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?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Blog Design

As you can probably tell, we changed our blog layout and colors a bit --- not too big of a change though. We didn't want to shock the system. I think the layout will make for easier navigation and allow us to post more information. You should especially check out the right side and the top 5 lists. Let us know if you like the change! Cha...cha...changes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

YoLo Frozen Yogurt

So cupcakes are no longer the hot thing. (Don't worry Muddy's, I'll stay faithful to you). Instead, it has apparently been replaced by frozen yogurt. The rest of the country has known this for a while, as a variety of yogurt places have opened up outside of Memphis, places like Pinkberry, Yogurtland, and Red Mango. Memphis is a bit behind schedule, but just recently, we jumped on the train as YoLo Frozen Yogurt opened in Collierville square. In an effort to conduct a review of this hot new place, and to please our growing blog audience, Neel and I trekked all the way out there to try YoLo out. No worries though, another location in East Memphis is scheduled to open in a few weeks, near the Huey's on poplar. YoLo also has a facebook page, which probably has more info on it than their website does.

The gimmick at YoLo is very similar to Yogurtland: you serve yourself and control how much yogurt and toppings you want. You are then charged based on the total weight of your selection. Basically, you walk in and pick up a generous sized cup. I'm pretty sure you can only get one size. That is part of their strategy to make you buy/spend more. Of course you don't have to fill up the cup, but for most people, it's hard not to. The cup is probably equivalent to a large or extra large at TCBY.

After grabbing your cup, you then proceed along the wall where there are yogurt machines with about 8 flavors of yogurt. You "pour" it yourself. So you determine how much yogurt you want, and you can also mix and match yogurt flavors. Then, you keep walking and there is a huge selection of toppings from all over the map: fresh fruit, cereal, granola, chocolates of all kind, candy of all kinds, etc, etc. Basically, if you can imagine it, they have it. So, you pick which toppings you want and how much of each topping, mixing and matching to your heart's desire. Finally, you get to the cashier, put your cup on the scale, and you are charged appropriately. It is a flat rate, X cents per once. I forgot the exact amount.

Now, in light of this set up, there is a huge strategy element to getting your money's worth. You shouldn't just fill up your cup to the brim with yogurt because you won't have room for toppings. You might want to think about which items weigh less than others. You are charged the same thing for every flavor and every topping. It is all based on total weight and that's important to remember. Now, besides stategy, there is also a time factor because there is a line and who waits to back up the line? Ah, the joys of self-imposed social pressure. (See below, with the humerous facial expressions).

Anyways, when Neel and I went, it was pretty crowded. It seemed everyone was excited about the place because of the concept and because it had just recently opened. The yogurt flavors were Vanilla Bean, Strawberry, Triple Chocolate, Blueberry Tart, Birthday Cake, Pomegranate, and Mango Sorbet. One flavor was out of order. I had already been to Yorgurtland; so I was somewhat prepared for the experience. I got a blend of Strawberry, Pomegranate, and Blueberry Tart. I filled up my cup with too much yogurt but not all the way. Thus, I left room for my toppings: strawberries, blackberries, and gummy bears. Unfortunately, I failed to mention any of my strategy tips to Neel. So she filled up her cup with almost all yogurt --- triple chocolate and vanilla bean --- and had little room left for toppings. But she added what she could, a few chocolate toppings. At the cashier, we rang up a total price around $13. Now that is clearly much more than we would have spent at TCBY, but that is partly our failure to understand the process and to be efficient as possible.

Now, onto the evaluation. I love the concept of YoLo. It's genius on their part because they have invented a way that is guaranteed to get people to spend more on their product. By using one large cup size and then having the customer select their own toppings, they are basically banking on the gluttony of the American consumer. There is no way the average person is going to say no to all those toppings they have laid out there.

Kids are also going to love this place. But this place isn't just for minors and the incompetant. I'm a big fan too because I'm relatively self-disciplined, and I love the fact that now I can mix and match yogurt flavors and choose my topping to yogurt ratio. That is a huge advantage over TCBY.

As for the actual yogurt, YoLo is good but not amazing. It's on par with TCBY but maybe a tad better. I think the big advantage will be the tart flavors. When I went, they had blueberry tart, and it was good. I'm guessing/hoping they are mimicking Yogurtland in this regard and will vary their yogurt flavors on a regular basis and always have a variety of "tart" selections: tart blueberry, tart strawberry, etc. To give you an idea, I would suggest going to the Yogurtland website and checking out the wide variety of flavors they have, including many funky flavors and tart flavors. Of course, this is just my hope; so we will have to wait and see how they execute. But overall, the yogurt quality was good.

Ironically, the draw of this place is not the yogurt per se but the toppings. You can tell all their toppings are very fresh and, as a result, are very good. A special shout out needs to go to their fruit selections. These are not your standard yogurt fruit selections: ie frozen and syrupy. Nope, they actually tasted like fresh fruit, and they had a great variety: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, kiwi, etc, etc. Moreover, the topping selection is huge. Even bigger than the Yogurtland that I want to. Thus, you are guaranteed to find numerous toppings that you will like. Once this great variety is combined by your unlimited control, you can make your experience different each time, from fruity to sweet to everything in between.

As for price, it's a bit of a mixed bag because it all turns on self control. I'm pretty sure you can get out of there at a reasonable price if you are wise about about much yogurt used and how much toppings, etc. Of course, the whole system is set up to get you to spend more. So, if you just go in there and add stuff uncontrollably, then it's going to be more than most other yogurt/ice cream places. But even then, you are probably getting what you pay for.

Overall, though, YoLo is a great concept and it is executed very well. For that reason, I can heartily endorse the hot new yogurt trend and am excited that it has finally reached Memphis. Thus, we give YoLo 3.5 stars.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Brother Juniper's

Does anyone know who the original Brother Juniper was?? I didn't until I looked it up - he was a humble cook for St. Francis of Assisi. Even though the Brothers were poor, Brother Juniper always made delicious and nutritious meals for the Brothers. I strongly encourage you to click here for more history on how Brother Juniper's came to Memphis and its mission. Great story, purpose, and love for the community. Last Friday, I enjoyed an early breakfast with a good friend at Brother Juniper's. I've been to Brother Juniper's once before and thought it was good, but wasn't super impressed by the food. I just figured I ordered the wrong thing. Since everyone raves about this place, I thought I would give it another try. This time I ordered the #3: Two eggs scrambled with pesto, roasted red peppers, spinach, tomatoes and topped with mozzarella cheese.

It was good, but definitely not the best breakfast I've had in Memphis. I rarely ever reach for the salt and pepper shakers at restaurants, but this time I felt like I couldn't stop. The food was healthy and good, but lacked a little flavor in my opinion. But, when I'm hungrier, I want to go again and possibly get one of the open face omelets, which I here are delicious! The atmosphere is very charming and almost makes you feel like you're eating at home. In my opinion, the mission, story, sweet staff, and atmosphere outweigh the food, but I'm still convinced I'm not ordering their best dishes and wish to keep going back. I give Brother Juniper's 3 stars.