The Restaurant That Might Kill You

IMG_5087The first thing you need to know about Colton’s, is that if you have a peanut allergy you’re going to want to stay far away, or risk the very real possibility of dying. The second thing you need to know, is that the food there is absolutely delicious, so if you have a peanut allergy and aren’t willing to risk whether you live or die by going to eat at Colton’s, then it really sucks for you. This past weekend I was in Searcy, Arkansas visiting family, my mom gave us a couple choices of where to go to dinner on Saturday night, Larry’s Pizza, and Colton’s. Let me be clear, Larry’s is by far the better option, and is definitely at the top of my list for all time favorite pizza, but the closest Larry’s Pizza location to Searcy, is in Cabot, which takes like at least half an hour to get there, and we weren’t really feeling like an hour round trip, so by way of default, Colton’s was the choice.

My brothers, wife and I arrived to the packed parking lot of Colton’s Steakhouse a little after six. Upon entering I noticed the multitude of discarded peanuts and peanut shells all over the floor, which is why you’d be wise to avoid going here if you have a peanut allergy. People with peanut allergies are the reason that those aren’t served on planes anymore, and those were the innocent, already shelled peanuts with no sign of peanut debris anywhere in the bag, but at Colton’s, the entire floor is made up of peanut dust and shells that would likely kill an allergy ridden kid within seconds of entering the western themed restaurant. There were quite a few people waiting around the hostess stand, presumably none of which were afflicted with a peanut allergy, because if they were, my verbiage would have been more along the lines of dying around the hostess stand,  so my bother went to go put our names on the list while the rest of us crunched our way to a bench in the corner of the room.

The hostess didn’t give my brother a wait time, and he didn’t ask for one, maybe because the possibility of waiting there on that corner bench in the corner until we eventually all starve to death seems like an unrealistic scenario, but I’m nothing if not an over-reactor, so my mind jumped to the negative aspects of not knowing a wait time almost immediately. We waited for what seemed like a very long time, and it did occur to me that we would have already made it to Larry’s Pizza in the time that we were still waiting to be seated at Colton’s, but finally, the little black coaster lit up and started buzzing, so our party of six was led from the entrance by the hostess station, to the table closest to the entrance, but at least we were making progress towards eating, which is really the important thing. After taking our order, the waitress brought out baskets of bread, which had some of the best rolls I’ve ever had, but I can’t say for sure whether that is factual or if it was just the hunger talking, but regardless, those rolls were fantastic.

It didn’t take long for the food to arrive, and everything looked delicious as plate after plate of piping hot plates were placed before us and an aroma cloud from the various dishes formed overhead. I had the chicken fried chicken, and despite my thinking that the name is kind of dumb because it seems to contain one to many “chickens”, it is one of the few dishes that I can think of that is solid across the board and has never let me down no matter where I’d ordered it. Saturday night was no exception. The chicken fried chicken was perfectly cooked and juicy with just the right amount of gravy on top to compliment the dish without overwhelming it, and the “smashed” potatoes, as they were called were also very good and flavorful. It did seem like a green vegetable would have been a nice addition to the meal to kind of tie the whole plate together, but that is my only aspect of the actual meal that I think could have been improved, and it’s certainly not a major issue.

The portion was very filling and the waitress was very good, always refilling my glass before I even noticed it needed to be refilled in the first place, and everyone else was satisfied with their meals as well. As I sat around the table having finished my meal, I began thinking about Memphis and where I might have seen a Colton’s somewhere in that area before as I drove around. A quick Google search revealed my thinking to be correct as there was won right around the corner from the Wolfchase Mall, and not too terribly far from where I live, so now that it’s on my radar, I’ll definitely want to go eat there again sometime, and I would highly recommend you doing the same, unless of course you have a peanut allergy and you don’t want to die.

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Arkansas Eats: Lunch at the Bulldog

IMG_5082I’ve never once in my life looked at a bulldog and thought of food, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens going forward, because I had an excellent meal at the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob, Arkansas last weekend. I was off work on a Saturday for the first time in several weeks, so my wife and I went to visit my mom for Mother’s day weekend. Before we got to Searcy where she lives, we passed the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob, and I commented that we should stop there and try it out sometime, because I’ve heard quite a few people rave about it. One time when I was about ten, me and my friends were on the way from Little Rock to the summer camp and one of the parents insisted that we stop for lunch at the Bulldog. I remember absolutely nothing about the meal I had that day seventeen years ago, but I figured it must be good if someone was so adamant that we should eat there.

We were sitting around the living room at my mom’s house and she started suggesting things for lunch, and whether by pure coincidence or something cosmic in the universe aligning with the stars as I spoke the name earlier that morning, she asked what we thought about the Bulldog Restaurant, and of course we were on board. Unless you were specifically looking for the restaurant, it’s probably not the sort of place you would take notice of driving by, but the parking lot was completely packed with cars, which was a positive sign of reassurance that everything I’d heard about the Bulldog was true, because there wouldn’t be that many people at a terrible restaurant after close to two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. It was the kind of place where you ordered at the counter and then they brought the food to you once it’s cooked, and the menu was perched over the register like something you might find at a little league concession stand, which was kind of cool. Most of the items on the menu were pretty straight forward, but there was one thing where a traditional menu with pictures would have been helpful, because never have I ever heard of a pizza burger, but I was very intrigued as to what it might be.

As the line moved forward and we got closer to the register, I had pretty much made up my mind that I was going to get the pizza burger, because it had to be something pretty unique. I was imagining a slice of pizza between two hamburger buns, or perhaps a regular hamburger patty topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, both of which sounded pretty interesting, but when I asked the cashier what the pizza burger was, my imagination had run wild with possibility, because the reality wasn’t nearly as interesting as I’d hoped it would be. She told me it was a burger with mozzarella cheese melted in the middle, so basically it was a cheeseburger with a different kind of cheese, but even though it wasn’t as exotic as I’d imagined it to be, it still sounded good, so that’s what I ordered with a side of fries, and a strawberry shortcake for my wife and I to split for desert.

Although it was crowded inside the restaurant, we found seats at a high top table by the window with a beautiful views of the parking lot and a shed set off in the distance in the middle of an overgrown yard. The food didn’t take long to get there and the fries looked great, seasoned and not too thick, which are my favorite, but when I unwrapped the aluminum foil with the word “Pizza Burger” written in black sharpie, I was completely taken aback, because it turned out not to be a burger at all, but rather a chicken fried steak patty. I don’t know if they messed up the order or the cashier messed up the description, but I was in a go with the flow type of mood, and it didn’t look half bad, so I just went with it, which turned out to be a great decision. The chicken fried steak was really good and the melted cheese in the middle was an added bonus. The pickles and mustard on the sandwich were unnecessary and seemed a little out of place but I thought that I was ordering a burger, so I didn’t see any need to have those two ingredients left off. It wasn’t the greatest meal I’ve ever had, but the fries and the sandwich were both solid and I would definitely eat there again.

The real star of the show wasn’t the entrée at all, but rather the strawberry shortcake that we had for desert. Apparently the Bulldog Restaurant is kind of famous for this sweet dish, and I can see why, because it is one of the best restaurant deserts I’ve ever had, probably second only to the profiteroles I had on my first trip to Paris. The strawberry shortcake consisted of a bowl filled with soft serve vanilla ice cream and sliced strawberries, topped with whipped cream and nuts, with pieces of shortbread placed around the dish. The varying textures, the smoothness of the ice cream contrasted with the crunch of the shortbread married together well and made the desert and all around delight to eat. I would go back to the Bulldog for the strawberry shortcake alone, and lucky for me, I drive right past it on the way to my mom’s house, but even if you have to go out of your way to get to Bald Knob, it will be well worth it for a taste of heaven.

The Cost of a Burger

IMG_3328Have you ever looked at a chicken clucking around the barnyard, and thought to yourself, wow that feathery creature would be absolutely delicious dipped in honey mustard? Or have you ever looked at a cow, other than your wife, and thought to yourself how you would just love to gobble it up, hooves and all? You probably haven’t, because that would be incredibly weird to look at a living animal and see something that you want to eat, yet we eat those very same animals every day. So what if they don’t the same or even remotely recognizable as the creatures they were before their trip to the slaughterhouse, they are still the same animal. Maybe their feathers have been plucked and their hides have been turned into leather belts for the very cowboys that raise the cows and chickens just to one day kill them.

It probably happens on a day like today, with rain pouring down and thunderstorms rolling in. You wouldn’t want to waste a beautiful sunny day inside the slaughterhouse, no on the rare April day in North Carolina when the sun fought it’s way through the clouds, as a farmer, you had to take full advantage. When the sun was out there was no time for the animals, because there were much more time sensitive things to take care of, like getting all your crops planted early enough in the year, which took a good bit of skill to maneuver, because if you tried to plant too early, the ground would still be frozen from the winter and would be impenetrable, and if you waited too long the rainy season would appear leaving the ground damp and sometimes under water, for the majority of a month, and by the time it dried out again, you’d be behind schedule.

The animals could be taken care of before the sun came up, like the milking of the cows or the gathering of chicken eggs, tasks that didn’t require the natural sunlight to directly affect the business. If he really wanted to, he could have flipped the switches in the slaughterhouse and got things cranked up and ready to go after the sun went down and he was done working outside for the day, but the one time he’d tried this his kids, as told by his wife, were up all night screaming in terror at the horrible sounds that were coming from out behind the main house where daddy was “working.” In addition to the lifelong scarring of his children, slaughtering the animals overnight wasn’t ideal because once morning came he had to put his current project on hold while he went about his normal daily routine, and if there’s anything that he’d learned during his years as a farmer, it’s that when you start doing something that is very bloody and messy, it’s best just to push through until the end, because once you stop and you get that god awful smell washed off of you, it’s a lot harder to make yourself go back to finish what you started.

As the wind blew the rain in sheets that rattled the high window of the slaughterhouse, the cows stood in a line, not perfectly still, but as still as you’d expect a herd of bovine to be in a fairly tight and confined area without much wiggle room. Moos could be heard filling the space that was growing warmer by the minute as the cows exhaled, sending a small puff of steam floating purposefully up towards the ceiling. The clucking of the chickens were gone before the cows entered, and the furry beasts had no idea what was waiting for them on the other side of the door. One by one, the line moved forward slightly, and the cattle behaved like cattle, following the cow in front of them. Now all the animals are dead, but at least we get fried chicken and hamburgers. Seems like a fair tradeoff.

Dreaming of Sarah Silverman

Photo Op For Hulu's "I Love You America" With Sarah SilvermanI was sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of chicken wings before me. I’m not sure where they came from, whether I ordered them from somewhere or made them myself, but they were really good, possibly the best buffalo wings I’ve ever had. I was in the zone, after each bite, involuntary mmmm sounds would echo off the walls of my mouth. After I finished eating each savory and delicious bite, I would exclaim how great the wings were, saying things like, “wow that’s good,” or “these are fantastic,” to an audience of no one, because I was the only one at the table, the only one in the room. I wasn’t watching TV or listening to music or anything, my focus solely on the wings which was one of the greatest meals I’d ever had, and it deserved every bit of my undivided attention, but then there was a knock on the door, a loud knock that jolted me immediately out of my hot wing trance.

I sighed a deep sigh of annoyance at having my delicious meal interrupted. How dare someone come to my house and loudly bang on the door, and during dinner no less? I went the sink to wash my hands, because while whomever was on the other side of the door undoubtedly deserved a sticky handed hot sauce handshake, that’s not something that I’m particularly comfortable with. I opened the door and to my surprise it was a holding a video camera, and he explained to me that he was with the food network and they were filming next door with one of the network’s biggest stars. He then asked me if I had any ribs prepared that I would like to bring on the show and have the food network star taste them. I was still annoyed about having been interrupted during my fantastic hot wing meal, so I rolled my eyes and sarcastically said that I was just eating ribs and if he wanted to use those for the show he could, but the idiot didn’t even realize that I was handing him a plate of what was clearly buffalo chicken wings rather than ribs that he’d asked for.

The producer led me next door to where the food network was being filmed and told me that I was going to walk out in front of the cameras and set the plate of ribs on the table in front of the guy on the show. I wasn’t the least bit nervous about being on TV, but I was still incredibly annoyed that my dinner had been interrupted and that now I was giving my chicken wings away to someone else. I walked out with the plate of wings, while someone behind the camera commentated on the ribs I was bringing out, that weren’t actually ribs at all but nobody seemed to notice. When I got to the table, the host of the food network show wasn’t there at all, but in his place sat comedian and actress, Sarah Silverman. She only looked up from her phone when I sat down the plate of chicken wings, and didn’t speak until after she’d taken her first bite. Her eyes got really big and she said “Oh my god, those are the best ribs I’ve ever tasted,” to which I accidentally rolled my eyes, not because it wasn’t a moment worthy of an eye roll with her mistaking the wings for ribs, but I didn’t want to offend Sarah Silverman. She didn’t seem to notice though, and then told me something that would change my life. She told me that they were the best ribs she’d ever had, and to thank me for giving her those ribs, she wanted to know if I was a comedian so she could get me into a Judd Apatow movie. I told her that I used to be a comedian and that I was planning on getting back into standup very soon, but by the time I was done explaining she was already back to looking at her phone and laughing at a joke she just read on Twitter, completely ignoring me. It was a weird dream, and I may not have gotten my big break in which Sarah Silverman got me a part in a movie, but at least I know the difference between ribs and chicken wings. That’s got to count for something, right?

What Would You Do for a Barbecue Sandwich

Imagine standing in a dirty restaurant with cracked floors and water marks on the ceiling. If there’s ever a that can depress you instantly by its aesthetic, it is here. I’m standing next to the counter awkwardly, trying to stand close enough to it so that I’m out of the way of the customers who walk past me talking loudly, but not so close that I’m basically in the kitchen. It’s really a fine line, and unfortunately I wasn’t so great at toeing it. I was basically face to face with the sweaty woman in the kitchen who was making my food, which was fittingly disgusting, just like the restaurant in which she was working. She looked up at me, wiped the beads of sweat off of her forehead with the back of her gloved hand, the same gloved hand that was preparing my dinner, and then, realizing she’d just made a mistake, uttered an expletive and then began to apologize, only it wasn’t an apology for the completely unsanitary act of drying her sweat with the same glove that was making my sandwich. No, she apologized because she forgot that I wanted the brisket on the sandwich sliced instead of chopped. At this point I didn’t care, I was just ready to get out of there as quickly as possible.

It all started about an hour previously. I was at home watching pre-draft coverage of the NFL draft that was taking place that evening. I always love the first round of the draft, because there’s just so much excitement and hope that whomever your team picks might be the one to lead them to a Super Bowl. With about an hour to go until the draft officially began at seven, my wife and I began to discuss dinner, and what we were going to eat. Neither one of us the most decisive person, it took us a good twenty minutes to decide on getting sandwiches from Top’s Barbecue, which is right down the street from where we lived. That being the case, I waited until about 6:35 to go and get the food, leaving plenty of time to get back in time for the start of the draft. I pulled into the drive-thru, which is where I normally order when I go to Top’s, because of the previously mentioned depressing aesthetics of the restaurant, and it makes me feel better about eating the food from there when I don’t have to actually go into the restaurant and see where the food is made.

I was sitting in the drive thru line for five minutes without moving forward at all, so when the car behind me and the one in front of me both gave up and drove off, I was free to do the same, only instead of leaving like they did, I just pulled to the front of the restaurant and went inside. There was no line, but there might as well have been for how long I had to wait at the counter for someone to come and take my order. Someone acknowledged me as soon as I walked in, which was nice, but it took several minutes for someone to come and ask what I wanted. I ordered two of the jumbo brisket sandwiches, with coleslaw on the side. She asked if I wanted the brisket chopped or sliced, and looking at my phone, realizing it was nearing ten minutes to the start of the draft, I chose sliced, because that seemed like the quicker option so they wouldn’t have to spend time chopping it up. I waited and waited at the counter, and still my food was not done, which is when I sent my wife the eloquent text message, “Top’s sucks,” but I should have waited another minute to send it so there would have been adequate sentiment left to express how I really felt about the person making our sandwiches wiping her forehead with her hand and going back to work without changing gloves.

It was after seven by the time I finally left Top’s with the two sandwiches I had ordered more than fifteen minutes earlier, but luckily by the time I got home, the boos being hurled up at the stage at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, had lasted several minutes, so the draft was just now starting. For all the time spent getting those sandwiches, I vowed that this better be the best freaking barbecue sandwich I’d ever tasted, and it turned out not to be so bad. I just tried not to think about whether the meat was moist from barbecue sauce or employee sweat. Take it from me, food is much easier to swallow when you don’t know the answer to that question

First Taste of Chicago Deep Dish

Yesterday I talked about the best thing I ate over the weekend, which was the dry rub wings from Central Barbecue, but it wouldn’t be fair to only talk about the good without talking about the bad, so that’s what we’ll be doing today. I hope you’re prepared for a heavy dose of negativity because I’ve got a heaping portion of it that I’m ready to dole out. Our story begins on a Sunday morning, just after eleven. It’s been raining hard all morning and it’s the perfect kind of day to just stay inside and relax, but ever since Friday I’d been craving pizza, good pizza, and I was yet to have that itch scratched, so my online search for the perfect pizza began. It’s kind of amazing to me that growing up in Little Rock, there are at least three restaurants I can name off the top of my head that have great pizza, but in Memphis, I haven’t found any pizza that has stood out as a pizza so good that it is far and away better than any other pizza here, because for the most part all the pizza here seems sub-standard and mediocre. Maybe I just haven’t found the right place yet, which is what I’m hoping and the reason I continue my search for the best pizza in the city. So far, the best I’ve had is probably Papa Murphy’s, which has a huge drawback in that you have to bake the pizza yourself, and while I’m discouraged, I haven’t given up hope.

To my knowledge I’ve never had Chicago style deep dish pizza in my life. I’ve had “deep dish” pizza but it’s not the authentic kind of pie that is so heavy and loaded with toppings, cheese, and sauce that you have to eat it with a fork, so I was looking online for joints in and around Memphis that specialized in serving that particular variety, and unsurprisingly, there wasn’t really a lot to choose from. There was a place outside of Memphis called East of Chicago, and a place in Mississippi that I’ve heard is good, but I generally don’t make a habit of going to Mississippi unless I feel like testing the effectiveness of my latest tetanus shot, so by default, East of Chicago was the winner. I didn’t want to overcomplicate my first taste of authentic deep dish pizza, so I kept the toppings to a minimum, opting only for pepperoni with the cheese and the sauce.

I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my home, but the pizza was calling my name, so I ventured out into the cold rain, telling myself that it would be worth it once I was back at home with the hot pizza. It took about an hour round trip to get the pizza in whatever suburb of Memphis the restaurant was in and back to my apartment, and although it may seem a little crazy to spend so much time driving for a pizza, my hope was that it would be worth it and be the most delicious pizza I’ve ever had. I’ve never been one to lower my expectations about things to reduce pain when things inevitably don’t end up the way that I want them too, but in this instance, I would have been well advised to do so. I sat down on the couch with the Bucks/Celtics game on TV and two slices of the deep dish pizza on my plate. It looked like I imagined it would, with the sauce on the top layer instead of on the bottom and the slices of the pizza were thick and somewhat heavy in my hand.

I picked up the first slice, took a bite, and was immediately filled with disappointment and regret at having raised my hopes so high. The sauce was good, but that alone was the only positive thing about East of Chicago’s deep dish pizza. It’s unfortunate that the sauce was on such a crappy tasting pizza because it just felt like the sauce was wasting its potential on such a crappy pizza. The sauce and the pepperoni were both unimpressive and were hardly discernible in each bite. While I’ve never had authentic Chicago deep dish pizza, I knew that a staple of the style was lots of cheese and toppings to balance out the deep dish crust, but apparently East Chicago didn’t get the memo. Not only did the cheese and pepperoni taste like something that might be found on a five dollar hot and ready pizza from Little Caesar’s, but it was about the same amount of cheese and pepperoni you would find on one of those pizzas. The thickness of the crust wasn’t at all masked by the toppings of the pizza, which made the crust and sauce virtually the only two flavors that consistently came through in each bite, and if I’d wanted that, I could have ordered breadsticks.

I hate Pizza Hut, so much so that I’ve made up my mind never to order from there ever again, but I would have to recommend Pizza Hut’s pan pizza over East of Chicago. They’re basically the same thing, but you can actually discern the cheese and toppings from Pizza Hut’s creation whereas it’s impossible at East of Chicago. Although I’ve never been outside the airport in Chicago and have never tried the city’s signature pizza, I would venture to say that East of Chicago is embarrassing their namesake. There is absolutely no scenario in which I would return and I know I generally give second chances, but this pizza was so bad and so disappointing that I couldn’t bring myself to waste another meal on that garbage. It was easily the worst thing I ate this weekend, and will probably make the list of worst thing I’ve ever eaten.

The Best Thing I Ate This Weekend

This past weekend was the Southern Hot Wing Festival in  Memphis, and while I would love to tell you about all the different varieties and which wings were the best, I can’t, because I didn’t go. It’s not that I didn’t want to go; the day before, I was pretty convinced that I was going to go Saturday afternoon when I got off work, but plans always seem better before you actually have to go through with them, and it turned out Saturday was no exception. It was a beautiful day outside with the sun shining, and I knew if I wanted to do anything outside this weekend, Saturday was the day to do it because there were storms predicted on Sunday, but after work I just wanted to go sit in my apartment with the air conditioner turned on high and watch NBA playoff basketball, so that’s what I did. Of course, watching sports is great, but it’s even better accompanied by great sports watching food, so I decided to pick up some wings, which is the probably the best food to munch on while watching sports in my humble opinion, and even though I wasn’t going to Hot Wing Fest, I was still craving some delicious chicken.

The bank I work at during the week is not the same branch that I work at on Saturdays, and there’s not much that I like about the Saturday location, but it does have one perk, being right down the street from Central Barbecue. The day before, I’d heard on a podcast, people talking about their favorite wings in town and Central was on that list. I love Central, especially their barbecue nachos but in all the times I’ve been to eat there, I’d never tried their wings, but after hearing how good they were I knew that I had to try them, and after work on Saturday I picked them up on the way home.

Sometimes when you have food in your car, the vehicle fills with the delicious scent of whatever you’ve ordered, and sometimes it doesn’t smell so good and seems to linger in your car much longer than you would like, but the wings from Central didn’t really emit much of a smell, at least not one that I noticed, but when I got home, Jack, the dog, met me at the door, enchanted by whatever scent his nose was picking up. I used to trust Jack’s nose, figuring if something smelled so good that he would jump and dance around, that it would be absolutely delicious, but then my brothers came over with a bag of Wendy’s and he acted the same as when my wife cooks the homemade New York Strip with mashed potatoes, so I kind of lost all respect for his opinion after that. He was right on the money with the wings thought. They were juicy and tender and there was just enough dry rub to give them a great flavor with a little bit of heat, but not so much that it was overwhelming and enjoyable.

As far as messiest meals I’ve ever eaten, the Central Wings are number two on my list because of the dry rub that stained my hands, my face, my shorts, and the water bottle I was drinking from, but it was the by far the happiest mess of my life. They were whole wings, and probably the biggest I’ve ever seen, and by the time got to the third, I was already feeling full so I had to stop, which was okay with me because it gave me something to look forward to later in the day. For just under eleven dollars, you can get a full order of chicken wings from Central, which is not only delicious and filling, but a great value for the amount of money that you’re spending. Since it was only my first time trying the wings, and I got the dry rub that was absolutely fantastic, I can’t speak to the other flavors, but you can be sure that you won’t go wrong with the dry rub. I thought I knew Central Barbecue, and had my go-to favorites like the nachos and the ribs, but after Saturday, I have a new go-to, and a new favorite wing in town, and it was by far, the best thing I ate last weekend.