Monday, July 12, 2010

28 Burgers for a Buck

Obviously you can't get that deal anymore but back in the 20's, the Spot in Sidney, Ohio was your place for you burger fix.

In 1907, Ed "Spot" Miller rolled into town in his Chuckwagon and set up shop at the corner of Ohio Avenue and Court Street. Foiled in this attempt by city officials Spot removed the wheels and put up some awnings. This quasi permanent structure was used until a new and more permanent structure was erected in the 30's. The current Art Moderne structure came along in the 40's when the previous was destroyed by fire.

Spot only owned the restaurant for a half dozen years. Over then next century The Spot would change hands several times and be remodeled a staggering 25 times.
The current configuration with it's narrow ordering corridor has been in place since 1976. The trademark sign over the front door dates back to the 50's.

So iconic in Sidney is The Spot that in 2004 while campaigning in the battle grounds of Ohio, President George W. Bush paid a visit.

It's the pies though that have Sidney's attention. They have an order form on their website and do a booming business at Thanksgiving.

So on to the food.

Mrs. Sippi had a grilled tenderloin sandwich on rye with pickle, onion and mustard. Suggested to her by one of the friendly kitchen staff. I had a Super Big Buy and we split an order of rings. We each had a malted and a piece of pie.

The tenderloin sandwich was very good. I loved the caraway seed rye which was lightly toasted. I thought it had a little too much pickle but Mrs. Sippi disagreed. She wanted more mustard though. I thought it was fine.

The Super Big Buy is their version of the Big Mac. Two all beef patties, tarter sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickle on a sesame seed bun. The beef is ground fresh daily and the burger it's self is very tasty.

I did not like the onion rings. Don't get me wrong, I'm not gonna say they were bad. From a technical standpoint they were well executed. Nicely breaded, crunchy, the breading held on and the onion tore rather than slid out of the shell. My problem was they were just too sweet.

Sweet started to become a problem. The malteds (one chocolate, one vanilla) were also sweet. They were tasty but got to be too much. I liked the taste it's just that I was starting to get sugar overload. They were also thick to a fault. There was no way you could use a straw.

By the time I got to the pie I was just about in sugar shock. I really liked the old fashioned cream pie but it was a struggle to finish it. Were it the only thing I had it would've been fantastic.

Mrs. Sippi's strawberry pie was pretty tasty too. I could only manage a bit or two.

So all in all, I liked The Spot but found it just too sugary. Each item as it's own thing was good. The cumulative affect of the sugar was very off putting though.
If I lived in the area I'd certainly patronize and would know to watch what I ordered.

You can find The Spot at 201 South Ohio Street, Sidney, Ohio.

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You can also find them on the web or on Facebook.
Spot Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now folks.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Y'all Eat Yet?

About an hour drive south east of Nashville is the small artist community of Bell Buckle, Tennessee. The old railroad town, listed in the National Register of Historic Places was once left for dead but has been resurrected. Restored into a beautiful and quaint little burg numbering less than 500 residents. It's also the home of the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival.

Celebrating the quintessential southern staples, RC Cola and Moon Pies. For those not from the south, a Moon Pie is a layered graham cracker and marshmallow treat that's (originally) covered in chocolate. They come in over a half dozen flavours now.

Arriving in town from the west, Railroad Square is somewhat obscured. You're almost on the tracks before you get a good view. One good look though will let you know that you're in for something special. Among the single story store fronts sits Bell Buckle Cafe. A good ole down home "Meat and 3" with live country music on Friday and Saturday night.

While not the only restaurant in town, Bell Buckle Cafe is certainly the busiest. The parking lot was full to over flowing when we arrived on Sunday just before noon. We were lucky we only had a 10 minute wait. Church lets out at noon and it quickly became obvious that for locals, the Sunday morning ritual is church then lunch at the Cafe.

Waiting in line Mrs. Sippi interrogated a local on the food options. Asked to pick a favourite he couldn't. He did suggest the smothered chops that were one of the specials of the day. He went on to offer about a half dozen more things before declaring everything "Great." Seated beside us were two older couples. "Every Sunday" one told me of how often they patronize the Cafe. In her pantheon of Meat and 3's Mrs. Sippi has declared Bell Buckle Cafe one of the triumvirate. Along with Stan's and Dixie Freeze. Pretty select company. I'll go one further. It's the best I've been to.
A Meat and Three for the uninitiated is a restaurant offering a meat option with a choice of three sides. Most places give you your choice of anywhere from 3 to 6 main options. Bell Buckle has over a dozen on their menu and another half dozen on the specials board. Your sides choices number between 6 and 10. Bell Buckle has at least a dozen. There's also a half dozen desert options. More if you consider that I'm counting "Pie" and "Cobbler" as one item each. They have several options in both category.

So it's about time we got to the food.

Smothered chops with turnip greens, mac and cheese and squash casserole for me and chicken fried steak with white beans, fried corn and fried okra for Mrs. Sippi. Both came with a johnny cake.

Smothered chops are pork chops that are simmered in gravy. They were fall apart tender and very tasty. They gravy was very good and not too salty. I'd actually have liked just a bit more on mine.

The turnip greens were quite good. Not the best I've had but there was the exact right amount of pot likker. It was the perfect amount for sopping with the corn cake.

The squash casserole was fantastic although not as good as Puckett's. Not "Squashy" at all if you know what I mean. It had a nice balance of flavours.

I really liked the mac and cheese. This was a great "Side" mac and cheese. It didn't have a stand out personality but a nice creamy, cheesy taste that would play well in the sandbox with anything.

Mrs. Sippi's chicken fried steak was unbelievable. It had a well seasoned breading that the Colonel and his 11 herbs and spices would be impressed with. Again, the gravy wasn't too salty which can be a problem. This milk or sawmill gravy was excellent.

Fried corn is corn that's cut from the cob and fried in butter (or bacon grease) until it has the consistency of cream corn. I hadn't had it done right before. Now I have. Mrs. Sippi proclaimed it perfect.

The white beans had all the earmarks of being southern style. Slow simmered with hunks of pig for hours. So good.

The fried okra was also spectacular. Very crispy and delicious. Their breading is fantastic.

The desert menu is on the napkin dispenser and it says "Save room for desert." Who am I to argue??

Since I was in Bell Buckle I had to have a moon pie. One of the desert offerings was a moon pie sundae. So why not? A banana moon pie with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce. It was very good however predictable.

Mrs. Sippi couldn't get her mind off the peach cobbler. It was excellent. A nice buttery crust and warm sweet peach filling with the ice cream melting all over it. It was a text book southern cobbler.

With all the desert options we just couldn't narrow it down to two. I polled the people around our table and kept coming up with one thing. It was calling me. It was fate. I had to have it. I'd never heard of it. It sounded interesting. It said "Covered in caramel sauce." I like caramel sauce. I give you, the oatmeal cake.

It's rare that I order a desert that doesn't have chocolate in it. If I do, I generally try to figure out where to add chocolate. This desert is more proof that god wants us to be happy. It was like a moist 2" thick oatmeal cookie smothered in caramel sauce. It's impossible for me to impress upon you how much this desert impressed me. I was almost reduced to tears.

I also couldn't pass up the opportunity to have and RC Cola as well.

You can find Bell Buckle Cafe on Railroad Square in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

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You can find them on the web or become a Facebook fan.

 Bell Buckle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now. 'Til next time.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Gasbar Be Que

Running due north out of Huntsville, Alabama is US 231/431. This artery strings together a series of small towns all the way up to Fayetteville, Tennessee, including Meridianville, Alabama. Not much more than a gas stop for most people it just happens to be where my in-laws live.
I get to spend a good deal of time in this area and one thing that I've always found intriguing is the two smokers out front of the Raceway gas station. The very thought of having fire located not 20 feet from a gas pump always seemed rather puzzling. I don't make the rules though and am not one to question.

In the early 90's Allen Rawls left Kalamazoo, Michigan chasing a comedy dream. He got no further than northern Alabama when family responsibilities dictated his road days were over. Ever the entrepreneur, Allen dabbled in the car wash and gas businesses but food was always his passion. Now 6 days a week he puts smoke to meat and serves it up inside in what is known as "Raceway Cafe." A counter in the back of the station with a stove and microwave. There's also a large communal table and a couple singles.

It's also worth checking out the "70 Hemi 'Cuda in the store.

Allen serves up a variety of southern style BBQ as well as some "Caribbean style" or "Jerk" chicken for those who are familiar with it. The menu changes daily but there are some constants like BBQ chicken and Polish sausage. The latter being a store bought, spicy Polish sausage that's smoked to perfection. So good I'm gonna have to try it at home. On occasion he'll even smoke a whole baloney. If you're a fan of baloney, you'll like it. The smokey element really works well.
Most of the food is either made from scratch or semi homemade. Take the beans for example. They're standard Bush's baked beans but are "Doctored" to taste even better. This is something that a lot of pitmasters will do. Especially with BBQ sauce.
It's good enough to keep a steady stream of customers flowing. I went by at dinner one night and they only had a bit of chicken and some sausage left. This was at 5:30. I wait another day and had lunch.
Allen continues with show biz gigs but it's more of a hobby now. You can catch him from time to time in and around Huntsville, Alabama.

For your consideration.

For lunch we had the chicken two ways. Naked and sauced.
The naked chicken was very simply done. Smoked to juicy perfection.

The sauced chicken was the above sauced and then grilled. It was tastier with the addition of the sauce but the extra cooking time dried it out slightly. It wasn't the dribble down your arm juicy like the naked but not bone dry either.

The beans were very good. I can't quite tell what Allan did to them but you could tell they had that special little "ju ne sais quoi."

The green beans were very good. Chunks of yesterdays sausage and some pulled pork were added to some canned beans to kick them up several notches.

When you boast about being the 3 time state cornbread champion, I take it as a personal challenge. It better be lights out good.
This is very different than the cornbread you're gonna find almost anywhere. It's more of a "Yankee" style in that it's much more moist and cakey. Allen adds onion to the mix and something I've never seen before. Country sausage. The meaty "Jimmy Dean" style sausage made for an excellent cornbread. I'm not sure I'd call it the best I'd had, being so different but it was absolutely terrific.

Check out Raceway Cafe at 11525 Hwy 231 - 431N. Meridianville, Alabama.

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Raceway Cafe on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now. Catch ya later.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010


In 19 and 23 Mr. Weston J. Stubblefield opened a pool room on the court house square in Fayetteville, Tennessee. There was a small menu where Mr. Stubblefield perfected the house specialty, the "Original Pool Room Slaw." A mustard and cabbage slaw that is sweetened with sugar.

By the time World War II rolled around Mr. Stubblefield had put slaw to burger and thus invented the "Slawburger." With military installations all over the Fayetteville area it wasn't long before young men in uniform would come to town to satisfy their food and billiard cravings. These men (and women) would return to base and spread the word about the unique offering.
After the war, veterans would settle in the area and regale residents with tales of their military heroics, settle bets with a pool stick and introduce the baby boomers to the slawburger.
Today, be they farmers, doctors, lawyers or visitors, a new generation of customers enjoys the food at what is now known as Honey's Restaurant and Billiards. Weston's great grandson and his father, Melvin and Lee McAlister now carry the torch. The pool tables are gone but the charm and friendly vibe remain. You can even take a decade by decade photo tour of how the diner has changed. They've done a nice job chronicling it and the photos are on display in the dining area.
Before I was able to post this I bumped into a guy from Fayetteville. He'd moved away and since moved back. He was raised on the slawburger and could never find them anywhere outside the town. Let alone the county.

Just about everything is made in house and served up by a smiling and friendly staff.
First things first, the slaw.
When I say sweet, make no mistake, it's almost enough to send a person into sugar shock. My first taste of it on it's own I couldn't stand. A few more bites and I was really starting to like it. It's more condiment though I think.

We had an order of chili. It was very reminiscent of the Texas Tavern "Chile" in that it was bean heavy. This one had more heat (though not a lot), more meat and more cumin. It was good.

The house specialty, the slawburger. It's fantastic. The sweetness of the slaw, with onion and pickles on a cheeseburger were a perfect balance.

There was another house specialty as well. The hamburger steak. This, once again is an over sized burger done on a flat top, topped (this time) with sauteed onions, bell pepper, mushrooms and American cheese. It came with choice of potato which we chose (cheese) tots. They didn't have mashed. The tots were fine. They were out of a bag but their was nothing wrong with that.
It's hard to say if it beat the Chuckwagon HS but the addition of cheese and mushrooms make it hard for me to not call it the winner. Chuckwagon had it beat on sides though.

You can find Honey's on the court house square in Fayetteville, Tennessee.

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Honey's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for today.

Monday, July 5, 2010

White Bar Be Que Sauce

It would be next to impossible to do a review of Big Bob Gibson BBQ in Decatur, Alabama without paying homage to the King. Simply put, Big Bob is the Patriarch of Alabama BBQ. A style that bridges the gap between the vinegar and mustard based sauces to the east with the tomato and molasses based sauces to the west.

Bob Gibson was a railroad man with a passion for BBQ. On weekends during the early 20's he'd entertain friends in his back yard at his make shift picnic tables. Wood planks nailed to Sycamore trees. Bob would crank out pork and chicken from his home made smoke pit for his guests with a unique twist. There was a white BBQ Sauce. It's not a cook in sauce but a finishing sauce. Cooked chicken would be dipped into it before serving. They call it "Original White Sauce" while others call it "Alabama White Sauce." It's both creamy and tangy and works well with white meats.
One thing's for certain, unless you live within a 50 mile (or so) radius of Decatur, you've likely never heard of it. Much less tried it.
Bob's grandson Don McLemore offered this
recipe to the Food Network. He claims it's not the one used in the restaurant but it'll be close.

Bob opened his first store in 1925 and immediately grew out of it. Over the next number of years his restaurant would pop up all over Decatur like a game of Whack a Mole. Always moving to a larger location.

Chris Lilly was selling hospital scrubs when he met Amy McLemore, grand daughter of Big Bob. Before long they would marry and they'd become the 4th generation to join the team.
With Chris aboard things would really start to grow for the Big Bob brand. Chris could sell and sell he did. First off, the commercial red sauce in the dining room would have to go. A year and a half hard work paid off in what has been judged "Best BBQ Sauce on the Planet." There would also be a competition BBQ team. A very successful BBQ team. Over the last decade or so they've been competing all over the country. The list of awards is staggering.
You can't walk into the 6th Ave. location without tripping over a trophy. This type of advertising can not be bought.

From a back yard with chicken, pork, slaw and chips to a full menu, Big Bob Gibson's is now more than just two restaurants and a BBQ team. There's catering, books, DVD's and you don't make a TV show about BBQ without talking to Chris or Don. OLN and Chris even developed a show called "All Star BBQ Cook Off."

To say that everything was great would be like saying "The glass of water quenched my thirst." Obviously.
I will point out two major disappointments though.
First of all, the tea was lousy according to Mrs. Sippi. I don't like the stuff so I concur.
Secondly, they were out of ribs. I've had the ribs before on several occasions so it wasn't all that big a deal. They are truly magnificent though. As good as I've had. Them and Dreamland are definitely the best.

As for the food we did have, well........

We split a BBQ sandwich. It comes on the standard nondescript white bread bun with slaw only. No sauce. I added a little bit to my half. The sauce is a rich molasses and tomato sauce with a bit of boldness to it. The slaw was a simple vinegar slaw.

We also split a plate of brisket and chicken. The brisket is the smokiest I've had and I liked it above all others. You can see the smoke ring.
The chicken is just plain good but the white BBQ sauce for dipping makes it.
The beans are quite good with a definite jalapeno bent. Not so much hot but the flavour of the pepper really shines through.
The tater salad is very smooth and creamy. One of the best I've had at a BBQ joint.

For desert we had coconut cream pie. A delicious, (but not as good as Dixie Freeze) custard with meringue and coconut on top, pie.

You can find Big Bob Gibson at 1715 6th Avenue, SE and 2520 Danville Road, SW, Decatur, Alabama

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You can also visit them on the web. Check out the awards and recognition section.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Well, it's time to put my feet up on the coffee table. Til next time.