Tag Archives: Food Network

Winner Winner (Fried) Chicken Dinner

Happy (belated and/or Chinese) New Year, readers!  Apologies for being M.I.A. the past couple months.  After law school finals, holidays, and a much-needed vacation, I am back and ready to blog–with lots of exciting new content!

It seems both apropos and ironic that my first post of the year is devoted to fried chicken.  Of course, one of my many New Years resolutions is to eat healthier and I really am trying to stick to it.  But after watching an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” about fried chicken, I knew I had to splurge a little.  The episode featured two places that I am fortunate to have visited in the past couple months: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, and Ms. Tootsies Soul Food Cafe in Philly.  While the two restaurants couldn’t be more different, they do have one thing in common: serving damn good fried chicken.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken 

Gus’s definitely lives up to its name, serving world famous hot and spicy chicken for over fifty years.  The original location that started it all is in Mason, TN, about 40 miles outside of Memphis.  Since opening back in 1953, the fried chicken recipe has remained a closely guarded secret, and to this day, the Bonner family still delivers its secret batter to franchisees rather than release the recipe.  According to Food Network, the Bonners have been offered up to $1 million for their recipe, but they haven’t budged.

If you’re in Memphis and don’t feel like driving 40 miles to the original Gus’s, head to the downtown location, just a few blocks from the infamous Beale St.  While the other businesses seem eerily deserted, Gus’s is the exception on the block, as hungry diners pour into the one-room restaurant.  It’s definitely no-frills, with picnic-style gingham tablecloths and plastic plates and silverware.  But what Gus’s lacks in ambience, it more than makes up for with its fried chicken (pictured above: 3 piece white plate w/ beans and slaw, $8).

Though perfectly crisp on the outside, what stood out most about Gus’s fried chicken was the meat itself.  The spices of the marinade permeated the meat, with just the right amount of heat in each bite.  The light exterior also managed to keep the interior incredibly moist, sealing in the juices and flavor.  Wash it all down with some of Gus’s equally infamous sweet tea, and you’ve truly got yourself a piece of heaven.

If you can manage to save room, definitely order dessert!  Gus’s bakes all of their desserts from scratch, including this decadent pecan pie.  Served warm, the filling was gooey in the best way, with the crust balancing out the sweetness.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is seriously the stuff of legends–even sparking a feud between Serious Eats founder Ed Levine and Bon Appetit!  I have to agree with Ed Levine on this one, and declare my absolute love, devotion, obsession, addiction–whatever you want to call it–for Gus’s.

310 S. Front St.
Memphis, TN 38103
(901)  527-4877
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Ms. Tootsies Soul Food Cafe

Well-known as a casual spot for satisfying soul food, owner Keven Parker has completely revamped Ms. Tootsies, aiming for a swankier lounge feel.  Black, red, and white seem to be the dominant color scheme throughout the restaurant, with large black and white photographs of African American celebrities hanging on the walls (be sure to check out the [unisex] bathroom, where there is a particularly sensual photo of Janet Jackson covering the entire wall).  While I appreciate Ms. Tootsies’ efforts to go more upscale, but I’m not entirely sure it works with both the surrounding neighborhood or the food.

While the ambience has changed a lot, fortunately, Ms. Tootsies seems to be sticking to its successful soulful cuisine.  My friend and I started with Sadiki’s catfish fingers and fries ($8) appetizer.  The thin breading on the catfish fingers was well-seasoned and flavorful, even better when dipped in tartar sauce. I also enjoyed the fries, which were crispy and coated with a similar seasoning as the catfish.  In addition to the catfish, Ms. Tootsies serves complimentary cornbread muffins with homemade strawberry butter as a starter to the meal.  Despite being a bit burnt from the toaster, the warm cornbread muffins were delicate and cake-like, sweetened just a touch with the strawberry butter.

For our main course, of course, we had to order the infamous fried chicken basket, with mac and cheese and collard greens ($26 w/ 2 sides).  The chicken arrived fresh from the fryer, glistening and golden brown.  Ms. Tootsies batter was much thicker and crunchier than Gus’s, but nonetheless delicious.  The interior was juicy and tender, and we found ourselves devouring the entire basket in a mere ten minutes.  The mac and cheese and collards were also respectable, and we managed to polish off those as well.

And of course, I could not eat a fried chicken dinner without….sweet tea!  Thought Ms. Tootsies sweet tea is far from traditional, and pricey at $5, it was a pleasant and surprising change from the norm.  Instead of black tea, Ms. Tootsies uses tropical iced tea, and tops it off with a slice of watermelon.  Her upscale version of sweet tea definitely worked, and was refreshing even on a cold winter night.

For dessert, we ordered the sweet potato pie ($4), one of my favorite soul food desserts.  The pie had a nice cinnamon flavor, but would have been ten times better heated up, or even served at room temperature.  Our slice seemed like it had come directly out of the fridge, and the filling was very cold as a result.

Despite some small flaws, I really enjoyed my meal at Ms. Tootsies.  The fried chicken definitely rivals some of those I’ve had in the South, and I can see why Chef Robert Irvine dubbed it one of the best he’s ever eaten.

1312 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 731-9045
Ms. Tootsie's Soul Food Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Best Bites of Brooklyn

(Photo via andrew c mace, flickr)

Brooklyn is infamous right now for its hipsters, hippies, and OWS, but NYC’s most populous borough also boasts a burgeoning food scene.  GQ restaurant critic Alan Richman proclaimed Brooklyn “the coolest city on the planet,” and Manhattanites seem to be flocking there in droves, whether it’s for pies paired with fried chicken or local artisan goods at Smorgasburg.

I hadn’t spent much time in Brooklyn, so I was excited to explore the borough’s food scene on a recent trip to NYC.  Here are 3 of the most memorable spots:

Blue Bottle Coffee 

I fell in love with Blue Bottle Coffee when I was in San Francisco last summer.  Despite the notoriously long lines and sometimes snobby service, the coffee is certainly worth the hassle.  Blue Bottle’s Williamsburg location is no different than its SF counterpart, and for that, I am extremely grateful.  The minimalist logo on the door in lieu of a sign, the sleek pour-over coffee bar, the seemingly endless lines, the disdainful looks customers get when they ask for ground coffee beans or low-fat milk–it’s all part of the Blue Bottle experience that makes your coffee taste even more glorious in the end.

But the Williamsburg Blue Bottle did have something I hadn’t seen in San Francisco–a snickerdoodle.  But of course, in typical Blue Bottle fashion, it’s not your ordinary snickerdoodle.  Theirs is made with Spanish saffron and Tahitian vanilla, which impart a beguiling, subtle sweetness reminiscent of the original, but much more sophisticated in flavor.  Blue Bottle‘s ability to elevate the old and familiar is what makes it special–that, and it’s just damn good coffee (excuse the language!).

160 Berry St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 387-4160
Blue Bottle on Urbanspoon

Roberta’s Pizza

After a glowing review in the NYT, in which restaurant critic Sam Sifton proclaimed it “one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States,” Roberta’s became even more of a sensation than it already was.  Located on a somewhat sketchy block of warehouses in Bushwick, the restaurant is definitely hipster central, perhaps on the verge of gentrification with the influx of yuppies and foodies (like myself).

The owners have done a great job transforming the space into a casual, congenial scene: diners sit at long communal picnic tables, and a shabby chic tarp hangs over the outdoor bar.  Definitely get comfortable at the bar and order an excellent dark and stormy, because chances are you will be waiting 2+ hours for a table, especially on  weekends.  I’ll admit I flipped my lid a little when the hostess informed me of the wait time.

While I’m not sure it’s worth waiting 3 hours for, the pizza at Roberta’s was quite good.  The secret is in the crust–perfectly charred and chewy.  I ordered the Purple Nurple ($15), which came topped with tomato, mozzarella, ricotta, eggplant, garlic and basil.  My friend and I also split a squash salad ($12) and truffle agnoletti ($18), which were both excellent and demonstrated the kitchen’s skill and restraint.   The real standout, however, was definitely the pizza.

261 Moore St.
Brooklyn, NY 11206
(718) 417-1118
Roberta's on Urbanspoon

Purple Yam

Though I’m always skeptical of Asian fusion restaurant, Purple Yam manages to simultaneously retain its authenticity while adding distinctly modern twists to traditional dishes.  The chefs and owners, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, opened Purple Yam in 2009 after running a successful Filipino-fusion restaurant in SoHo, and it remains a dining destination for Ditmas Park today.

My friends and I started with the fried beet dumplings ($6) and fresh lumpia ($7).  I was afraid the beet dumplings would be a disaster, but was pleasantly surprised by the contrary.  They were flavorful, chewy, and pleasantly sweet, offsetting the saltiness of the soy sauce.  As for the fresh lumpia, I think I prefer its more traditional fried and sausage-centric counterpart, but it was a respectable effort nonetheless.  The lumpia reminded me more of a Vietnamese steamed noodle roll with its sauteed Napa cabbage, leek and mushroom filling and peanut and tamarind sauce, which I suppose is what they were going for, though the name was a misnomer.

The chicken adobo ($12) was a revelation, incorporating integral elements of the original dish, but upgrading the flavors and quality of the ingredients.  Braised in garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, and coconut milk, the chicken was tender on the inside, crispy and crackling on the outside.

Perhaps the most surprising dish was the bibimbap ($9), with brown rice, carrots, turnip, taro, edamame, and a fried egg.  I have very high expectations for bibimbap, which is one of my favorite Korean dishes, and I’m happy to report that Purple Yam’s rendition exceeded my expectations.  Each vegetable was meticulously cut and perfectly cooked, and the flavors all complemented each other well.  It was a more refined adaptation of a classic, which seems to be Purple Yam’s greatest strength.

1314 Cortelyou Road
Brooklyn, NY 11226
(718) 940-8118
Purple Yam on Urbanspoon

Compost for Brooklyn 

After brunch at Purple Yam, I got a VIP tour of Compost for Brooklyn‘s community garden, given by my friend and co-founder of Compost for Brooklyn, Louise Bruce.   Located on E. 8th St. and Newkirk Ave., the former vacant lot is now green and gorgeous–filled with tons of trees, vegetables, and native plants.

In addition to the garden, Compost for Brooklyn runs a free community composting program and education program for kids and teenagers in the neighborhood.  These programs have been positively received by children and adults in the community alike, who all greeted Louise with a smile as they passed by us.  Seeing all of her efforts and passion for the environment come to fruition was very inspiring, and I wish the organization the best of luck in the future.

To learn more about Compost for Brooklyn, visit their website or email compostforbrooklyn [at] gmail [dot] com.  (Fun fact for foodies: Miriam Garron, Bobby Flay’s sous chef on Throwdown, is Vice Chairman of the Board!)

Meat Fest at Tony Luke’s

If that video doesn’t make you salivate, I don’t know what will.  I’d heard about the venerable Tony Luke’s while watching some of my favorite TV shows: Man v. Food and Throwdown with Bobby Flay.  I knew that once I moved to Philly, Tony Luke’s would be one of my first destinations for a Philly cheesesteak.

And so, on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend and I headed to Tony Luke’s in South Philly, ready to devour some of the best cheesesteaks in town.  Even at 2:00 in the afternoon, the line went all the way down the block.  But despite the daunting line, not a single customer was deterred; more and more people kept queuing up, lured by the sights and smells of sizzling meat on the grill.  I could tell these were pretty die-hard fans.

After about a half hour wait, we eagerly sat down to enjoy our food: a Philly cheesesteak ($7.25), roast pork Italian ($7.95), and a side of fries ($3.00).  The cheesesteak definitely lived up to its reputation.  The meat was tender and juicy, its flavor accentuated by the gooey, melty provolone cheese (we forewent the wiz–next time!).  The bread provided just the right amount of crunch and soaked up the meat drippings well.

Surprisingly, my favorite turned out to be the roast pork Italian ($7.95): slow-roasted pork with pungent broccoli rabe and sharp provolone.  The combination of flavors in this sandwich was enough to make me swoon with joy.  The pork was perfectly seasoned with tons of black pepper and fresh herbs, while the broccoli rabe and sharp provolone provided a nice bitterness and complexity.  Though I meant to save some for later,  I couldn’t stop myself from eating the entire thing, right then and there!

After we finished, we got a real treat: the famous Tony Luke Jr. himself made an appearance (pictured right)!  He filmed a segment for Comcast Sports, which aired during the Phillies-Giants games.  Even during filming, he was gracious and receptive to customers, posing for photos and taking special order requests back to the kitchen.  With such a personable leader at the helm, it’s no wonder why Tony Luke’s customer service far surpasses its competitors.

A few more notes on my visit: Tony Luke’s offers only outdoor seating, so make sure to dress warmly if it’s a cold day!  And as for transportation, if you don’t have a car, I would just cab over (and make sure to call one in advance for the ride home, too).  Buses and cabs were few and far between down there, and I  didn’t notice a subway station nearby either.  But, as you can tell from this glowing review, Tony Luke’s is worth braving the elements for its signature Philly style sandwiches.

Tony Luke’s

39 East Oregon Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19148

(215) 551-5725

Tony Luke's on Urbanspoon

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P.S. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Loco for Tortilla Cafe

I had a friend visiting me from out of town, and needed somewhere quick, cheap, and delicious to meet her for lunch. My roommate recommended Tortilla Cafe down by Eastern Market, and boy, am I glad she made that suggestion.

Tortilla Cafe offers authentic El Salvadorian and Mexican fare that you can tell is made with love. The cafe is a family operation, owned by Jose Canales and managed by his daughter, Catalina, who can be found working the register most days. Mr. Canales also owns Canales Deli, a meat purveyor inside Eastern Market.

My friend and I split a pupusa platter with plantains and black beans ($5.95) and a sweet corn tamale ($2.25). Service was friendly and warm, and our food was brought out quickly, piping hot. Pupusas are a popular El Salvadorian snack: thick corn tortillas filled with cheese and meats that are fried to perfection. Tortilla Cafe’s version is light and greaseless, with melted cheese and flavorful pork oozing out of each bite.

The side dishes were excellent as well. The pupusa platter comes with your choice of 2 sides (beans, rice, fries, fried yucca, plantains). We chose the plantains and black beans. I’m a sucker for plantains and I can wholeheartedly say the ones at Tortilla Cafe were first-rate. Crisped outer edges, soft in the middle, with that irresistible sweet and savory balance. The platter also comes with a complementary serving of curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw with peppery salsa drizzled on top. The dish paired nicely with the pupusas, adding a jolt of heat and tanginess.

The sweet corn tamale was reminiscent of summer. It tasted like biting into a freshly steamed ear of white corn. The maize had a firm bite–one of the signs of a solid tamale. Lesser versions can be mushy or grainy.

Perhaps the most astonishing part of the meal was the price–less than $10 for a filling and fantastic meal. Tortilla Cafe more than delivered on the quick, cheap, and delicious fronts.

More people (other than me) are starting to take notice of this hidden gem’s low prices and high-quality food. Tortilla Cafe was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and the restaurant proudly displays a signed Guy Fieri poster on its wall. The episode hasn’t aired yet, so be sure to head down to Tortilla Cafe–before the legions of Triple D and Food Network fans do!

Tortilla Cafe

210 7th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 547-5700

Tortilla Cafe on Urbanspoon

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