Saturday, November 30, 2013

Chuckwagon BBQ (Madison, Al)

Alabama meets Texas

20130814_130921You sometimes have to wonder what possesses people to do the things they do. I mean, what would posses a person to open a Texas BBQ joint in Madison Alabama. Right in the heart of North Alabama BBQ country. Especially given that people from one BBQ region DO NOT, as a rule, like BBQ from another region. But....there it is, Chuck Wagon BBQ not 10 minutes from the legend, Big Bob Gibson's. It's a recipe, no pun intended, for disaster.

20130814_130847But what if I told you that at lunch time, you can't get near this place. That lineups start before the doors open. That ya, it's that good.

20130814_153503Owner Mike Holley, a genuine transplanted Texan is churning out what could very well be the best Texas Q East of the Pecos. Using recipes handed down from his Grandfather, George Washington Gray he's found enough room in the BBQ saturated landscape of Madison and Limestone Counties. While he toiled in the oil fields of Texas for many years, Mike had cooking in his blood. His Great Grandfather was a chuck wagon cook on the
Goodnight-Loving Trail.

20130814_153402Located just off I-565 Chuckwagon BBQ is a sight to behold. An honest to goodness joint. Decked out in weathered barn board with a bright red roof and big BBQ spelled out it's a stand out. Smoke stacks and catering pits pop up like mushrooms in a damp forest.

20130814_145819Inside it mirrors the outside with more barn board and is decorated with many things Texas. You enter around back and go through the outdoor dining area. Food is served to you cafeteria style from a large serving station inside and the cramped main dining room seems to accommodate many more than you'd think.

So let's get a look at what's got Alabamians betraying their roots shall we??

20130814_150623The Beans were much better but seemed to be lacking something. It seemed to be an acid of some sort. I added a bit of BBQ sauce and that seemed to brighten things up a bit. So I added more. I found that there was a level that was perfect and one that was too much. So easy does it.
I quite liked the Tater Salad. Nothing special about it, it’s just good old solid tuber goodness. Nothing wrong with that.
20130502_180443A 2 Meat combo of Brisket and Sausage is a nice match. Smoked pork sausage and Texas style brisket are as ubiquitous in Texas as cows it seems. While both were terrific, they both lacked that great smoked flavour that I love. Otherwise, the sausage was incredibly tasty and perfectly cooked. When smoking sausage the casing can become rather rubbery and downright unappetizing. This wasn't the case here. The brisket also hit all the appropriate buttons but the smokey one as I mentioned. The meat was fork tender, juicy and great tasting. Gven that these are the two house specialties, they’d better be good.

20130814_150637They do actually do pork products as well. This horrible photo is of ribs. Given that we showed up 5 minutes before close and I got the last order of ribs they were needless to say, not very photogenic. Not to worry, the taste was pretty much everything you’d want. As you can tell by the pink in the meat, the smoke flavour was spot on.

20130814_152240For dessert there are some options but Mrs. Sippi was all over the Fried Pies. The apple was terrific but the peach was just slightly better.

So there you have it folks, terrific Texas BBQ in the Heart of Dixie.

You can find Chuck Wagon BBQ at 8982 Madison Blvd. in Madison, Al.

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You can also find them on facebook.
Chuck Wagon on Urbanspoon

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Patty and Franks (Toronto, On)

Gourmet Burgers and Hotdogs.

Patty & Franks Sign"Gourmet Burgers and Hotdogs." "Signature" burger. Sigh.
Here is another case of not judging a book by it's cover. When I see things like "Gourmet" attached to burgers and such it makes me think that they're really over thinking things. Gilding the lily doesn't make it better. When I see the use (or in many instances, over use) of buzz words like "Signature" it makes me wary. That there's a corporation just trying to sell a concept based on a craze. Cutesy names are another red flag. Like you need to sell the sizzle because the steak isn't good enough to sell itself. "Beau Thai" is a good example of a name that's a turn off. Sometimes I'm right. Sometimes of course those things should just be over looked. Such is the case with TO's newest burger emporium, Patty and Frank's. Which doesn't fit the first two warning signs and walks a fine line with the last.

Patty & Franks (1)Perhaps they should've led with this: "At Patty and Franks Gourmet Burgers and Hot Dogs, we create juicy burgers from family recipes and offer real food without any fillers or preservatives!" That's the kinda thing I like to see. That's the kinda place I love to visit. Let's face it, there's nothing inherently "Gourmet" about ground beef or a simple hot dog. They're simple yet tasty concoctions and in no way need gussying up.
P&F Interior (3)So, once I was able to silence the alarm bells and give P & F's a chance I was glad I did. Opened in the fall (of 2013) they're, as you can imagine, doing burgers and dogs (Patty & Franks, get it??) along with some of the normal sides and terrific shakes. Located in Greektown their off to a fast start. Immediately grabbing the attention of the GTA's burger loving crowd and so far, the early reports are great. Both links and disks come in preordained creations or you can mix and match parts and accessories to create your own masterpiece. The best part is, everything is house made. Yes, even the Onion Rings.
From the outside it's yet another store front along "The Danforth." Mixed in amongst many restaurants it's bright and simple outward appearance makes it stand out from the rank and file.
P&F Interior (1)Inside I loved the space. It's kind of a cross between retro a burger place and a modern burger place. Bright, white and clean like an operating room it has some subtle reminders of the glory days of the diner. Chrome napkin and straw dispensers with vintage Pepsi logos on them are a nice homage to days gone by.
There's some hardwood on the walls with real tables and chairs (not quasi booths) filling out the dining room. There's a prep kitchen in the back and an open assembly kitchen in the middle of the space.

So let's get a look at what's cookin' in those kitchens.
P&F Signature DogP & F Style Frank: A hot dog with cheddar, real bacon bits, chopped up burger and sautéed onions. I loved it. The wiener was good quality and everything had a nice balance with the exception of the burger meat. It was rather lost in there.I added only mustard and was rewarded with one of the best dogs I've had in the GTA. Perhaps anywhere. Sadly for you self proclaimed "Purists" out there the dog doesn't have the natural casing and snap that y'all see as a deal breaker. I'm not as picky and worry more about taste than anything else. On this second issue, they deliver in spades.
P&F Bacon CBurgerBYO Burger: I liked, not loved the burger. It's 5 oz. AAA CAB (yeah) that is seared on a flat top and then finished on a grill. I ordered my usual bacon cheeseburger. It tastes very much like it's a grill burger not a flat top. As such, there's just no way I'm gonna love it. It's just not my style. I spoke with one of the owners and had a debate on the merits of the grill or griddle. He loves the searing of the flat top but thinks that it NEEDS to see fire. I disagree but this is Canada and we're not only allowed to, we're better off because we can. So, all that said, a good burger is a good burger no matter how it's prepared and this is certainly one. I'd order it again.
P&F PoutineTraditional Poutine: Probably the closest to the real deal I've had in TO. It's made with beef gravy (which isn't traditional) but at least they seem to understand that it's more of a sauce than actually a gravy. The best I've had is at the Montreal Pool Room and this seems close. The flavour and consistency is very good. The curds were massive and melted nicely. The fries on their own were nice, crispy but a bit under salted. Perhaps because they were being covered with salty condiments. It's better to err on the side of under salted so no big deal. The purists here will lament the lack of squeak but as I've said in the past, I like my curds to melt so they wouldn't squeak anyway.
P&F RingsOnion Rings: Also very good. Home made they passed the pinch test although some of the breading did shatter and fall off. The pull test they passed with flying colours. They were tasty in a basic way. Not a lot coming from the breading other than crunch so the onion had to and did carry the dish. They were a bit greasy even for rings. I mentioned it to one of the owners and he said he knew that and is working on it.
Shakes: The Strawberry/Banana was fabulous. (no picture) Made with real ice cream, strawberries and bananas. What an idea!! I can remember back as far was when I was a kid that being a great combination of fruit flavours.
It seems, thanks to a competitor who shall remain nameless, that while Toronto was getting a burger upgrade, a residual effect was an upgrade in the shakes being offered around town as well. At the very least, the availability of great shakes.

So there you have it folks. Great, (not) gourmet burgers, dogs, shakes, well lots of great stuff in one of the cities newest fast food havens.
You can find Patty and Franks at 467 Danforth Ave. in Toronto, On. 

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Patty and Frank's Gourmet Burgers and Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon 
Well that's all for now folks, catch ya later in the food court.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Dishes Pt. II

Welcome back.
Here is the second of my trilogy in four parts on the article Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Dishes. The first of which was last month and the other two will be posted over the next couple months.
6) Locally brewed beer by Olde Town Brewing and Straight to Ale. (Huntsville) Available at various locations.
Straight to Ale ~ MonkeynaughtOlde Town Brewing Co.: They began operations in the summer of 2004 and were the first brewery in Huntsville since the repeal of Prohibition. The brewery was devastated by a fire in 2008 and the company never seemed to recover. They officially closed shop in early 2011 before I was able to sample some of their wares.
Straight to Ale: Born in the basement of co-owner Dan Perry, Straight to Ale first hit the market in the spring of 2010 and as of the summer of 2012 was only available in North Alabama. Their beer names are either puns such as "He Ain't Heffe" or locally themed such as this sample, Monkeynaught IPA. A tribute to the monkey's dispatched to space from Redstone Arsenal during the pioneering days of NASA. This is almost a glass full of tangerine or sweet grapefruit. It's very citrusy (as they advertise) and downright fantatic. If you like the citrus fruits, you'll probably love this.

7) Fish Taco's ~ Bandido Burrito Co. (Huntsville)
Bandito Burrito Co. ~ Fish TacosCertainly one of the best things on this list. BBC is not a lot to look at from the outside. Occupying what looks like a one time Burger King. In fact, the exterior doesn't hold much promise of good things within. But don't ever judge a book by it's cover. This place is great, led by the fish tacos. They come 2 to an order with Mexican Rice and Refried beans. (both sides were very tasty) A piece of lightly seasoned tilapia each, topped with cabbage, tomato, onions, cilantro and a white sauce made of dill, lime juice and Mexican crema. They are utterly delicious.

What made this dish is the sauce. It added a great deal of depth.

I can also recommend the Combo Burrito. Nothing earth shattering about it. Just plain tasty.
Bandito Burrito Company on Urbanspoon 
8) Jalapeno Cheddar Bread ~ FredBread (Huntsville) Available locally.FredBread ~ Jalapeno CheddarWhat we have here is basically a loaf of sandwich bread studded with jalapenos and cheddar cheese. On it's own with a bit of butter this was great. I didn't get a chance but I think it was just screaming to be made into a grilled cheese sandwich. Very tasty stuff.

What really makes this is, it's bread. Nuff said.

I recommend purchasing this on court square at Harrison Brothers Hardware. A wonderfully restored hardware store from days gone by.

Chicken Berlin ~ Cafe Berlin (Huntsville)
Cafe Berlin ~ Chicken BerlinA breaded chicken breast topped with Jarlsberg cheese, sauteed onions and sliced green apple. It was okay but really lacked any depth. The chicken was plain breast meat, the breading wasn't particularly well seasoned and even the Jarlsberg cheese, onion and apple didn't kick this up a notch. Here, the sum was exactly that of it's parts.

What made this dish was the red cabbage that was a side. It was fantastic.

I can also recommend the bratwurst platter. 
Cafe Berlin on Urbanspoon
10) Big 8 Pizza ~ Big Ed's Pizzeria (Huntsville) 
Big Ed's Pizzeria ~ Big 8 PizzaPepperoni, sausage, ham, green pepper, onions, fresh mushrooms, green and black olives. A seemingly nice combination however the thin crust was way too weighed down by all the toppings and too much water leached out and in general, the whole thing was a mess.

Nothing made this dish. It's just ill fated.

I can however highly recommend Big Ed's pizza. We had a simpler pizza with just pepperoni and black olives and it was fabulous. The best pizza in the city.
Big Ed's Pizza on Urbanspoon

So there you go. Some great and some not so great stuff. Check back in a few weeks for part III.