Hi-ho, Kenji here, reporting from my temporary digs in the West Coast where, thanks to my wife and her penchant for getting offered internships in exotic seaside locations, I'll be reporting from until October. With a large country to traverse and two dogs to do it with, it only made sense to give my best friend a call, rent a car, and do things the old fashioned American way with a road trip. Take a look at everything we ate along the way.
'Tennessee' on Serious Eats
A tribute to one of our country's favorite tastemakers is a smash hit.
Each drink at the newly opened and much-anticipated Husk Nashville attempts to tell a story—start with setting, add a dash of history, build on character, and let the experience unfold.
With outmoded state laws, like the legal split between high- and low-gravity beers (a demarcation at 5% alcohol by weight, or 6.3% by volume) and the "franchise laws" of the wholesale distribution system, Nashville once seemed destined to remain a craft beer backwater. But luckily for the locals, breweries have been popping up everywhere, and Nashville is positioning itself as a bona fide beer destination.
Located in a more upscale shopping plaza off the main drag of Kingston Pike, Hard Knox is just a postage stamp of a pizzeria. A wall of double split oak flanks the entrance, with the Earthstone Oven centrally situated just behind the counter. Would it add up to the right stuff to put some of my good-pizza-in-Knoxville skepticism to rest?
The cafeteria at the Museum of Appalachia takes a diner back to the days when grandma could cook a meal, with fresh, homegrown ingredients from the kitchen garden, to rival the best plates in Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, or Charleston.
The students of a culinary college in the Memphis suburb of Cordova, Tennessee created this five-course Beer and Bacon Dinner.
Smoked meat has been a part of daily life in southern Appalachia for about as long as there have been people there, but smoked meat in a sweet, tomato-based saucewhat we'd call "Tennessee-style" barbecueis most popular eight hours to the east in Memphis. Ridgewood Barbecue, which has been been tucked into the the side of lonely Bullock Hollow since the mid-1950s, straddles the gap between Memphis and Appalachia with its signature smoked ham.
Once upon a time, Blue Circle was a popular chain with a few dozen locations in Tennessee and a trademark hamburger slider known as the "Circle Burger." I wasn't around back then, but I can write with some authority about the sliders at the last remaining location, in Bristol, Tennessee.
The man in the window told me that deep-fried cheddar tastes "just like a grilled cheese." He was wrong. It doesn't taste like anything but itself, like soft (but not melted) cheddar cheese, salty and tangy and set off by a crispy layer of fried dough. Deep-fried cheddar cheese is a dangerously good thing that could catch on as more than a fairground novelty.
Now I recognize smoked turkey for what it is: a glimmering third or fourth way to barbecue, a whole new world of smoke-and-meat flavor for the open-minded pitmaster or barbecue connoisseur. The sandwich comes with lettuce, tomato, and onion—don't take any of it, at Bradley's or elsewhere. The meat needs room to talk.
Memphis is famous for pork ribs and pulled pork barbecue, and those tend to be the first choices for tourists and business travelers. But if you're not a fan of the pig, there are a lot of great alternatives at some of the city's best known BBQ restaurants.
The grocery store scene in Memphis has changed a lot since the 1916 introduction of Piggy Wiggly and the ability for shoppers to pick out their own items. See how far the River City has come with this look at a nearby international market. A ten pound bag of duck feet? Check. Liter of cow's blood? Check.
Fried catfish is a classic Southern dish that, like so many peasant foods around the world, demonstrates how a delicacy can emerge from poverty. The catfish is a bottom feeder, a "trash" fish caught with trot lines and cane poles and stink bait—not with expensive boats or flashy lures. You don't scale it, you skin it. And when it's time to cook, you don't dust it with the refined flour of the upper classes but dredge it in the working man's cornmeal, fry it, and let it drain on brown paper bags. Fried catfish is a favorite in the Memphis area; here are six places to try the real thing.
And we're back with another edition of our March Madness-style tournament of tacos. We traveled thousands of miles to taquerias, taco trucks, corner stores, and carnicerias to find the 64 very best tacos in the country as part of a feature for Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine's March issue. Yesterday we told you about the West coast picks; today we're heading to the South for migas and suadero.
Huey's plump, juicy burgers are deservedly famous in Memphis. Don't forget to launch your toothpick.
Every time I mentioned to someone at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tennessee, that I'd been offered a seat at the judges' table, I received the same response: "This is the best barbecue you'll ever have." "The Jack"—a two-day contest with 22 years of history, grand champion cooks from 10 different time zones, and the backing of major corporate sponsors—exists in a world distanced enough from destination dining to be its own culinary tradition.
With whiskey season upon us, it's time to take a longer look at the many styles of the distinctive dark spirit. Amid all the conversations of bourbon and rye, there's another kind of this American spirit that deserves a little attention: Tennessee whiskey.
The South has its share of big burgers, competition monsters at greasy spoons that take up a plate and come free if you get them down your gullet in a certain period of time. Finding one that's also very tasty is the bigger challenge. I recently found a tasty challenge burger at Kooky Canuck in Memphis in the form of their seven and a half-pound Kookamonga Burger.
There's no sign at the popsicle haven Las Paletas in Nashville, Tennessee, which makes finding it tricky, but it's worth the sugary reward. The popsicles here are known for their powerful burst of unusual flavors like eggnog and hibiscus but what captured my heart was the sweet and spicy ice pops like pineapple-chile and cucumber-chile. I can't imagine a better way to spend the last lazy days of summer than indulging in this recipe for spicy ice pops.