Category Archives: Restaurants

Mooyah–Tyler, TX

I was on my way home from a Mercy Chefs deployment in Van, TX and had planned on stopping at Stanley’s in Tyler, TX.  They have excellent barbecue.  In fact, I’d say they have the only barbecue in fifty miles.  All other claimants in the area do not produce barbecue, but an abominable imposter.  Sadly, Stanley’s is closed on Sundays, so I had to think fast and settled on Mooyah Burgers, Shakes & Fries.  I won’t make that mistake again.

I was encouraged when I saw fresh cut fries on the menu.  I also thought the burgers looked promising.  I was thinking about Five Guys fries and a punched up burger as I consider five Guys’ burgers as consistent, yet average.  If I hadn’t shelled out eleven bucks for a burger, fries, and a drink, I could have better enjoyed an otherwise unenjoyable burger.

The bun was soft and squishy like an old lady’s flabby neck (I mean this in the most complimentary way).  The size of the party was impressive.  The sheer number of available toppings and sauces were unmatched.  The flowing grease mustn’t be confused with juiciness, though.

At first, I actually thought I was assaulting an incredibly juicy burger, but the unpleasant liveresque aftertaste coupled with grease that coated my throat, I quickly realized that I had stumbled into a nightmare.  I’m not opposed to excessively greasy burgers, but this was no enhancement.  This was obscenity on a bun.  This was equivalent to grazing on a minefield of back acne. 

If you want some tasty fries, Mooyah will satisfy.  If you are still lusting for decadence, pass on the burger and get a peanut butter and banana concrete at Andy’s Frozen Custard down the street.

BBQ Chronicles: Bartley’s BBQ–Grapevine, TX

We were in Dallas Saturday, and interestingly enough, I learned about a restaurant that is known for its chili when I was researching BBQ joints. We headed out to Grapevine so that I could sample Tolbert’s Texas Red. I know, I’m always on the lookout for BBQ, but why not seek out great chili as well? It turns out that Tolbert’s has a very nice bowl of chili. So much so, that I would certainly return for another bowl. My wife’s steak also had a nice flavor, but I caught a glimpse of little Maddie’s hamburger. Let’s put it this way: I don’t plan on going to Tolbert’s for their burgers.

After a nice lunch, we piled into our van so that we could get to our hotel. Just as we turned the corner, I saw Bartley’s BBQ. It’s on my list! I had to stop for something. (As you may know, I’m trying to visit all BBQ establishments on the Texas Monthly Top 50).

As I walked in and perused their fare, I suddenly uttered, “That’s bologna!” They had barbecued bologna and I had to get some. The proprietor told me their specialty was brisket, so I ordered a half pound of the fatty stuff. He pulled out a fresh brisket and deftly cut to the fat. He was also careful to maximize on the crust so that I would fully enjoy this treat. To make the family happy, I grabbed a half dozen cinnamon rolls which are made at their sister bakery.

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It was much later before I enjoyed these take out treats, but the cinnamon rolls were delicious. The BBQ bologna was a definite treat. I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed this under appreciated meat quite this way.

The brisket is what caused my wife to call me an addict. She has drug addicts in her family and she hates that mentality. Apparently, my behavior isn’t that much different than a junkie looking to score. She just doesn’t appreciate a perfectly rendered piece of fat candied with a nice black crust.

Bartley’s BBQ easily earns a 4.0/5.0 from me. Everything I tried exceeded all expectations and they are a place you mustn’t overlook if you are in the Dallas area. Do yourself a favor, get some cinnamon rolls. Next time I will try their kolaches.

If you are looking for other joints that scored at least a 4.0, try Billy’s Old Fashion Barbecue and Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue.  You will not be disappointed.

Southfield Grill–Shreveport, LA

Whoever thinks that Strawn’s Eat Shop has the best pie in town has obviously been born without a palate.  I was at Strawn’s recently and was saddened by the poor service and mediocre pie.  We decided to have a pie date day as a family, so we went to Southfield Grill and all chose something different.  That means I can sample more varieties.

Zoe’ had the peanut butter pie.  It was good, but I have had better.  Alli’s apple pie was solid.  If only it had a scoop of vanilla.  Maddie ordered a chunk of chocolate cake.  Very nice.  Heather and I split the lemon and chocolate pies.  The lemon pie is incredibly smooth and has a bright tartness.  I’m pretty certain it gets that zing from lemon zest.  By far, it is among the Hall of Greatest Pies.

pie1Now the chocolate is one that I haven’t had the pleasure of eating before today.  It’s got to be scratch made with Hershey’s cocoa.  It imbues an incredibly deep chocolate flavor complemented with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.  Delicious pie.
Normally, I’ll get a lemon pie for my birthday.  I turn 40 this year so I may have to get a chocolate pie, too.

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House–Garland, TX

It has been too long since I’ve eaten at Babe’s. I was in town serving with Mercy Chefs and I wanted to treat my family to something that was truly memorable.

Naturally, I went for the fried chicken. It wasn’t heavily seasoned which made my children happy, but what it lacked in spice, it made up for it in chicken fried perfection. The skin has a delicious crunch and the meat is unbelievably juicy. I rarely fry chicken for a number of reasons, but one of them is that it is an art to have chicken fried this perfectly.

As I was able to sample the abundance of sides from the lazy Susan, I was reminded of simpler days when my mom filled the house with the aroma of fried chicken after church. The mashed potatoes with the cream gravy was my favorite. To be honest, my favorite food is pretty much anything with gravy. The corn, somewhere between whole kernel and creamed corn was another nice addition. I enjoy corn so much that I used to eat it straight off the stalk on my grandparents’ farm. I feel they tried too hard in seasoning the green beans, though. The flavor wasn’t bad, but not really good either. No worries. It made more room for gravy.

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This gravy is outta control.

I almost forgot about the banana pudding. Normally, meringue makes me sad, but it works with their pudding. The banana flavor was intense. I’m assuming that they are fortifying it with banana extract or maybe liqueur. The presence of the banana flavor was intense and delightful.

I rarely give out a five star review, but the food coupled with the atmosphere brings back some really nice memories. I don’t remember my grandma frying chicken, but I fondly remember her rooster stroganoff. You made sure to get your fill on your first plate because there was no chance for seconds as everyone greedily snatched it up by the ladleful. We will return to Babe’s so we can begin to form a new generation of memories.

BBQ Chronicles: Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q–Fayetteville, NC

Last week I endured a marathon road trip to Portsmouth, VA and back to Shreveport in four days. It was somewhere on the order of 2500 miles. I went to assist a friend transport a mobile kitchen for Mercy Chefs. We only slept 3-4 hours a day so that we could cover these miles. As a result, we had our share of truck stop food.

On December 4, we decided that we needed to enjoy some fine BBQ, not once, but twice. Our first stop was at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q in Fayetteville, NC. That evening we were passing through Birmingham, AL and had to make a stop at Dreamland BBQ.

Simple presentation.  Big flavor.
Simple presentation. Big flavor.

Everyone knows that I’m a BBQ junkie. I take my fifteen year old daughter on Texas road trips to seek out and savor the best BBQ. I was pleased to sample some Carolina BBQ. I’ve heard about it and my chef buddy I was accompanying actually made Carolina BBQ on a deployment in Chambrun, Haiti. It was delicious then and I expected nothing short of perfection in North Carolina.

You may think a pulled pork sandwich is just a pulled pork sandwich. If you blindly accept that error as truth, then you live an empty life. I don’t want to sound mean, but the sweet pork tangified with the right amount of vinegar elevates this humble sandwich to something epic.

I was skeptical of the slaw on the sandwich as I really don’t like slaw. There is something unappetizing about shredded cabbage coated with a runny mayo. This slaw wasn’t runny and I had to try the sandwich as it was intended.

I’m not going to say that I became an overnight fan of slaw, but the crunch paired with the soft pork works. The fries were frozen, but were mightily fried and I hungrily scarfed them down.

Extreme closeups make me hungry.
Extreme closeups make me hungry.

My only regret is that I was too full to sample the fried chicken. The week prior, I enjoyed Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Little Rock, AR. I suspect that Smithfield’s chicken was insanely good. I’ve never been to a restaurant that sells sacks of fried chicken skin. If they sell chicken cracklings, the chicken itself must be unmatched. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to pit Gus’s and Smithfield’s against each other one day, but in the meantime, I’d like to see a restaurant at home sell fried chicken skin.

BBQ Chronicles: Dreamland BBQ–Birmingham, AL

Our trip back from Virginia is nearing its completion, so we had to celebrate with a second round of BBQ today. As we passed through Birmingham, AL, we decided to stop at Dreamland BBQ.

I have heard many good things about Dreamland. I actually visited the Mobile, AL location a few months ago. The ribs were tough last time, so I thought I needed to try a different location at a different time.

That pit is enormous.
That pit is enormous.

We started with BBQ nachos with pulled pork. Those alone are worth a visit. The nachos are loaded with meat and jalapeños and are sure to please. I also have to state that I love the sauce. It is tangy and spicy and is the perfect complement to any meat. It is served with white bread. If you are given white bread for dipping, you can feel confident that the sauce will enhance the meat.

That's a lot of ribs.  I like how the sauce is haphazardly slathered on top.
That’s a lot of ribs. I like how the sauce is haphazardly slathered on top.

Now for the ribs. They are hickory smoked. That is notable for two reasons. First, the hickory imparts a very unique taste to the ribs. These spare ribs had incredible flavor. However, hickory burns hot and can leave ribs tough, just like the first time I ate them. I want the meat to release from the bone with a little effort. I don’t want to fight the ribs which is what happens when you consume tough, leathery ribs. I like the flavor, but tough ribs are bad news. If you want tender ribs, just go to Tyler, TX.

Extreme closeup.  These ribs may be tough, but they really taste great with that hickory flavor.
Extreme closeup. These ribs may be tough, but they really taste great with that hickory flavor.

As for the sides, they were nothing special. Typical baked beans and potato salad. Probably Sysco brand and they aren’t even punched up. You can punch up a can of beans and make them phenomenal. Or you can heat and serve. These happen to be heat and serve beans.  If you want to be dazzled by beans, you may want to visit The Cotton Boll Grill.

Conclusion: BBQ nachos are required eating. Don’t waste your time on sides. The sauce is excellent. The hickory smoke is great. Stick with pulled pork or chicken. The leathery ribs get a ding for toughness. This establishment is worth your time as it scores three stars out of five.

Pow Wow Texaco and Deli–Ruston, LA

When I’m headed east on a road trip, I’m usually ready for lunch around Ruston or Monroe. We initially stopped in Ruston to try Ponchatoulas, but there was no way we could park this humongous trailer. It was time for Plan B.

We had just about given up when we saw an interesting Texaco. The sign claimed Cuban sandwiches that were “pure awesomeness.” Call me skeptical, but that’s a pretty bold claim.

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The Cubano Caliento.

It was a typical gas station with a small deli. This one specialized in Cubans and Honduran tamales, but had other delights as well.  I ordered a cup of gumbo and seized upon the Cubano Caliento–a Cuban made with ghost pepper cheese. The sandwich man asked me twice because he didn’t want me to cry. Undaunted, I went forward with my decision.

The gumbo was really nice. It was thinner than I like, but it had incredible taste. There’s something atypical about the flavor. I can’t put my finger on it, but it works.

The Ghost Cuban was amazing! It was a little short on ham, but the pulled pork was perfectly seasoned. The ghost cheese was warm, but not death-defying hot. It was perfect. I finished my sandwich twenty minutes ago, and my esophagus is still simmering.

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Pure awesomeness.

This is a diamond in the rough. The cheesy sign is an accurate representation. Their Cubans are pure awesomeness.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken–Little Rock, AR

Let’s face it. I love fried chicken. I’ll throw back a box of Popeye’s any day. Another local favorite (I’m from Louisiana) is Southern Classic. Apparently they are so ghetto, they don’t even have a web presence. I won’t even turn my nose up at KFC or chicken from the grocery store. Fried chicken is a southern institution and I’m doing my part by enjoying it.

It’s not difficult to fry chicken, but there is an art to it. Personally, I don’t care to fry because the splattering grease and clouds of flour turn my kitchen into a disaster area. I love cooking, but I’d rather get prison shanked than scour a greasy kitchen.

About a year ago I encountered the fried chicken that puts all others to shame. I was at the original Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis on my first encounter. (Actually I think the original original is at a house in the sticks, but this was the original restaurant if my memory doesn’t deceive me).

The beans are punched up pork 'n beans, but the tang complements the spicy chicken.
The beans are punched up pork ‘n beans, but the tang complements the spicy chicken.

Today as we were passing through Little Rock, AR, I was compelled to try one of Gus’s latest satellites. It has the homey appeal of the Memphis location, but is punched up some as if a hipster was trying for the old authenticity, but you could feel the slick veneer. It’s all marketing, anyway. I really don’t care what a place looks like. In this case, the proof is in the chicken.

The crunch of the crispy skin is incredible. If you pay attention, you can tell that the skin tastes a bit like cracklings, or as we call them, cracklins. The juicy chicken contrasted by the über crispy, pork-esque skin is what makes Gus’s stand apart from the others. That, and they season the meat with a firey blend that adds yet another dimension.

This location isn’t quite as good as the Memphis restaurant, but don’t let that stop you from a day trip in search of culinary delights. I’d easily drive three hours (one way) for their chicken.

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Andy’s Frozen Custard–Jonesboro, AR

Though I cannot say that I’m a frozen custard connoisseur, I can confidently claim that Andy’s Frozen Custard has some top shelf product.

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It’s so thick.

I went with an espresso concrete made with chocolate custard. The experience was surreal. I was with Alli, my oldest daughter, and we immediately had to park so that we could enjoy this high viscosity treat.

The texture was smooth. It was silky smooth, no–velvety smooth. I visualized strolling in the woods on a warm spring day when a buck rustled from the bushes to show off his velvety antlers. This must have been a tame deer, because I imagined him coming up to me to hand feed him some corn while I lick his velvety skull protuberances to experience the appeal of frozen custard that is unmatched at Andy’s.

Even if you don’t experience strange nature hallucinations, you will be glad to enjoy a frozen custard from Andy’s.

Here’s a tip: I ordered a medium and regretted the fact that I didn’t order a large. The medium is plenty big, but I feel slightly hollow that I just didn’t gorge myself.

Cracker Barrel–Meridian, MS

We were passing through Meridian, MS and I had the fever for some pancakes. I’m sorry I didn’t have a better option than Cracker Barrel, but I really needed some pancakes. Where’s an IHOP when you need one?

For starters, the service was nice, but sluggish. It took forever to get my weaksauce coffee. It tasted like black water with sugar and cream. I like coffee that will bite you with authority. Maybe some with chickory.

The eggs were over easy, yet the whites were rubbery. The sausage was some of the saddest I’ve ever eaten. I would have been ashamed to serve that sausage to my dog. It tasted old and reheated. But I didn’t go for sausage. I wanted pancakes.

Remember the Three Stooges episode where they were trying to eat some vulcanized pancakes? When they were finally able to cut through and eat those delights, they started choking up feathers? Now you know what Cracker Barrel pancakes are like.

I’m convinced people don’t go to Cracker Barrel for their fine dining, it’s for the jelly jars and rocking chairs.