Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Real Food, Real People and Real Atmosphere"

These are the main ingredients at Puckett's Grocery, or so says their website. They don't however give you an idea of what an eclectic mix Puckett's really offers. While it may seem like a crisis of identity, it's one part general store, one part country kitchen, one part bar and grill. It has miss matched tables and chairs and a miss matched clientele. While all this diversity seems a bit much there is one unifying theme that ties it all together. Great food.

Located on 4th Avenue in historic Franklin, Tennessee, Puckett's is a place where farmers and business leaders, struggling musicians and country music legends, road weary travelers and locals can share music, fried chicken, BBQ, prime rib and nachos.

Having left Dayton, Ohio in a snow storm 7 hours earlier a good home cooked meal was in order. Unfortunately it was past dinner time and what we would call home for the next week was still 2 hours away. Puckett's would be the perfect substitute. This choice was made even better upon arrival when I noticed the specials board advertising Mac & Cheese as the "Vegetable of the day." My doctor did say I need to eat more veggies.

I ordered the fried chicken and Mrs. Sippi ordered the fried catfish. Both mains came with your choice of two sides and a corn cake or dinner roll. We both opted for the corn cake. I chose the a fore mentioned mac and cheese and the squash casserole with my dinner. Mrs Sippi also chose the squash casserole but went for the collard greens instead.

The mac and cheese was fine. It wasn't the best I'd had but it was a solid side to the fantastic chicken. Lightly seasoned and breaded, the chicken was dribble down your chin juicy. Tender and crispy it is served up golden brown and delicious.

Mrs. Sippi's catfish was also outstanding. The fish its self was milder than the catfish I'm used to in Toronto. This perhaps because it would seem to be a younger fish (it was a smaller fillet) than we get in TO. It too was lightly breaded and crispy, golden brown and delicious. Her greens were also very good with the requite few shots of pepper sauce.

The corn cake or "Johnny cake" as it is sometimes known is a cornbread batter ladled onto a skillet and cooked like a pancake. The first bite revealed a nice surprise. It was studded with chile peppers and tasted great. Especially with a healthy slathering of butter.

Now, I'm not a big squash fan. I've had it in many incarnations with only a good butternut squash soup as something I'd seek out. However the squash casserole is worth the drive from Dayton. I don't know what magic they work in the kitchen on this dish but it is purely, simply, unbelievably delicious.

As if all that wasn't enough, the desert of the day was buttermilk chess pie. "What is chess pie" you may ask much like I did. Well, it's a custard like pie. It's uncertain where the name comes from but some people feel that it came from the pie chest that people had "Back in the day." Others will say that the evolved from the cheese pie in England. The best answer it seems is it's a result of what can only be described as a game of broken telephone. What started out as "Just pie" as in, "What's for desert?" "Just pie" has morphed over the years to "Jus' pie", "Jess pie" and on to become "Chess pie." One thing for certain, it has nothing to do with the game of chess.

This became one of those "Oh my god, how have I never had this before moments." It was caramel-ly, vanilla-y and very sweet. Much like a custard but somehow just slightly cakey. The crust reminded me very much of short bread.

On a more recent trip I decided the shrimp and grits were just too good to pass up. Grits for those who don't know are basically the southern version of polenta. It's just cornmeal. "No self respecting southerner makes instant grits" was the line in My Cousin Vinny and rest assured these weren't instant. They had a great corn taste that would suggest they were probably stone ground. The sauce and shrimp was a perfect counter. Rich, spicy (but not hot) and full of shimp flavour.

 This time I went with chocolate chess pie which was every bit as good as it's regular sibling.

I've had a few of their cobblers in the past and Mrs. Sippi's peach version is just about as good as any of them. It's one of those "You can't go wrong ordering it" deserts.

For you Civil War buffs, the Battle of Franklin was fought in and around the town. The near by Carter house still has shot and cannon fire marks on the exterior and not far away is the beautiful Carnton Plantation and the largest private Confederate cemetery.

You can visit Puckett's at 120 Fourth Avenue South, Franklin, TN.
 Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Well that's all from the food court for today. Y'all come back now ya hear!!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yes, It Really is a 62 Year Old Ham

The sign says so!! Actually, I once asked if the ham was as old as they claim and was told that it indeed was. The magic of salt curing.
Although they say it's safe to eat, don't worry if you order the country ham at Stan's Restaurant and Country Store in Columbia, Tn. it won't be that old.

Located just off exit 46 west on I-65 about a half hour south of Nashville is Stan's. One part Citgo station, one part country store and one part restaurant. If the "Restaurant and Country Store" motif seems familiar then you've been to Cracker Barrel. As I once read in a review "Cracker Barrel don't have a lick on this place" and it's true. About all the two places have in common is they both sell food and trinkets. While the menus may look the same, don't kid yourself, Stan's outshines in every way in the kitchen.
I’ve been trying for the last few years to confirm this but Dan Evins who founded Cracker Barrel may very well have modeled the chain after Stan’s. He modeled CB on a restaurant he knew from when he was a boy. There are a lot of similarities to with which to support such a rumour but as yet, I can’t substantiate this.
Although I've had breakfast and lunch in the past today's visit was for dinner. Even with frogs legs on the specials board both Mrs. Sippi and I opted for the chicken fried steak. As with Cracker Barrel (and many of the great Southern joints) it's a Meat 'n' 3 format. For the uninitiated, it's your choice of entree and 3 sides. I opted for mashed potatoes, (collard) greens and black eyed peas (note the nice chunk of country ham in the peas). Mrs. Sippi opted for white beans, fried okra and greens. Your entree also comes with dinner roll or cornbread. I chose the dinner roll and she chose the "Cracklin'" cornbread.

The greens and peas were absolutely fantastic. Very typical Southern style which is to say, cooked to death. It works though, trust me. Mrs. Sippi said that the white beans reminded her of the ones her grandmother made when she was a kid. So much so, she got the recipe and brought back 8 pounds of dried beans so she could make them at home. Other sides include mac and cheese, spiced apples and kernel corn.
The dinner roll was just that, a dinner roll. I got it simply to use as a sponge to soak up all the "Pot licker" from my greens. So all in all, it was perfect.
The corn bread was very good too with it's crunchy, porky goodness.

I do love mashed potatoes but less so when they're whipped. Some will tell you that you have to get the lumps out of your potatoes. Not me, I like them with some nice chunks of potato left in them so these were perfect. The only draw back is they don't come with gravy so I always ask for some extra on the side. The best part is, they give you sausage gravy so you get these little chunks of country sausage as well.

The steak was quite simply the best I'd had. We both agreed that it was better than the last time we had it. It's even better than the ones I've made at home. A nice ladle of the gravy over top of the steak makes it perfect. The sausage isn't enough to obscure the taste of the steak but give it a nice meaty, creamy compliment.

If you’re like me and like a big breakfast the Hillbilly Breakfast is a feast. Two “aigs” with grits, home made biscuits, hash browns, red eye gravy and of course country ham. The grits are pretty much just basic but that’s simply so they can marry with anything. The hash browns (not shown) are also good and basic. Both work well with the red eye gravy. Red eye gravy, believe it or not is made from coffee. The pan that ham is fried up in gets deglazed with the coffee. When I make it at home I simmer the ham in the liquid for a bit as well as a hunk of onion. It’s got a unique taste but the boldness really stands up well against the saltiness of the ham. After it’s all gone the leftover goodness on your plate can be sopped up with the biscuits. As for the ham, well, it’s just fabulous. Made by Harpers in Clinton Kentucky it really is, as their saying goes, “Hamtastic.”


So next time you're south of Nashville and hungry for some good down home country cookin', take exit 46 and ignore the Cracker Barrel just down the street. Stop off at the Citgo station and visit Stan's. A true gem along one of America's busier interstates.
There's plenty of parking in the back for those in trucks or large RV and trailers.
Stan's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

That's all for now folks. The food court is now closed.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Save the Deli

In his new book "Save the Deli" journalist David Sax brings attention to the plight of the Jewish deli. Dedicated to the preservation of the Jewish delicatessen, a hallowed temple of salted and cured meats" it reads in his mission statement.
Seems that people just don't flock to a good deli the way they did 50 years ago. As such, there is little reason to do things the old school way.

It was purely but chance though that he was at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan when we payed a visit for lunch. It was however unfortunate that he'd stepped out for a bit while we were there so we weren't able to meet him. I did purchase a copy of his book and I was able to get an employee of Zingerman's to get it autographed and mailed to me. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Zingerman's does do some old school stuff but also sources out other items. The corned beef is their own recipe and for the pastrami they created the recipe with their good friend Sy Ginsberg.
As for the food it was fantastic. We spent that night in Indianapolis and we only needed a small bite for dinner. We were both still happy and satisfied.

First up was my pastrami. It came on rye with Swiss cheese and grilled onions. The sandwich is then grilled which I really didn't feel did much to improve the sandwich. I would order it not grilled next time if I could. The pastrami its self was very good however not the best I've had. Had I done my homework a little better I'd have taken Z's advice and orderd the #48, Binny's Brooklyn Reuben. Just like a regular Reuben but with pastrami instead.

The real star was the Reuben though. Mrs. Sippi ordered her favourite sandwich and it was just plain excellent. Zingerman's own corned beef was definitely the best I've had. Very tender and had a flavour profile that I didn't find was as intense as I'm used to. It was perfectly balanced with the kraut and Swiss.

Our lunch guest ordered a roast beef sandwich. It came with cheddar cheese, lettuce & hot mustard on an onion roll. I did not sample it but he said it was quite good.

All three fressors came with a fantastic sour pickle.

We had a side order of mac and cheese and a kinish. Both were very good as well. I'd never had a knish and really didn't know what I was getting. It's always great to find something new.

Any open product is available for sampling. As you can tell by the picture it was busy so we didn't do much sampling. We did manage to get tastes of spicy anchovies and their Montreal smoked meat. The smoked meat had a good smoke profile and a beefy flavour but lacked any flavour of the brine. The girl who we were talking to said that they're going to develop their own recipe for this.

Well that's all from the Food Court for now. 'Til next time.
Zingerman's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon