Saturday, February 5, 2011

Kwik Chek

So, yes, we're still here. No excuse really ... except ... holidays, family time, work, laziness. Please forgive. We've been away too long and I'm terribly missing our weird obsession with trying new restaurants and blogging to those out there .... at least, I hope you're still out there. Below is our first blog after our long leave of absence. You can now mark us present....

Don't judge a book by its cover. This is the phrase that best describes Kwik Chek, the Mediterranean/Korean restaurant that's mysteriously located inside a Madison convenience store. Click here for their menu. It is owned by the same people who once owned Petra in Midtown. I've heard about this place for a while and have just never gotten around to trying it. However, this past Thursday I finally got to try it. DELICIOUS! I ordered supposedly the most common favorite, Bi Bim Bop (see pic below). It's a Korean dish of white rice surrounded by stir fried vegetables and marinated beef topped with spicy Korean sauce and a sunny side up egg (chicken or tofu can be substituted for Beef upon request). You order it at the counter and they bring it to you at your table sizzling in a stone bowl. You immediately stir it all around so the egg can cook fully and the Korean sauce evenly coats all the veggies and meat. I ordered mine with chicken and next time may ask them to go lightly on the Korean sauce. It was just a tad too spicy for my taste, but, nonetheless, full of flavor!! I LOVED it! Their sandwiches also look divine. I highly suggest you go there soon!! This charming and endearing shop earns 3.5 stars in my books.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Top 5 Sushi Restaurants

I think I could eat sushi for every meal of the day if I had to (or if I had the money). I love, love, love sushi!!! My sushi cravings may be my strongest cravings, next to my chocolate cravings of course. Here is a list of the places that I think deserve to be ranked in the top 5 restaurants to get sushi in Memphis, being the landlocked city it is (well, except for the mighty Mississippi, but we're not going to go there). Now, I will say the first three could pretty much all tie for first, but I had to rank them somehow.

1. DO : Owned by the same peeps who own Mollie Fontaine's and the Beauty Shop, this small sushi establishment sits comfortably in the heart of Cooper Young. I'm a HUGE fan!! Love the artsy Cooper Young feel, great front patio so you can watch people walk the streets of Cooper Young, and delicious, fresh, and funky sushi creations. I highly recommend this place. But, call to make reservations because they are usually packed on the weekends. Great date place if you're for sure that your date is a sushi lover. When you go, you must try the Kona Strawberry (white fish and strawberry with other yummy goodness) and the Surf & Turf roll. These are my two favorites! Also, the Beauty Shop sits right next door and I hear you can order their desserts while dining at DO....yummy strawberry cake and many others.

2. Edo : Talk about authenticity! This place makes you feel like you just walked into Japan. I love how authentic the atmosphere, experience, and sushi is. The sushi is fresh and sooooo good! And, the prices can't be beat for sushi. Now, it is located on Summer Avenue, but don't let that stop you. Sushi on Summer sounds shady, but is actually wonderful! Click here for our review on Edo.

3. Sekisui : Well known among Memphians, Sekisui always has fresh, authentic sushi. There are multiple locations in Memphis - Humphrey's Center, Midtown, Bartlett, Cordova, Collierville, and the gas station at Poplar and Ridgeway. And, yes I have had their sushi there. Though it sounds dangerous and appalling to order sushi at a gas station, it is quite delightful and lives up to the Sekisui standards. My favorite Sekisui establishment would have to be the Midtown location on 25 S. Belvedere. Great midtown feel, good for big groups, and fresh, delicious sushi! Click here for our review on Sekisui Midtown.

4. Sakura : If you are absolutely STARVING and you want sushi, go to Sakura. I don't think I've ever seen sushi this big. I'm not so sure about Sakura's authentic sushi method, but I can reassure you that you'll leave that place with your taste buds singing and your belly stuffed. Lots of deep frying and rich sushi rolls, but you can also choose from a wide selection of simpler rolls. I have liked every roll I've ordered. They have a ton to choose from and a long menu of various sushi concoctions. Mmmmm.

5. Bluefin : This is a great place to eat sushi if you want a downtown kind of night. It's downtown on Main street and has a techno feel if you know what I mean....lots of blue lights, random geometric videos, clean lines, loud techno music. The sushi is fresh, delicious, and funky in a good way. It's perfect for sushi and cocktails!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mollie Fontaine Lounge (Take 2)

Click here and you'll find our first review of Mollie Fontaine's. You'll notice that I never rated it. I've only been to Mollie Fontaine's for drinks and at that point had never tasted their scrumptious tapas. Now, I can say I have indulged in a few of their yummy small plates and am ready to rate :) This past Thursday, I went with three other good friends for a fun de-stressing girls night. Though we did not go until 9pm, I purposefully postponed my dinner so I could order some of their famous tapas I've been hearing about. First of all, I ordered the Key Lime Pie Martini and took on another one due to it's yummy candy-like experience....Mmmm. You must get one of these or one of their superb cosmos. In case you forgot, it is quite the girly place as you can see from the drink choices ;) Between the four of us, we split 3 tapas (Everyone but me already ate dinner so it might be wise to order more if everyone in your group is hungry). We ordered the parmesan french fries with truffle oil; warm ricotta with organic honey, urfa chile, and grilled bread; and the fontaine sliders (three mini hamburgers with gruyere cheese, arugula, bacon, pickles, onion, mustard, and mollie sauce all on warm buns). All three dishes were WONDERFUL, but the sliders and fries were definitely my favorites! This place is one-of-a-kind with delicious tapas. You must go! Fabulous girls night! For more info on the lounge, you can also check it out here. I give Mollie Fontaine Lounge 3.5 stars.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cafe Eclectic

Life is a lot like a video game. Think about the original Mario Brothers on Nintendo. True, in life we don't often jump on moving mushrooms threatening to kill us or dodge turtle shells or have a super cool soundtrack spurring us on, but the metaphor works because, just as in video games, there are numerous levels in life. Things change in both life or video games, whether moving from adolescents to college to post college, or moving from the above ground Mario level with bricks overhead to the level with the clouds in the sky or the dangerous castle level with the ominous music going on. Of course, this gives me a great excuse to post the following:

And like in Mario Brothers, in life it's all about managing to get to the next level. You've got to get to the next level. You can't just stay on one level. That's pointless. It's like living with your parents until your 50 years old or staying in college for 15 years or sitting on that first level in Mario killing all those mushroom creatures. Ahh, but when you move to the next level, what a great feeling! You feel like you've accomplished something and grown up. Of course, some people hate moving to the next level (having kids or hitting middle age for example), but you've got to do it, and you might as well do it with skill and grace. To those wishing to just hang around, my only advice is from Chamillionaire: Get on My Level!!!!!

Ok, so here's the transition. Sometimes, you visit a restaurant and you're dining and everything is pretty standard and expected, then you get to a new course and boom!! The restaurant just takes it to a new level --- to the next level. This can happen in a good or bad way, and when it does, you're blown away. When this happens in a good way, it's exactly like getting to that next level in the video game: you feel excited, relieved, encouraged to keep going, and you want more. Well, I think this pretty well describes my experiences at Cafe Eclectic.

Cafe Eclectic is pretty true to its name: a cafe with a pretty random assortment of choices ranging from omelettes for breakfast, to cupcakes for dessert, and almost everything in between. There are two locations, one in midtown near Rhodes and one downtown in Harbortown. The one in midtown is much bigger with a much larger selection and is in fact the only one I've actually eaten at. Yes, I know I just ended a sentence with "at", but I'm guessing that is allowable since this is a blog.

Though Cafe Eclectic has breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert options, Neel and I often go for lunch/brunch after church. And that's what we did on our most recent trip, along with my parents and one of my nephews. The midtown location seems to have been undergoing some renovations, so there was some mild construction in the restaurant. But the construction didn't ruin the cafe feel and that classic, laid back midtown vibe that stems from the employees and the bevy of Rhodes students eating there. (hopefully my use of "bevy" compensates for my use of "at" earlier). Cafe Eclectic is always pretty busy, but never too busy where you have to wait for a table too long.

As for the food, all of us ordered some type of breakfast/brunch dish. Neel and I split the Breakfast wrap and the smoked salmon and bagel + cream cheese course. The wrap was pretty good and quite large, with a wide variety of things in it: cheese, eggs, veggies etc. It tasted pretty fresh and homemade, and so I was completely satisfied with it, as was Neel.

The smoked salmon was good too, but the bagel and cream cheese left something to be desired. It seemed like they just took the bagel and cream cheese from a package and slapped in on the plate. Not that it was bad. It just wasn't that special and not something that I would pay $7.50 for, when I could make it at home for a lot cheaper. That of course is a general rule for me: If I can make a dish at home given my combination of laziness and (lacking) skill set, then I know it takes absolutely no time, skill, or effort for anyone else to make, much less a cook whose job it is to cook food.

Anyways, overall, everyone enjoyed their food. My Mom probably got the best looking dish, the French Omelette, stuffed with spinach and a little creme fraiche. She said it was really good, quite fresh, and one of the better omelettes she's had. It definitely looked very good and oozed out with spinach. I think that's what I will get next time I go. My Dad is a rather picky eater, but he was satisfied with his waffle and bacon. Note that he demands to have his bacon burnt to a crisp or he won't eat it. But the Cafe Eclectic staff was up to the challenge, and they sufficiently charred the bacon until it was almost unrecognizable. My Nephew got the Breakfast Croissant with Bacon, Egg, and cheese --- basically a breakfast sandwich. The most amazing thing about it was that it was absolutely huge. What was also amazing was that my nephew (age 6) scarfed the whole thing down. He seemed to like it, but I couldn't get too much out of him in terms of an in depth analysis. He was distracted by his Nintendo PSP. (quite the Ninentdo theme for this post). So in terms of brunch, it was pretty solid. Everyone enjoyed their food, and I would happily go again, but it didn't absolutely blow me away. The prices are very reasonable too, which is also a plus. Pretty much everything is below $10. So you can get out of there without losing your wallet.

But Cafe Eclectic steps up its game and goes to the next level when we're talking about desserts. It's like Mario jumping on that flag at the end of each level with the fireworks and the thrilling music. It's time to step it up and Cafe Eclectic does that with its desserts. Put simply, they have the best milkshake I've had in Memphis. I usually get the Strawberry Malted Cow Milkshake, and it is awesome. It has that perfect combination of real ice cream and malt. Neel doesn't even like Strawberry milkshakes and she loves the one at Cafe Eclectic. My only complaint is that it isn't larger because I usually chug it in about a minute since it's so good. Ice cream is my probably favorite dessert, and so I feel like I can judge a good shake, and this one is one of the better shakes I've had ever, anywhere. Period.

Now, their dessert menu isn't just limited to shakes either. They've got a wide variety of other ice cream desserts, gelato, and non-ice cream desserts too. Neel and I have tried the Charlie Brown in the past, basically vanilla and chocolate ice cream topped with chocolate fudge and peanut butter morsels. It's also amazing. I've also heard that their cupcakes are very good and made there fresh, but I've yet to try them. Trust me, it's on my to-do list. Some of the ice cream desserts are a tad pricy for the quantity you get, but you are paying for quality, and it's truely worth every penny.

So my analysis of Cafe Eclectic really has two parts. The food is solid and enjoyable. If just for food, I would probably give them 3 stars. Ahhh, but the desserts are amazing and take Cafe Eclectic to a higher plane, to that next level. Cafe Eclectic is a perfect place to go for just dessert or to take a date there post-dinner for dessert or even for kids who need to have their sweet tooth satisfied. But the food is pretty decent too and it's someplace I always enjoy going. Thus, in light of their excellent dessert execution and in honor of their ability to take it to the next level, Cafe Eclectic gets a slight bump for me, and so we give Cafe Eclectic 3.5 stars.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Top 5 Breakfast Places

Ok, now remember this is my list. You, like my husband, may have some differing opinions regarding this list, which is totally fine. But, it's my turn to list my top 5 favorite breakfast places in Memphis :) I will say, unfortunately, when I was thinking of my top 5 breakfast places, I could practically count all the Memphis breakfast places on two hands. :( Why are there so few breakfast joints in Memphis? Anyone have an answer? It is the most important meal of the day and I must admit my favorite meal of the day. So, why are we neglecting it so ??!!

Now, before I go on to my list I would like to explain to you what I think is a good breakfast place. A quality breakfast menu must offer salty (e.g., eggs, biscuits, home fries, bacon, sausage, etc) and sweet (e.g., pancakes, waffles, french toasts, fruit, etc) options. I do not like it when they offer only salty or only sweet. I also love it when breakfast places try to set themselves apart from the eggs and bacon you can make at home....e.g., when they decide to put brie in your omelet instead of boring cheddar cheese or when they add smoked salmon to your eggs benedict. Mmmmm :) Innovation is the key to a delicious and satisfying first meal of the day. On to my list.....

1. Arcade : Three words for you.....SWEET. POTATO. PANCAKES. Um, can we say YUUMMMM?!! My mouth is watering just thinking about these delicately fluffy pieces of heaven. Ok, that may be stretching it, but seriously, these are some of the best pancakes I have ever put in my mouth. Also, I love their make your own omelets and the endless's one you should try - brie, spinach, and artichoke hearts. I got that last time and it was divine! Arcade is the oldest restaurant in Memphis - they're obviously doing something right here. Check out my post and love for this place here.

2. Cafe Eclectic : Another one of my faves. If you haven't discovered this jewel....vwallah, you've discovered it now! Jon and I have been here a few times and have never been disappointed. I do love how this place likes to focus on local and healthy ingredients. That's always a major plus for me. Some of the dishes we've gotten and highly suggest are....Rachel's Breakfast Wrap, Eggs Florentine, chicken sausage, biscuits, and any of their desserts or soda fountain options. I've also heard their buckwheat pancakes and french omelet are delicious as well. [Check out our post/review of Cafe Eclectic here].

3. Cockadoos : Jon and I discovered this place not too long ago. It's relatively new in the Memphis area. It occupies the space that formerly housed Cafe 61 on Second Street. Check out our post. The atmosphere is WONDERFUL! It's very quaint and cozy....makes you want to grab a hot cup of coffee with your favorite balance of cream and sugar, a fresh out of the oven scone of your choice, and a newspaper, book, kindle, or laptop. We need more places like this. I loved their pancakes and scones. Their omelet left much to be desired, but the place is still relatively new and will improve over time.

4. Brother Juniper's : I like the local, homey feel of this place. You almost feel like you're having breakfast and coffee in your own home. It's one of those "regulars" places - it has its regular customers. The food is good, but definitely not worthy of qualifying for the top 3. I'm a fan of the mission and story behind the whole joint. Check out my post on it.

5. Bryant's : Talk about regulars. This place definitely has its regulars. It has that truckers stop feel. I've only been to Bryant's once. I know that's crazy especially since I'm a born and raised Memphian. I went with my dad a few years ago. Biscuits and gravy are delicious! The servings are huge so be hungry when you go! My husband says their chicken biscuit is wonderful - possibly even better than Chick-fil-A's.....hmmm....I'm skeptical of that statement, but will try someday.

Others worth trying...Pancake Shop on Summer, Blue Plate Cafe, Bagel Company of Memphis, Beignet Cafe, Bosco's.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trolley Stop Market

Our culture is all about hype. In fact, we probably prefer potential performance over actual performance. It's probably indicative that there is an energy drink called hype (yet I do find the name of that product strangely funny). The importance of hype and potential is also exemplified in the sports world where we are always on the look out for the next big star. We are truly tantalized by potential. And I totally fall for this. That's probably why I love the NFL and NBA drafts. Think about it. Teams almost always draft the athletic guy who's got potential and has "amazing length" over the guy who actually performed in college (go to the one minute mark in the video below).

We love to hype up the new, unknown thing. And just like that "extremely athletic" power forward with "great length," Trolley Stop Market has also been receiving its fair share of hype. For that reason, Neel and I joined some friends from church for dinner at Trolley Stop. Though the place has only been open for around 2 months, it has getting rave reviews. These reviews were confirmed to us by friends who told us that their pizza is amazing and their burger is great, one person even claiming that it's the best burger in town. Because of these bold words from multiple sources, Neel and I were both pretty excited to try this place out and our expectations were set relatively high. Oh, how we love the hype around a new restaurant!

The whole stick of this place is fresh, seasonal food. Their menu changes constantly depending on what they can get fresh, but it seems their one constant is pizza. The best place to check out their daily selection is their facebook page. Of course, this theory of fresh, seasonal food is right up our alley.

Trolley Stop actually contains a market in it where you can buy fresh fruits and veggies. For this reason, it really doesn't have a restaurant feel, at least for dinner. Instead, it has more of a market feel with a by-the-way-we-have-a-restaurant-too option. It also has a strong mid-town feel with retro art work everywhere and benches. Unfortunately, it seems that all the hype about this place flows from its lunch, not its dinner. While the lunch menu is apparently diverse with offerings of sandwiches, burgers, pizza, etc, the dinner menu is basically limited to two choices: pizza and the special. The special changes each night. When we went, it was taco night. Other nights include vegan night and burger night.

I didn't want to get pizza because I knew I was going to eat pizza at an event this upcoming weekend; so Neel and I both opted for the tacos. I got the veggie (mushrooms, beans, and peppers), and Neel got a steak & chicken combo. The meal was accompanied by fresh peach salsa and chips as an appetizer and then black beans, and corn on the cobb as sides. Unfortunately, the place kept on running out of things: they ran out of chips and they ran out of one of their desserts that we requested later. Not a good sign. After our meal, I talked to someone who explained that this place is basically a lunch place and often runs out of food later in the day. So a good strategy might be to call before you go for dinner. But supposedly, lunch is crazy busy.

Anyways, back to our meal. The peach salsa was very good, and you could tell it was very, very fresh. Unfortunately, the tacos left much to be desired. They were way too dry because they basically contained nothing except black beans, very little mushrooms or peppers. It just needed that something extra, whether it be more seasoning or salsa or perhaps guacamole. The same was true for Neel's chicken and beef tacos. Though the meat was tasty, they too were way too dry. It was almost as if they were confusing fresh and organic with plain and tasteless.

The black beans were ok but nothing to write home about either. The best part of the meal was actually the corn, and I don't even like corn on the cobb! But this corn was different because it was covered with a cream cheese glaze and with some feta. It might sound shady, but it was probably the best corn on the cobb I've ever had. We tried to finish the meal with a chocolate & peanut butter pie, but they were out. So we opted for the lemon ice box pie, and it was pretty good, sufficiently tart and the crust was awesome. I would definitely get it again just for the crust. As for the price, each taco meal was about $9, so not too expensive which was a plus.

Overall, the meal was pretty disappointing. I think that largely had to do with the hype the place had received though. But, just as with the NFL draft, I'm a sucker for the hype and want to give the place another shot at redemption, especially at lunch time. I'm going to avoid dinner again, however, and especially avoid dinner on taco night. With their limited menu and inability to keep items in stock, it seems like dinner is an ad-on anyway. I wonder why they do dinner at all rathan than scrap it and just focus on lunch and breakfast? Anyways, I'm highly ambivalent about Trolley Stop Market, disappointed with our own experience but willing to try it again. For these reasons, we give Trolley Stop Market 2.0 stars.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Top 5 Memphis Fast Food Places

Yes, fast food is food. I guess. Readers of this blog know our disdain for fast food places, but some fast food places are a lot better than others. And people eat there commonly and have strong opinions about which fast places are good or bad. So, it's time to give fast food its due and conduct a top 5 list of the best fast food places in Memphis.

Here are some ground rules for this top 5 list. The place has to be in Memphis. So sorry In and Out Burger, you don't qualify (though I wish you did). Second, when we say fast food, we mean it in its classical sense and not just a place where you get food fast. Think McDonald's, Burger King, etc. I think intuitively this means that a place must have a drive through to qualify or be extremely nationwide and offer extremely inexpensive meals. So that means places like Pei Wei, Jason's Deli, Panera Bread don't qualify. But Subway does.

Now, I admit my definition is partly contrived and gerrymandered. But if anyone can offer a better definition of a fast food place then please do. In a sense, I feel like Socrates in the Euthyphro asking the title character to define piety. Eventually, Euthyphro storms off, mad that he can't give an adequate definition. Alternatively, however, the Supreme Court may provide a way out. In one famous case, the Justices were asked to define what obscenity is. In a concurring opinion, Justice Potter Stewart noted that "hard-core pornography" is hard to define, but "I know it when I see it."

I think the same principle probably holds for fast food too. And let's face it, hard core porn and fast food have a lot in common. They are both horrible for you, they both ruin people's lives, people are addicted to both, and there are huge industries out there devoted to convincing/encouraging you to consume these products. But I digress. Now onto the list! (also, rather than link to their website, I'm linking to their wikipedia page for interesting historical facts).

1. Chick-fil-A: This is an easy #1. Chick-fil-A is pretty awesome. Great chicken nuggets, great chicken biscuits in the morning, the fries are good, and the shakes are pretty good too. Even setting aside the great food, the staff at Chick-fil-A are always super nice and the place is almost always very clean, well organized, and efficient. Who doesn't like Chick-fil-A? The real debate is not whether Chick-fil-A is #1, but which Chick-fil-A in Memphis is the busiest. My vote is the Poplar location near Mendenhall. Have you ever tried to go by that place at lunch? It's crazy busy. But a testament to how good Chick-fila-A is. Just remember, eat mor chicken.

2. Back Yard Burgers: this is where the list starts to get hard. I didn't choose BYB because of its burgers. I actually am not a huge fan of their burgers since I like my burger cooked med-rare and that ain't happening at BYB. Probably a good thing though, when you think abou it. On the bright side, at least you can tell it's real meat, and they actually put a moderate amount of meat on the burger, rather than give you mostly bread. The key at BYB is the chicken sandwiches, especially the blackened chicken sandwich. I'm a big fan. They also have the best fast food milkshakes. No doubt, real ice cream. Other good products include their cobblers and lemonade.

3. Sonic: Sonic's a summer classic. The large variety of limeades and milkshakes and ice cream desserts are the big appeal at Sonic. I'm always in the mood for an Oreo Sonic Blast. Neel and I often hit up Sonic on road trips in the rural south because they seem to be the fast food place of choice in small towns. Sonic's food isn't too bad either. I think the big plus here is the large variety at Sonic. They just seem to have some classic foods that other fast food places don't, like tater tots, onion rings, and a breakfast menu served all day. And the first few times I saw their commercials, I enjoyed them.

4. Dixie Queen: Not to be confused with Dairy Queen, Dixie Queen is a burger joint with a wide variety of frozen treats. I've only encountered it in Memphis. This selection is a bit of a shout out to my youth when I would go with friends in high school. The appeal of the chocolate malt, breezes, freezes, and other ice cream desserts was just too much. The burger and fries were above average, like their other food products. It's been a while, but I also remember this place being even cheaper than other fast food places. Thus, cheap, above average food + good ice cream = a top 5 fast food place.

5. Wendy's: Wendy's always has had a special place in my heart as my favorite, nationwide burger chain. I do like their square burgers more than any of its nationwide competitors like McDonald's, Burger King, etc. But what put Wendy's on this list are its other unique products. Though it sounds gross, Wendy's chili is actually pretty good and not awful for you. The frosty is also a classic, though it's fake ice cream. And what can top that great combo of dipping fries into your frosty? Trust me, it's good. Finally, the chicken nuggets are better than most places. So there's some good tasty selections at Wendy's. Their new jingle is also catchy.

Addendum: I didn't put Jerry's Sno Cone on the list because I've never actually eaten any food there. And who actually goes to Jerry's for the food anyway? Ok, that's my list, how do you rank them?