Monday, November 19, 2007

Like Son, Like Father

Over the weekend, my dad FINALLY decided to use the smoker I got him for Father's day LAST YEAR!!! He had to season the smoker, and then used it to do some Boston Butts and a chicken. From what I hear it was good. Here are some photo's for you to enjoy. My dad may become part of the brotherhood yet....

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lenny Mac's BBQ - Duluth, GA

I had to make an unplanned trip to Atlanta today. What better way to celebrate an unscheduled trip than to try something new. I stayed near the Gwinnet Center Arena and right across the street from the parking lot was Lenny Mac's BBQ. So I had to succomb to temptation and do some market research.

Lenny Mac's has only been open since January of 2007 so everything is still new. I ordered take out so I cannot really say much about the service, but everyone at the front and the manager (Blaine) was very nice. Seems like a nice clean place.

Lenny's smokes the meat onsite. They use a combination of hickory, white oak, and cherry to smoke the meat. They offer brisket and smoke it for at least 12 hours. That peaked my interest. They have the Mac's Big Combo which would probably feed 2 or 3, and I simply asked if I could get it cut in half. Blaine, the owners son was happy to oblige.

The tea was good, and a little stronger than I usually get at most places. I consider this a plus. The sides I got were beans and slaw. The beans were a little thinner than what I am used to so they did not appear to be "baked" but they did have a good flavor and did not taste right out of the can. I might suggest putting some of the pulled pork in there to soak up a little of the juice. But not bad. The slaw was mayo based. It was simple and not too many ingredients. But it was not too thick or thin. It needs something to make the flavor pop, but again it was not bad.

I started on the pulled pork. You can definitely smell smoke - and for most normal people it has a good balance and is not over powering. It was not too salty and tasted good on its own without the sauce. A good amount of bark was in there too which spruced up the flavor. The ribs were a bit overcooked. The meat fell off the bones, but it was a little on the dry side. However they did have a good flavor and the rub had a good balance with the sauce. I would have liked to have tried some fresh off the smoker as I imagine it would have been much juicer. I had a chicken thigh but I was told that the chicken will not be on the menu in about a month, so I am not going to review it here. This is their least popular dish anyway. The brisket was tender and had flavor. It was a little on the greasy side and starting to dry, but I loved the outer smoke ring and bark. It could use just a touch more flavor internally, but I was happy with the tenderness of the meat.

I chose the spicy sauce, which I would characterize as somewhere between a standard red/sweet and the Dreamland sauce. It goes very well with the pork, especially the ribs. I finished it off with a little garlic bread, which was a nice touch.

Summary: While I would not put this as competition level Q, it definitely ain't bad, and I would eat here again. I would rate them about a 6.5 on the Q scale. They beat out most of the Florida based BBQ places I have eaten at (save Fat Boys in Ocala). Lenny Mac's comes across as very authentic, down home, southern BBQ for the locals and does a good job. Definitely worth checking out.

Big Daddy

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jim ' N Nick's Bar-B-Q - Murfreesboro, TN

It's been a while since we have eaten at a new place and I have been trying to cut back a bit. However, we recently tried Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q in Murfreesboro, TN and I had to tell you about my experience there.

Many times while traveling home to Nashville going north on I-24. I would see a huge billboard for this place. I always say to myself "remember to go back down there and try them" and for some reason I never do. A couple of days ago my wife and I had to go down to the "boro" and while we were there, it was the perfect chance to justify a trip over. We looked it up on a map while we were down there and found we were about a mile away. Yeehaw!

Jim 'N Nicks is located just around the bend from the mall at Murfreesboro off of North Thompson lane. It is a newer looking place in an area that has been building up around the mall for the past couple of years. There is a good deal of traffic. There were lots of cars there. Surely a good sign. This is a "chain", but it is still small and fiesty. There are approximately 22 locations in the Southeast region, and they are home based in Alabama. There are 4 of these in Tennessee, including one in Nashville on Charlotte. It does not feel like a BBQ shack on the side of the road about to be comdemned, but I am OK with that. It's actually clean and neatly organized. For a Q-joint, it might be a little too "high class" for some of you from the boonies. Just wear a shirt and shoes and you should be able to get served... hehe

We walked in and I immediately smelled Hickory wood smoke - that alone is enough to get a Q-seeker excited. The place still looks new. It has a nice setting with brick walls and nice, light-wood booths. Very comfortable. The first thing I noticed was the sauces:

They have a regular red sauce, and hot and spicy sauce, and some Habanero pepper ground up to sprinkle on your food in case you like it REALLY hot. The sauces are made FRESH every day. They are based on a memphis style tomato based red/sweet but they are not a clone of any sauce I have had in the past. The original has a flavor in it that I can't describe, but it goes well will most things. The Hot and Spicy is my favorite. It is a bit darker (maybe some molasses in there?) and has a lot of spices in it. It is not super thick, but just right. It has just enough heat without scaring away the normal palette. The Habanero dust will take care of the serious hot heads should they wish to add more. The spicy sauce reminded me a little bit of the kind at the now out-of-business Mothership BBQ (RIP - Jim, we hardly knew ye). I liked the hot and spicy sauce so much I bought a bottle to take home. The sauces are better than Famous Daves BBQ - another chain with places in the Nashville area.

I ordered the ribs/brisket combo with beans and collard greens (YES!) - and my wife ordered the chicken with mac-n-cheese and brandied apples. I explained to our waiter Bruce that I wanted to try a very small sample of a couple of other things, and he was very helpful. He brought out a small container of pulled pork, slaw, and potato salad for me to try.

Let's get right down to it. This is some good stuff! The ribs were not over cooked like in a lot of places. It came off the bone easy and I noticed that the flavor goes deeper than just the surface. When you bite into them you taste the flavor in the meat all the way to the bone. I believe this is because they are slow cooked on a moving rotisserie style cooker/smoker and then moved over to a grill with hickory wood used to smoke and finish them off. They aren't quick cooked or quick boiled and then moved to the grill. When I was there for lunch st about 12:30 - 1 p.m., they were loading the racks up for the dinner meal indicating about a 4 to 6 hour cooking time on the ribs which is great. They do coat them with a rub but THERE IS NO MSG!!! We originally call another location who told us there was MSG in the rub but nothing else. However we were told later this is not the case. They use all natural ingredients and there is NO MSG in their food. This is a MAJOR plus in my opinion. Good Q needs no flavor enhancements.

The pulled pork had a good smoke ring and was not dry. Since I only had a sample I may need to go back and just try the pork plate - but it seemed fine to me. I would definitely like to have it memphis style on a sandwich and compare to Famous Daves BBQ - which I believe Jim 'N Nick's would win that battle. The brisket was tender, but the smoke ring was not a thick. It had some flavor but it came with sauce already over the top. This was the only negative thing I saw. According to the Texas law books and the Texas gospel, good brisket does not get sauce (even though I dip mine in it anyway). It should be cooked so long that it is almost falling apart and has flavor running through it. I think they need to cook it a little longer and a little slower. If they could use a little mesquite to give it a smokier flavor, that would be great. It should come with sauce on it only by request. I liked the chicken, and so did my wife, but she did mention there is a celery salt or something on the seasoning/rub that they use on the chicken that is just a tad strong. I did not think this was the case, but I was using quite a bit of the sauce on mine

The sweet tea was for real. Coming from Alabama, they -better- know how to make it. Some places in Nashville it's either like sugar water, wayyy too sweet, or non-existant. Here, they know how to make good sweet tea, and that is a plus.

The sides were great. This is the first BBQ place in Tennesee that not only knows it is proper to serve collard greens at a Q joint - they actually know how to cook and season them properly! This wasn't chopped up bits of saw dust from a can that taste like a school cafeteria, this was the real thing. I could have just ordered two or three bowls of that and a rack or ribs and just went into an artery clogging feeding frenzy! The mac-n-cheese was as close to home made as I have had recently. The slaw is interesting because it is a combination of vinegar and mayo based. Some places do one or the other and most only consider the slaw an afterthought so they do it badly (both kinds). This was a well balanced slaw that tasted fresh and went very well with the rest of the meal. The beans did not taste like they were out of a can - they tasted like real baked beans you might have at your own back yard BBQ cook out. Very authentic. I felt the same way about the potato salad, which reminded me a lot of my mothers. I did not taste the apples but my wife gave me the thumbs up and that is usually good enough for me. Overall, the sides were not considered an afterthought but a critical part of the meal and general experience of the meal.

I guess word had gotten out that a "Blogger" was checking out the place. Bruce brought out the head Q-meister - Christoper Zaferis (who everyone calls "Zeke") to greet us. Zeke is a very nice guy who invited me back to see how they prepare the food. He takes a lot of pride in the attention to detail and the passion of cooking good food for customers. As you can see, he showed me the place where the mojo happens - where they cook the ribs on the grill over hickory wood.

I was impressed by the great service of Bruce (our waiter) and Zeke's willingness to spend some time with us explaining how they do things there. And that's when he mentioned PIE!!!! Zeke had a couple of slices sent out to us, one chocolate and one coconut. Zeke said he was pretty proud of the deserts and after tasting them I can see why. Most of you who know me know that by the end of the main course, I am done. But I decided to box up more Q than I normally do so I would have room for desert. I gotta tell you it was a great surprise. At several BBQ places, you might come across some decent banana pudding or something, but this was different. The pies at Jim 'N Nick's are more like the deserts you might find on a Disney cruise ship prepared by top chefs (and yes, I have had those before). The crust was flaky and awesome. The chocolate cake had a fudge flavor that was so good, but it was not too rich - you could eat more than one or two bites (which I did). My wife does not even like coconut, but ended up liking that one the best. It is not as sweet, but it is sooooo good. We saved half of them and ate the rest the following day. Most of the time I never talk about deserts because the meat is the central focus. For sure, the ribs are the star here, but the pies take a back seat to NOBODY. Make sure you try a slice when you go.

In summary, Jim 'N Nick's has what we have been looking for in a place in middle Tennessee: Good tasting Q, good sauces, good sides, sweet tea, awesome deserts, and good service. I know I must sound as giddy as a school girl, but you know by my past entries that I don't pull any punches. I would give these guys a 9 out of 10 because they have it all together in one package and that is hard to find. The only thing I would recommend is to figure out how to treat the brisket like an authentic Texas BBQ place would. Judge Beans in Nashville would be an example of how it should be prepared and served, but he has MSG injected all in it and that ruins the experience for me and several members of my family. If Jim 'N Nick's ever gets the upper hand on the brisket, they will have a knock out punch to any place that dares stand in their way. Famous Dave's would be the nearest competition style-wise in a resturaunt and the menu items, but I think they have them beat by a long shot.

Jim 'n Nicks is a GREAT place to experience a good southern BBQ meal, and I highly recommend it to my Q-brothren. Tell Zeke that Big Daddy at sent you over.

To check out their menu and find out more information, here is their web site:


Saturday, January 20, 2007

City Barbeque - West Chester, OH

Sorry it has been so long since my last review. Since Dec 30 I have tried to stay on my Providia diet and I have been doing very well. I have not weighed yet, but I have dropped one pants size. So that's a cause for celebration. Why not take one day off for a crazy day and do a BBQ review? I plan on sticking to the diet as long as I can, but there will be times where I just need a little pork fat to balance out all the veggies!!!

So we are up in Cincinnati and just north of town in West Chester is a place one of my buddies has been bragging about. The only other place is Burbanks, which we have already done, and there is a Dickey's, which is a chain that we reviewed in Dallas last spring. So I wanted to do something new this time and City Barbecue was selected.

First off, this is in a mall area location and is in a pretty nice section of town. It sits right next to a Bonefish - which is one of my new favorite places to eat right now. But it doesn't help the authenticity. I mean, you guys already know I am looking for almost condemned buildings to eat Q in and this is just the opposite. But there is rule book that says good Q can't be found in a clean building. So if you like things like good hygiene, this is definitely the place for you. City BBQ has several locations around the Cincy area, but I was told this was one of the better ones.

The staff was friendly. When you walk in, you order at the register and then they bring out your order on the other side of the register. You then take your food to the table. Sort of the style of a subway resturant. You get your own drinks and you get free refills. One positive note: they have sweet tea and its not that bad - especially for a region where its hard to find it natively. So I'll give them that.

As I said, the staff is friendly and actually encouraged pictures. We decided to get the Deluxe sampler platter, which had the best selection. We got 1/2 lb of brisket, 1/2 lb pulled pork, 1/4 of a chicken and 1/2 slab of ribs. It came with two sides and two loaves of cornbread. We ordered baked beans and slaw, with an extra side of their corn pudding. This was for two very hungry people who have been deprived of real food for a month.....

And the food looked really good... See below...

The star of the show is the brisket, which surprised me. It was very tender and did not need any sauce. There was a lot of flavor to it. But it was missing a key ingredient - hickory or mesquite smoke. The pulled pork was the same way. It was good, but light on the smoke. The chicken and ribs were already coated with their sauce, which was a shame as I like to experiment with different sauces. They were both slathered with it. The good news is that it was a very nice and flavorful Kansas City style sweet red sauce, and I liked it. The ribs were not cooked long enough or else they were cooked too fast. Again, no real smokey flavor on them, and they were not as tender as I would like them. Because of this, the ribs had more fat on them, and I just don't like my ribs like that. The chicken was very moist, which I did enjoy (we got white meat). I believe the lack of smoke is probably due to health codes or zoning regulations dealing with smoke and how it can be used within a resturant in this area. It tasted like they are cooking the meat over coals at a closer distance, very similar to what we experiened in north carolina.

On to the sides. The slaw was crisp, but the cabbage was a little bitter and overpowered the creamy sauce. The corn pudding had a good flavor, but it was a little too oily. The beans were the best side and had pieces of brisket in it. I did not care for the corn bread. It was more like a cake. Definitely a yankee style cornbread. Some of you may like that style, but it was not to my tastes.

City offers several sauces; a regular red, a hot red, a sweet mustard sauce that taste like it has relish in it, and a clear vinegar with spices for the north carolina tourists who need that swill to make their life complete.... They also offer Texas Pete hot sauce, which is probably the best choice for the pulled pork. Of course, no sauce is needed for the brisket - which is a good sign. Since the ribs and chicken are glazed to high heaven with sauce, you really don't have another option. This is something I think needs to be addressed. Why would you offer two kinds of red if you plan on pouring it on before the customer gets it. Let me decide which sauce I want. If you are like me, then order it naked and see if they can oblige you.

All in all I would equate City Barbecue with a good chain like Famous Dave's. It is still chain Q and regulated. Smoke added to the cooking - I would suggest hickory for the ribs and brisket, and a mix of 50% pecan wood and 50% hickory for the pulled pork. This would kick this Q into high gear. I would also suggest cooking the ribs slower and on a lower heat for longer. If you don't have the time to do it longer, then move to baby back ribs.

I would give City Barbeque a 6.5 and consider it along the same lines as Famous Daves. For the casual Q eater, who might just as well hit Bonefish on Friday night - this stuff is fine and will definitely satisfy the hungry jack in you. For the die hards out there, I would probably still choose Burbanks simply because of the collard greens and the constant blues music. City - do yourself a favor and get some hickory wood burning in that place and kick it up a notch. If I can just see a bunch of smoke in the room I might be happier...

Until I break my diet again - send me some more suggestions to try out. I will be traveling more this year and I need some pointers on where to go when I am out and about.

Big Daddy