Sunday, July 24, 2011

Westy's on a Whim

So our first pre-engagement dinner was with two friends from church who are a younger couple like us, but have been married for some time and have 3 children.  It was very interesting to speak with them, but the night in itself started off a bit more hectic than we anticipated...

We originally planned to finally make good on our reservations to Itta Bena, but thanks to the awesomeness and ensuing pandemonium that was Bon Jovi, we weren't able to get close to the restaurant and had to quickly decide upon another location.  As the night would have it, there was also a graduation ceremony taking place and we couldn't get close to the restaurant.  Finally locating a parking space a block away, we headed over to Westy's.  The mister and I had been there before, but our friends hadn't, so I was very much looking forward to their reactions about the place.  Going into our first "session," no one really knew what to expect , but the food and the game made for a very relaxing atmosphere.

If you've never been to Westy's, it would seem like there are literally a million things to eat on the menu and for someone as indecisive as myself, this can be a bit daunting.  But not to worry, they're open until 3 am, so you can feel free to take as much time as you need.  There was a Grizzies game on as well, so we had plenty of incentive to sit and talk...before we actually "talked"...

We ended up ordering a variety of things...mostly burgers, but there was a medley of jalapeno poppers, bacon-wrapped shrimp and catfish thrown in there for good measure...

Jalapeno peppers...I don't mess with these things...

 
One-eyed Bacon Cheeseburger.  Yes, that's an egg on a burger.

Catfish and Fries.  I'd been craving catfish for months and couldn't even finish this.  Sad face.


So we gave ourselves time to eat our meals and then jumped into the conversation.  Quite humorous and thoroughly informative, the talk in which we engaged was the first of several to come. 

The purpose of our talks was to realistically and openly discuss the things we might expect to encounter during our marriage to each other and how to successfully navigate those issues and remain married.  But I shall not bore you with the details of those conversations and will try to stick to the food.  For dessert, the four of us shared the Ultimate Hot Fudge Pie, which is french vanilla ice cream covered with strawberries, raspberry sauce, roasted peacans and whipped cream.  I swear they should have prizes for people that can finish it off by themselves.


Oh caloric goodness, how I love thee...

Located at 346 N Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103 Westy's is a great spot for relaxing good fun and conversation with friends.  Even if you check it out solo, they are guaranteed to have something on the menu to fit your appetite's fancy!  And there's free wi-fi to sweeten the pot...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cat's out of the Bag

So if you missed it, or aren't my friend on Facebook, I got engaged!!  My boyfriend of 1 year, 51 weeks and 2 days proposed last Wednesday!  This past Monday, July 4th, my fiance and I celebrated 2 years together of growth, laughter, happiness, even some tears and trials...  We plan to be married soon and have been planning all of this for some time now.  I say that to say this...my bad for not writing in a while...

I've been slightly incognito because we've been going through what he calls "pre-engagement counseling."  We met with 5 married couples whom we hold in high regard, took them out for a meal and sought out their advice on things that we might expect in our own marriage, taking note and being reminded that every marriage isn't and will not be the same.  The sessions were full of laughs and complete honesty...nothing was off topic and when talking to adults about adult things, that can get real interesting, real fast...

So the next series of blogs will be centered around these sessions and the local restaurants at which we were able to dine (one meeting was at a chain, so I won't blog about it).  I really wanted to write sooner, but wouldn't really be able to do that without spilling the pre-nuptial beans...

I hope that you enjoy it!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Breakfastaholics

Ok, so I'm going to admit something bad.  I enjoy a good imbibing every so often and while I believe there's nothing wrong with that, even basing your food choice around alcohol is considered apropos (think wine pairing.)  I guess it could be a little out of the ordinary when the meal is at 830 in the morning, but in my defense, someone else started it.  And also in my defense, Bryant's has really good food...

So remember that blog I did a while back, for the Cerebal Palsy fundraiser?  Well, the mister, a friend and myself came across a person who said they had a friend who added a substance to their coffee every morning.  While hilarious to envision, our curiosity was genuinely peaked.  The Rum Chatta smells a bit like coffee and looks like creamer, so it was inevitable as to what we were going to do...especially with the forehand knowledge that it functions so nicely as a substitute for cafe au lait.  Of course we made sure that we were still sober...we had just enough to change the color and taste of the coffee.  As someone mentioned, put some sugar in the cip and it's just like a regular cup o' joe...as long as you don't have 10 cups.

But the food...the Rum Chatta was just an excuse to get to the restaurant...the food was great!  Every morning on my way to work, I turn south at the intersection of Summer and Graham.  In the years that I've driven that route, I've never noticed Bryant's.  Located at 3965 Summer Ave, the restaurant is located approximately 50 feet from the intersection.  I suppose I'm focused on coming in and working like a maniac for 8 hours a day.  Or maybe not.  Either way, I was stunned that it took so long for me to get here. 

We entered fairly early, literally beating the crowd.  By the time that we placed our order, the line was along the counter and wrapped back around to the other end of the restaurant.  If that's any indication of the quality and desirability of the food, by the time we finished, that continuing line was wrapped out of the restaurant and down the side of the building...before 10 am...

There is quite an extensive menu to choose from and they sell lunch in addition to the breakfast for which they are famous.  It was difficult for me to decide, because everything looked so delicious, but I quickly settled on the Breakfast Special:

Yes, this breakfast was special!

The Breakfast Special consisted of homemade biscuits, two eggs in any style you like (#teamscrambled), grits, gravy, hashbrowns and your choice of meat.  I chose the hickory smoked bacon, cooked extra crispy.  The only regret that I expressed was that I did not get any cheese in my eggs, but that wasn't a legitimate complaint because they were still great.  The only downside that I could see is that this establishment is not very large, so most patrons have to come in, eat and leave to make room for the next wave of customers.  And trust me, they were certainly coming in waves.  So if you're tired of the chain breakfast, scoot on over to Bryant's for some hometown, made-from-scratch goodness.  To be warned, unless you're with me, they only serve decaf and regular coffee.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This is only a test...

I'm already wondering how many people are gonna comment on this one...but I just wanted you to stay tuned...  I have a series of blogs coming out about some of the insightful dinners that the mister and I just concluded.  We've been meeting with friends for food, laughs and pre-engagement counseling.  There have been 5 dinners total (4 of which I'll blog about) but mostly to let you know I've been absent from the blog for just a little bit...we've been busy :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mambo Italiano

So this year, we attended our 3rd annual Memphis Italian Festival together...I think the organization is on #22, but we haven't known about it for that long.  Anyhoo, the festival is set up much like the Memphis BBQ Festival...you have to know someone to get into the tents where all of the fun, festivities, and food are being served.  If you don't know someone, there are vendors at the festival where you can purchase food, and just the smell of the motherland is enough to make it worth the trip.  Not my motherland, but you get the point...I love Italian food more than any other cuisine on the planet and I have the hip spread to testify to my love of bread, pasta, and olive oil...

So we were guests of Da Friends, a group which I've found over the years makes the most wonderful spinach.  I can't give away the secrets, but it's incredible.  Even before I was really big into spinach, I loved theirs.  There is always a full array of food and I absolutely ate myself uncomfortable the two nights that we participated.  Food, fun, and friends are the reason that I look forward to this event every year.  And the wine and alcohol.  That's a must for any large gathering of strangers... On the menu, or rather what made it onto my plate, was spicy chicken wings, grilled spinach with parmesan cheese, pasta with meat sauce, and bread with olive oil and garlic.  On the second night, we were served Jello shots as dessert.  Fun times all around.


Sorry for the bone...my mouth beat my camera for the first shot...


On the second night we attended the festival, we met this guy who just started talking to us when we sat down at the table.  I really like people like that.  He turned out to be quite an interesting character.  After much laughter with him and his wife, I discovered that this guy likes to play with his food.  And by play with his food, I mean that he's a culinary artist.  I was amazed at the work that he does...and more amazingly, it's a hobby that he's developed through natural talent.  This "guy" is named Patrick Forseth, he manages a successful chain grocery store in Memphis, and he's pretty awesome all around.  He did a watermelon that was in our tent and unfortunately, I was unable to snag a picture of it before it got chopped to pieces in order to feed the masses.  But the premise of the watermelon was that it was sculpted to match the posters that advertised for the festival.  You know how artists can tattoo or airbrush a picture onto a canvas or arm?  Yeah, he does that with food...


Yes, this is a real life work of art in the side of a fruit.  I personally just know how to make it smaller and easily digestable.


This is a pumpkin that Patrick made for his store at Halloween.  Like, really.  And the "patty" is chocolate cake...yes.
  So, Patrick does these things for various events, weddings, or just so that you can have bragging rights for the coolest fruit centerpiece out of all of your friends.  He said that I could tell folks about his awesomeness, so if you're interested in having something created for your next shindig, contact him at pforseth01@gmail.com for ideas and pricing.  Email him...you know you want to.  It's getting hot and everyone needs a fantabulous hunk of watermelon to show off...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ladies Night

A few weekends ago, some friends and I were headed out of town for a weekend of shopping and shenanigans, but unfortunately, the trip had to be postponed.  Although thoroughly enjoying sleeping in, I called one of the ladies to see if she still wanted to get out of the house.  Knowing there aren't many opportunities for her to strut her stuff on the town, being the strong, hardworking woman that she is, we scheduled a date which involved the traditional dinner and a movie. 

Finally settling on a movie and location, we went to the Paradiso Theater and saw the movie Bridesmaids.  Someone mentioned that it's like the estrogen-laced (my words) version of The Hangover, and I might agree a bit.  If anyone was in the theater that day and heard the loud, sincerely obnoxious laughter coming from the lower left corner of the room, I apologize.  But if you were there, you also know why there was high peals of laughter from the entire audience...pure hilarity!  So definitely check it out...and The Hangover 2 when it's released in a few weeks.

After composing ourselves and surving the showing with dry pants, we headed over to Napa Cafe in the Sanderlin Shopping Center.  I'd called earlier in the day to make a reservation, and they were ready when we arrived, even though we were a little early.  For dinner, the lighting is low, the candles are up, and the atmosphere is ripe for romance.  Perhaps a bit much for two ladies out on the town, but sweet all the same...we made sure to note that we'd be bringing our significant others back for a real date night.  We burned up a lot of calories in our laugh fest, so we were primed to get our eat on!

To start the meal, my friend ordered soup and I ordered salad.  My salad was Romaine and Gorgonzola, which consisted of hand cut Romaine lettuce, spiced pecans, gorgonzola cheese, and was topped with a honey roasted garlic dressing.  Despite the fact that I'm definitely a "meat girl," I do love a good salad.  This one has my favorite items...pecans and garlic...and I ate it like it was the main course.  I believe the only thing that stopped me from literally inhaling without chewing was the fact that I was there with someone with whom I was engaging in conversation.  Otherwise, that could have been ugly.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that it was really good.  I think society should be grateful that it's not proper dining etiquette to lick the plate, because I did clean the plate.  I could have just been hungry, but that's neither here or there...


They really are colossal...
 The other thing I have to mention is that my friend is awesome.  Aside from her sparkling personality and engaging conversation, she is absolutely willing to offer up part of her meal for me to savor and bring additional legitimacy to the blog.  Which is extra awesome because for the main entree, she ordered Shrimp and Grits.  The menu offers this dish as grilled colossal shrimp with pancetta and mushroom demi-glace, and is served atop delta grind grits.  There is another spot in Memphis that serves the shrimp and grits entree, and I'm going to try them out for comparison's sake, but this entree was just as good as it looked.  I think we were drooling over each other's plates, and yes I shared my meal as well...


I ordered the Roasted Chicken, served au jus over sauteed spinach, and a side order of Sweet Corn Saute.  The chicken was cooked...perfectly.  The chicken was roasted so that the skin was crispy and the meat was cooked to the appropriate level of juicy.  The corn saute was served with crisp Benton's bacon.  I'm not really sure who Benton is but his bacon is super fantastic!  I didn't eat the main course nearly as fast as I did the salad; I actually took the time to savor each bite of this meal.  The spinach was not heavily seasoned and balanced the spices in the chicken.  About 3 bites into the main course and side item, I realized that I was being Greedy Smurf and was going to inevitably hurt myself trying to eat everything.  But in true champion fashion, I finished my meal and found a pocket in my tummy for dessert...

Roasted Chicken au YUMMY!

Sweet Corn Saute with Benton's Bacon
Not cheesecake, but just as awesome!
So dessert...against the better judgment of our digestive capabilities, we ordered off the dessert menu.  Sweet Buttermilk Pie for m'lady and Praline Pecan Ice Cream for myself.  I was so full of food, that when they brought mine out, I was confused as to what I'd ordered.  As much as I love cheesecake, I didn't actually remember ordering it and I didn't know why my cheesecake was frozen.  Please see the picture in regards to my confusion and don't judge me.  All that eating makes you tired and a bit delirious.  I also sampled the buttermilk pie and let my friend taste my ice cream, which by the way, was prepared on a coconut pecan crust, with butterscotch sauce and whipped cream.  And I  finished every single morsel.  I had to drive home with the windows down and wind in my face, but we promised that we would get together soon and eat ourselves silly once again. 

The staff was pretty awesome as well and definitely earn their pay.  So head over to Sanderlin Shopping Center and stop by Napa Cafe (reservations recommended) for a great experience, great service, and a positively earned belly ache.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Trust Me...

So I heard a rumor about this place that doesn’t let you make your own order if you’ve never been there before…and apparently they don’t…
So after much finagling, my chica and I managed to find time in our schedules for a lunch date and we decided to hit up the Pita Café.  Upon entering, sure enough the chef asked us if we’d been there before, and when we told him that we had not, he informed us that we’d be having the #4, which is the Chicken Shawarma Wrap.  My friend stood her ground and ordered the Chicken Fajita Wrap, but I was intrigued.  First timers are allowed to pick their vegetables to go into the pita, but as far as the meat and the seasoning, house rules are “Trust me.  Trust me completely.  If you don’t like it after two bites, you don’t have to pay for it…” and I’m usually not the one to turn down an opportunity for a free meal. 
The Pita Café is located at 3950 Park Avenue, right next door to the Burger King at the intersection of Getwell and Park.  While sitting and waiting for our food to cook, we saw multiple ethnicities coming in and out of the restaurant.  I’m not used to seeing a lot of people trying new things in the city and I was very excited to see the people in the neighborhood enjoying a culinary experience outside of the “norm.”  My pita consisted of a garlic sauce, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and chicken.  On the side was a bag of cool ranch Doritos and sweet tea.  The man was right…that was one good pita.  And if I say so myself, the cool ranch was the right touch to go with the main course.  I guess it doesn’t hurt that I love Doritos anyway.  To be completely honest, there was so much food that it was a bit of a struggle just to finish it.  By the end, we were both just picking the meat out of so that we could say we made our meal count.

I've passed this restaurant several times and had never seen it, but thanks to the recommendation from another friend, I made time to try it out.  I think that you should give it a shot, especially if you're looking to venture into Mediterranean cuisine.  If you don’t like it after two bites, it’ll cost you nothing.  With that said, you should be prepared to pay for your meal…
3950 Park Avenue, Memphis, TN

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Graduating in GA

Ahh, life has been quite hectic the last few weeks!  I've missed eating and talking to you about it... 

The mister graduated this semester, as did I, but unlike for my festivities, we were lucky enough to travel to Atlanta, GA for his celebrations.  Beginning the weekend with arguably the worst decision we've ever made, we made it to the heart of the Peach State only an hour late to the graduates' meeting.  No seriously, try going to a wine and oyster tasting and summarily attempting to drive 6 hours after literally not sleeping for 26 hours straight...worst.decision.ever.  But despite our randomly exhausting spontaneity, and after many mini naps along the way, we made it safe and sound and participated in a wonderful celebration.

Post graduation inevitably involved a lengthy nap and when we awoke from our siesta at approximately 1030 PM, we decided we were hungry.  We called around to a few places and most establishments were closed or would be by the time we prepared to depart the hotel.  A phone call to our chosen location let us know that we could eat to our stomach’s content until 4 AM, so we gussied up and headed out to…



We’ve made quite a few trips to Atlanta and has always discussed going to Gladys Knight’s establishment, without being able to bring a visit to fruition.  But alas!  In the middle of the night, Ms. Knight’s restaurant welcomed us and our empty, disgruntled bellies with open arms.  True to Southern charm, the wait staff was very kind and accommodating.  There were even Arnold Palmers to drink (sweet tea and lemonade.)  We started our meal off with Jerk Chicken eggrolls, served with a cool ranch dressing.  Something that I’ve never seen, even in travels abroad, I absolutely had to try this and I can say that I was not disappointed in the least.  They were the perfect balance of spicy and light, and the cool ranch dressing served to bring out the jerk seasoning. 

This establishment is well known for its Chicken and Waffles meal, but I wanted to stray a bit from that path.  He did order that dish because the special waffle of the evening was a cinnamon maple waffle and it was difficult to pass up.  I try to make sure that I taste everything that I write about, so I can honestly say that I have experienced the dish; I've found this strategy also gives me an excuse to eat off my honey’s plate.  I chose the Smothered Chicken with yams, fried potatoes, white rice, and sweet cornbread.  Yes, at this point it’s about 1 AM and I’m ordering a platter bigger than my head.  I don’t pretend to be oblivious as to why my clothes are shrinking; I just choose to look the other way most of the time.  And after tasting something this delectable, I’m sure you’d look the other way as well.  It was just what the palate of a Southerner demands…large portions of meat covered in gravy, served with stuff covered in stuff.  I couldn’t finish the meal, but every seam in my stomach cheered me on to try.  The fried potatoes were my favorite part of the dish.  Served in the style of hashbrowns, this dish also contained red and green peppers and diced onions…just incredible... 


For good measure and to round out the experience, we ordered sweet potato cheesecake to go.  My two favorite desserts on this planet are cheesecake and my mother’s sweet potato pies and they’ve managed to combine them into a single dessert.  Whomever said that Heaven is on earth had to have sampled this cheesecake.


So if you ever find yourself in the ATL looking for a late night “snack,” please stop by and give them a try.  The only thing you’ll regret is not wearing pants with an elastic waistline.




Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Riquísimo Belize

Mmm, "riquísimo..." Ok, they speak English there, but nevermind.  The Spanish word for "scrumptious" just looks and sounds cool.


Belize City, Belize

Fresh off a 7 day cruise to Cozumel, Belize City and Isla Roatan with a pretty cool group of people, I can say that I was fortunate to dine at a location that boasted a dish worth blogging about.  Our second port-of-call was Belize City, Belize and we participated in an excursion to the Altun Ha Archaeological Site, which managed to re-convince me of the universe's demise in 2012.  On the plus side, the tour was very educational and our guide has an appropriate appetite for her native food.  She recommended a local spot at our port and upon locating it, we realized it was a bar.  The adjoining restaurant, where were could actually get a meal, was called The Deck and that was where we had lunch.  

Upon looking at the menu, we noticed that the prices were a little more than what we expected.  I had a feeling that we would get our money's worth and was willing to take the chance.  So on a lazy, rainy afternoon in Belize, I ordered the stewed chicken for $10 USD and this is what I received:

Belizean Stewed Chicken

Stewed chicken with stew beans and white rice, potato salad and plantains!  (Un)fortunately for me, there was not enough chicken to complete my serving, so our hostess, Lisette,  offered stewed beef to compensate.  Sucks for me, I know.  The chicken and beef were cooked in a mildly spicy broth; the rice was cooked in coconut milk and the stew consisted of red and green peppers, onions, kidney beans and tomatoes.  I'm usually particular about potato salad and don't eat a lot of it, but this one was muy delicioso!  And to top it off, fried plantains on the side and an ice cold Coke.  The mister had the stewed beef and decided to sprinkle some habanero sauce on it...I thought it was muy, muy caliente and went back to my mild meal. 

We were the only customers at the moment, but as we dined, several of the locals came in to sit and socialize with one another.  It was wonderful to see a sampling of the different cultures and people laughing and enjoying each other's company.  Lisette was quite gifted in her hosting and culinary skills.  She continually asked us how the food was and if we needed anything to make our meal and visit more enjoyable.  As much as her consideration was sincerely appreciated, it was not a stretch of the imagination to figure out what we thought of her food:
Yeah...that was the business!

So, if you ever find yourself in Belize, please make sure to stop by The Deck and see Lisette.  I can guarantee that it'll be worth the time and money.  And tell her I sent you.  She did ask if she was going to see her business on Facebook.  And she's a really good hugger too :)


Friday, March 4, 2011

Party Week a la Pisces

So with the festivities finally over, I can sit back and breathe...and loosen my pants!  Last week marked a flurry of birthday celebrations; I count 10 birthdays within the span of 4 days, my 30ish included, but admit that could be a gross underestimation.  *inserting shameless plug here* Pisces rock!! 

We participated in several dinners last week, and even a Wine vs. Beer Tasting on Thursday.  It was absolutely incredible, boasting 5 courses with 5 beers and wines paired with every course; there's nothing quite like a friendly competition to determine the better liquor.  The food was pretty amazing too...oysters, grouper, lamb, duck, rabbit...in my most sincere Terminator voice, "I'll be back."

One of my friends managed to get me to party with her twice last week, and by party I mean that we just went to dinner because we both decided that we were too old to run around like Spring chickens, gallivanting about into the wee hours during the work week.  On her actual birthday, we dined at Side Street Grill on Overton Square and on Saturday, we dined at Jim's Place East at Poplar and Perkins.



I'd never been to Side Street, but fortunately as someone who likes to eat, I'm always up for a new experience.  I'd seen the location and thought that it was just a bar*, but was pleasantly surprised.  The interior is cozy and the staff seemed generally quite animated and enthusiastic.  That is a plus, considering the patience involved in waiting for a Pisces to make up their mind...about just about anything... As birthday luck would have it, the menu on Wednesday night offered an appetizer to share, two steaks of your choice, and a dessert to share, with the purchase of an "adult beverage" for $28.  I trust your judgement to presume what we chose.  I ordered the Key Lime Martini.  I've sampled Key Lime Pie only on one occasion, and by no stretch of the imagination would I consider myself to be a Martini connoisseur, but the ingredients captured my curiosity; the Vanilla Vodka sealed the deal as a wise choice.  Our appetizer was the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, our main course was Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon with Twice Baked Potatoes topped with cheddar cheese and my gratitude was that I don't have high blood pressure.  I must say that for my repeatedly broken promise to stop eating red meat, that steak was totally worth the cheat...cooked to perfection and the juiciest portion that I've had in quite some time.  For dessert, we enjoyed the Chocolate Caramel Pyramid, also known as:

Heaven on a spoon!

Pistachio Encrusted Chilean Sea Bass

 
Not actually Spankopeta
 
On Saturday evening, we dined at Jim's Place East,  a generationally-owned family business that boasts a Greek cuisine.  This dinner party was a bit larger, thereby allowing me to slightly increase my "share and share alike" method of meal sampling.  To start the evening, we ordered the combination Phyllo Puffs, which consisted of  Tiropetakia (stuffed simply with feta cheese) and Spanakopetakia (stuffed with spinach and feta cheese).  I've never been able to properly pronounce the latter, despite several attempts, but it seems that calling it "spankopeta" is sufficient to complete the order.  The meals ranged from variations on fish and chicken, as well as a Grecian Lamb burger.  I ordered the Souflima and still managed to get my fork into the Mister's Pistachio-Encrusted Chilean Sea Bass with a mustard sauce.  I did sample his dish first, which he ordered with buttered creamed potatoes.  If I wasn't so committed to my food, I might have taken half of his.  That and the fact that he might have smacked my hand right there in the restaurant for even trying.  So, my Souflima was a pork dish, more accurately described as skewered pieces of pork, slowly charcoal grilled en rotisserie and served with rice pilaf covered with Grecian tomato sauce and the best turnip greens I've ever tasted on the side.  Please, no one tell my mother I said that.  Just to make my night, it was also accompanied by fresh Grecian bread.  And I'm not making this up...

Souflima
We were all so stuffed and thoroughly satisfied from our respective meals, that we seriously considered skipping the after-party and just turning in for the night, partying be damned.  We left to the second venue, and honestly after a lot of good laughs and evening cordials, I went to bed.  I'm lame.  But it was a great birthday week/end. 

And Happy Birthday to all of my Piscean comrades.  Thank you for the fun and the other 5 pounds I put back on this weekend.  Yes, thank you for that.

*Point to mention: Side Street still allows smoking inside, because this is a cigar bar.  I was told that Saturday evening is non-smoking, but I didn't stop eating and talking long enough to remember to verify that tidbit of information...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Here Chicken, Chicken, Chicken...

Ok, so on Monday, we FINALLY get to try out *dun, dun, DUN!*
The mister and I had been discussing our desire to try Gus's Fried Chicken for several months actually, but never found the time to stop in, despite passing the establishment quite frequently.  This week he suggested that we just abandon all diet responsibilites and restrictions and just go for it.  The restaurant has been reviewed often and is even ranked "Highly Recommended" by Frommer's (they have a travel website, magazine and a few books out there if you've never heard of them) so I think it to be a slight abomination for someone from Memphis to have never engorged themselves at this venue.

We went in and the place was packed.  We were unsure how long we would have to wait, but someone who'd placed a to-go order was kind enough to let us have the last table in the place.  We were seated and ordered the traditional sweet tea and I asked for a lemon.  They don't have lemons.  They have lemon juice packets.  I think my excitement about this was slightly skewed; I was one of those weird kids who would just open one of those packets and suck all of the lemon juice out, and would drink 5 or 6 of them in one sitting.  Nonetheless, I refrained and just put it into my tea.  Also adding to the jovial nature of the evening, people kept selecting Michael Jackson songs on the jukebox, and when Thriller came on, four young children at a table behind us began mimicking the dance sequences.  Hilarity at its finest, but I'm almost certain that posting that video would be a violation of something...
                                                      
While waiting for the main course, we feasted on Fried Green Tomatoes, which I've had an appetite for ever since watching the movie of the same name.  I love these things.  And as a bonus, I was informed that my boyfriend's mother cooks them...score!
I ordered the 2 piece dark and had the baked beans and potato salad as my sides, with a slice of white bread completing the meal.  You know this is a made-from-scratch recipe because the potato skin has been left on and after having this, I don't know if I'll ever truly enjoy anyone else's potato salad.  When I finally had the gratification to taste the chicken, my first thought was "OMG..."  My immediately subsequent thought was "OMG, that's hot" and my nose started running and lips began tingling.  My date asks, "How is it?" to which I respond, "I think someone put hot sauce in the chicken."  As he continues chewing his dinner, he points to the top of the menu, which I managed to overlook and it clearly states, "Welcome to Gus's Spicy Fried Chicken" and no one had given me the heads-up.  To everyone I will unabashedly say, reading is fundamental.

After eating all that I could, I packed my to-go box and we managed to snag a Jamaican brownie to feast on at home.  And no, it's not the presumed Jamaican variety of ingredients.  Just walnuts, caramel and chocolate, but totally worth the calories. 

Lessons learned from this outing? 
1. Gus's is awesome.  I don't care what dieticians profess, you need fried chicken in your life. 
2. The kitchen crew know exactly what they're doing and they're also quite photogenic.  
3. There's never an inappropriate time or place to get down to the musical stylings of King of Pop.

Make sure you pay them a visit soon.  You can find them in Downtown Memphis at 310 S Front Street or at 215 South Center Street in Collierville, TN. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cajun Celebrations

My wonderful honey decided that he wanted to take me and a few friends out of town to celebrate my birthday.  The original plan was to go to Missouri for the ski trip that I've longed for, but Mother Nature was being a sissy about the whole situation and it was due to be approximately 60 degrees this particular weekend and I'm unsure as to how that would have gone.  Not well was my informed assumption, so we scrambled for another location in close proximity to celebrate my introduction into the time/space continuum.

Options were debated...Nashville, St. Louis...and we settled on New Orleans.  As much as I loathe large crowds of people, especially during the little known event called Mardi Gras, I managed to suggest that we go anyway.  And lucky for us that the celebrations last more than a month...

Friday night, upon arrival, it was mutually agreed upon that we were hungry.  I don't know if it was the drive or the atmosphere, but we were ready to do some culinary damage.  Being birthday girl, I was bestowed the honor of selecting our eatery for the evening.  While we strolled down Bourbon Street, I saw a sign and thought, Hey this looks good!  Obviously already successful and recognized for its cuisine, I was sure that Red Fish Grill Restaurant was going to be a good choice.  And the hostess was really pretty too...kind of had a Dita Von Teese thing going for herself.

So, in tradition of trying as much as we could, we started off with an appetizer that the four of us wanted to share.  After browsing the menu, we decided to go with BBQ oysters.  Touted as a Red Fish signature dish, the oysters are flash fried and tossed into a Crystal BBQ sauce and served with a house-made blue cheese dressing.  Now before I tell you what I thought of this dish, you must understand that I'm not a big fan of oysters.  Before this experience, I'd tasted oysters once upon the insistence of my love's appetite for them and his desire to broaden my experiences.  I ate that oyster but I did not enjoy it.  I'd heard that oysters are a natural aphrodisiac and, admittedly that may have further influenced my choice, but
amorous is far from what I felt after consuming my first raw oyster.  I also do not particularly enjoy blue cheese on any occasion.  There are a lot of things that I won't eat if I know what they are, and I know why the cheese is blue.

Now that I've digressed, back to the BBQ oysters.  Phenomenal.  Honestly, just wonderful.  I was pleasantly taken aback at the surprising spiciness of the Crystal sauce.  The blue cheese dressing was a perfect pairing to balance the sauce and it was just good enough that we were all going for seconds and thirds.  One of the members in our party got so creative as to make mini BBQ oyster poboys with the complimentary loaf they serve, after professing that he doesn't like bread.  I must say that his impromptu meal could have been added to the menu with little detraction from what was already available.
Paneed Pork Loin


 
Hickory Grilled Redfish
Next of course, were the main entrees and we ordered a variety of dishes.  I had the Paneed Pork Loin, he had the Hickory Grilled Redfish and our friends both had the Herbsaint Flamed Catfish. 

The Paneed Pork Loin is described as being served with a roasted sweet potato topped with toasted almonds, scallions and bourbon butter served with a Creole mustard reduction and an apple pink peppercorn chutney.  It was absolutely  incredible as to how good this was.  I'd always learned in food prep courses that you have to give a dish color to increase it palatable appeal.  The vibrant purples and oranges made the dish visually stunning and served to make me hungrier.  My only regret was that I'd filled up on the BBQ oysters and was unable to finish my meal.  I tried with everything in me though to get as much of it into myself as possible.  I believe the waitress attempted twice, in vain, to get it away from me, but I wasn't having it, nor was I letting her have my plate.


Herbsaint Flamed Catfish
I did manage to sample my companions' meals and they were just as scrumptous.  The Hickory Grilled Redfish came served on the half-shell, with tasso & wild mushroom Pontalba potatoes, topped with sautéed Louisiana jumbo lump crabmeat & a lemon butter sauce.  The picture above does the dish little justice, but what I lacked in photography skills is attested to by the taste and the speed in which it disappeared from the plate.

The Herbsaint Flamed Catfish comes served with crispy tasso ham, sautéed spinach, yellow split peas, and tobacco onion rings.  My friend pointed out her opinion on the deliciousness of the spinach and I had to agree.  Not too far removed from a vegetarian diet, I'd tried spinach served in every way imaginable and this side still sufficed to induce salivation.

To end the evening on a good note, I was presented with the option of a free item from the dessert menu in celebration of my birthday.  Torn between so many delectable choices, I picked a warm coffee liqueur.  No posting pictures of that one, I just look like a frequent imbiber.

When you visit the website you'll see the descriptions of the menu items and find that the head chef, Chef Brian Katz proudly serves the freshest seasonal ingredients as continued support of local farmers and fishermen from the New Orleans area.  Super bonus: you can actually get recipes for some of the dishes served at the restaurant if you are unable to make it to The Big Easy for the festivities...I'm certain that they'll be around whenever you are able to venture down, and they are one to put on the must-dine list. 

In all Big Easy tradition, Laissez le bon temps roulez!  and Happy Birthday to me!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eating Our Hearts Out

Valentine's Day 2011 was interesting before it happened.  We'd spent the previous week trying to remember what we'd done for each other the year before, getting as far as remembering the heart-shaped balloon I'd purchased for him that wouldn't die.  Seriously, nearing the end of March it was still floating strong and I was left with no other option than to put it out of its misery.  The Friday prior to 2/14, he remembered that we'd gone to an Italian restaurant where I'd contributed my comments to the graffiti on the walls.  Once we recalled that, and adding in the factor that we were to visit another Italian establishment for this year's dinner, I found myself quite pleased at a tradition that we decided to keep going as a couple.  But the interesting part was that we made plans to meet up with a friend on that evening, completely forgetting that we had dinner reservations, and had to make the decision that we would actually go out and reschedule with our friend.  How can someone forget that??  I don't think (or at least I won't admit it) that it had anything to do with getting older and more forgetful.  I'm taking the stance that when you're with someone with whom every day is special, dinner might get pushed aside for another adventure.

So this year's eatery...Pa Pa Pia's downtown location!  Nestled among other restaurants, this establishment at 83 Union Avenue never caught my attention, but by beloved had tried for over a year to get me to this establishment.  When we walked in, the establishment was dimly lit and the mood ripe for love...  We were served by a man named Paul and he was very friendly and accommodating.  The booth seating is large enough for a family or group of 6, so we ended up just sitting next to each other...the better to communicate with my dear...  
Zonin Baccarosa

Being that this was our first visit to the restaurant, Paul was more than happy to make recommendations to us, from the wine to appetizers and to the main course.  The wine list was extensive and reminded me that even though we've participated in a wine tasting course and have been a part of smaller tastings, we still have a ways to go before
branding ourselves sommeliers of any sort.  We were recommended the Zonin Baccarosa, a sparkling rose that was just fantastic.  Every time the manager saw our glasses getting low on libations, he was right there to provide a refill.  It was difficult for me to pace myself and save some for dinner, but I somehow managed to make it through all of the courses.


Bruschetta, Toasted Ravioli, Mozzarella Parmesan
To begin our meal, we started with the appetizers...I'm a fan of just about any dish that uses bread, therefore, bruschetta did not have to try very hard to find a special place in my heart, and consequently my tummy.  Fortunately for my appetite (unfortunately for my waistline), they offered a sampler plate comprised of Bruschetta, Mozzarella Parmesan and toasted ravioli with beef and sausage and served with a generous helping of marinara sauce..  You may look at that picture and think carbs, fried, fried...I tasted mmm, mmm, MMM!  There was so much on the sampler plate that I was beyond full when our meal arrived.  We had plenty of time between courses, time to enjoy the ambiance of the evening and time for food to settle in preparation for the main event.  Goodness knows I needed it...

Chicken Saltimbocca
For our main entrees, I chose chicken and he chose fish.  To be precise, I ordered the Chicken Saltimbocca which consisted of thinly sliced chicken that was topped with mushrooms, fresh prosciutto (ham) and Marsala sauce, accompanied by Spaghetti Bolognese and garlic bread.  Chicken, mushrooms, spaghetti and bread...what more could a protein and carb feign ask for?
Salmon Sherry Picatta
The Mr. dined on Salmon Sherry Picatta...fresh Atlantic Salmon sauteed in an artichoke-lemon caper sauce and served atop herbed angel hair pasta.  We can attest to the freshness of the salmon for the due fact that he ordered the last piece available in the restaurant that evening.  The couple that sat behind us wanted to sample that dish as well, but we didn't volunteer that we were the fish-napping culprits.





My dish was pretty darn good, if I do say so.  The Mr. loves mushrooms and chicken, and was happy to taste my dinner for himself, rather than take my word for it.  But it was Valentine's Day and I presume that I'm supposed to share on special occasions.  In similar regards, I felt it my duty to make sure that his dish was up to par, so he cut off a piece of fish for me and in loving fashion, placed it ever so gently into my mouth.  I bit down and immediately grimaced.  I did not like it at all and did not understand why it was of this particular consistency.  As I forcibly continued chewing and ingested my portion, it dawns on us...that was a big chunk of artichoke that I'd just eaten *whew*  Downside: I don't like whole artichokes.  Upside: I took another bite, this time definitely of the salmon, and was not at all displeased.  The salmon was flaky, as it should be, and had the correct portion of seasonings as not to overpower the dish.  If you do find that you would like more flavor, there is freshly grated Parmesan cheese available (freshly = block of Parmesan cheese and hand grater arrive at your table) and fresh ground black pepper at your disposal.

With the friendly and knowledgeable staff and inviting atmosphere, this family business is a perfect place to dine with your family, or just on special occasion for two.  Thanks to Pa Pa Pia's for a Valentine's Day dinner to remember!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cerebral Palsy: Calories For A Cause

Sunday was a pretty good day.  The night before was spent celebrating randomness with friends and the following morning involved a pretty good Sunday School and church service.  Shortly after after being dismissed from church, we went to the 21 Chefs Fundraiser which benefited the United Cerebral Palsy of the Mid-South Association.  The United Cerebral Palsy  Association hosts this annual fundraiser with tickets selling for $50 each and the opportunity to participate in a silent auction for a plethora of great deals, including trips, flight lessons, autographed sports memorabilia and family portrait sessions.  The highlighted chefs this year were John Bragg, Chris Sherfield, Bobby Maupin and the U of M's own Edward Nowakowski.  There were a variety of appetizer, entree and dessert dishes served and it was just an all-around incredible time...there was even beer, wine and rum tasting!  We were able to enjoy the evening with one of our favorite married couples and were happy to be a part of this event.

Of course, I was all about anything involving pasta and some sort of dessert.  The first dessert dishes that we tasted were banana pudding and caramel cake provided by Oliver's Catering.  We knew immediately that this was going to be an evening paid for on the Wii and/or treadmill, but for that delectable dish to be just the beginning of our tasting, I was more than willing to don gym shoes.  Next, we sampled the Raspberry Bavarian treat prepared by Chef Bragg from Circa.  I've never been a fan of mousse-based dishes, but this was really good...  Composed of a whipped raspberry mousse atop a vanilla sponge cake and finished with a single blueberry and pink and white chocolate sliver, it was truly unlike anything I've ever tasted before.  Chef Bragg demonstrated how to make this dish for an occasion of your choosing, but unfortunately for my future party guests, I was too busy stuffing my face with the vast variety of goodies to really pay attention.  If you'd like to try this and many other dishes for yourself, Circa just hosted its grand re-opening at its new location on January 27th...please visit the Circa website for directions, menu options and more information.

We next waited in line for a serving of Italian cuisine offered by Heavenly's by Don.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a fan of anything Italian.  Offer me garlic bread with salad and I'll follow you home like a lost kitten.  The fare presented here was Italian Raviolini, which was ravioli shells filled with ricotta cheese and topped with beef and a sweet pasta sauce, and Italian Penne Pasta which was served with beef and the sweet pasta sauce.  The other members of my group were not big fans of the sweet sauce, but as I enjoyed my portion, my hips involuntarily did the happy dance.  I'm not sure if anyone who saw me realized what was going on, but by the time my brain conveyed to my subconscious what my body was doing, I was in full swing.  Any meal that gets me doing the utterly ridiculous happy dance in public gets bonus points in my book.  Heavenly's by Don is located at 4219 Riverdale Rd, Memphis, TN 38141.

Continuing on with dessert, and with no regards to eating in the proper order, we then sampled Strawberry Sorbet and Ice Cream Pizza from Maggie Moos.  I was the only person in the group that missed the Ice Cream Pizza, but it looked delicious and I have no regrets about only having the sorbet.  The calories that I missed were more than made up for with the three ensuing slices of cake that I inhaled from Memphis Works Cafe...Strawberry Cake with real strawberries, Lemon Cake and Chocolate Cake with Pecans...dear gracious, it was all I could do to get it all down, but I'm a trooper and I ate it all!  In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't brag about that...                                                                         
After that round of treats, we partook in spaghetti and mustard-based potato salad, which I don't usually enjoy, but this was actually pretty tasty.  To be honest, I was still busy stuffing myself with cake, so I didn't make it to the table myself, but that dish was also provided byMemphis Works Cafe.  Memphis Works is a group under the tutelage of the UCP Association that "...offers training for adults with and without disabilities. We coordinate the support, supervision and training that will allow students to sustain meaningful employment..."

We began to round out the evening with a sampling of a Seafood Martini (I didn't eat it.  Although it looked appetizing, I have a bias against pretty much anything that is uncooked, but the Mr. seemed to enjoy it thoroughly).  The entree was described as a ceviche consisting of Panama Bay scallops and shrimp marinated in citrus juice, diced peppers, olives and spices, with avocado and toasted tortillas served in a martini glass.  This was served by The Medallion Restaurant at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn.  I found my way to the booth next to the Seafood Martinis...with the Twice Dipped Chocolate Strawberries!  Chef Edward Nowakowski from The Medallion Restaurant provided this dish, gave a demonstration on how to prepare it...and provided a recipe for everyone to take home... White, Milk or Dark, you can never go wrong with chocolate!  So whenever we host another shindig, there's a pretty good chance that the guests will be in for an oh-so-sweet treat!  That eagle sculpture next to Chef Nowakowski was pretty amazing, and more so because it is made completely of salt.  I suppose in his spare time, he enjoys sculpting things that might be otherwise impossible for normal members of society to master and, upon inquisition, I was informed that I could find myself in some serious trouble if I yielded to the temptation to test the content of the sculpture by licking or otherwise touching the artwork.  After considering the pros and cons, I stuck to devouring my strawberries.  Not to be thirsty after eating all of those samples, there were beer tastings, wine tastings and rum tastings.  I can honestly say that I learned a lot in the few minutes of beer tasting and received some valuable information: the Memphis Brewfest is coming up soon! 

Easily, my favorite tasting was the Rum Chatta.  We consider ourselves to be avid liqueur tasters, as in we're not afraid to try something new, but this was something of which I'd previously not been aware.  Victor L. Robilio, Inc. brought this rum that was described as having a hazelnut and chocolate undertone and tasted a bit like Bailey's.  I was of the personal opinion that it tasted absolutely incredible and was even more intrigued when told that someone knew someone who put it in their coffee in the morning.  Morals aside, I couldn't agree with them more that it was just that smooth as to be used for a creamer in coffee.  My conscious won't let me do that Monday through Friday, but I have seriously pondered the concept...I suppose a special weekend breakfast among friends could be arranged just to test that particular smoothness theory. 

So who was my favorite?  All of the food was delicious.  Of the eateries that I didn't describe, there were supplemental dishes from Oliver's Catering, Erling Jensen's and Memphis Pizza Cafe.  It's not that they were unworthy of the blog, please don't jump to that conclusion...I just wasn't fast enough to get my hands on the grub.  My mistake was that I thought I would have time and opportunity to go back for round two...and I suppose I was more distracted by the sweets that I wanted to let on. 

Alas, my personal favorites of the evening were the BBQ Bacon Wrapped Shrimp and Medium-Well Prime Rib (there was also rare-to-medium well, but you know, uncooked...) offered by Billings Bald Butcher Restaurant in Covington, TN.   This was the first thing that I sampled when we entered the ballroom.  From the way that my eyes closed and my mouth salivated on the first bite, I should have filled my plate up right then and there.  To be fair to the other guests, I had a small sample and figured that I would just come back for more once I'd made my rounds.  I went back.  There was no more BBQ Bacon Wrapped Shrimp.  I was sad.  Apparently the puppy dog face in no way makes more shrimp magically appear, but I tried.  On the plus side, I've found one of the items to be served at my wedding, whenever that may be, but I've got a head start!  Chef Chris Sherfield prepared this dish for the guests, but over the sound of chewing in my brain, all that I can share is "wrap the bacon around the shrimp and cook for 25 min, remove, season and bake for another 5 min."  I firmly believe that there is more information needed to make that work, so with either sweet regret or sincere gratitude, I will leave it to the pros.  But in the interim, road trip anyone?

Overall, I (and I shall take the liberty to speak for everyone) sincerely enjoyed this fundraiser.  All of the organizers and volunteers went above and beyond to accommodate each of the guests and the head of the UCP even made rounds and interacted with us.  This was our first year attending this particular function, and I have all confidence that we will attend and support again next year.  Please visit the UCP website to find more information about volunteering and community activities they are spear-heading...it's truly for a great cause.