Monday, January 21, 2008

The Most Beautiful Room I've Ever Been In... Inside Boston's Public Library.

Libraries are cool. They're awesome. We have a lot of great libraries in Arkansas. But when I entered the Boston Common Library one January afternoon, I was startled to discover an endless array of beauty and striking sights - and that's without opening a single book.

Do It The Yawkey Way at Boston's Fenway Park.

What would a visit to Boston be without a trip to the most beloved ballpark in America? Fenway Park is home to the Boston Red Sox, who you can see in action during the regular baseball season. But the ballpark itself is available to tour any time of the year.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rooms To Groove at The Talbot Heirs in Memphis.

In a downtown area where space is limited, hotel rooms can be downright tiny. The incentive is made to keep lots of rooms occupied... and when I say a lot of rooms, I mean a lot of rooms. Most of the hotels in downtown Memphis boast of 100 rooms or more. This is a place of volume.

That's why a place like the Talbot Heirs Guesthouse is so lovely.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dinner For The Indecisive Can Be Found At Morrilton Drive Inn Restaurant.

Family dinners out can be frustrating. If your family is anything like mine, you probably spend more time discussing where you're going to get dinner than you do in transit to your dinner.

Fortunately, Morrilton residents have a better choice.

The Morrilton Drive-Inn Restaurant has it all. It proudly proclaims some of its many specialties on the large sign above the door - "Bar-B-Que*Catfish*Burgers." Some have believed this means the restaurant offers a barbeque catfish burger. Well, not yet, but I bet if you asked for one the good folks behind the counter would oblige.

The restaurant, a longtime standard of the area, sits right off Interstate 40, cattycorner from Love's Truck Stop. The unassuming brick building's parking lot is often full of vehicles, and there's inevitably someone at the drive-thru window. But don't let the cars discourage you -- you'll want to stop and eat here.

The restaurant, like many drive-inns and drive-thru of the carhop area, sports a varied board of burgers, dogs, and assorted edibles. But instead of sporting that sign above an order window outside, the window here is in the climate controlled dining room. And you'll want to come in.

It's not uncommon to see groups of people standing off away from the window, mouthing the names of the extremely long list of delicacies posted on that board. If there weren't enough choices there, there are certainly enough when you count in every hand-printed sign below and to the sides of the order window. Deciding on an appetizer or meal is something that could take hours of contemplation.

But no doubt you'll be here when you're hungry - and whatever you're hungry for, you're likely to find it here. The menu includes a large selection of cold sandwiches (turkey club, chicken club, ham, tuna fish, pimento cheese), hot sandwiches (ham and cheese, grilled cheese, roast beef, chicken, fish), burgers (hamburger, cheeseburger, double, jumbo, chili, chili cheese, pizza, magic, super), barbeque (sandwiches, ribs, pulled beef, pulled pork, barbeque salad and stuffed potato), salads (grilled chicken, taco, steak), and Tex-Mex fare (taco basket, burrito supreme, grilled chicken tacos).

And that's not all. There are also a fine selection of catfish options, and plenty of dinners (chicken fried steak, pork chops, ribeye steak, hamburger steak) with hearty vegetables. There are unusual things like the chili steak sandwich and the hot beef dinner. And there are loads of appetizers -- stuffed peppers, fried cheese, frito pies, crinkle fries, and onion rings. Add in the list of desserts like fried pies and hot fudge cake and a long list of Cyclones (thick ice cream shakes) and you can see they offer just about everything outside of caviar and creme brulee.

With a list like that, you can understand why there's usually a line of indecisive folks pondering the meaning of catfish or the existance of ribs. Fortunately, most folks have a good incentive for making a quick choice -- the delicious smell of good food and the sizzle of a primed grill.

Some days, the wait for your food can be as long as 20 minutes. But most days, it's more like five to ten -- depending on what you order.

Many of the customers that pass through here are truckers who have been let in on the secret of the restaurant, and residents of other I-40 towns who pick up an order on their way from point A to point B. I've been guilty of this myself. Oftentimes, on the road to my father-in-law's place, we'll call ahead and ask him what he wants for dinner. This restaurant is one of his favorites, and his favorite food at the restaurant is the hot fried catfish.

My husband likes the burgers, so on this particular December day I stopped in on my way home to Little Rock to pick up dinner. After a busy day of looking for places to feature in Tie Dye Travels, I had worked up an appetite, and though I'd keep my entree for our mutual dining experience when I arrived home, I just had to grab a fried pie.

These may not be as good as the ambrosial pies at Ms. Lena's, but they are generous and tasty. I sat down at one of the open booths and proceeded to consume my cold pie while I waited for my order to come up. I also listened in to conversations by some of the regulars, at this time debating the fate of Houston Nutt and the Hogs. Morrilton may be geographically between the UCA Bears and the ATU Wonderboys, but folks around here proudly bleed Razorback Red.

About seven minutes later, I had my precious cargo and was ready to hit the road.

The repast from the Morrilton Drive-Inn Restaurant counts as what my husband and I call "kitchen food," food that rarely leaves the kitchen before consumption. He was happy to see me, but even happier to see the Super Cheeseburger I'd bagged during my travels.

The Super Cheeseburger ($5.49) may appear relatively small in this picture, but don't let that fool you. It may not be an Ed Walker sized monster, or compare with the Sasquatch Burger at the Big Foot Lodge. But this is still more food than the average person could consume in a sitting. A full pound of black pepper-laden ground beef is hand-formed and slapped onto the grill, then squished between big lengths of paper towel before being plopped onto a big bun. American cheese is flopped down on top while the meat is still hot, allowing the creamy cheese to spread into the crevices on the surface.

The burger comes with hefty slices of tomato, shredded lettuce, hamburger dills and doses of mayo, mustard, and ketchup. Think that's a lot? The restaurant also offeres a Double Super Cheeseburger. Both of these big burgers are wrapped carefully in an almost-too-small foil wrapper and encased in their own separate Styrofoam containers. Add in some tater tots, and you really do have a meal for two.

But not on this night. I let Paul manage with the burger as I dug into my own favorite from the restaurant -- the Stuffed Barbeque Potato ($4.29). This monsterous spud would already be a tight fit in its own Styrofoam box without the add-ins, but with them it takes up almost every bit of space inside. Before the main event is added, the potato is broken open and lubricated with butter and sour cream. Then on goes a layer of barbeque meat (be sure to let them know whether you prefer pork or beef), an ample dousing of the restaurant's smokey and savory sauce, and a handful of shredded cheddar cheese. The kitchen crew doesn't skimp on the meat -- there's easily half a pound of hand pulled smoked beef on the potato, and it's a definate struggle to finish.

If that weren't enough, I also imbibed a little, adding on an order of fried mushrooms. While not exclusive to the restaurant, these offerings are properly cooked and served with their own plastic ramekin of ranch dressing.

The price for this repast? With the burger, tots, potato, mushrooms, and pie, my total came to less than $20. Prices are more than reasonable, and the servings are ample.

To get to the Morrilton Drive-Inn Restaurant, take I-40 to the Highway 95 exit. It's about two blocks south of the interstate. Look for the red roof. And if you know what you want in advance, they do take call-in orders to (501) 354-8343. Be sure to arrive hungry.

UPDATE 9-7-17 with photo credits and color correction. Also, there's now a Facebook page.

Morrilton Drive-Inn Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Bowl, A Map, An Idea - Making A Piece For Arkansas Foodbank's Empty Bowls Event.

Each year, I paint a bowl for Empty Bowls, the annual fundraiser auction for the Arkansas Foodbank Network. It started out as a "hey, you could do this, too" thing and ended up becoming an annual tradition for me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Blue Plate Cafe in downtown Memphis is just as good as the original.

The Blue Plate Cafe has been a popular stop on Poplar Avenue in Memphis for decades. The tiny lot is almost always packed, there's usually a bit of a line, and it's all worth it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Eclectic Goodness at Big Foot Lodge in Memphis.

This restaurant is now known as The Kooky Canuck. See an update at the bottom.

My travels have taken me to Memphis, where I stumbled upon the Big Foot Lodge on a Sunday night in early January. Hungry from a day on the road and needing a little comfort food, I crawled in.

Don't let the restaurant's rustic decor fool you. This is a relative new entry to the Memphis eatery scene, but I think it's here to stay.

The menu is packed with takes on Memphis favorites -- with such eclectic delights as BBQ Egg Rolls (Memphis BBQ and slaw packed in an egg roll and deep fried for $5.99),
the Corn Brat (a bratwurst prepared like a corn dog, $4.99), and something called Poutine (a strange cheese covering big hand-cut fries topped with gravy).
There are also neat sandwiches, like the Prime Rib Sandwich ($9.49) and the BL"FG"T (a BLT with a fried green tomato, $6.99). And there's even a Fried Ham and Cheese dish, with American cheese slammed between two slabs of honey ham battered and deep fried ($6.99).

On this particular night, I was interested in the first special I saw -- the deep fried Cornish game hen. Unfortunately, by 9am that night that day's hens were already gone, so I settled for the meatloaf. I was not going to be disappointed.

While I waited on my meal, I checked out the crowd and the interior.

Big Foot Lodge has a great bar with lots of monitors showing the big game, whatever the big game is. Draft beer here comes in 34 ounce glasses, big gulps for the hungry crowd. The place was packed with 20- and 30-somethings, checking out the Memphis nightlife.

There's even a jukebox, though not one of the traditional push-button and vinyl monsters. This jukebox is programmed for the Information age.

My food arrived, and I was greeted with two big individual servings of red glazed meatloaf, a big pile of sweet potato fries, and a cup of cucumber salad. The meatloaf was about the most perfect comfort food I could have asked for. The ketchup sauce is heavy on the sweetness, but goes well with the savory and hearty meat below. The meat and starch (I believe it might be a breadcrumb mixture) tasted of black pepper, garlic, and plenty of onion. A very good balance.

The sweet potato fries were about right -- not overdone like at many of the places I've visited. They're cut large, allowing for the centers to be soft while the outside is crunchy. They're skin-on, which worked fine for me.

But it was the cucumber salad that really caught my attention. Rather than go the route of a stale dill pickle, the cucumber salad grasps the best of a bread and butter pickle and packs in a bit more sugar for a crisp, delicate touch. I was told the salad is made every day. It's better than most relishes I've had, and lacks the vinegary wang some offerings have included.

While I was eating, one of the other tables ordered a Sasquatch burger. Not an individual -- a table. This burger is four pounds of 80/20 seasoned ground chuck, two pounds of bun -- plus lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese, and your choice of condiments, bringing the $19.99 burger to a whopping seven and a half pounds of food. Oh, and it comes with fries. It takes about 40 minutes to prepare, which isn't a surprise, considering all that meat. Thing is, if you're brave enough, you can tackle this monster by yourself -- and if you eat it all within an hour, it's on the house. Just one person has done that so far -- professional eating champ Patrick Bertoletti, who managed to gulp down the whole thing in 11 minutes and five seconds -- and finished off the fries, too. For us normal folks, sharing is perfectly fine.

The restaurant also offers some unusual deserts, including S'Mores that you can make at the table yourself (Yay! Not bad at $5.99), a Deep Dish Cookie a la Mode (also $5.99), and the perfect accompaniment for the Sasquatch Burger -- the Yeti sundae, a $14.99 beast with 18 scoops of ice cream and a plethora of toppings -- the stuff fatal ice cream headaches are made of. Unfortunately, my meal topped me off for the night, so I'll have to catch one of the sweet delights on another visit.

Big Foot Lodge isn't far from Beale Street -- it's catty-corner from the Peabody Place Entertainment Complex on Second Street, on the north side of the boulevard. The physical address is 97 South Second. It's open from 11am to 2:30am -- and the kitchen stays open late, so it's a good stop for late night wanderers. Want to find out more? Check out the Big Foot Lodge website -- or call (901) 578-9808. And they do offer carry-out orders at no additional cost -- though I doubt you could get the Sasquatch burger free on competition unless you stick around.

An update 8-13-09:

Normally, when a restaurant changes, it's going under or it significantly changes what it does. That's not the case here. When I visited this restaurant in January 2008, it was known as the Big Foot Lodge. Since then, it's made just one change -- and now it's the Kooky Canuck. Same owners, same great menu, with one change. There's now a 12 pound burger on the menu -- the King Kookamunga, six pounds of meat and six pounds of fixings. That's along with the renamed Kookamunga burger, the one featured in the article below. I haven't had the chance to make it to Memphis yet to try it out, but when I go I plan to bring a caravan. 12 pounds... that's even bigger than Ed Walker's famous burger. Anyway, check out the Kooky Canuck website for more information. ~Kat

UPDATE 9-30-10: Grav and I tackled this burger for Serious Eats.

Kooky Canuck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The biggest burger I've ever sampled at Ed Walker's.

As seen in the February issue of the Little Rock Free Press in the Tie Dye Travels column.

And sampled is the correct term. Because there was no consuming this one in a single sitting.

I've seen big burgers in my life. I've taken a couple of meals to consume one of the Super Cheeseburgers from the Morrilton Family Restaurant (a pound of meat -- two if you get the double), carried home three quarters of a Transylvania Double Dare Outrageous Burger, and wallowed in a Cotham's Hubcap Burger. And I thought I'd eaten the biggest burger in Arkansas.