Monday, June 26, 2006

Swetts: Nashville, TN

Swetts opened in 1954 as a small soul-food meat-and-three café, it became a large, modern cafeteria, burnt down, and was built again.

Its not a BBQ place, but I wanted to review some of the famous meat-n-threes that are so popular in Nashville. I grew up in North Florida and South Georgia and was raised on southern cooking - REAL southern cooking. I know what it is and I know what it isn't. I know what good sweet tea is supposed to taste like and I know when Collards come from the can! I have several generations of women in my family who were and are the iron chefs of southern cuisine and this has been verified by many people outside our family. So yes, I am a self-proclaimed expert. The real fact is, about all I know how to do right is eat. I can't do much else. In fact, my job is the tear up stuff (really) so eating and tasting is about the only constructive thing I do. And therefore I am obligated to tell the truth about all this food, even if my review is less than flattering.

With that, let's move on to Swett's. A partner in crime as well as myself descended upon this place at lunch. Its a cafeteria style serving of southern food. You go down the line and tell them what you want and they ring you up at the end of the line. This is very typical for a mean-n-three in Nashville. My friend got the beef and I got the chicken (baked as I am trying to cut back). Usually I get the fried chicken but I just wasn't in the mood.

I am sure it is hard to get the "down home" flavor of good southern cooking in larger amounts. People in Nashville will go out to eat at the drop of a hat and they will go anywhere it reminds them of home. The problem is that there are a lot of people who were raised elsewhere who now make Nashville home who have no idea was southern cooking is and they will rave about a place like this because it has been opened so long and they think this is how it was in years gone by. What you actually have here is decent, but nothing special, southern style food. Its about a half a point better than something you might eat at a Shoney's buffet. I have no problem eating that kind of food. But when they rang me up for my meal it was almost $13.00, which I think is a little high to be paying for this quality of food. The tea was OK, the cornbread was OK, and the food at least had flavor. But Swetts is not a place that I am going to go out of my way to eat at again. I would not use it as a place to bring an out of towner to show off Nashville's best southern cooking. I think many of these resturants have a legacy, much like the music people here. After a while it gets blown so out of proportion that old automatically equals good. There are some examples of that (Bobby's Dairy Dip), but it ain't always so.

And while I am at it, let me take this opportunity to say the music industry sucks and I wish I could slap a few people in it.

Back to the review, the greens needed more fatback and flavor in it. Any southern cooking resturant in South Carolina could blow these greens away. The corn, again, it'll do. I think there are probably a couple of meat-n-threes that might beat this and I aim to find them.

I'll give Swett's a 5 on my relative, self-ordained scale.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mothership BBQ: Nashville, TN

I read about this new place that just opened up in Nashville in the Berry Hill area, from all places the Nashville Scene. I normally don't trust this liberal paper for anything except movie showtimes. However, this place peaked my interest because it is right around the corner from the music store I like to go to. So I had a good excuse for going.

Jim Reams, the owner, is big on blogging and he uses it as a marketing tool to bring people into the resturant (a great idea). I have a link to his blog on the site now. He is a very friendly guy and he strikes me as a person who is serious about what he is trying to do. When he found out I was doing reviews, he took me back to the smoker. Alright, that's 2 points right there.

I wish I had one that big. Jim cooks only baby backs, not spare ribs. He showed me that he uses authentic hickory and charcoal to do the ribs. He slow cooks them approximately 5 to 6 hours. He had started them that morning about 6 am or so. He uses a rub made of fresh home made ingredients. No MSG or other flavor enhancers. His rub and sauce are both very simple recipes. No liquid smoke or any of that other crap. Ok, more points and I have not even tasted anything. While we were waiting on our order he brought us some samples. I nearly ate the bone with th meat. Yeah, this is what I am looking for. Finally someone who gets it.

Not many people realize that even though there is this impression that TN is the place for BBQ, there are not any good places (or many) in the Nashville area. The closer you get to Memphis maybe, but not Nashvegas.

Cynthia had the rib plate:

and I had the combo (ribs and pulled pork):

Let's first talk about the sides. Not bad. The slaw was sweet, creamy, and crunchy. The beans were more of a western beans, not BBQ baked beans like I am used to. They did not have a sweet taste to them. I have not been convinced that this compliments the meat as much as some good baked beans would, but it was not a bad side and did not ruin the meal. The pulled pork is in the good category, with plenty of smoke. I think it needed a little more flavor, but not bad at all. The high point is the ribs. Very well done. The rub makes a decent bark and they stand on their own without any sauce. They come off the bone easily. I was very pleased with it. Only area of improvement was the sweet tea. It needs to be a little stronger (brewed longer perhaps) and a little sweeter. Not overtly, but a little more brewing would help a lot.

The sauce is very interesting on its own, and I like it because it has a hint of the North Carolina vinegar style - in that it has a tang and is not as thick. But it also has a sweet, tomato base that pleases the Memphis crowd. I think it is a great compromise and best of all, it does not cover the ribs taste, it compliments it very well.

Overall, I think these are probably the best you are going to get in Nashville. They are definitely the most authentic - done by the book.

About the only negative thing I can say about anything is that this place it too small. Jim is going to need to expand to a place with more parking and more seats because I have a feeling he is going to be overrun very soon. You can't get ribs in Nashville with this much attention paid to the quality and when people around here find that out, there is going to be lots of lines and cars parked all over the little nieghborhood it resides in.

I'd give Mothership an overall rating of an 8, so its in my top category for the time being. Needless to say, I'll be making more trips to the mothership soon!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ken's Bar B-Q and Steaks: Lake City, FL

Having met my wife in Lake City, Florida back in 1991 - I am partial to this town. We've eaten here when we were dating and its been so long since I have been back I had forgotten about it. We were passing north up I-75 trying to escape tropical storm Alberto when we just had to take a break.

It brought back a few memories, but now that I am so dadgum serious about my Q, I can't eat any of it without being over-analytical about it. Sometimes I hate that.

Ken's is pretty much the standard Florida BBQ place with the standard items. Its a Sonny's copycat place. The sides are mediocre at best. The slaw needed more help than the beans. The chicken and the ribs were OK, but there is nothing here that is going to make you excited about BBQ.

The sauces are not that great either, and are on par with a Sonny's or Woody's. Ken's get a 4 on the Scott scale - boring, but it'll do in a pinch... They have multiple locations in Lake City. Perhaps there is a better one than the one we tried.

While we were in Lake City, I had to take a picture of my favorite Chines place. They have been around for as long as I can remember. How they were allowed to keep this name I will never know. This is just wrong: