Sunday, July 25, 2010

Whitt's Barbecue

Friday July 23rd 2010
Whitt’s Barbecue, Harding Pike at Harding Pl, Nashville, TN

On several occasions I’d heard Whitt’s referred to as “the worst barbecue in town”. It being a lowly local chain restaurant, guilty of cutting corners in favor of speedy service, in turn bastardizing a type of cooking with a religious following in these parts. A slogan like that isn’t something one comes by easily and it’s certainly not self-applied, meaning they earned it fair and square. Their reputation for failure and the sight of their “Wednesday is pork day!” marquee in my head, I was prepared for, maybe even hoping for some true unabashed culinary repugnance. What can I say, I was in the mood!
I’d noticed its proximity to my new workplace as I drove in on my first day, and after getting the run down of close by eateries from a co-worker (Krystal, Whitt’s, and the elegant Pineapple Room), Whitt’s seemed like the only choice. Anticipation formed within. I imagined myself biting into nasty chunk of mold, I imagined choking on little pieces of bone, and I imagined myself saying, “Well, they were right!”
There didn’t appear to be a sit down area, it was just a small booth type room and the gentleman behind the window was, for a southern boy especially, quick on the draw. He took my order seconds after I walked in, and I wasn’t even familiar with the menu. I’d been put on the spot, so I just took a glance and ordered the first things I saw. A pork sandwich and a turkey sandwich. Thinking fast, I noticed the sandwiches low price ($2.60 or so), and attributed the affordable cost not to exceptional value, but poor quality and measly size, and came to the decision to order two for hungers sake. We hadn’t even finished the monetary transaction process by the time they were ready.

Surprisingly the sandwiches weren’t that bad. Not to say they were good, it’s just that I’d built up such a realistic image in my mind of rotten meat, grease laden bread, and health code violating conditions, that to be served nothing more than a boring and uninspired bare bones barbecue sandwich was, in comparison, confusingly disappointing. The pork sandwich was really just a child size fist full of meat tossed between some buns, no sauce to speak of. I question wether the turkey was ever even actually barbecued or not, it seemed just like regular turkey, but at least they were kind enough to garnish this one with a pickle slice.
By nature barbecue is very slow food. You can throw something on a grill and leave it on there for hours and hours. Thus its popularity. It’s one of the few types of cooking where you can sit bobbing for beers in a kiddie pool with all your fat friends, alternating whose turn it is to rotate the meat slab. Hey, not like that people, you know what I mean. Which is why the idea of a fast barbecue place is just wrong. Not only because it diminishes the results of the food, but it takes the whole lengthy ceremonial aspect of barbecuing out of the equation, and I feel that’s just as important as the food.
I mean, I go to a barbecue joint on a lunch break, if the place is any good, I should be back at work at least a half hour late. Instead I’m back at work early sitting in the parking lot in Old Vanny with the AC blasting (because that’s all it will do) staring at the clock, chugging water to get the cheap pork taste out of my mouth. That is not how it should be.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

El Amigo

Tuesday July 13th 2010
El Amigo, 3901 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, TN

Chosen purely on appearance, El Amigo is a gas station that became possessed and slowly completely taken over by a Mexican restaurant. It’s very eye catching with the fueling station pillars acting as a carport and the mini mart cash register area now the restaurant. A brilliant transformation if I do say so myself. It was the look and the look alone that drew us to El Amigo out of the dozens of other taco trucks and restaurants on Nolensville, so many of which must be great places to eat and hang out, making this trip quite disappointing.
My hopes were set high, because for some reason I was really impressed with how they didn’t alter the typical gas station architecture of the building, decorating it to fit with the restaurant instead. After eating there and now that I’m actually writing it out, I realize that it isn’t actually that impressive.
It wasn’t until a couple minutes after we’d taken a seat and placed our orders that we couldn’t help but be bothered by a continuous tone being emitted, at a volume that couldn’t easily be ignored, from a surveillance camera positioned above our booth. We moved across the room, distancing the tone a bit, but introducing the colliding chatter of the dueling televisions into the mix. They were playing some type of Spanish soap opera in which one of the female characters was whining incessantly, awful nerve grating full grown adult whining. The televisions could not be tuned out, they were set perfectly at conversation inhibiting volume, and with two of them at opposite ends of the room the sound was doubled up in a thick layer, making the squeal of bad foreign acting impossible to ignore. Unpleasant right? Shortly after being served our food, someone, somewhere, decided they wanted to hear “House of the Rising Sun”, so of course they put it on. The stereo was quieter than the televisions, so in between heated arguments and throws of soap opera passion, when one character would be looking intently into the others eyes about to say something meaningful, the moment of possible silence was instead punctuated by the wailing and crooning of The Animals off in the distance, the video cameras high tone still audible over it all.

The arrival of the food symbolized the fact that we were one step closer to leaving, which at this point seemed to be more of the goal at hand than actually eating. I got a spicy pork gordita, and a roasted pork taco that ended up just being chicken. Normally I could put back these two items without any setbacks, I could even do it somewhat quickly. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being dangerously hungry, I would have put myself at a 7 on the drive over to El Amigo, maybe an 8 when we pulled up into the parking lot, but with the plates of hot food right in front of my face, fork in hand, light: green, I had somehow dropped to a 4 at best. This sensory assault, after filling my brain to capacity, must have moved on to my stomach.
Sluggishly I shoveled pieces of gordita into my mouth, chewing and swallowing lazily, without motivation. Also the food wasn’t particularly good, the gordita shell was wet with grease, it’s contents blended together into one bland mealy taste. All the dishes were served with a side of caramelized onions, which I thought was odd, and was hesitant to try after a third of a gordita, but actually they were good, the second best thing I had next to the horchata.
Uncertain of where to eat previous to all this, we wrote ‘Mexican’ and ‘Thai’ on two pieces of paper and I chose one, the Mexican one, which didn’t end up working out so well. Looks like we might have to discontinue that method of restaurant selection. If for some reason I ended up back at El Amigo, I would insist on getting it to go, and I would order a large horchata and a side of onions.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Wednesday July 7th 2010
Bro’s, 33rd and Charlotte, Nashville, TN

I’d noticed this place many times before, partly because of its dilapidated mansion appearance, and also because of its name; Bro’s, it’s a name that stands out. There were a lot of preconceived notions I had about the place that turned out to be incorrect. For example I thought that it might not be in business anymore. With the building set so far back from the road you could never get a look inside, and with all the cars parked in the back by the main entrance, it always looked like no one was there. I got kind of a creepy time share vacation lodge vibe from the place and never would have seen myself going in, but after receiving an invitation from my friend Bridget, their newly appointed waitress, again I thought about the blog and my readers, and decided to take her up on it.
Talking with Bridget about Bro’s I learned a couple things most diners might not know right off the bat. One being that the owners family name is Breaux, and they dumbed down the spelling a bit to make the restaurant more appealing, which in my opinion, as far as names go, works. And secondly I found out that one of the Breaux sons who works for the family business has a bit of a drinking problem and likes to stash whiskey in secret places around the restaurant to help him loosen up on the job. Good knowledge to have going into it I thought.
The place has many different levels and small rooms, kind of like a ship. It’s a little confusing to navigate, and all the tables are for parties of eight or more, so after wandering in one direction for a while, up and down various staircases, Val and I found ourselves at the far corner of one of the giant oval tables, right next to the kitchen entrance.
Noticing the Food Network logo placed next to certain dishes, Val discovered in the menu’s legend that the logo indicated a favorite meal of Guy Frieri, that obnoxious fat fashion biker dude from the television, from when he came to Bro’s for his little show. Coincidentally we had both ordered his recommendations, which made me not want to like it, but I couldn’t help it. Honestly I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it anyways, Cajun food is not something I’m very familiar with, at all, but my guess as to how it would be was pretty close. Actually the most surprising thing about it was that even though our table was literally right next to the kitchen, Bridget brought the food to us from upstairs.

We divided up our plates between the two of us, I having ordered Jambalaya and Val the fried catfish. My first time with Jambalaya surprisingly, but its generally a pretty familiar thing, spicy rice with roasted pork and homemade sausage mixed in, the meats were all excellent, but the dish could have been hotter temperature wise. The catfish was a little salty and my first bite too greasy, but once I got into it, I got into it. Bridget brought down a small bottle of hot sauce with a self adhesive sticker on it, where someone illegibly scribbled ‘jookla no’ on it, or something to that effect, and suggested I try it. Obviously I was being set up for a panic situation, but it would have been rude to decline the offer, so I extracted a microdot sized portion from the bottle and ate it on a fried potato. My suspicions confirmed. Hot sauce like that more closely resembles a physically and mentally crippling poison than a casual carefree condiment. It had me worried for a while there.
Bridget had been called upon to retrieve the substance abusing Breaux son from the “bank”, which was apparently his code word for liquor store, to conceal his addiction from the rest of the family. She seemed less than pleased and threatened to not go at all. This put a strain on the end of our meal, as she wanted to wait until we were done before getting him, but in fact the guy was out sitting on a curb somewhere baking in the sun dehydrating himself with alcohol. Taking everything into consideration, we wrapped it up, at this point far beyond full, secreting grease and spice in a steady stream of sweat, from a body eager to expel an overload of toxins. We paid under the watchful eye of an autographed Guy Frieri poster. “Now dats some good Cajun!” he had written next to his immaculately spiked bushel of bleach blonde hair.
“I just figured out why I cant ever remember your name!”, one of the cooks said to Bridget on her way out the door, “My best friend shot himself in the head right in front of me over a girl named Bridget. I must have gone and blocked it out of my head!”
Also, it says in the menu they have the capability to fry 70 turkeys at once here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Taqueria Tex Mex

Thursday June 24th 2010
Taqueria Tex Mex, Charlotte Pike, Nashville, TN

Having spent the entirety of the previous day hurtling forwards at 70 miles per hour from Providence all the way to Nashville, I was a little jittery and out of focus by the time I arrived. My thoughts weren’t forming properly, I’d developed a stutter, and I needed several rounds of what ended up being Budweiser to bring me back to a familiar mental state. In the morning I was rudely awakened far earlier than I had hoped by a call from a Vanderbilt psychology student trying to schedule me for a computer test. Immediately afterwards I was off to look at a prospective home, and that’s when it sunk in; I moved to Nashville.
Still shaking off my phantom movement sensations and Budweiser brain dent, despite a couple hours of couch rest and substantial iced coffee intake, I decided post house viewing that some food was in order. Crom did his best to maneuver his shapely figure into any available crevasse of space in the tightly packed and hermetically sealed Old Vanny, who naturally held up well under less than ideal conditions (as I knew she would), and from there we set off up Charlotte Pike straight to the Tex Mex taco truck.
Tex Mex is a term that rubs me the wrong way. Take the “Tex” out and then we’re talking. But hey, a burrito’s a burrito right? Wrong. Because apparently, this, this right here, believe it or believe it not, is a Burrito. I know exactly what your thinking, “That is most certainly not a burrito.”, and I’m just not too sure what to tell you.

Their menu lists all the items in Spanish with the English term in a smaller font underneath, and right under ‘Pirata’ it said ‘Burrito’, so I ordered a Pastor Pirata. Dazed, hungry, and in no type of detective mood, the malformation and possible complete mix up of my burrito initially went unnoticed, but the oddity of it slowly began to sink in.
“Is this the burrito?”, I asked Crom. He nodded yes. “What did you get?”, I asked him after noticing his plate.
“Two Quesadillas.”, he responded. I had asked, because the similarities in appearance between our two dishes were many. The only difference really being that his Quesadillas were smaller than my burrito. Crom then pointed out the lack of beans, rice, and lettuce in my burrito, but how it didn’t matter anyways, seeing as how those things are cheap “filler food”, that you could easily throw together at home. “Is there cheese in there?”, he asked. I peeled back the tortilla like so, revealing a good portion of cheese. “Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t.”, he told me, “I’m not sure what part of Mexico these people are from.”

It now being obvious that Pirata is just some “Tex-Mex” style term indicating the large size of a Quesadilla, Quesadilla indicating regular or medium, and Taco (granted the tacos are served on flour tortillas) the small size, the menu here suddenly shrunk considerably.
All nit picking, ingredient listing, and contour examination aside, my jumbo Quesdailla was good. Chewy chunks of seasoned pork, sliced avocado, onions, cilantro, all melded together with a handful of cheese and topped with a delicious and spicy orange colored sauce. Wether it was a Burrito or not ceased to trouble me once I began eating it. Maybe I’d been expecting something a little bit different, but I learned long ago that you take what you can get from places like this. Places that despite having a store front restaurant location, opt for running the business out of a truck in the parking lot.

Restaurant Mexico Garibaldi

Wednesday June 16th 2010
Restaurant Mexico Garibaldi, Atwells and Mount Pleasant, Providence, RI

It occurred to me recently that despite having spent the bulk of my life in this city I have almost no knowledge of good cheap places to eat here. Someone texted me recently, asking where they should go out to eat in Providence. Annoyed that they would ask me a question that would obviously entail a more lengthy answer than I would care to type into the keypad on my phone, I was in no real rush to answer, but with the question fresh in my mind I pondered it, coming up blank. I blame this on the fact that during the adult part of my life spent here, I rarely had any type of gainful employment and would keep a white knuckle grip on any loose change I had around, refusing to spend very much money at all on food. This was made possible by the close proximity of my parents house and my preference, taste and price wise, to the wonderful food that was cooked there. Beneficial at the time, most certainly, but troublesome now.
I was assisting my Dad in scraping paint off the metal handrails of a near by home, when we decided a lunch break was in order. He suggested we go to a place called Three Gringo’s, and I at first didn’t object, stunned by the fact that someone would basically name their restaurant ‘several white guys trying to make Mexican food’. Several hints were thrown out on the drive to hopefully steer us away from what would surely be somber disappointment, and luckily this ‘Mexico’ restaurant caught my Dad’s eye and thats where we went.
With the old man picking up the check, more items were ordered than usual. We had a spread of chips and refried beans, a bowl of guacamole, varieties of salsas, I doubled up on horchata’s. Unexpectedly it became one of the few several course meals I’ve ever participated in, myself ordering both a taco and a gordita, and my Dad ordering both a gordita and a burrito. It was a lunch no one held back on.

My chicken taco wasn’t exceptional or anything, but it was good, the chicken very moist and seasoned well, wrapped up with some onions and cilantro. The gordita, topped with spicy pork, was amazing, just loaded up with meat, cheese, vegetables, sour cream. Wonderful and cheap, the gorditas being only about $2.50 and the taco’s a dollar less. I felt kind of like I’d ripped myself off having lived in an apartment only about 2 blocks from here for like 9 months, wrapping up little pieces of cheese in store bought dough and under frying it on the stove, eating a plate of those with a double batch of ramen...and that was on a good day! When if I’d tried just even a little bit harder I could’ve been immersed in a platter of Mexican wonder food just around the corner. I’ve come a long way I suppose.
Having tried then and again in more recent years, two or three other Mexican places in Providence, I would say this one is the best, especially when you take the price into consideration. We did our best to clean up the bean and chip plate and guac bowl, but we’d overestimated how much we’d need to have a lunch that would fill us up nicely, but allow the job at hand to still inch its way towards completion. My Dad especially, having tackled both the burrito and gordita.
I just moved out of Philly, so I promise I won’t make these nagging comparisons anymore, but I mean if a place like Providence, Rhode Island can have an awesome cheap Mexican place, how is it that giant city like Philadelphia can’t? Something is very wrong down there and I’m happy to have removed myself from the situation.