Sunday, December 30, 2012

Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken (Chattanooga, Tn)

“Saving the World, One Chicken Leg at a Time”

20130810_185246Life on the road was getting pretty tough for Seth Champion. With his wife, Crissy, living in Savannah, Georgia they managed 3 Lenny’s Sub Shops. All the while Seth travelled and advised franchisees. They’d had enough. Chasing a Lenny’s franchise opportunity of their own, they pulled up stakes and set up shop in Chattanooga. Their business got off to a good start and before long, were approached with an offer. Too good to pass up, they sold and decided it was time to venture out on their own. They knew with Seth's business background and old family recipes they were sure to succeed.

20130810_185157In 2009, Seth and Crissy opened Champy's Famous Fried Chicken. To say it’s been a big hit is an understatement. We arrived for dinner the night before Thanksgiving and found the place was almost full to overflowing. Their bar and grill has quickly become a staple in community and has gained plenty of notoriety nationally and as you can tell by this Canadian knowing about it, internationally. Some claim it's the best fried chicken in the nation. While that's a pretty big claim there's certainly good reason. As you'll soon read. Such a demand has also meant expansion. They've now opened 3 other stores. All in Alabama.

Champy's Dining RoomThe moment Seth and Crissy saw what would become Champy’s Chattanooga location they knew they'd found the place. It sits, very conveniently, directly across the street from UTC.
It’s outward appearance is that of a seaside bar. Inside it has all the trappings of a dive bar. Memorabilia and other paraphernalia adorn the walls as to cover old paint and cracked plaster. In this case, old album covers and dollar bills are among the more notable items. They've tried to capture the feel of the Mississippi Delta that's near and dear to them. Mix together Delta Blues, 40 oz. beers and great food, you've surely got a recipe for success.
As an added bonus for the males in the house, the wait staff are female, young and cute. They’re also very good. Helpful with the menu and given that everything is cooked to order (and fried chicken taking extra time), very expedient.

As we all know, it can be difficult at the best times to live up to a reputation. Well I’m hear to tell ya, Champy’s is “All that.” So let’s have a look shall we??

Mississippi Hot SauceAt the table where the ketchup and sundry items are you’ll find a bottle of their home made hot sauce. Called Mississippi Sweet Heat it’s somewhat your typical hot sauce in that it’s peppery and vinegary. This also has a bit of a sweetness component. It’s actually not all that hot, sweet or vinegary but walks a nice, fine, balancing act. It played nicely on the Fried Dill Pickles. I never used it on anything else but in hind sight, I’m sure it was be a nice addition to the beans. A little acidity in beans is nice.

20130810_201004A really nice way to start off, especially if you’re a group, is the Smoked Sausage Plate. Cajun smoked sausage is accompanied by cheese cubes, pickles, pickled peppers and dusted with seasoning. The sausage is fantastic. Garlicky and smokey and just fantastic. I can’t say it any other way. The cheese is really nice and where the pickled peppers juice got on it, even better. The pickles are really nice but nothing spectacular. Just solid. Nothing wrong with that. The pickled peppers aren’t all that hot. Hot enough if you don’t enjoy but not something the grizzled old vets would consider hot.

20130810_191846The Hot Wings are another nice side. I’m starting to realize that I’m just not a huge fan of smoked chicken wings. Which these are. I think the combination of smoke and wing sauce doesn’t work. The best I’ve had are my own and I do more of a BBQ sauce on them. I think that works better. The night I had them there was no shortage of people ordering. A few baseball teams came by after their games and several people ordered and enjoyed. I would order them again but they aren’t my favourite thing on the menu is all.

Fried Dill PicklesI totally get Deep Fried Dill Pickles. They’re pickles which are good. They’re deep fried which is also good. So the two should work. I’ve just never loved them. Not so with these ones. Cut into spear shapes they’re far and away the best I’ve had. The crunch of the breading was exceptional and the Ranch Dressing was a perfect complement.

Delta TamalesAs you can well imagine, growing up in Canada means that my exposure to Delta Tamales was nil. I didn’t even know there was such an animal. Delta Tamales, or Hot Tamales as they’re called “Down Yonder” are very similar to the Latin varietal but are made of cornmeal not masa. They also seem to be smaller and are usually but not always, covered in a thin tomato sauce or gravy.
These particular specimens are filled with ground beef and nicely seasoned. Definitely with cumin but there are certainly other flavours along for the ride. I loved them. Mrs. Sippi thought they were very good but not excellent. Growing up just above the Delta, she’s far more familiar with them.

Fried Chicken and BeansLast but more certainly not least the Fried Chicken. IT. IS. AWESOME. Oh my, this, simply, is what God intended when he invented Fried Chicken. Crispy, juicy, “chickeny”, herby and, what put this over the top, slightly spicy. Not sure where it’s coming from but that little bit of bite really gives it personality. By “bite” I don’t mean a lot of heat either. This is not Nashville Hot Chicken or anything close to it. Just enough to bloom your taste buds and give it some character. Not so much as to turn off those not into hot stuff.
I really liked the slaw that accompanied it. It had a good cabbage taste and had a little something, something which I think, was apple. All in all, one of the better tasting slaws I’ve had.
The beans were fantastic. Kind of your standard pork and beans but a little smokier and as you can see they have kidney beans in them as well. They add just a bit of earthiness that I totally enjoyed.

Crawfish BoilWhen in season they do Crawfish Boils. Pretty much exactly the same as a Low Country Boil or Frogmore Stew, it’s mud bugs (crawfish) cooked in a fiery, heavily seasoned broth with Cajun Sausage, Corn and Potatoes. As an added attraction they add Mushrooms. The whole thing is just poured out onto a plate and you dive right in. This particular incarnation hit all the right notes and had a strong hint of all spice. Not something I’ve seen but being a Canadian, this was not something with which I grew up. Mrs. Sippi has had this plenty and declared Champy’s version simply the best. Be fore warned though, if you do not like spicy stuff, you will not be able to handle this. By the time we finished, our mouths were on fire.

Key Lime PieIf you have room for dessert there a couple options for you. Mississippi Mud and Key Lime Pies. The Ms Mud was good and came from a bakery in Nashville. I must admit it didn’t really excite me but a chocolate based pie for a chocoholic is always acceptable. The Key Lime (shown) is made in house and is quite good. I have a bit of a hard time judging this for two reasons. It’s got a bit of a delicate taste and having it on the heels of the power packed crawfish my tastebuds were probably worn out. As well, I made one for my mom just the week before and, as usual, I prefer what I make at home. Make no mistake though, this is some good stuff.

So there you go fried chicken aficionados, some of the best bird this side of Neptune.

You can find Champy’s at 526 East M L King Boulevard, Chattanooga, Tn.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Champy's Famous Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now folks. We'll see ya next time in the food court.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gourmet Hot Dogs

In the late summer of 2012 a rather interesting mural took shape on the side of a building just outside Toronto’s downtown. It would portend a new hot dog emporium. Dedicated to one of the latest food trends sweeping across the United States. Gourmet hot dogs or Haute Dogs as their known. Better quality dogs topped with a wide array of toppings from the simple to the extravagant.

Fancy FranksLocal restaurateur, Angelos Economopoulos knew the hot dog craze would thrive in TO. Our hot dog carts are are rather ubiquitous and considered among the best. Simply put, we love ‘em. His plan, take them indoors and dress them up. Angelos would venture south on some scouting missions and craft his own Haute Dog strategy. In October of 2012 he threw open the doors of Fancy Franks and was an overnight sensation. The hype created by the mural had done its job. The city was instantly hooked.

Interior (1)Outside of the mural mentioned above, Fancy Franks is just another in a series of storefronts.
Inside the mix of exposed brick, wood and a collage featuring vintage photos of people eating hot dogs, including a cameo of JFK, dress the place up.
Interior (2)There’s a long communal table in the middle and a ledge around the front windows. Stools numbering about 20 provide seating.
Following another trend these days there are two kitchens. One in the back where the prep work is done and another in front of that where some cooking and final assembly takes place.

I should point out that these types of dogs, weighed down with toppings aren’t really my thing. A chili cheese dog is about the high end for me. That said, I still love this concept and am glad to see this type of place in the city. It’s also great that I can build my own dog from the bun up. So there’s a little something for everyone here.
Let’s have a look shall we?? 

Fancy Franks SignI got a sample of the dog just plain and lemmie tell ya, it's great. Not as garlicky or spicy as I like, (like Nathan's) but terrific otherwise. They're made by a local butcher to the recipe supplied by FF. I'd like to see it cooked just a bit longer. Maybe get some charring on that baby for added flavour. I think, and this is just me personally, that a more robust dog may stand up to some of the more assertive toppings a bit better. What is likely to have doggie fans excited in the city is these franks have natural casings. For that added snap.You can substitute a a sausage for an extra dollar as well. I have yet to try one so I can not attest to it’s taste.

Chi-town FancyThe Chi-town Fancy (tomato, pickle, mustard, relish, peppers, celery salt) was my first Chicago Dog and it was pretty much what I expected. (Keep in mind it’s not a "True" Chicago dog. The sport peppers and neon green relish are replaced by pepperoncini and Heinz relish). It's good but for my tastes, too much with the vegetation. “Drag it through the garden” as they say. The dog is almost lost in there. If you like Chicago dogs I'm guessing you'll be happy with this incarnation but in future, unless I'm in Chi-town, I’ll pass. It's also quite messy, which I'm sure you know doesn't bother me in the least, which is surprising considering this is basically a street dog in the Windy City.

Franko Fancy-aanoThe Franko Fancy-aano (wrapped prosciutto, arugula, reggiano, balsamic Dijon mayonnaise) is not really a favourite nor was it of my friends Vicky, Nancy or Peter. Not that there was anything wrong with it per se. It just didn’t work for us. Others may love it. As they say in the Twitterverse, YMMV.

Franks Got SeoulA definite favourite is the Franks Got Seoul (beef rib, kimchee, sesame seed, green onion). The kimchee isn’t as assertive as you’d think and the beef rib somewhat steals the show. That said, the dog can still be tasted and all in all, it’s quite good. I think next time I’ll add some hot sauce to kick it up a notch or two.

Frankie Goes to BuffaloFrankie Goes to Buffalo (deep fried in panko, carrot, blue cheese, Buffalo wing sauce) is a terrific contrast of tastes and textures. The deep fried, panko crusted crunch is nice though I think a little more of the wing sauce would be good. It smelt a lot more vinegary that it was.

FrankaphoneThe Frankaphone (smoked gruyere, horseradish cheddar, squeaky curds, honey dijon mayo) was certainly the favourite among the group of us. It was closer to a hot dog in general and as such, was destined to be my favourite. It really let the wiener shine. The toppings nicely added creaminess and tang.

Coney FriesI opted to create my own fries. I thought for sure they'd have Coney Fries on the menu and they didn't. They do have Chili Poutine but the thought of both chili and gravy didn't appeal to me. So I opted to swap smoked gruyere (yes I know it should be cheddar but they don't have plain cheddar) and hold the gravy. I ended up with a pretty reasonable facsimile of Coney Fries and they were great. The fries themselves are fresh cut. Not the best I've had but solid none the less. The chili is really good and a bit unique. It tasted like there was a hint of curry powder in it. (Now, before you go getting upset that there's curry powder in it, should it actually be there) just keep in mind that curry and chili powders are basically cousins. They work very well together. In hindsight I think the addition of chopped onions would have made it even better.
Another new trend that is popping up is a donut robot. A machine dedicated to cranking out tiny donuts. Their is right there in the kitchen and spits out warm, soft, delicious dough rings. They come with a variety of toppings. Some of which are as follows.
Chocolate Sauce & Caramel DonutsChocolate Sauce & Caramel: These babies are just about everything I could’ve hoped for. The sauces, while inherently sweet aren’t too much. I thought, though my dining partners disagreed, that it was missing a little something to put them over the top. Upon reflection, I think whipped cream would’ve done it. That said, the others were happy there wasn’t any more sweetness added.
Lemon Curd & Strawberry DonutsLemon Curd or Strawberry and Powdered Sugar: These are a really nice combination. Pretty much like a lemon filled donut. This sampler of the two flavours, in my mind could’ve used a tich more sugar.

So there you have it. A great place to get your hands on some dogs in the city.

You can find Fancy Franks at 326 College St in Toronto, On.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Fancy Franks Gourmet Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

End of the Road

For about a decade the Dead End Society met at the end of Summit Circle. A cul-de-sac in Knoxville, Tennessee. Three families would get together and hone their BBQ skills. Neighbours all, they started by hosting a pig roast for the other local residents. Over the years it would grow from dozens to hundreds and by early in the century, they'd take the knowledge gleaned, on the road. Hitting BBQ competitions from all corners of the state and beyond. Racking up a pretty impressive resume along the way.
020Architect, George Ewart, like so many in the BBQ game, has smoke and pig fat in his veins. By the age of 14 he was learing at his daddy's side. Coaxing an almost inedible piece of meat into a mouth watering delicacy. Those skills, handed down by his father were handed down by his grandmother.
At the ripe old age of 48, George figured it was time to let everyone in neighbourhood cook outs. He opened Dead End BBQ in Knoxville, near UT and has taken over the BBQ scene locally. Having won Best BBQ in Knoxville from Metro Pulse all three years he's been in business. Along with his many other accolades from his many years on the competition trail.
017Being an architect, George designed his snazzy new digs. Decked out in glass, stainless steel and neon it's a beautiful looking place. Unfortunately, both Mrs. Sippi and I agree, it does not scream BBQ. We both love the old shacks that have been around for decades. Some day, DEBBQ will be decades old and oozing that charm but for now, it's a shiny new building with little character.

029Inside it's very nice as well. A large, open dining room with a view of the smokers. There's a good sized patio and, of course, the trophy case. Displaying a collection of awards collected over the many years of competing.

While everything we ate was at least good only a couple things stood out. One thing that really hurt here is, much like the place itself, there was no discernible smoke flavour. So while we did like everything, we didn't love it.

027A caddy with S&P and 3 different sauces awaits you at your table. Mild, regular and spicy. The mild was just too innocuous.  The regular was right up my alley. Nice and sticky sweet with some tang from vinegar and cayenne. Good for the pork. The hot was nothing mind blowing but had enough kick to get your attention. It worked particularly well with the sausage. It, I suspect, would be fantastic on the smoked wings.
025The Jalapeno Cornbread was very good. Nice corn taste and complimented well with the jalapenos. The Southern Cornbread was pretty average. Nothing much wrong with it outside of sugar according to Mrs. Sippi. I personally don't mind the sweetness. As I've stated before our palates don't line up on cornbread.
023The Mayor's Beans were good tasting and pretty rich. We were told they had pineapple in them which didn't come across at all. They weren't overly sweet which was fine. I prefer a little less sweet than too much. At least when it comes to beans. All in all, like so much else, good.
022The Mac and Pimento Cheese posed a bit of a problem for me. Nicely creamy with a good cheese flavour so all in all a bit above average. However they lose a point for not tasting like Pimento Cheese. Save for a few bits of pimento and the menu you wouldn't have known they were in there. If you advertise it, it should taste like it. Shame too, I was really looking forward to it.
021I liked the ribs a little better than Mrs. Sippi. She couldn't get past sauce. Not that it was bad but she prefers dry ribs (Memphis style) and these are more my style. Slathered with sauce cooked in. The meat was fine and they were very tender but the lack of smoke really stood out here. They seemed to be missing something and that was it.
024The big hit for us was the Smoked Sausage. Juicy, porky with a hint of garlic. Made and smoked in house it was simply fantastic. We both feel the sausage alone is worth a repeat visit. As I pointed out above, the Hot (BBQ) Sauce worked really well. I'd really be interested in trying it on a bun with some slaw and sauce. It think it'd be awesome.

We also had some pulled pork but for some reason I didn’t get a picture. Anyway, it too was good.

So there you have it folks, some pretty good Q with a some outstanding items thrown in.
You can find Dead End BBQ at 3621 Sutherland Ave, Knoxville, Tn.
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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter
Dead End BBQ on Urbanspoon
Dead End BBQ on Foodio54

Well that's all for now folks, we'll see ya next time in the food court. 


Monday, December 3, 2012

"Character and Characters"

Corner Grill SignPerhaps it would be impossible to phrase it any better than the young man sitting at the counter of Corner Grill in Bowling Green, Ohio. The little diner that began life in 1951 and has become a staple in the small north west Ohio college town. It's the type of place where pretense is checked at the door. Where people from all walks of life meet, greet and eat. It’s a place where the unemployed drink Maxwell House Coffee with community leaders. Where a farmer, muddied from a days work in the field will talk Falcons football with a hair dresser. Where people come for a quiet breakfast or some greasy food and raucous atmosphere at 3am. After a hard night of partying of course. It's where, back in the day, you came in to check the pulse of the town. Heck, even the mayor is a regular. Probably couldn’t get elected otherwise. Yep, it's the kind of place that is "Full of character and characters." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Corner GrillSome would say, it has seen better days. Granted a stay of execution in 2010 when city officials cited fire, building and health code deficiencies. Others, such as myself, say you can’t recreate the feeling a place like this has. The stories are legen-wait-for-it-dary. One such anecdote sees judges and attorneys excusing themselves from the local courthouse, huddling in a booth and spelling out terms for a plea bargain. Another has a former owner keeping regulars in line with a fly swatter.
In a delicious microcosm of society, the Health food store/Vegan restaurant directly across the street had gone out of business.

Corner Grill InsideThe interior is exactly what you’d think. Counter service, open kitchen, worn out décor, (usually) cluttered with regulars. There’s a row of booths along the outside wall. All in all, seating for a couple dozen or so.

There’s also a kitchen in back where a lot of the baking and prep work is done. So let’s get a look at the goodies being served up at “The diner.”

Cheese CubesWe started with Cheese Cubes. These are your typical cheese sticks you'd find at a TGI McScratchy's. The only differences are the size,shape and, (perhaps because of the environment) they were much better. They come out of a bag from the local food distributor but I don't discount something simply because of it's pedigree. Taste trumps all right?? They were cheesy, crunchy and had a little kick. The big star here is the Ranch Dip. Made in house it's a little less "Ranchy" tasting than the stuff in a bottle and somewhat more "Mayonnaisy" but ultimately incredibly good. A perfect match these two and a very popular item.

Chili DogThe Chili Dog (with cheese) is a fine specimen. A nice soft bun (toasted) and a great, natural casing dog (a little less spicy/garlicky than I usually like but big snap) and a basic chili. Simple and delicious. A couple of these and you're in business.

Cajun BurgerAnother favourite on the menu is the Cajun Burger. It wasn't one of mine. It wasn't bad or anything like that, it just really didn't do it for me. The patty is spiced with Cajun seasoning and comes plain. I added Swiss cheese (as was recommended) sautéed onion and tomato. There's really nothing wrong with it, it just wasn't a favourite. Clearly, I'm in the minority on that. Along with Mrs. Sippi.

Bacon Double CheeseburgerOn the other hand, the Bacon Double Cheeseburger was "All that." A fine example of what the Classic American Cheeseburger can and should be. Done on a flat top (ding, ding, ding) it's just perfect. The balance of meat to cheese to bacon to toppings (I had to remove the lettuce on my half because I hate that cooked lettuce taste) was spot on. There's just nothing more I can say about this other than, it's perfect.

Apple Pecan Custard PieTo wash it all down I had a piece of pie. Their pie du jour was Pecan, Apple, Custard. A terrific piece although, loving cinnamon, I'd like to have seen some apple pie spicing in it. It came from the fridge and I think it would probably taste better at room temperature. I'm not sure warmed would work that well as the custard might be too loose. This pie is also made in house.

For what it's worth, the Soup du Jour was Chicken Noodle. Another diner had a bowl and it smelled fantastic. The young man of which I spoke before said it's made by "The man in the back." Nice.

So there you have it folks, a local legend, a meeting place, a party place, a community "water cooler." Call it what you will.

You can find Corner Grill in the heart of downtown at 200 N. Main St. (The old Dixie Highway) Bowling Green, Oh.

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You can also find them on facebook or follow the night shift on Twitter.

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Corner Grill on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court.