Monday, December 22, 2008

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, Memphis, TN

This is the second of several accounts of outstanding meals that were eaten as Tamar and I traveled through Tennessee over Thanksgiving week, 2008.


I could probably write 5000 words on what makes Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken so great.

Or I could just tell you that this is the best fried chicken that you will ever put in your mouth. And they serve beer in 40 oz bottles. These last two sentences would have made Gus's the perfect place for a romantic Thanksgiving dinner, but alas, it was closed for the holiday and we had to settle for lunch the next day.

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken is located at 310 S Front Street in Memphis, TN; Call (901) 527-4877‎ and plan a visit.

And if you still aren't hungry, watch this.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bar-B-Q Shop, Memphis, TN

This is the first of several accounts of outstanding meals that were eaten as Tamar and I traveled through Tennessee over Thanksgiving week, 2008.


It was the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving and we were driving south through Kentucky on our way to Memphis, Tennessee. Since I moved to Pittsburgh, this is a trip I’ve wanted to take for a number of reasons. This year, I finally had the chance and the perfect travel companion. Our itinerary was busy, but food was one of the primary considerations in our route planning. We were to arrive in Memphis on Wednesday night, spend Thanksgiving there, visit Graceland on Friday morning, and then get back on the road and head east towards Nashville.

Glancing at our dashboard clock and making some quick calculations, it appeared as though we were going to arrive in Memphis around 9 PM. After consulting my prepared list of targeted eats and making a few phone calls, only one place stayed open that late, The Bar-B-Q Shop, widely reputed to be one of the best ribs joints in Memphis, and thus by association, anywhere in the world. But they were closing at 9, so it was going to be a close call. Visions of succulent ribs and barbecue sauce motivated me as I accelerated faster towards our goal.

But time was not on our side. We were resigned that we might miss out on the evening’s dinner, and because of all restaurants being closed on the next day's holiday, would also be deprived of getting our fingers dirty until Friday. Depressed, we were starting to consider other options. In Dyersburg, TN, we debated pulling over at Bad Boys BBQ, whose storefront marquee promised a free gallon of sweet tea with every “Butt Job” order. Although it’s unlikely that I’ll ever legally have another chance to walk into an establishment and say “one butt job, please”, we drove on, still dreaming of The Bar-B-Q Shop.

However, after pulling out her cell phone, Tam made a discovery. While we started the day in northern Kentucky in the eastern time zone, somewhere on our 8 hour drive, we must have crossed a boundary and gained an hour! A Thanksgiving miracle! Our car’s dashboard clock was now an hour fast, and we had plenty of time to reach our dinner destination.

We eventually made it to Memphis and pulled into a parking spot across from The Bar-B-Q Shop with almost exactly an hour to spare before closing. Starving and thirsty, we were seated at a table by the window and took about five seconds to decide on our order: ribs (we ordered the rib dinner for two) and plenty of cold beer. Wanting to savor the spectrum of Memphis rib styles, we opted for half wet, half dry ribs. The dinner includes a full rack, a generous stack of Texas toast, and two servings of beans and slaw.

The dry ribs were simple yet superb. The dry rub was not overpowering, and consisted mostly of salt, sugar, and paprika. The sugar caramelized slightly on the outside of the slab, giving the ribs a nice, solid crust. Mother Chorizo liked it so much, she was licking it off the ribs before eating. The subtle aromas from the rub let the deep pork flavour of the ribs be in the limelight.

Equally good were the wet ribs. The porkiness was masked with a generous coating of tomato and vinegar-based sauce, which was nicely spiced to give it a little heat and complexity. The meat was so tender that eventually I started pulling it off the bone by hand and licking my fingers clean after each bite. Divine.

The beans were the best we ate on our trip. They were studded with bits of smoky pork and finely diced dill pickle to give it an amazing depth of flavour. They were perfect for mopping up with the thick, buttery toast.

It had been a long day on the road, but after this feast, every mile seemed worthwhile. We washed our meal down with a couple of glasses of Killian’s on tap, and in the spirit of the holiday, gave thanks to the invention of time zones which allowed us to enjoy this meal.

The Bar-B-Q Shop is located at 1782 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN; Call (901) 272-1277‎ for information.

You can order their sauces and rubs online at

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Maxwell Street Market, Chicago, IL

On a recent frigid November weekend, my partner (in and out of dining adventure) Tamar and I found ourselves exploring Chicago. Due to Pittsburgh’s sad scarcity of quality Mexican offerings, when we get out of the ‘Burgh, we often crave food from south of the border. Hungry for lunch on Sunday afternoon, we set out on foot from our hotel in The Loop to find the Maxwell Street Market, which was alleged by a blurb in our travel guide to have a good selection of Mexican street food. Not the most scenic of walks, we did eventually reach our destination, which was not on Maxwell Street, but on S Desplaines Street between Harrison Street and Roosevelt Road.

We were first bombarded not by food smells, but tables of power tools, used DVDs, sweat socks, and random junk (used juke box, anyone?) for sale from a collection of dodgy-looking flea market vendors. Starving and cold, we made a beeline down the street to the first person selling anything we could eat. This happened to be the churrero slinging his warm dessert fare. Bypassing the versions filled with strawberry or chocolate, we ordered a churro natural. It was homemade, with a nice crisp shell and a soft, chewy core. Slightly sweet from the sugar in which it was rolled, Tam proclaimed it perfect to take the edge off her hunger.

Our next stop was the elote vendor. Ever since eating this hand-held food on the side of a road outside of Puebla in Mexico, I can rarely eat corn any other way. This version was grilled and then slathered in mayo, disgustingly delicious squeezable imitation butter product and sprinkled with grated cheese and lots of ground chile pepper. A work of art! Unfortunately, this is an item that is more enjoyable in warm weather, when the mayo-butter shell does not quickly approach freezing temperatures.

Our appetite was sufficiently whetted, so after exploring our options, our next stop was a taqueria stall where we could sit at the end of a bar and watch tacos being made to order in the outdoor kitchen right in front of us. We were sitting downwind of the barbacoa meat, which was eminating a huge cloud of steam. I’ll gladly take that humid, meaty warmth instead of a space heater on a cold day. Tantalized by the smell, I ordered two tacos con barbacoa, while Tam had hers filled with grilled chorizo. Con cebollo y cilantro? Of course. Bowls of lime wedges, hot peppers, and red and green salsas were on the bars for us to use as we pleased. With a few squeezes of lime juice and a splash of hot salsa, the moist, tender, fatty barbacoa meat made the perfect comfort food.

Shoulder to shoulder with other diners wrapped in hooded parkas, breath condensing in the cold air with each uttered word, basking in the shadows of some of the world’s most famous skyscrapers… it hit me that it’s unlikely that there is any other place in the world where I could have enjoyed this experience.

After a few non-food acquisitions of estate jewelry and some used LPs, we searched for some hot chocolate to try and warm our frigid hands. Our styrofoam cup was nicely spiced, rich, and frothy, but unfortunately felt like it had been sitting outside as long as we had (close to two hours at this point) and was barely lukewarm.

Desperate for warmth, we made one last food stop, which undoubtedly the tastiest of all. We ordered a quesadilla con mole rojo. The tortillas were hand-made moments earlier, the cold balls of masa pressed until flat and grilled on a wide hot plate before being folded over with a thick slab of cheese until nicely melted. To order, our quesadilla was pried open and filled with a thick Oaxacan-style red mole dotted with small cubes of stewed pork. We sat at one of the tables inside the tent set up to keep diners warm and traded bites of deliciousness. The spiciness of the mole was complex and persistent, without being overpowering. Each bite balanced the freshly grilled tortilla, rich mole, and gooey, melted cheese. It was the perfect end to a memorable lunch.

The two of us shared some of the best Mexican street food found in the USA from five stalls for under $20. The Maxwell Street Market is located on S Desplaines Street between Harrison Street and Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL. It is open from 7AM to 3PM every Sunday. Cash only.