Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Do I smell smoked meat?

Louie Mueller Barbecue
206 W 2nd St.
Taylor, TX 76574

Smoked meat.

It's a Texas specialty.

And though I complain incessantly about Texas, this is one area that I am left speechless.

Louie Mueller Barbecue is legendary. I know this because my good friend Suit757 told me so. In fact, I made him quite jealous by visiting this establishment before him.

Well-smoked Texas Flag

Located about 40 minutes Northeast of downtown Austin, this place is an absolute must visit. But make sure you don't go too late in the day, because once they are out of meat, they're done for the day, and you're out of luck.

And, trust me, you don't want to miss this.

Walking into Louie Mueller Barbecue, you'll notice everything has a thin, or thick, layer of soot on it, and the wonderful smell of smoke in the air.

In fact, one of my compatriots shared with me that when the current owner took over the family business from his father, he attempted to clean the soot off the walls, much to the displeasure of the regular patrons of this fine establishment.

From then on, it seems that they don't bother with it. And why would you? It adds so much character to the place and it is how a good smokehouse should look.

It's a good thing that I came to this place with experienced patrons,
not to mention a large group, because I don't think I could have handled this trip alone.

The specialty of this place is beef ribs. In other words, dinosaur bones. And you buy them by the pound. For our group, we ordered over four pounds of ribs.

This was a massive pile of meat. And it just fell right off the bones. It was so tender and delicious, I was tempted to throw some in my carry on, but figured TSA might have an issue with my suitcase leaking grease.

 I had no idea how to even divide the spoils among our group, so I passed my knife to the native Texan in the group to handle the situation. When in Texas, trust the Texan.

And this is where I will start my regularly scheduled rant. I don't understand barbecue bigotry. I am constantly reminded by my Southern brethren of the atrocities of the North against the South in the War Between the States, which happened over 150 years ago, and I had nothing do with it.

My point in bringing this up is that the South can't even get along with each other. I'm told by folks from Tennessee and the Carolinas that you can only smoke pork. Meanwhile, in Texas, the only true barbecue is beef.

Not trying to sound like a hippy here, but why can't we all just get along? All smoked meat is a good thing. And that includes pork, beef, chicken, turkey, fish, alligator, and so on. Smoke does a wonderful thing to meat, and it should all be enjoyed.

So, until the South can get along on the issue of smoked meat, I'm not too concerned about them "rising" again anytime soon.

End of rant.

To go along with these delicious ribs, we also purchased a quart of potato salad which, in my book, is a must with BBQ. I'm often disappointed by the potato salad offered at what would be considered good BBQ joints. For some places, it's almost an afterthought.

In my book, a truly good BBQ joint has excellent potato salad, and Louie Mueller didn't disappoint. Their potato salad is full of flavor and went very well with the ribs.

While enjoying this delicious meal, I started to realize that my eyes were starting to sting from all of the smoke. It fell like I was sitting around a campfire, and I loved it.

To finish things off, I was given the recommendation to try the peach cobbler. I was not disappointed in this endeavor as well. It was warm and fresh, and completed with a scoop of Texas' own Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.

I left Louie Mueller Barbecue with a full stomach, a satisfied craving for barbecue, and smelling like smoke that would make anyone sitting next to me on my flight jealous that I had enjoyed delicious smoked meat, and they hadn't.

 Take my word for it. This place is worth the detour if you are in the Austin area.

And if you are one of those close-minded "There is only one true form of BBQ", get off your high horse and go enjoy the diversity of smoked meats that are all over this great country of ours.

Rating: Bought the Smoke-filled Shirt!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pizza and Brew With A View

Backcountry Pizza
20 East Lake View Dr. #212
Nederland, CO 80466

You know what they say about real estate;  it's all about location, location, location.

And you'd be hard-pressed to find pizza with a better view than what I found at Backcountry Pizza.

Tucked away on the second floor of a quasi-strip mall in the scenic Rocky Mountain town of Nederland, CO, Backcountry Pizza is an unexpected gem.

The mountain towns in Colorado are like visiting a different country. The culture is foreign. The pace of life is slower. And for some people living there, being "high" is a lifestyle. There are at least two pot dispensaries in this town with a population of just over 1,400 people.

Nederland is home to the Frozen Dead Guy Festival, in which they celebrate some guy who had himself cryogenically frozen and, at his request, had his frozen body brought up to the town of Nederland.

It seems with the dying off of the mining industry in Colorado that many of these mountain towns are quite economically depressed. I don't know if I should blame the unions, NAFTA, the EPA, or perhaps all of the above.

In any case, the people of Nederland, and other mountain towns, are rugged. You'd have to be to live above 8,000 ft, with harsh winters far from civilization.

After a full morning of snowshoeing just outside of Nederland, we were quite hungry, so we meandered our way into Nederland.

Having been there previously, I had a pretty good lay of the land. Wanting to try something new we found our way to Backcountry Pizza.

As soon as we walked through the door, our noses told us we were at the right place. Thankfully, a table opened up just as we walked in, as the place was pretty well packed.

The place smelled amazing, and after seeing the pizza, we couldn't help but be excited for the deliciousness to come. Of course, being that this is in Colorado, they had a decent selection of craft beers on tap.

I ordered a Gilpin Black Gold Porter from Hogshead Brewing in Denver, CO. After a nice morning of snowshoeing, a dark malty beer is exactly what I had in mind.

After looking over the menu, we decided to go with an order of chicken tenders and The Works Pizza, complete with ground sausage and beef, mushrooms, banana peppers, feta and mozzarella cheeses. It usually comes with olives, but considering that olives are a communist plot to ruin pizza, we had those deleted.

The chicken tenders came out first, and they far exceeded our expectations. Here we thought we were just ordering the standard run of the mill pizza joint chicken tenders. Not the case. These were hand-breaded and served with a house-made BBQ sauce. So good...

Then came the pizza. I'm not sure what measuring system they were using, but supposedly we ordered a 16" pizza. Maybe they meant 16" radius, instead of circumference. This pizza was massive.

And delicious. And we'll be eating it as leftovers for the next couple days. Everything about this pizza was great. The crust was perfect.

If you ever find your way out to Nederland, CO for some snowshoeing or for the Dead Guy Festival, I highly recommend checking out Backcountry Pizza. Good pizza and brew with a view.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tales from the Bill Clinton Eating Tour

Cotham’s Mercantile
5301 AR 161
Scott, AR

“What the...???”

That’s what I mumbled to myself as I wheeled my suitcase past the gleaming new sign welcoming arriving passengers at the Little Rock airport.

“Welcome to Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.”

Are you kidding me?

After eight years of President Clinton -- and now the prospect of eight more years of another President Clinton -- can’t these people just leave me alone?

What happened to the days when they waited a few years after you were dead to start naming stuff after you?

You know, in case it turned out you did something embarrassing -- like molest an intern or something.

While I don’t particularly share Bill Clinton’s affinity for chubby interns and tax increases, I’ll follow the man to Texarkana and back on a restaurant tour of Arkansas.

Say what you will about President Bubba, but the man knows how to eat.

One of Bill Clinton’s favorite haunts (before he and Hillary shook the fertile Arkansas mud off their boots and moved to the leafy New York suburbs) was Cotham’s Mercantile, just ten miles southeast of what the locals now refer to as “Hill-Billy” National Airport.

In the old cotton plantation town of Scott, Cotham’s Mercantile is geographically near the state capital -- but light years away in laid back attitude and ambiance.

Cotham’s is a century old country store perched on stilts high above the banks of Horseshoe Lake -- a cut-off bayou that was once connected to the meandering Arkansas River generations ago.

Not much has changed in Scott, Arkansas over the past century. The landscape is still blanketed with fertile farmland from horizon to horizon.

And farmers, locals, tourists and Little Rock politicians alike still creak across the old floorboards of the Cotham’s dilapidated front porch in search of an epic Southern meal.

The “Hubcap Burger” is what put Cotham’s on the culinary map.

It didn’t disappoint.

Yes. It really is as big as a hubcap -- nearly a foot in diameter.

But this burger isn’t just wide -- it is nearly an inch thick too.

We’re talking over a pound of beef here!

The beauty of this burger is how well it is constructed.

Onions, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and meat all held together by over-sized buns that are actually up for the job.

I briefly considered taking my knife and cutting it in half. My grandmother would have considered that the polite thing to do.

But what fun would that be?

Miraculously, I was able the lift the whole thing off my plate and eat it like God intended with minimal condiment spillage.

A bit more well done and drier than I would have preferred (my waitress never asked me how I wanted it cooked), the meat was still very tasty with plenty of salty burger seasoning evident.

The side dishes were a major dilemma.

Cotham’s is almost as famous for its fries and giant hand-battered onion rings as for its Hubcap Burger.

The menu also offered the option to upgrade my side to fried green tomatoes for $2.75.

I couldn’t resist.

More yellow than green, the generous portion of fried tomatoes packed a powerful flavor wallop. The tart tomatoes and crisp thin corn meal breading was a perfect Southern treat.

It was a lot of food.

But not TOO much food. I finished every last bite.

Unfortunately, that meant I had absolutely no room for dessert.

Cotham’s is also famous for its decadent fried chocolate and apple pies. And for its Mississippi Mud pie.

Cotham’s left me wanting to come back for more.

I mean, what about Cotham’s famous fried chicken and catfish?

And those towering piles of onion rings I saw on my neighbors’ tables that gave me junk food envy?

Oh well. I’m sure there will be a next time.

After a century, Cotham’s Mercantile isn’t going anywhere. It’s the kind of place you feel like will always be in your life.

Just like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Only in Cotham’s case, that is actually a good thing.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

Cotham's Mercantile on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bar-B-Que Authenticity Reaches its Limits in the Exurbs of Nashville

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
7238 Nolensville Rd.
Nolensville, TN

The name of this place is Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint.

So what do we know about this place right off the bat?

Right. It’s not going to be an authentic bar-b-que joint.

Because authentic bar-b-que joints don’t call themselves “joints”.

It’s kind of like the difference between my authentic redneck friends and the ones that call themselves rednecks.

My authentic redneck friends don’t even know that they are rednecks. In fact, they might even be mildly insulted if I referred to them as such.

So I don’t.

Of course my nouveau redneck friends would take it as a compliment.

Another reason I walked through the front door of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint with a mind full of suspicion was the address.

Nolensville, Tennessee.

This is Exurban Hell, USA.

Twenty-five miles south of Nashville, Nolensville is one of those quiet rural towns that have the misfortune of being within commuting distance of a big city.

Exurbs like Nolensville are where white Republicans flee to when they tire of the indignities of urban and suburban life.

Or when they have kids. And they’ve convinced themselves that the government schools in the exurbs have vastly superior ability to shape their children’s’ young minds of mush, ignoring the fact that higher test scores are nothing more than a reflection of the demographics of the kids being tested, not any competence on the part of the government.

Yep. Southern exurbs like Nolensville are the types of places where the 22% of the registered voters who actually voted for Obama won’t admit it to the other 78%.

Where Republicans move to when they want the simplicity of rural living but can’t bear to give up Home Depot or Starbucks.

Drive in a circle 30 miles around any major Southern city and you will notice the trend too.

Cookie-cutter brick McMansions on three-quarter acre lots. Minivans and SUVs. Applebee’s and Panera Bread.

In my opinion, exurban living is the worst trend since heterosexual men started wearing jeans with those faggity ass swirls on the pockets.

My problem with the exurbs is they lack authenticity.

The whole point of rural living is to slow down and immerse yourself is a culture that is genuine and timeless.

Where everyone knows everyone.

Where the old man at the mom and pop hardware store speaks with such a thick drawl you can only comprehend every third word – but you nod your head anyway.

Where the local pitmaster runs a bar-b-que joint that really is a joint, has been a joint for decades, and he would be somewhat offended if you told him so.

But in exurban towns like Nolensville such remnants of genuine rural living quickly become displaced by urban refugees and relocated Yankees willing to commute two hours per day to get a taste of country living, no matter how inauthentic.

I mean it’s fun to claim you’ve moved out to the country as long as you don’t have to smell cow manure, ride behind a slow moving tractor or get your Range Rover repaired by some toothless yokel.

Situated in a modern suburban strip mall, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is a perfect metaphor for the town in which it resides.

Or so I thought.

Sometimes you have to let the bar-b-que speak for itself.

The first thing I noticed is that there is nothing inauthentic about the smoke billowing out of the big black smoke pit smack dab in the middle of the restaurant.

That’s a smell, my friends, that can’t be faked.

Martin’s slowly smokes its pork and beef over hard wood for hours.

This place might be as polished as the granite counter tops in the custom homes popping up down the street, but the bar-b-que is strictly old school.

I ordered the “Redneck Taco” -- which in reality is neither.

While no authentic redneck would ever order it, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious.

The “Redneck Taco” is a slab of corn bread with pulled pork, cole slaw and tangy bar-b-que sauce piled on top.

While Martin’s offers a variety of sauce, it chooses to ladle its thin vinegary tomato-based sauce on top of the cole slaw. The result is a tangy, crunchy condiment for the pulled pork below.

Meanwhile the base of this “taco”, the corn bread, soaks up the drippy tasty remnants from the pork, slaw and sauce.

The pork itself benefits well from all these complimentary flavors and textures. It was a bit dry and bland by itself.

The baked beans were top notch, spiked with green pepper and lots of brown sugar.

The walls of this exurban “joint” are decorated with Southern kitsch -- rebel flags, license plates, trucker caps and portraits of pigs and Hank Williams, all carefully staged in a deliberately haphazard arraignment.

A steady stream of kick-ass Outlaw Country poured from the restaurant’s sound system. You just don’t hear the authentic sounds of Merle Haggard, David Allen Coe and Loretta Lynn on the radio anymore.

This is the brand of music the Music Row suits 25 miles north of here banished from the light of day. These are the people responsible for shoving unartistic pop country crap down our throats and out across America’s airwaves.

And I’m quite sure many of these are the same people responsible for turning the dairy farms around Nolensville into house farms -- and after their long commute home from Music Row come to Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint where they can get themselves some authentic bar-b-que while listening to authentic country music.

For some people this is as authentic as they want to get.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Revolution Comes to Nebraska

The Crescent Moon Ale House
3578 Farnham St.
Omaha, NE

I’m pretty sure nobody in America is more excited about the on-going craft beer revolution than Suit757.

Just a few years ago, one of my typical stopovers at a Middle America sports bar or college hangout like the Crescent Moon Ale House yielded nothing more than a monotonous display of ubiquitous tab handles -- the same dozen boring taps you see in every bar in America.

Under those tap handles pours the identical watered down pale fizzy crap.

I guess that’s the thing I don’t get about all those fans of the mass produced American lagers: don’t you get bored drinking the same damn thing over and over again?

And don’t even try to tell me that Bud Light tastes radically different from Miller Lite. I’ve blind taste-tested them all. Any differences are subtle at best.

It’s all the same exact style. Same formula. Same pale color. Same nonexistent flavor.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I’m not one of those Nazi craft beer snobs who refuses to allow a mass produced beer to touch my lips.

I mean, my favorite style of beer might be a hoppy Imperial India Pale Ale, but my second favorite style of beer is…

…free. Even if it is a Bud Light.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never turned one down yet.

Trust me, if you get a First Class upgrade, that’s what you’re going to be drinking.

While mass produced watered down American lager might not be my favorite style, I’m not religiously opposed to it either.

In fact, as I type this I have a keg of Coors Light on tap at the bar in my home.

With that admission, I might have just lost half the followers of this website.

But low alcohol, low taste, cheap beer has a role to play alongside the arsenal of good beer stocked in my bar -- particularly on hot summer days or at the tail end of particularly lengthy sessions of beer drinking when the law of diminishing returns has long since kicked in.

What makes me excited about the craft beer revolution is the wonderful variety of good beer out there now just waiting for me to sample.

This revolution is so exciting, it can make even a trip to Omaha, Nebraska an enlightening experience.

I chose the Crescent Moon not for its beer selection alone, but primarily because I read that it serves the single best sandwich in the state of Nebraska, the Blackstone Rueben.

Named after a nearby long-gone historic hotel where the original version was served, this was one top notch Rueben.

Slow cooked in some secret spices, the thick chunks of corned beef melted in my mouth they were so tender. The Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing lended plenty of condiment gooey goodness.

Even the sauerkraut was spot on. And I don’t even like sauerkraut.

On the side, I paid extra for fried green peppers.

Fried green peppers?

The only other menu where I’ve seen them was at a strip mall crab house in Maryland.

I’m making a prediction right now.

Fried green peppers are the next big thing -- coming soon to an Applebee’s “Two for Twenty” menu near you.

First of all, the shape is just fun. Sliced from a pepper cross section, each one was a big oddly formed ring.

Lightly breaded so the mild pepper flavor shines through, fried green peppers are a welcome reprieve from the side dish monotony of fries, onion rings and cole slaw.

To me that is what I love most about eating my way across the USA -- breaking the monotony by trying new things.

Which just happens also to be why I love the craft beer revolution.

Crescent Moon Ale House is a fantastic beer bar sporting exotic never-before-seen tap handles from across the Midwest and across Nebraska.

I was excited. Even more so when the bar tender informed me that all Nebraska beers were just $3.50 per pint tonight.


I started with the Zipline Black IPA out of Lincoln, Nebraska, a toasty flavorful oxymoron in a glass. How exactly can a “pale ale” be black, anyway?

My second brew was the Radial IPA from Infusion Brewing Company across town, a nice wallop of spicy hops.

How cool is it that small microbreweries are popping up in every nook and cranny of America -- even in decidedly non-hipster places like Nebraska??

Pretty cool. And plenty of others agree.

The Crescent Moon had a nice crowd for 10pm on a Wednesday night.

Definitely a college bar vibe with long communal tables full of students from nearby Creighton University, beer banners hanging from the ceiling and a burly bouncer dude checking IDs by the front door in front of a glass case selling t-shirts that say “Moon Me.”

There is even a “Huber-Haus German Bier Hall” in the basement and Max and Joe’s, a Belgian beer bar off in a side room.

You would think this place would be a sausage fest of frat guys downing beers and telling fart jokes.

But you’d be wrong.

There were as many girls as guys knocking back brewskies.

How cool is that?

As I was crunching on my fried green peppers at the bar, a couple of attractive college girls stopped by to order several good local microbrews.

“Damn, I love beer,” the brunette said.

The blonde one replied, “I know, right?!? The next time you go home to Denver, I want to come with you so we can stop off at every brewery in Colorado.”


Besides sounding like a VERY fun roadtrip (would it be rude if I interrupted them and invited myself along?) -- I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Girls who like good beer?

Apparently I was born too early.

When I was in college, the cool girls would help you finish your four dollar pitcher of Busch.

The less cool high maintenance chicks would demand you make a special side trip to the Tiny Giant to pick up a four pack of Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers.


Thank God those dark days are behind us.

The craft beer revolution has saved us all from such indignities.

And the evidence is right here at The Crescent Moon Ale House in Omaha.

Craft beer in Nebraska. College students drinking IPAs. Girls planning brewery roadtrips.

Yep. The revolution is complete.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!

Crescent Moon on Urbanspoon