given a 4 star rating, though a very high 4 star rating. That's one star for the sweet, one star for the spicy, and two stars for the love.

Uncle Lou's Southern Kitchen's Fried Chicken with Sweet Spicy Love Sauce: 4 stars

Friday, January 27, 2017

Off the Map: Hungry Girl Should Go Somewhere Else

BBQ Pork Pizza -- Pete and Sam's Restaurant, Memphis, TN
Pete and Sam's Restaurant

Sometimes, like at Paynes BBQ, we understand exactly why a Food Network star featured the food on Best Thing I Ever Ate. And sometimes, we not only don't understand why the dish was featured, we don't even understand how the star ended up at the restaurant in the first place. 
Is This a Food Network-Worthy Restaurant or a Bojangles?
So in lies our conundrum with Lisa Lillien and her choice of the BBQ pork pizza at Pete and Sam's Restaurant. Not only is Pete and Sam's not in the heart of downtown Memphis, it's barely in the heart of anything, being that our drive there took us through some of the most wildly disparate neighborhoods possible ("Memphis: from mansions to pawn shops in three blocks or less"). After Whiskey Sour manages to corral our rental car into the parking lot (thanks for the unlit sign, Pete and Sam's. Makes you SUPER easy to spot...), we are instantly greeted by a fellow diner who decides that we look like the type of people who would like to hear her talk about how the day is blessed because rain is a blessing (side note: it's not raining).

And so, our dinner is off to a rousing start.
Can You Read This Sign? Because We Could Not
Pete and Sam's looks and feels like a throwback Italian restaurant, albeit an Italian restaurant from the middle of Tennessee rather than, say, from Rome.
Nothing Like Being Greeted By a Shotgun on Your Way to Dinner
Diet Coke and Whiskey Sour are insistent that they need some vegetables, so they decide to order a salad to share, along with a plate of toasted ravioli (which Vodka has always wanted to try) and the reason we are here: the BBQ pork pizza from the GUILTY PLEASURE episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Call Us Crazy, But Even Olive Garden Looks Like More Like a Guilty Pleasure Than This Place
"What size pizza?" our waiter asks.

"Small," Vodka answers.

"How small?"

"How small can you make it?"
Oh Good, More Pork, Just What We Need
The waiter rounds his fingers into the shape of what is essentially a bagel bite, which in truth seems like exactly the amount of additional pork we'd like of to eat. Meanwhile, Vodka is scouring the alcohol list, where she finds only two options: beer (which she hates) and "wine glass (empty) each."
Photographic Evidence of This Travesty
I'm sorry... what now?! You're going to give me an EMPTY wine glass? What kind of cruel place is this?!
Take Back the Three Pounds of Bread and Butter and Give a Girl Some Booze!
Decidedly depressed over the lack of menu items featuring the word "cocktail," Vodka crankily sips her water while Whiskey Sour assesses the situation around us. It is at this time that she spots a salad coming out of the kitchen, one that is approximately the size of the aforementioned bagel bite.
Iceberg, Straight Ahead
"Um, I think we're going to need two salads," she tells our waiter as he deposits the plate of toasted ravioli on our table. While much more a staple of St. Louis cuisine than Memphis, we're surprised to find them stuffed with meat instead of the (more desirable, if you ask us) cheese. The two miniature salads appear soon after, and Diet Coke and Whiskey Sour dig in as if they've never seen iceberg lettuce before.
Meanwhile, Vodka Consumes Even More Meat
When our pizza arrives, Vodka stares at it questioningly. First of all, to call it a "pizza" is generous, as it is essentially a warmed up tortilla laden with toppings. 
Pizza in the Form of a Pita
And other than the tomato sauce, none of said toppings are anything close to the kinds usually found on pizza.
Ah Yes, Topped with the Finest Orange Cheese Straight Out of Naples
First of all, there's the cheese, which instead of the gooey mozzarella we're used to, has an orange tinge which looks suspiciously like shredded Kraft singles, and it is also just barely melted. And the pork itself, while not terrible on its own, has a decided sweetness to its sauce, which makes the whole affair in desperate need of some salt. Vodka wonders whether taking off the tomato sauce entirely, and instead dousing the creation with more barbeque sauce, might help the situation, though in truth, we're not sure there's much that can be done to save it. 
Also, It Is Cut in Strips Instead of Triangles -- Exactly Which Part of This Is Supposed to Resemble Pizza Again?
It's not that any of the components themselves are so horrific (though Vodka does take more issue with the still firm cheddar cheese than her counterparts do) -- it's just that nothing is added by putting all of them together. The whole thing is the epitome of the whole not being greater than the sum of its parts, and as Diet Coke says drolly on our way out, "Hungry Girl should go somewhere else."
Like, You Know, Pizza Hut
At the very least, Lisa Lillien should go somewhere that knows how to fill an empty wine glass.

Pete and Sam's Restaurant's BBQ Pork Pizza: 2 stars