Saturday, May 26, 2012

BBQ Aristocracy

As you may recall in my post about Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, Alabama, the First Family of North Alabama (and probably all of 'Bama) Bar Be Que is the Gibson's. Patriarch Bob opened his first restaurant in the mid 20's and in 1939 helped his son David open his first restaurant. 
David and his wife would open David Gibson Barbeque in neighbouring Huntsville on April 18, 1956. Located not so coincidentally just outside Redstone Arsenal

The arsenal sat somewhat dormant in the years between the Japanese surrender and 1949 when it was tagged to be the site for the United States Ordnance Rocket Center and Ordnance Guided Missile Center. Testing of rockets, propellants and jet propulsion systems kicked into high gear and the population in and around the arsenal, well, skyrocketed along with it. It is also the birthplace of NASA, and the Redstone Rocket. A direct decendant of the German V2 and precursor to the giant Saturn V that took men to the moon.  
This Gibson's, (now run by David’s son Harold David Gibson) goes out of it's way to advise people they ARE NOT affiliated with the other Gibson's "in town." I don't know if there's bad blood amongst the grand and great grand children of Big Bob but I for one would distance myself from the other Gibson's BBQ on Memorial Parkway. I think it's an embarrassment to the family name. 

David's place is looking it's age these days. As I've eluded to in the past, some people would look at it as a run down, scary, dump. Others see "Cred" oozing out every window. I fall into that latter category. I also love when the smell of pig fat and smoke permeates the air outside and lures one to the front door.  
Inside it looks like a lot of Q shacks in the area. Wood paneling lines the walls making it look like the rec. room my dad built back when I was a little kid. The difference being that they don't seem to have changed the decor here since they opened. There's nothing wrong with that either, once again, some see age, others charm. 
The fact is, David Gibson’s is almost Amish about it's business. They have no website, no facebook page and of course, no Twitter. I did notice they have electricity so I guess it’s not all that bad.
Speaking of constants, in the kitchen absolutely nothing has changed in almost 70 years. Still using 100% hickory in their home made pits and still using the same techniques on which the family name was built

So let’s take a look at what’s coming out of that kitchen. 
They have 3 sauces on the table and you can ask for hot sauce.
The vinegar sauce (R) was a little too vinegary for my Q taste.
The white sauce (L) was, as you can figure, the standard bearer. Creamy and tangy the way it should be.
The regular sauce (C) was fine. Nothing special but nothing bad about it either. It had a nice tomato/molasses hit. I only used it on the Pulled Pork where it was nice. 
I did get some of the house hot sauce and it was great as a dipping sauce for the hush puppies. It packed a pretty good punch. I think it would be excellent as a smoked chicken wing sauce. Maybe drizzle some white sauce on top. 
Over all the BBQ platter was very enjoyable with, as you would expect, somethings rising above others. I never did try the pickle but Mrs. Sippi thoroughly enjoyed hers. So from the bottom right, heading clockwise: 
The hush puppies were quite good. Denser than others I’ve had but no less tasty and didn't sit like a brick. 
The tater salad was good. The best way I can describe it was “Straight up.” There wasn’t any one thing that gave it a personality but that didn’t mean I didn’t like it.
The slaw on the other hand, also what I would consider “Straight up” just didn’t do it for me. Not bad, I just didn’t care for it.
The beans were really nice. Again, a simple style was used here that worked well.
The chopped beef was very nice. Rather than sliced, in this neck of the woods they chop their brisket. It had great smoke flavour and outstanding bark. No sauce required here.
The pulled pork was just okay for me. Good enough to order again but not really good enough for a special trip. I’ve told you many times I still prefer mine. Quite a bit in this case.
As you could imagine, a place who’s signature dish is chicken knocked it out of the park. Half a chicken, dipped in white sauce. Very juicy and tasty it was definitely the best part of the meal. Both Mrs. Sippi and Madame Butterfly wanted only a taste but ended up eating more.

The chocolate meringue pie was terrific. A nice, chocolaty custard in a very flaky crust with a good helping of meringue on top. It was everything you’d want it to be.The Gibson's are well known 'round these parts for making fantastic cream and custard pies. This was no exception.

Well there you have it folks. Some good old school Q from a legendary Alabama family.

You can find David Gibson’s BBQ at 4114 Bob Wallace Avenue SW in Huntsville, AL

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David Gibson Barbecue on Urbanspoon
Gibson David Barbecue Number Two on Foodio54

That’s all for now, see ya next time in the food court.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Citified Southern

In the Summer of 2006 local restaurant vet and bar be que nut Tom Davis posted his manifesto. Tom turned down job security to take a chance. Passing up a regular paycheque, vacation and sick time he decided to open his own place. The working title of the restaurant would be Davis’s Old-time Grill. People were invited along to watch as he perfected dishes and played around with names. “I will take you through the various stages of: Menu development, start up costs, design concept, curing room design, financing, marketing, location, auctions, construction (More financing!!!), staffing, and finally the opening!" Ultimately a restaurant would take shape that was on the one hand what Tom had envisioned but on the other hand not necessarily what he wrote.  The end product: Tom’s take on (for the most part) southern food. BBQ favourites and soul food (and burgers too). A bit of an eclectic menu but what he’s looking to serve is “Slow fast food.” Known in the south as, “Citified Southern.”

Tom’s dream finally became a reality in the spring of 2010 when he opened what he eventually came to call The Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder. The small diner on St. Clair West, just east of the old Toronto stockyards area has a nice rustic feel equally matched inside and out. Exposed brick and unfinished wood give the slender place a certain warmth.

Inside there are no tables but plenty of counter space with about 20 stools. My personal favourite is a seat by the open kitchen. Front row center for the action.
In it’s initial days The stockyards had it’s problems. Or perhaps better said, one problem; it was too popular. It wasn’t only not uncommon to run out of items but seemingly SOP. Two years down the road things are much better. It still happens on occasion but that’s true of all places. Such is the price of fame I suppose. It’s also difficult to keep up sometimes when so much of your menu takes hours to prepare. A recent visit saw them out of pulled pork. The only bright spot is the smell of smoke and pig fat hung in the air as they prepared the next batch.

Well this is all very well and good but it’s the food that counts.
First of all, there are a few things to know. They have a regular menu, a Saturday and Sunday brunch menu and 3 times a week at 5pm you can get your hands on some Q. Tom also does some specialty items periodically.

The biscuits are large and flaky with a nice flavour. When I make ‘em at home they have a nice buttery taste which these seem to lack. Not that I’m saying they should just that it’s not my preference. Mrs. Sippi concurred ranking them “Very good” but not certainly not as good as mine.

The Greens shown here are Kale. Cooked to death with bacon like in the south. The big difference is they add garlic which is not typically southern. Part of the “Citified” thing. The bacon has a great smoky flavour and is quite meaty. The garlic is a bit over the top (can’t believe I’m saying that) but a little pepper sauce we had at home helped to balance things out. Kale is also a bit tougher than Collards, Turnip or Mustard greens and we enjoyed the stronger texture. Honestly, I really didn’t think Mrs. Sippi would like them but surprisingly she very much did. Even ordered more the next visit.

The Fried Chicken and Waffles are amazing. Such an odd combination but this soul food dish dates back centuries.
The Fried Chicken itself is fabulous. More along the lines of the Colonel and his secret recipe with loads of herbs mixed into the batter. Nicely crispy and juicy. The waffles weren’t anything special but I really don’t think they were supposed to be. Simple Belgian waffles done well. The Chili, Maple, Citrus glaze was very nice. Sweet from the maple syrup, tangy from chili and nicely tied together with the citrus. My first taste of this dish and it was an instant hit.

The burger is probably my favourite anywhere. It's a tough call with so many good examples out there but I think three things put this at the top of my list. First of all, it's done on a flat top. I'm sure you’ve read me extol the virtues of this culinary dream machine. Second of all, it's just about exactly what I make at home. It's 6oz (I make 3/lb) with American (aka sliced, aka processed) Cheese and a simple "Wonderbread style" bun. Thirdly, the crust created by the flat top. Most places will give you a patty with a nice crust. Here they play chicken with the griddle. Pushing the limits of how far they can go before making a hockey puck. The burger gets a crust that's far thicker than any other I've had. It provides not only additional flavour but a slight crunch to it that was great. It’s not over cooked either. A slight crust on the flip side ensures it’s still juicy on the inside. Simply excellent.

The Porchetta is fabulous as well. The slow roasted pork roast stuffed with rosemary, garlic and other herbs was simply the best I’ve had. Just the right amount of fattiness and crunch from the skin. It was very rich but the addition of steamed rapini (aka broccoli rabe) was just the perfect way to balance the sandwich and provide additional flavour.

They make their own pastrami from time to time. I had the occasion to try it and let me tell ya, if you can get your hands on some of this stuff, you do it. It's simply the best I've had. Very fatty (which is good for deli meat) and had a great flavour profile. It usually gets snapped up quickly. You'd best phone and find out when they're making some and plan accordingly.

As for drinks they make their own own in house. The Limeade has a nice refreshing mint profile. They round out the liquid menu with an array Boylan products. Some of the best bottled Root Beer you'll find on the market is Boylan.

So there you go. A little taste of the south mixed with some city styling in a quaint setting.

You can visit The Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder in Toronto’s Wychwood neighbourhood at 699 St. Clair Ave. W.

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You can also visit them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
The Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. See ya next time in the food court.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Scenic Drive

It may seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere but the little town of Wilmore, Kentucky is perfectly situated as a jumping off point for a drive through some of the prettiest country you’ll find.
Positioned about a half hour south west of Lexington it is surrounded on the west and north by horse racing and bourbon country. Large scale and craft distilleries offer tours and samples. The horse farms are nothing to sneeze at either. Millions of equine dollars are poured into the region. To the south is the Kentucky River with it’s steep palisades and thick forest. The meandering roads through here make for a drive so hair raising you’re hard pressed to catch up with the speed limit. There’s also some beautiful views of the historic High Bridge. Added to the list of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks (#123) in 1985. Originally designed by John Roebling of the Brooklyn Bridge fame, it’s been reworked a few times over the years. It was the highest railroad bridge in the world when it opened and is still the highest over a navigable waterway in North America.

While in Wilmore a stay at the beautifully restored Potters Inn provides quaint comfort. This Victorian era farm house was saved from the wrecking ball and relocated to its current spot in 2005. Of course, you’ll need to eat and your best bet is at Tastebuds. The soda fountain come lunch counter in Sim’s Drugs on East Main Street.
Wilmore’s E. Main Street has be honoured in the National Regerster of Historic Places. The Sim’s Store dates back over 100 years as do many of the store fronts on E. Main.
Inside, the store still operates as a pharmacy to serve the community. The lunch counter takes up perhaps a third of the store if you include the few booths. There’s some leftover products from the apothecary on display and some of the old soda fountain items still decorate the place. They really don’t have a kitchen. There’s a counter with sinks, food prep stations and a small storage area with a residential fridge. I would love to tell you that they painstakingly craft their sauces, doughs and, what the heck, make their own mozzarella but sadly, they don’t. As much as they’d like to, they just don’t have the space. Heck, they don’t even have an oven. Other than the table top pizza oven that is. That’s not to say that they just run down to the local Quick-E-Mart and grab whatever’s on sale though. They try to source out the best tasting pre made food items and local ingredients which makes them Kentucky Proud. So no, this is not Pilsbury pizza dough with Ragu sauce and other cheap ingredients. What they do make, rest assured, they make very well. Things like chicken salad, pesto, pies, and pimento cheese are all scratch made.
The staff were very friendly and of course, we talked food as much as anything.

The house specialty is pizza and that’s where we started.

 I ordered a fairly standard pie. Pepperoni, bacon and mushroom. It’s a thin crust pizza and too many toppings can really screw up the balance. So keeping it pretty simple was the way to go. There was a nice crunch to the dough with a pretty mild taste. The sauce, while out of a jar was pretty tasty. The toppings worked really well. All in all, a really good pizza.
Their most popular pizza is the Spinach. I watched as piles of spinach and fresh chopped mushrooms were placed atop pesto and feta cheese. I wondered where all the water that’ll leach out would go but figured they knew what they were doing. It was just as cripsy as the other pie. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like it but it was fantastic. All the ingredients played nicely together and the bacon on top gave it a bit of crunch and and that great, salty, bacon-y goodness.
We, of course, couldn’t resist a pimento cheese sandwich. This was easily the best specimen I’ve had. I say that only because it’s very close the recipe we’ve been playing around with at home. Ours has a bit more of a cayenne hit but it had the same creaminess and pimento pepper flavour on which we’ve been zeroing in.
After complementing them about the pimento cheese I was offered a sample of their chicken salad. It was terrific. Finely chopped chicken mixed with mayo, green onion, garlic powder and, in a nice twist, red grapes. They give it a bit of a unique taste. They also have toasted almond slivers in there as well. Something I add to mine at home. Very nice.
Mrs. Sippi’s chocolate, caramel shake was excellent. I opted for a chocolate, peanut butter malted, shown here on the left. Again excellent. They’re made with real milk and Blue Bell ice cream and are blended in an old fashioned shake blender.

So there you have it. Some really terrific food served up from a small lunch counter in the middle of nowhere.

You can find Tastebuds inside Sim’s Drug Store at 319 East Main St, Wilmore, Ky.

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You can also find on the web and facebook.
Tastebuds of Wilmore on Urbanspoon
Tastebuds of Wilmore Inc on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now, see ya next time in the Food Court.