Finally made Calgary last night by midnight. We are looking forward to seeing what Calgary has to eat. BBQ seems perfect for an early lunch. Seafood and snow crab are also featured on the menu. Booker’s, a cavernous joint is our first stop. Sufficiently scruffy outside, slick and industrial chic inside, a bank of flatties lights up the bar, funky art and a Jim Beam guitar grace the walls. Buddy Holly, Johnny Rivers, Elvis, SRV and Clapton echo through the towering space.
We order up a couple of local beers, Grasshopper, a nice refreshing wheat beer and an app of burnt ends. The burnt ends arrive quickly. They are tasty, prized cubes of brisket but mostly fat. Rob says this is exactly how they are every time he has tried them. Two are enough for me.
Our mains, BBQ smoked chicken for me and St. Louis ribs for Rob arrive literally on top of our appetizer. Not sure if the poor spacing was due to a virtually empty restaurant at 12:30 on a Wednesday or because we ordered them after we told her what we wanted for mains.
Entrees come with BBQ standards of corn on the cob and baked beans. Whipped potatoes replace potato salad. My perfectly smoked chicken, moist with smoky pink meat, has toughened skin from the smoker. The Kansas City sauce which lends a delicious sweet heat remedies this. Rob’s ribs are excellent, tasty and well smoked. A good smoke ring balanced by a sweet maple bourbon BBQ sauce.
The beans are homemade, decent BBQ beans. They are not very sweet and don’t appear to have any bacon or brisket added. They are not to my preference and I leave them. The potatoes are bland and unseasoned. They could uses a good deal more butter. On second thought. It’s BBQ. stop being creative and serve potato salad as god intended. The corn is a nice surprise. This is usually a throw away item that does nothing more than add colour to a plate full of meat. Bookers corn is dropped into boiling water for 5 when ordered. Fresh, sweet, toothsome. Not mushy like 99% of other BBQ joints. No bread is served. BBQ demands bread.
When it rains it pours. Ottawa, after having existed in a BBQ vacuum for so long, now has a third joint gracing the real BBQ landscape and we have heard unconfirmed rumours of yet another joint to open on Bank. Fatboy’s Southern Smokehouse opened this week on the Byward Market. Rob and I headed down there last Satuday to check it out.
The entrance is warm and beckoning and we were immediately greeted by friendly staff. The interior is brightly lit, bustling, charming and traditional with a warm faux wood floor, accented with a brick wall painted nostalgia-style with the Fatboy’s logo, featuring pine planking and steel accents, red checkered tablecloths, comfy padded armless chairs, and a bright open kitchen showcasing a monster Southern Pride smoker that holds 750 pounds of meat. They have a smaller one elsewhere as well. The large bar area with stools and tables propped up on real Jack Daniels casks is cheery.
Flatties featuring sports abound. The opposite wall features a replica 1914 Harley Davidson. More Harley and Jack Daniels paraphernalia complete the decor. The bathrooms at the rear of the restaurant are marked by huge cans of Bud light and Budweiser. Fun, but the server has to explain to each customer which is which. Still, fun.
We are seated and I order Waupoos, which they don’t carry. They make up for this by having a small but decent beer menu including Rolling Rock and Shock Top. Fatboy’s also offers small pictures that hold two beers worth and saves you half a loonie. Rob and I both order a 1/2 rack each of St. Louis cut pork side ribs. We decide to share the Campfire Baked Beans, Kansas City Cornbites with Maple Butter, Tangy Coleslaw and Picnic Potato Salad. The menu features some other genuinely southern items like Fried Green Tomatoes Warm Cinnamon Apples, Catfish and Memphis BBQ Spaghetti. These are all items I will definitely be back to try.
Fatboy’s serves the sauce on the side. Memphis Traditional. They offer 3: Memphis BBQ (Sweet, brown sugar, molasses) Hillbilly Heat (Memphis BBQ with a nice mild kick) and Memphis mustard (yellow mustard and brown sugar, non traditional). Hillbilly Heat was the clear winner at our table where we tend to like a sweet heat style of BBQ.
Our food arrives shortly. The ribs look amazing. We dig into those first. They have great hickory smoke flavour, a nice rosy smoke ring and a most excellent bark. The real deal. With the exception of the potato salad, the sides are good but not outstanding. The beans are sweet with chunks and bits of brisket with little or no heat. Very traditional. They just were not as sweet as I like them and seemed a bit bland. As per my rule regarding BBQ beans, if they are not excellent I don’t eat more than a spoonful or two. I did not eat them. The Tangy Coleslaw was simply not. It appeared to be completely undressed. I loved the cornbread but it was not Rob’s favorite. Fatboy’s cornbread is of the cakey sweet variety. I also love the coarser, lightly sweet cornbread. I’m happy either way. I was however hard pressed to find any maple flavour in the maple butter.
The Picnic Potato Salad was by far the best side we tried. And one of the better potato salads I’ve had anywhere. The potatoes are just slightly undercooked and the salad is lightly dressed with chunks of bell peppers. The highlight of the meal was the meat and I would go back in a heartbeat for the ribs and some hillbilly heat. The sides are fine but we would probably opt for different ones next time. A notable missing component of all the BBQ joints in Ottawa is crunch. There is no crunch on any of the plates. In the south you are often served a few slices of pickle and sometimes a slice of red onion on the side.
Our server let us know that the restaurant was still experimenting with the dessert menu. Today they offered a Southern apple dumpling. Rob and I shared the small portion which was good but it was only marginally better than a PC frozen apple blossom. To finish we had a shot of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. Awesome. Fatboy’s is one of the only places in town that carries it.
Ok. What you have all been asking. Which is better? Fatboy’s or SmoQue Shack? There is no better. They are both very different and both are welcome to fill us up with awesome BBQ. SmoQue Shack is a little more on the “boutique” side, offering a taste of world BBQ including Texas beef ribs and Jamaican jerk, with slightly more exotic ingredients gracing its sauces. Fatboy’s is down-home Southern: fried green tomatoes, catfish, and sweet heat on the side. Can’t wait for their patio to open! We look forward to visiting both for a long time to come.
Today, Friday is our first full day in Nashville. We are staying in a hotel downtown and have had to contend with jack hammering below our window until 12:30 am and were awakened by it at 7 am. Luckily the hotel can move us to the other side of the building for our next two nights.
I am determined to find cowboy boots here. I love them and every time I am overwhelmed by the selection and can’t choose, so I go home empty handed. I’m going to start a “cowboy boots go with everything” trend back in Ottawa.
I love country ham. A big bone-in slab of salty goodness. Why cant we get ham like this back home? This is so far removed from the pressed meat we call breakfast ham. Southern country ham is salt-cured instead of smoke-cured. The red-eye gravy, made from pan drippings and a healthy shot of coffee, is not salty and is excellent. I am no judge of red-eye gravy as this is my first experience with it, but I could drink this stuff. Perfect with the ham. My potatoes are fine and the eggs are perfect over medium. The biscuit is light, moist and fluffy and no butter is needed.
Rob’s chicken fried steak is fresh made and hand dipped not frozen. It comes hot, crispy and juicy. His pepper gravy… flour, cream and pepper, is flavourful, thick and has a nice pepper edge.
Our afternoon is spent relaxing…well, me reading and Rob doing laundry. We head into Franklin, Tennessee for an evening of BBQ and good music. Mickey Roo’s, a Texas style BBQ joint is recommended to us and seems like a great option. You can smell the hickory smoke as soon as you leave the car. Mickey’s is decorated in late “junkyard” and has comfy picnic tables covered in western handkerchief printed oil cloth. Mexican horse blankets are provided for boney bums. Big Texas atmosphere and a Texas sized stage are in house. Flatties feature Nascar and NFL.
I grab a cold Yuengling beer so I can think after coming in out of the 104 degree heat. Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the US. Good beer, but any beer is good when it is 104 degrees. I swear you cannot get a buzz on in Nashville. It’s so hot the beer just leaks out of your pores. You can’t keep up.
First off we order up some Big Joe’s Diablos, smoked shrimp stuffed into a jalepeno, wrapped in bacon and covered in Monterey Jack. Glad we chose the order of two to share because they are huge. I can see as I’m sure you can, that these have to be fantastic, and they would have been had they been heated up properly. They had obviously been cooked sometime earlier and so were just merely good.
Rob and I both order the baby backs and two sides. I get potato salad and Boot Kick’n beans (hot). Rob gets Bullstrings (fried onion strings) and Lone Star Beans (not hot). The ribs are slow smoked for 8 hours over hickory smoke, so they are more tender than the usual 4-hour ribs. These are really meaty ribs. Hot and sweet BBQ sauce is provided on the side. The sweet still had a nice little mild heat but more vinegar flavour would have been nice. The potato salad is chunky with egg and mustard. It is good, standard fare.
The onion strings are crispy and delicious while they are hot, but because they are so thin they cool fast and are less so. The beans are very good. The Lone Star beans are sweet but not overly so, while the hot beans have a nice heat, larger beans, and good flavour but could have done with a bit of molasses, although a squirt of the mild BBQ sauce fixes them right up.
After dinner we head on over to the Bunganut Pig to watch Ottawa boy and friend Trevor Finlay perform. We sit outside with his fiancee Josee, and enjoy a few beers and a beautiful Nashville evening listening to Trevor and his guitar.
It’s Monday and our Road trip hits the highway today. We check out of the Monteleone at 11-ish and spend some time getting the car wired….GPS (here on in referred to as Stella 3000 as it’s a significant upgrade from GPS models used on previous trips) and iPod. Warren Zevon comes on and we are off. We hope to be in Baton Rouge for lunch and in Natchez before dinner. It is already 93 degrees.
Rob made some executive decisions last evening while programing Stella 3000 for today’s trip. He opted to not take the Great River Road because it is massively circuitous and would add half again as much time to the trip. Other roadies recommended Highway 61. Stella is optimized for scenic routes and she does take us briefly off 61 to the River Road.
The first part of 61 or Airport Rd is a dusty, haze covered, divided highway, lined with billboards for hurricane shutters, seafood and po’boy vendors, gas stations, food marts, storage units, motels and fast food. After leaving the city the road runs alongside algae coated swamps filled with elegant ibis.
Stella 3000 takes us on a scenic detour at this point, past neat little homes and more seafood and BBQ shacks. We avoid another stretch of strip malls. We are on the River Road now but the river is hidden by huge levees. The detour is only a few miles long and she returns us to 61. We stop at a Roadrunner for drinks, ice and a cooler. A sign in the window advertizes “Hot Boudin,” a cajun sausage specialty. Boudin is a white sausage made with pork and rice. We order one to go to share. It is hot, medium spicy, course ground in texture, and loosely packed. Very tasty and holds us over until lunch. We wonder at the advisability of buying a home-made hot meat product at a gas station, but it is true road food. We’ll let you know in about 12 hours if it was a huge lapse of judgement.
Back on 61 we pass oil refineries dotting the shores of the Mississippi and field after field of sugar cane, much like the corn fields back home at this time of year. Entering Baton Rouge we come into a sea of box stores, fast food outlets, auto malls and drive-thru daiquiri joints. Only in the South: Drive-thru liquor and road pops on ice.
We don’t enter Baton Rouge downtown but remain on the outskirts where we have chosen Chimes East for lunch. Foodie buzz from a variety of sources rates it one of the top three lunch spots in the city.
Chimes is large and typical of a chain resto in decor. There are a couple locations in Baton Rouge but no where else apparently. The beer menu is extensive and we order small Blue Moons. They are refreshing in the now 100 degree heat of the day. We order up crawfish mac and cheese to share and a po’boy each. Rob gets shrimp and I choose catfish. The mac arrives nicely blistered and bubbling. The loose sauce is garlicky, cheesy and has a medium spice heat that is soaked up by large shell pasta. AND there is lots of crawfish.
Our dressed po’boys arrive with good fries. Rob’s shrimp has a very light crisp batter which allows the delicate taste of the gulf shrimp to shine through. A previous complaint with other po’boys containing fried shrimp was the heavy handed batter treatment. Rob douses his liberally with Tabasco sauce, which results basically in Tabasco-infused mayo. My catfish po’boy contains a nice sized fillet and is also lightly battered. The bun is good, slightly crispy and chewy. The ridged pickles really make this sandwich. The only downside to Chimes is the water they serve. It tastes and smells chemically. Buy a drink (we’re sure that was the plan all along).
Back on the road which is now being called Scenic Highway 61. This is pretty much a joke until about 25 miles from the Mississippi border, when the highway becomes peach coloured, the landscape turns to gently rolling grassy hills lined with soft pines and deciduous trees, and we start passing the entries to Antebellum homes. Last time we drove from New Orleans straight north to Jackson on a dull interstate which revealed none of Mississippi’s character or charm.
Highway 61 lead us directly into Natchez, one of the most adorable towns in the United States. We will explore it a little more this evening and tomorrow before heading up the Natchez Trace to Jackson.
We walk to dinner at “Pig Out Inn“, a BBQ joint on Canal Street, a stones throw from the Mississippi, and not far from the Eola Hotel where we are staying overnight. The streets of Natchez are deserted of both cars and pedestrians due to the stifling heat. We can walk in the middle of the downtown streets. It is almost eerie. The walk gives us a chance to see a little of this pretty Southern town, which imparts the slight scent of mildew on the still hot evening air. I would imagine that this place never quite dries and that is carried in the breeze. No matter, as we approach our destination the scent turns intoxicating: woodsmoke from a BBQ pit…aaahhhh.
The Pig Out Inn which advertises itself as “Swine Dining at it’s Finest” is all but empty as is the whole town it seems. The decor is an eclectic mix of old doors serving as table tops, junkyard finds, coke paraphernalia, a tag cloud on one wall about “Why I Love The South” and Elvis presiding over the whole place from a corner. While we’re there, a trickle of take-out and dine-in customers flow through the place.
We chat with one of the folks behind the counter about the town and what to see. She explains that it is a very slow time of the year due to the heat. As we are ordering at the counter, she tells us that everything is made in house. We both ordered a two meat combo so we could share a bit of everything. The dinners also included two sides. We shared a large orders of ribs, smoked chicken, beef brisket, hot sausage, beans, potato salad, coleslaw and of course soft, squishy white bread.
The Pig offers some of the best BBQ we have had in the South. We both agreed that the sausage and beans were right up there with Austin’s Green Mesquite (sausage) and Famous Dave’s (beans). The sausage was firm and juicy and hotly spiced. You could see the chunks of red pepper. Excellent. The beans are of the sweet variety which are my personal preference, but at the Pig they smoke them along with the meat. These beans would be overly sweet if not for the smoke. The smoke cuts the sugar and creates a perfect balance in flavour. The potato salad was creamy with large chunks of potato and green onion. It was nicely dressed and not too vinegary. The coleslaw was perfectly serviceable and not overdressed. It was quite fine coleslaw by any standard but it was just outclassed by the quality of everything else on the plate.
The brisket was succulent and tender with a dark black bark and a rosy smoke ring that exceeded a 1/4 inch. The house BBQ sauce comes warm and is smoky sweet with a spicy finish which complimented the strong flavours of the brisket. The ribs were also excellent, meaty, juicy and with a nice amount of smoke. The smoked chicken was flavourful but slightly on the dry side. The BBQ sauce corrected that. After an extremely satisfying meal that found us picking at leftovers on our plates, our server brought us over a cob of corn to try. It is also cooked in the smoker along with the meat. I don’t order corn in a BBQ joint and if it comes with the meal I generally discard it after a bite. It’s the one thing BBQ places cannot cook. It sits in a pot all day, and is overcooked, mushy and waterlogged. Not so at the Pig. The corn is actually a treat here. It is toothsome, bursting with flavour and a delicate smokiness. Well done!
As we finished up dinner she also presented us with two of their homemade mini pecan pies which I cannot wait to try but am too full of excellent BBQ to contemplate right now.
Here’s a sampling of reasons why we like the genteel charm of Natchez.
Everything sounds better in Spanish! Carne en su Sugo translates literally to “meat in juice”. We first experienced this dish at Tres Agaves (now just called Tres) in San Francisco. The dish was so memorable that I had to revisit it on a second trip several years later. Jalisco, a province in central western Mexico, bordered by the pacific ocean, is renown as the center of Mexico’s tequila industry, home to the Huichol people and mariachi music (I wouldn’t spread that around though if I were them). Tres Agaves specialized in Jaliscan food which is one of Mexico’s distinctive regional cuisines. Carne en su Sugo is a representative hearty soup, which I think you will find delicious and pleasantly different from your experiences with other Mexican styles. I grabbed this recipe off the web some time ago and have made only tiny changes. I cannot find the source to credit the author. My apologies.
Carne en su Sugo
1 pound bacon, diced
2 pounds medium hamburger
1 large can tomatillos
1 cup cilantro
4 cloves garlic
2 19 0z cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 large onion, diced
sour cream, garnish
Fry up bacon very crisp. Add half of the onion to pot and saute until tender. Add beef to the pot, cook, and break up meat.
In a blender: add tomatillos, the rest of the onion, garlic and cilantro. Blend until liquid.
Add mixture to beef mixture in pot.
Stir in beans and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer for 20 minutes.
Serve in bowls with lime and cilantro for garnish. Serve with flour or corn tortillas tortillas.
Remember to heat your tortillas. It makes such a difference to their taste. You can do this by wrapping them in a clean, wet dish towel and microwaving them for 1 minute, or better, heat them on a greased griddle, 10 seconds per side.
** The lime garnish is really more than just for aesthetics. A squirt of fresh lime juice is essential to making the flavours really pop in this dish.
Click HERE to download a printable version of this recipe.