Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Positivity 2: Hot Chicken

May 11, 2010

And so, the plan continues. Another day, another target of positivity and gratitude.

Lest I offend my wife by following up her entry with hot chicken, I would point out that I’m trying to keep it somewhat light here– following the sacred with the profane, if you will.

Sometime around the 1940s, Thornton Prince stayed out too late one night. When he came home the next morning, his girlfriend/spouse/significant other decided that she would have revenge. She fried Thornton some fried chicken for breakfast (sounds good to me)… and then doused it with some manner of fire peppers (Cayenne maybe, who knows?).

Thornton Prince liked it. And eventually opened a store selling it. And this very day in the north end of Nashville, his niece, Andre Prince Jeffries is selling hot chicken. You take chicken and fry it in a cast iron skillet with a liberal helping of lard… and you add SOMETHING. Who knows what? Crack, plutonium, liquid fire, I’m not sure. But whatever it is, it is GOOOOOD.

Picture the best fried chicken you ever had, made into the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten. And then multiply it by 10… and you might be close.

I started eating Prince’s back around 2008, and for a period, I couldn’t go to Nashville without my hot chicken fix. Julie has eventually prevailed on me to cut back, so it’s just an occasional treat. But I’m still grateful for its existence and the chance to enjoy Nashville hot chicken.

A few tips, if you’re curious:

1) There are three or four places in Nashville that make hot chicken. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack on Ewing Drive is apparently the gold standard. It’s not the nicest part of town and the chicken takes a looooong time to fix, particularly when they’re busy (basically, when they’re open).

2) Approach the heat cautiously. Prince’s serves the chicken in mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. I’ve never made it above medium, which will cause you to shed tears and turn red. Go above that only either with experience or an iron stomach.

3) If you want a sample of the hot chicken culture, Nashville has an annual hot chicken festival on the 4th of July. It’s a good time, although the lines are long.

Peace and chicken grease. Possibly literally.

Joe

Another outpost of the fried chicken world

January 27, 2010

Out on business recently, I stopped by the semi-world famous Bon Ton Mini Mart on the outskirts of Henderson, Kentucky, to sample their fried chicken. The good folks at roadfood.com had talked the place up, and circumstance placed me in Henderson. So I took advantage.

George Markham, the proprietor, greeted me. I told him I’d traveled far for his prized chicken. He told me it would take 20-25 minutes to cook. I assured him that was fine, that I knew that good chicken took a little while. The Bon Ton Mini Mart is not a mini mart, and I have no idea what Bon Ton is. It’s basically just a mom and pop restaurant, with excellent kitschy decoration. Mad props to curtains with chickens and frying pans on them.

The chicken was… wow, REALLY, REALLY good. It is perfectly fried. Not too greasy, wonderfully crunchy, flavorful, moist, and brilliant. My love of Prince’s Hot Chicken is well known within anybody who bothers to read this blog. This stuff is just as good. Different, as in not likely to set your mouth ablaze or drown you in grease, but just as good.

George came back to check on me. I heard him disappointedly say, “I haven’t seen him licking his fingers.” I assured his it was REALLY good chicken. Excellent banana pudding too. I gave my compliments to Donna King, the “chicken lady” who whips it all up, and told George I had two questions: 1) When I could make it back and 2) Whether I’d get a half chicken or whole chicken the next time.

Apparently, BTMM is closing in June. So go there. You won’t regret it. And if you can’t go there, here’s the recipe. I know jack squat about frying a chicken, and this looks hard, but if it tastes half as good as theirs does, do it sometime. And save me a piece.

http://www.recipelink.com/mf/14/33518

There’s nothing medium about either pregnancy or hot chicken

July 22, 2009

The dueling threads of my life– domesticity/parenthood and the raving idiot’s love of hot chicken were battling last night. First, the legendary David Vance and I went for some medium Prince’s Hot Chicken. I’m generally a mild hot chicken guy, but I wanted David to have the full experience. As we sat there with tears streaming down our cheeks and snot steadily threatening to pour out, I realized I had definitely reached that goal. I wondered if I was killing David for awhile, but then he hit his second wind and had every last bite of that incredibly tasty and ridiculously hot chicken. And it is ridiculous. I eat Insane wings at Zaxby’s to try to stay in training, but there’s no comparison. It was all it should be. I also credit David for the best insight yet into the hot chicken, as he said basically that if I approached it as others might approach a good bender– every once in a while, but not all the time– it might not kill me. Hopefully.

After this, it was on to shopping at Babies R Us for a bunch of stuff we needed. The highlight of that was that I found a mirror that you can stick in your car so you can watch your rear-facing baby in its carseat without wrecking. This was a particular thrill, as I managed to allay one of my wife and my 472,637 fears of parenting. Next week, I’ll be removing all electricity from the house and setting fire to all our books so that the baby can’t papercut herself on one.

Anyway, that’s the news from here on Walton Mountain where John Boy is battling explosive stomach cramps and trying to stockpile baby goods at the same time. T minus 13 days to the due date.

Joe

A Michigan genius and his penchant for fire chips

June 24, 2009

Yesterday while working in the glorious metropolis of Hardinsburg, Kentucky, I stopped in a BP station for a snack. I was looking in the potato chips aisle and settled on a bag of “Uncle Ray’s Hot Potato Chips.”

Wow. Uncle Ray wasn’t lying. Uncle Ray could’ve called them “Uncle Ray’s Eye-Watering, Head Sweating, Drown the Fire and Beg for Mercy Chips”. I guess it would’ve cost more to print the bags that way.

So after indulging in his tasty snack, I checked out the bag. Uncle Ray, apparently still active in Detroit, has decided to share his life story in segments on the back of his chips. The bag I had included a story about how he had stolen his brother’s clothes one day when he was swimming. More than a bit odd. Kind of like Uncle Ray. Apparently, in 1999, this guy was awoken from a sound sleep, went to his kitchen table and started writing his life story. Uncle Ray has explained “Everyone has a bad day, and I want to be there with a message.” Even if the message is not to steal your brother’s clothes.

This is exactly the sort of thing you should buy in the BP at Hardinsburg, Kentucky. Just make sure you get lots of water as well. Either that, or try some normal flavor of the chips, which by the way also come in flavors such as ketchup and dill pickle. Rumors that Uncle Ray is negotiating with me to provide blog posts for his chip bags are untrue. Well, unless he gives me lots of free chips.

Joe

A brave new world of chicken

April 21, 2009

I am writing with not an experience, but an epiphany. A religious revelation. Moses had the burning bush, but I had the hot chicken.

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is a piece of a dilapidated strip mall in North Nashville, in a rather dubious part of town. The restaurant has a handfull of tables, and a dingy green color scheme. The area by the counter is highlighted by a certificate from a Tennessee Speaker of the House of Representatives proclaiming Prince’s the best restaurant in Tennessee, and a large bail bonds ad.

The menu is quite simple. There are a handful of sides– baked beans, potato salad, slaw, fries, and then there is the hot chicken. Mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. I bought mild and frankly cannot fathom the insanity of anyone to go above medium.

This is the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. Tender and crispy, but the breading isn’t just breading. It’s fire breading. You take a bite, feel the burn of cayenne pepper and simulataneous wonder how you’re going to eat another bite and how many more seconds you can survive without doing so.

On some level, I think eating Prince’s qualifies as an extreme sport. I always wondered about people who jump out of planes or surf giant waves. But I suppose the point of the whole exercise is the wild exhileration when it doesn’t kill you. As I picked apart each crumb in the box and sucked the last bites of skin off of my hot chicken, I understood it.

The tastiest chicken and one of the spiciest things I’ve ever eaten (and again, I got “mild”)– the combination is almost too much to bear. It’s like eating a great hamburger while riding a roller coaster, or getting a relieving massage in a hot tub. The senses just don’t know how to react.

I’m choosing just raving. You have to try this. Really. And in the meanwhile, here’s a 9 minute video about Prince’s, to help illustrate some of these things, as well as providing you with some background on how it came about (short version– womanizer goes home to angry girlfriend who tries to half poison him with scalding hot chicken, but he loves it, and dedicates his life to selling it).

May it brighten your week!

Joe

And the winner of the favorite restaurant countdown is…

August 5, 2008

(Please feel free to re-read the prior posts to check out the top 10. I’m also going to post an honorable mention, as some more deserving but not quite in the top 10 restaurants came to mind during this series.)

1. Mandolin, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

                I hear the awed silence, presumably because nobody’s been there. And the question may be forming in your minds– an Italian restaurant in downtown Bowling Green is my favorite restaurant? Yes. Here’s why.

                 Mandolin is located in an old house on Chesnut Street, a long stone’s throw from my office in downtown Bowling Green. That said, it is a beautiful old house– lots of hardwood, big windows, and tasteful decoration. Mandolin is probably the fanciest of the restaurants in the countdown. It’s a white tablecloth place and would necessitate business casual dress, at least.

                That said, the place is nice, elegant, but not snobby. Walk-ins are welcome and likely make up most of the restaurant’s business. The mood is kind of restrained, but comfortable. 

                 The food is phenomenal. Pasta is something that anybody can cook, but accordingly, it takes a special restaurant to be inventive with it. My personal favorite at Mandolin is pasta alla Amatriciana. This is a penne with garlic, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, bacon, and parmesan cheese. Words do not do it justice. The side salads are standard fare, but are improved by a homemade creamy Gorgonzola dressing. Meals also include fresh baked bread with olive oil and vinegar for optimal dipping.

               Occasionally, the servers have tempted me to deviate from the pasta alla Amatriciana routine. I recall a veal dish being an excellent lunch on one occasion. Steak is available, but rather pricey, and fish and other seafood is a staple, albeit prepared in some fairly unusual ways. Full bar is available and the deserts look tempting, although I’ve never had room to find out.

               All of this is nice, but why is Mandolin #1? I suppose it’s the combination of the elements. The interesting atmosphere, the very solid service, and the wonderful food make time stop for me when I’m there. In the bustling speedy world, this is a gift that transcends even great food. When I’m at Mandolin, I’m just in the moment. That’s worth something, when you think about it.

Joe

Favorite restaurants countdown– #2

August 1, 2008

The end of the countdown is near. Soon, I will have to write about something that isn’t food. But in the meanwhile, I have two blogs left. If you want to see #s three through ten, just go read the blogs. They’re all there. When I think about my favorite restaurants, there are two that are head and shoulders above the rest. Well, actually Picnic’s is closer than I thought before I went there the last time… but still, these two have been fighting it out for #1 in my head since this series started. But somebody has to be second, and in this case it is…

2. Taylor Grocery, Oxford, MS.

                  Start with location. Oxford, MS is one of my favorite places ever. It’s such a fun town that every time I go, those nagging thoughts about maybe taking the bar exam in Mississippi and scrounging up some work and finding a little house in town creep into my head. It’ll never happen, but Oxford makes me think about it.

                   Taylor Grocery is located in Taylor, MS actually. But Taylor is a town of 288 people and you can actually find Oxford on a map. Getting to Taylor means going down a back road from Oxford, and driving into the country a handful of miles. About the time you think you’re totally lost, you come down a hill, around a bend and there you are in downtown Taylor. The restaurant is a stone’s throw from the post office, and thus basically constitutes downtown Taylor.

                 Next comes Ambience (capitolization intentional). This is Taylor Grocery:

Taylor Grocery

Taylor Grocery

               Taylor Grocery was built “around” 1889, according to the website. You’ll have to forgive them the approximation, I suppose. It was an old country grocery store, and in recent years, became a restaurant. Fortunately, the inside is a bit snazzier than the outside. It isn’t exacly high-falutin’, but it’s comfortable and lived in. There is live music frequently, and guests are free to autograph the walls, as numerous diners before have done.

                Taylor Grocery absolutely oozes ambience. It’s down-home comfortable in a way that Cracker Barrell would sell its soul to be. The last time I was there, it was a warm evening and as families sat on the porch, waiting to be seated, some folks began passing bottles of wine around in the parking lot. The good stuff, not Boone’s Farm or anything. It’s not something you’ll see at Applebee’s. I also recall a local elementary school child, whose mother had brought her in because she just had to have a glass of sweet tea. The owner brought it out himself and made small talk with them both in the meanwhile.

                 Then there’s the food. Taylor Grocery’s catfish is a religious experience. There’s no other way to put it. It’s not the best catfish I ever had, or the best fish I ever had, it’s maybe the best food I ever had. Period. Crispy and light, and not even vaguely fishy tasting, the catfish literally melts in your mouth. The sides are fine as well– fries, hush puppies, slaw, salads. They do serve other things beside catfish (steak, shrimp, chicken), but they didn’t need to bother. If you survive until desert, there will be a handful of homemade pies and cobblers available, and the friendly middle-aged waitresses who call you “Honey” and ask how you’re doing will be more than glad to advise you on which is best.

                Perhaps the best way I can sum up Taylor Grocery is by noting that Oxford is about an hour south of Memphis, and thus is around 6 hours from home. My wife and I were talking about the place the other day and I said I could fathom making the trip just to eat at Taylor Grocery. I haven’t done so yet; mostly because Oxford has a ton of other delights of its own, but I could some day. And if you’re smart, you’ll already be there and have us a table saved in the back. I’ll buy desert.

Joe

Continued favorite restaurant countdown- #3

July 31, 2008

Again, as the size of the list has increased, my willingness to recap it has decreased. Please check the prior posts if you want to know. They’re all there– I promise.

#3, Picnic’s, Asheville, NC.

               There are a lot of things I don’t like about Rachel Ray. Start with her shrill, annoying voice. Move on to her penchant for coining her own catchphrases– if I hear her explain again what “EVOO” means I may suffer a mental breakdown. Expand to include mass marketing. I could easily go on.

               Anyway, she did something right when she went to Asheville, NC, for “$40 a Day” and stopped at Picnic’s. Picnic’s is located in an unassuming building a mile or so from the middle of Asheville. The place is presided over by Ron Smith and his mother, whose name I cannot recall except to call her Mrs. Smith. The food at Picnic’s is fresh and authentic– no box mixes and canned veggies here. Wood-roasted chicken is a specialty; roasted duck is another that always draws me in. Honestly, how many times do you get to eat duck?

                 The last time I was there, the other options included Beef Wellington with a wonderful red wine sauce, pot roast, pork chops, and barbecue. These change pretty much day to day– the Beef Wellington was new to my Picnic’s knowledge.

                The sides at Picnic’s are inventive and fresh as well. I had some sort of black beans with cilantro and a nice brocoli and carrot dish. Salads of varied type and number are also available, and my wife swears by them. Bread is also part of the menu– whether cornbread, yeast roll, or sweet potato biscuit (which was so mild it tasted like gingerbread).

                  Somehow, you have to save room for desert. Mrs. Smith makes the cakes and pies fresh every day, and they are incredible. A few I can recall are apple and peach pies, an otherworldly key lime pie, coconut and red velvet cakes, etc etc etc. These are probably the best deserts I have ever had. Mrs. Smith is always on hand and will be glad to offer a helpful recommendation. I was amazed on my last visit to learn from a newspaper clipping that she is 93 or 94 years old; I would have put her 20 years younger.

                   When you go to Picnic’s, go hungry and leave very satisfied. Picnic’s is reasonably priced, has ample options to suit anybody, and offers indoor or outdoor seating, as well as boxing up your order so that you can take it away picnic-style. I would and have recommended it heartily, and have yet to hear from anyone who didn’t love it.

Joe

Counting down my favorite restaurants #4

July 28, 2008

Unlike prior posts, I’m not recapping the prior picks. To be honest, I can’t remember them off the top of my head anymore, and I’m getting too lazy to look. WIthout further adieu,

#4- Luigi’sPizzeria and Pasta, Louisville, KY

               I can’t talk about places I love to eat and not bring up Luigi’s. Mr. Luigi is an Italian immigrant with a fairly surly attitude and an incredible skill for cooking up unusual and magnificent pasta.

               He is a fairly hostile guy– think Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld”. I once walked up to the pasta counter when Luigi was there and asked him to run down the dozen or so pastas. He did so quickly, and then looked wonderfully annoyed when the woman behind me, who had not been paying attention, asked him to do the same. He pointed at one half of the pastas– “meat”, he said. He pointed at the other half– “vegetarian”, he said.

              But if you can get past Luigi’s relatively brusque attitude, you will be rewarded. He combines both familiar and unfamiliar ingredients in pasta, to great effect. The last time I was there, I believe I had a penne with proscuito (kind of an Italian ham/bacon) and peas. I also can recall a wonderful salmon pasta Luigi serves on occasion. He will have 8-12 kinds of pasta at once, and fortunately, will gladly prepare a plate with two or three decent sized servings of different pastas on request.

             Luigi’s pizza is fine too. I give special recommendation to the “garbage” pizza– apparently a Luigism for pizza with everything on it. Luigi’s also does hot and cold sandwiches, but I’m pretty much 80% pasta, 20% pizza on the all-too-rare occasions when I’m around.

               While it’s probably irrelevant to most, Luigi also gets props for having about the only soft drink machine in the world with ginger ale on tap. It’s a personal weekness of mine, and goes well with some of his spicer offerings.

                Luigi’s is at 712 W. Main in Louisville– so if you work or visit downtown, you can stop by. Also, be advised, Luigi’s closes at 5, and seems to limit his offerings later in the day. The place is pretty much a mid-day lunch stop. It’s worth your while though.

Joe

Favorite restaurants countdown- #5

July 23, 2008

The countdown in review:

10. Ollie’s Trolley, Louisville, KY

9. China Express, Middlesboro, KY

8. Louis’, Knoxville, TN

7. Moonlite Bar-B-Q, Owensboro, KY

6. Claudia Sanders Dinner House, Shelbyville, KY

5. Roy’s Pit Bar-B-Q, Russellville, KY

               Call me a homer if you want, but Roy’s is my pick for best barbecue in the world. Roy Morgan has two establishments in Russellville, one which is a shack for carry-out purposes and the other being the main restaurant. It’s the latter you want, although the former is fine if you’re doing carrying (but judging by how few of you live in Logan County, Kentucky, I doubt you would be).

               Roy’s barbecue isn’t too sweet or too spicy. It is more of a ketchup based barbecue than many, and the meat is trimmed very carefully. No surprise big chunks of meat or bone here. The rest of the menu is similarly no frills– baked beans, cole slaw, french fries, catfish, ribs, fried dill pickles, white beans (soup beans, if you’re a southeastern Kentuckian like me), etc. While I’ve only had them a few times, the fresh pies and fruit pies for desert deserve a special nod as well.  Pretty much everything I’ve ever had at Roy’s was tasty and cheap. A heaping plate of food can be yours for the $5-6 range.

                  Roy’s is the sort of place that you could drive by and never know what you would be missing. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the place. Consistent quality is the selling point here, and Roy’s doesn’t often disappoint. Stephen King (yes, THAT Stephen King) dropped by one day, and apparently shared my high assessment of the merits of its food.

                   This is probably the least glamorous pick on my list. But a small-town restaurant that does the things that it does with unusual quality always has a place in my heart, wallet, and ample gut.

Joe