Tag: restaurant

Review: Hutchens BBQ – Benton, KY

Every spring, I head down to Kentucky Lake for some spring fishing with my dad and my brother.  We have a good time fishing, laughing, and eating.  A couple of times, we’ve stumbled across BBQ joints that I would have never found otherwise.  Such was the case this year when we happened upon Hutchens BBQ in Benton, KY.

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This was clearly a local joint serving lots more than BBQ, but BBQ is what we were there for.  There were a good number of locals in the place, but we were welcomed right off and offered up sweet tea while we looked over the menu (I love sweet tea).  I realized that we had arrived only 20 minutes before closing time, so we placed our orders quickly and learned a little about the history of the place.

In 1947, W.C. Hutchens purchased a building in downtown Benton, Kentucky to open a new restaurant. The first menu included a variety of items such as BBQ sandwiches, hamburgers, cokes, fountain drinks, coffee, BLTs, hot ham and cheese, country ham sandwiches, hot dogs, and lots of ice cream and milkshakes.

Since then the restaurant has grown into a full-service dining experience but still values the importance of taste, good service, and hospitality. We still make a world-class BBQ sandwich as well. 

My brother and I ordered the large BBQ sandwich and dad order the turkey.  We were served up really large sandwiches with our choice of mild, medium, or hot BBQ sauce.  I had the medium.  It was a thin sauce with a nice kick.  The pork was very tender and while it had a definite smoke ring, there was an absence of any other seasoning as far as I could tell.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the BBQ and would recommend the place.

I love finding little BBQ joints like Hutchens in the places that I visit.  These joints have a long history in their communities and are obviously doing something right or they wouldn’t last as long as they have.  

Here’s how I’d rate my visit to Hutchens BBQ:

  • BBQ – B
  • Side Dishes – A
  • Atmosphere – B
  • Value – A
  • Overall – A-

If you find yourself in Benton, KY for a little fishing or boating, make your way over to Hutchens BBQ.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  I know I wasn’t, and I look forward to stopping in again when we make the trip next year.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Sonny’s BBQ – Cape Coral, FL

I recently visited my folks in Southwest Florida.  They know that I’d rather eat BBQ than just about anything else, and they also like to share their discoveries with me.  So, when it came time to grab lunch they steered us towards the Sonny’s BBQin Cape Coral.  

Sonny’s is a BBQ franchise with locations in 9 states.  A quick look at their website find ~125 locations listed.  With that kind of succes, you’d think they must do something right.  Turns out, they do.

The place was pretty nice and business was a bit slow given that we were late for lunch and early for dinner.  Nonetheless, we ordered up some sweet tea and took a look at the menu.  It was extensive.  I opted for a trip to the salad bar and the brisket plate with a couple of sides.  Turns out, I should have skipped the salad bar.  The brisket portion was generous, and the side dishes were large as well.

The brisket was sliced thin and had a good flavor.  I had a little more fat on my plate than I’d prefer, but it was tastey.  There was a variety of sauces on the table, all original Sonny’s flavors.  They were all pretty good, but I opted to enjoy my brisket without sauce.  My folks went for the sweet sauce and enjoyed it as well.

They had a decent selection of side dishes.  I opted for cole slaw and green beans since I’ve been trying to watch my diet a little.  They were both very good, but I was sure wishing for that I’d ordered some of the BBQ beans or baked sweet potato that my folks enjoyed.  They looked great.

Here’s how I’d rate my trip to Sonny’s:

  • BBQ – B
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – B
  • Value – B
  • Overall – B

Overall, a solid joint that I’d enjoy eating at again.  And, given their growing footprint that’s highly likely.


Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Famous Dave’s BBQ

I wanted to like it.  Really, I did.  I mean I’ve seen Famous Dave on TV and really wanted to like my first experience eating at one of his BBQ restaurants.  But unfortunately, I was underwhelmed.  

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Okay, I liked a couple of the spicier BBQ sauces on the table, the sweet cornbread muffin, and the complimentary sample of BBQ chips that was served for the purposes of sampling the 5 BBQ sauces on the table.  My wife ordered the smoked salmon spread from the appetizer menu and it was pretty good.

But as for the BBQ, I found it to be medicore.  It wasn’t smokey, it didn’t seem all that fresh, and unfortunately they served it with a big dose of their house sauce on top.  I had the combo lunch plate with pulled pork and brisket.  I found it to be very bland when I could get a taste around the sauce.

This seems to me like an example of the franchise concept driving the quality of the food to a level less than the founder started with or intended.  At least, I hope so.  

The restaurant itself felt like I’d stepped into an Applebees or a TGI Fridays.  Again, the franchise thing has driven all the originality and uniqueness right out of the place.  If you blindfolded me before I entered and then you handed me a menu from one of the aforementioned franchises, I would’ve thought that’s where I was.  It’s kinda sad actually.

Here’s my report card:

  • BBQ – C
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – C
  • Value – C
  • Overall – C

Nonetheless, I’d rather eat mediocre, chain-BBQ-restaurant food than a lot of other franchises.  So considering the alternatives in the greater Branson, MO area, I’d probably eat at Famous Dave’s again.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Country BBQ – Bethalto, IL

It’s been awhile since I found and reviewed a new BBQ joint.  However, this past weekend I had some time to kill and I was in an area that I don’t often visit.  So, I plugged “BBQ” into Google Maps on my iPhone and found out that I was only a couple of miles from Country BBQ.

I followed the guidance directions and pretty soon, I’d located Country BBQ.  It’s a small place that you’d miss if you weren’t looking for it, but that’s usually where you find the best BBQ.  So I found a spot to park, stepped to the counter, ordered, and grabbed one of the dozen or so tables in the place.

I ordered the 2-meat plate.  Sliced beef and pulled pork, along with sides of cole slow and BBQ beans.  They did have sweet tea (the mark of any good BBQ joint), but I skipped it as I’m watching the extra calories and cutting them out where I can.

Country BBQ - Bethalto, IL

The food came out quick enough and I was impressed by the generous portions. Definitely a good value.  The cole slaw was kind of a cross between a vinegar and creamy based slaw, but it was very good.  The BBQ beans were okay, but there was a flavor there that I couldn’t put my finger on and frankly didn’t care for all that much.  When I ordered “sliced beef”, I assumed that would be brisket.  Disappointingly, it was closer to a shaved roast beef and not very “bbq like”.  However, the pulled pork was very good.  It was finely chopped, but I really enjoyed the flavor.  

There were 3 kinds of sauce on the table.  I chose the “regular” sauce and while it was thin, I thought it was very good.  I did not try the mustard sauce or the other sauce that appeared to be a thick KC style sauce.  Two giant slabs of Texas toast rounded out the meal.

Overall, I liked the joint.  I’d recommend the pulled pork for sure.  Here’s how Country BBQ in Bethalto, IL stacks up on my score card:

  • BBQ – B
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – B
  • Value – A
  • Overall – B

If you find yourself in the area, give this place a shot.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  

Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Bogart’s Smokehouse

Over the past month or so, I’ve become aware of a new BBQ joint in St. Louis called Bogart’s Smokehouse.  Now all I really need is an excuse to go eat BBQ so when one of the owners dropped me a line here at Grill & Barrel asking me to pay them a visit, I had all the excuse I needed.

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I didn’t annonce myself, but I showed up this afternoon on my way home from work.  I timed my visit to be just after the lunch rush since I’d heard that they do a crazy amount of business at lunch time.  Even at 2:00pm, there were no empty tables inside to be had.  I figure that’s a good sign.

I was met at the door by Mike Macchi, one of the partners, but I kept a low profile, stepped to the counter, ordered a combo plate, and took up a seat to sample the fare.  What I got was a plate piled high with brisket & pulled pork on an open hoagie roll, pit beans, and a side of pork rinds.  

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I sampled each of the four sauces that were on the table.  They were all uniquely named and uniquely different.  There was what I’d call a St. Louis style sauce called Sweet Maegan Ann’s.  It’s a sweet tomato based sauce.  Mad Maddie’s Vinegar sauce is a thin vinegar based sauce as the name suggests.  Pineapple Express is a thin sauce that unmistakably has a hint of pineapple flavor.  And the sauce that I like the best, VooDoo Sauce.  That’s a thinner sauce with a peppery kick.

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So how’s the food?  The pulled pork was some of the best in St. Louis.  I really enjoyed the taste and texture, and the VooDoo sauce was a great compliment.  The brisket was very good, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the rub.  I couldn’t tell if the rub was applied pre or post cook, but there was a beautiful smoke ring and it was very tender and flavorful.  And the pit beans?  Some of the best BBQ beans I’ve had.  I learned that they cook the beans on the pit with the brsiket for 12 hrs.  They were smokey, peppery, and really tasty.

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As I was wrapping up my lunch, one of the partners stopped by my table and we began to chat.  Mike gave me the background on the relationship between Bogart’s & Pappy’s(one of my Top 5 BBQ Joints in St. Louis).  It turns out that the 4 partners who own Bogart’s started it up with Pappy’s blessings.  They still work with Pappy’s, but they now have a chance to do their own thing as well.  That’s a pretty sweet deal, and Pappy’s deserves a tip of the hat for being open to helping their folks spread their wings a bit.

Mike took me out back and showed me the Ole Hickory & Southern Pride pits that they’re cooking with.  We chatted about the pits and he let me peek at the butts that were finishing up on the Ole Hickory.  

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All in all, I enjoyed my visit and will definitely return to try the other items on the menu.  Here’s how I’d rate Bogart’s Smokehouse:

  • BBQ – A
  • Side Dishes – A
  • Atmosphere – A
  • Value – B
  • Overall – A

Bogart’s is definitely worthy of a stop if you’re in the St. Louis area.  They’re in the Soulard neighborhood between Busch Stadium and Anheuser Busch Brewery, and right behind the Soulard Farmer’s Market.  I think I’ll be revising my “Best in St. Louis” list to include Bogart’s.

Here’s their address:

Bogarts Smokehouse

1627 S. 9th Street

St. Louis, MO

Cheers,
Braddog 

Review: Martin’s BBQ Joint

A couple of years ago, I stumbled on the blog of a guy in Tennessee who was chronicling his journey in starting a BBQ joint.  Now I don’t think there’s a restaurant in my future…ever.  But I thoroughly enjoyed following the story of Martin’s BBQ Joint and pitmaster Pat Martin.  I mentally put his joint on my list of places to visit if the opportunity ever arose.

Martin’s BBQ Joint – Nolensville, TNWell recently I had the opportunity to travel through Nashville on a BBQ related trip of my own.  I’d also had the good fortune to meet Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker at the Business of BBQ class in January.  When Carey found out I was coming through town, we agreed to meet up for lunch.  Carey told me on the phone that “Pat’s is the best place in town”.  It took me a minute to realize that he was talking about Pat Martin.  That sealed the deal, we were headed to Martin’s BBQ to meet Carey for lunch.

The Hog CoffinI’d read about the original joint and frankly forgotten that Pat had moved into a new building.  But when we rolled through Nolensville, TN, there was no mistaking that we were at Martin’s when we spotted the “Hog Coffin” parked out front.  Now that’s a serious BBQ rig.  It’ll cook 6 hogs at once and has a big Ole Hickory pit mounted on it as well.  We took a few minutes to admire the rig while we waited for Carey.

Once inside, do you know how I could tell we were in a BBQ joint?  There’s a freakin’ pit in the middle of the dining area.  I’m talking about a hog cookin’ pit.  Whole hog is Pat’s specialty and they cook them in full view of the diners.  Now I wasn’t there on a day when they were cooking whole hog, so that means I have to get back there another time when they are.

We ordered up a couple of sampler platters and Carey had the brisket tacos.  We had baby back ribs, brisket, pulled pork, bbq beans, green beans, and cornbread on the platters.  I’ll just cut to the chase, I loved it all.  The brisket was probably my favorite meat, and the bbq beans were my favorite side dish.  But it was all good!

As we were finishing our lunch Pat came by and we spent some time talking about their pending trip to Memphis in May, the merits of the Backwoods Smoker that I was there to pick up, the Big Apple Block Party, and a variety of other bbq topics.  It was great to have lunch with Carey & Pat, a couple of guys who are definitely living out their bbq dreams.

If you find yourself anywhere near Nashville, TN, then I’d recommend diverting to Nolensville (just southeast of Nashville) and eating at Martin’s BBQ.

Cheers,

Braddog

Review: Bandana’s BBQ

I’ve delayed writing this restaurant review for a long time.  I can’t explain why, but I guess it’s because it feels so overly commercial that I don’t place it in the same category as most BBQ joints.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honest-to-goodness BBQ restaurant, but it just feels like they are trying way too hard to be “authentic”. 

Bandana’s is a St. Louis based BBQ restaurant that has franchised to roughly 25 locations in 3 states and growing.  I’ve tried at least 6 of their locations and I can say that they’re very consistent.  But with that consistency, comes a lack of authenticity.  This is evident in the way the place feels when you walk in the door.  From the wash tub light fixtures to the handkerchief curtains, it’s obvious that they’re executing on a theme.  It’s like walking into an Applebee’s or a TGI Fridays.  You know that it’s supposed to be kitschy and cool, but it just doesn’t feel authentic when there’s one on every corner.

But enough about how the place looks and feels, how’s the BBQ you might ask?  Well, it’s just okay.  In at least one of their locations, I’ve seen the pit and they are sure enough cooking on site.  However, I wouldn’t say that the results are great.  I find the ribs to be too tough, ditto the brisket, and the pulled pork is hit or miss.  On the other hand, I do enjoy their side dishes.  I like their baked beans, green beans, corn, and especially the garlic bread that accompanies every lunch or dinner plate.

Another area where they’ve done a nice job is in their selection of sauces.  I can’t say that it’s necessarily an original idea, but they have a six-pack of sauces on every table.  Each sauce is designed to capture a different regional form of BBQ.  From a thick, sweet Kansas City style sauce to a mustard-based Carolina sauce, they offer a taste for just about everyone.  The only anomaly here is their Chicago Style sauce.  I never knew that there was such a thing as “Chicago Style” BBQ, did you?

Here’s how I’d rate Bandana’s BBQ:

  • BBQ – C
  • Side Dishes – B
  • Atmosphere – C+
  • Value – A
  • Overall – B-

Banadana’s has done a nice job of making BBQ affordable and accessible to a lot of people.  I just wish the food was a little better. 

Cheers,
Braddog