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.

This is Where I Leave You

I started off this year with a list full of goals and a heart full of optimism and confidence that I could do what it takes to actually make those goals a reality, but as January turned to February, and then February to March, I figuratively let my eyes drift from the metaphorical prize and some of the goals I had set forth on New Year’s Day, were no longer a priority, like reading. I love to read, and anyone who has followed the blog for an extended period of time knows that because there are times when I’ve written multiple book reviews in a week, or consistently written about the latest book I’ve read on a certain day of the week, like Book Review Friday, but inevitably, after these periods of intense reading where books consume most of my free time, there comes a cooling off phase wherein I go a month or two without finishing a single book. It’s not that I get bored of reading, but it is a kind of solitary activity that can be isolating. While watching television together or playing a game can bring two people closer together in laughter and fun, the same cannot be said for reading a book because unless it’s a solo act that can only capture the attention and imagination of the reader, so it’s not the most ideal way to spend an evening with my wife, so the key is finding a balance. Instead of going to the extremes, reading maniacally through January and February, then not picking up a book in the month of March, it’s time I find a way to continue reading so that I can meet my goal of finishing a book per week this year, but also have time to do some other things that I enjoy doing, so that I don’t have to give up one thing for the other.

I tried to get back on track last weekend and finish a book that has been sitting in the same place for more than a month, completely unmoved since the last time I sat it down in February. On Saturday afternoon, while I was watching and getting bored with the NBA Playoffs, I decided my time might be better spent finishing the book, so that’s exactly what I did. Written by Jonathan Tropper, “This is Where I Leave You” is the story of a guy named Judd Foxmann, who after his father’s death travels back to his family home to sit Shiva with the rest of his family, which was his father’s dying wish. Some families love to spend time with their families and go to family reunions, but the Foxmann’s are not one of these family. The four siblings ascend on their childhood home each with their own baggage that has broken them in the years since they last lived here together, and it’s a constant struggle to get past some of the tensions that are always looming in order to respectfully mourn the death of their father.

There are moments that will make you laugh out loud, and moments that may have you crying, but through this emotional rollercoaster of a book, you will come to love the Foxmann’s, or at the very least, relate to their struggles. I read Jonathan Tropper for the first time earlier in the year when I read the “Book of Joe” and declared him one of my favorite new authors, and having just finished my second book by him, that sentiment still rings true. I love how one page can have you laugh out loud and the next page can have you deep in thought because of a brilliant line sitting at the end of a random paragraph. I have one more book sitting on my bookshelf with plans to order his others very soon. If you’re unfamiliar with Tropper, I would suggest checking him out, and “This is Where I Leave You” is a great place to start.

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.

Lunch at Casablanca

IMG_5018A week ago, one of our regular customers came into the bank and he mentioned that he just finished lunch at Casablanca, and it was absolutely delicious. I was intrigued, one because I’m always looking for my next great meal, and secondly because Casablanca sounds a lot like a Mexican restaurant, and I’m always down for some Mexican food. I asked him where it was, which turned out to be a stupid question since it was right on the other side of the parking lot and I’ve driven past it countless times, and when he told me where it was, I suddenly remembered it and felt like an idiot for having to ask in the first place, but that, unfortunately, is a common theme in my life. The guy was telling me about the shawerma, which somewhat surprisingly, at least to myself, is something that I’ve never tried, and he made it sound so good that I told him that I would definitely check it out, and I meant it.

A couple of days ago I decided that would be the day I would try Casablanca for lunch, so about an hour before lunch I started looking over the menu, getting a sense of what looked good and preparing myself mentally for what I hoped would be a fantastic meal. I almost got an appetizer platter with hummus, falafel, and baba ghanoush, just so I could try a few things, but the recommendation was for the shawerma, so that’s what I was going to try from there first. For the meat I could choose between a combination of beef and lamb, or chicken,  and since I’m a big fan of gyros at Mediterranean restaurants, which are typically made of lamb meant, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with the beef and lamb at this new place. Along with the meat, the pita contained lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, which I asked to be left off because sometimes I really hate onions and if they are particularly strong they tend to overwhelm the entire dish. It also came with two types of sauce, one mild and one spicy, to pour onto the shawerma if you felt the urge to do so.

I called about ten minutes before my lunch break started to place the order, and it was ready by the time I got there, so I have nothing but good things to say about the speed of service at Casablanca, both in preparing the food and taking care of me almost as soon as I walked through the door. The price was okay, probably a little on the high side as the shawerma alone came out to almost ten dollars after tax. If I had gotten a side with that or a drink then it would have been more in the twelve to fifteen dollar range. The food, the main part of the whole experience, was absolutely fantastic. I was halfway expecting a gyro since the description of the shawerma was beef and lamb meet in a pita with lettuce and tomatoes, which sounds an awful lot like a gyro, but it was distinctively its own separate dish. The pieces of meat were smaller and thicker than that found in a gyro, and it was served inside of a pita pocket rather than a flatbread. The beef and lamb were perfectly seasoned and deliciously juicy, and the two sauces were both unique and flavorful, although I opted to drizzle my shawerma with the milder of the two because the spicy one, which seemed to have a jalapeno taste, had quite a kick to it. I would absolutely go back for the shawerma, because although the price might seem a bit high, it’s very filling and completely delicious. If you’re ever in Memphis and looking for some good Mediterranean food, you won’t go wrong at Casablanca.

Tellini’s: An Italian Feast

IMG_5016One of my favorite meals on a cold night is Italian food, not only because the food is deliciously hot and hearty, but because Italian restaurants always seem cozy to me, whether the restaurant is bathed in warm yellow light or the lights are dimmed with a big fire burning in the fireplace, so Saturday night, when the temperatures started to drop after raining most of the day, my wife and I agreed on an Italian dinner to combat the unseasonably cold April night. Although we go out to dinner somewhat frequently, probably about once a week or so, we rarely find ourselves rarely eating Italian, not because we don’t like it, it’s just that we don’t really think about it that much, but Saturday night, it was at the forefront of my mind. I listed off some of the restaurants I knew, and we narrowed it down to a couple of options, Tellini’s and Macaroni Grill, two of the places that were closest to where we live. It’s been ten to fifteen years since I’d eaten at Macaroni Grill, and I didn’t remember that much about it, but it was one of the go-to Sunday lunch places of one of my best friends growing up, so I got my fair share of the Grill in my younger days.

Tellini’s, a place that my grandparents told us about was a place that I’d never been, though I’ve driven past many times, was the least attractive option between the two restaurants because from what I’ve seen in passing, it looked more like a fast food restaurant, complete with a drive-thru, which I felt wouldn’t offer the same cozy comfort that made eating at an Italian restaurant in the cold weather attractive in the first place. My wife had been to neither, so she left the decision up to me, and before long we were pulling into the completely empty Macaroni Grill parking lot. At least I think it was the Macaroni Grill, but it was hard to know for sure since all of the letters had been removed from the building and there were no signs anywhere to be found. With Macaroni Grill no longer an option, suddenly Tellini’s was sounding a lot better, so we crossed the street and were in the drive-thru in less than two minutes.

It was decided that we would get our food in the drive-thru and take it home to eat, because the crowded and fluorescently lit Tellini’s seemed too depressing on an already cold and dreary night. We looked at the menu, which had a good amount to choose from, and my wife decided on the fettucine alfredo pasta with grilled chicken, and I, after much contemplation and asking the person on the other end of the speaker to give me just a second to make up my mind, I decided on the baked ravioli with meat sauce. After only a minute or two of waiting, the food was handed to us in big brown paper bag with delicious smelling steam floating out of the top that seemed to validate our choice to spend our money there.

The food itself, was okay, neither mine nor my wife’s favorite Italian food we’ve ever had. The meat sauce was decent and melted cheese is always good, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the filling in the ravioli. Seemingly made of ricotta cheese and heavy cream, the filling did have a nice rich flavor, but there was so much of it stuffed into the ravioli that it completely overpowered every bite of ravioli. It would have been a much better dish had there been a lot less of the filling and if the pasta had been cooked slightly longer. It certainly wasn’t a great meal, but both of us ate for less than twenty dollars which is a pretty good deal for Italian food, so if you’re in the mood for okay fettucine alfredo or baked ravioli, then Tellini’s is the place to go. I’m sure I’ll go back at some point just to try something else on the menu before cutting them out of my life completely as is my personal policy. I’ll let you know how it goes.