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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fox Brothers and Heirloom - Atlanta BBQ

Plenty of barbeque joints around Atlanta.  Most are about as genuine as a Hollywood boob job. Thank da Lawd, there are two super exceptions.  For my money, Atlanta BBQ is all about Heirloom and Fox Brothers.  Period.

I wrote about Heirloom previously.  Here’s the link:

I despaired of finding another smoky haven, but then a thoughtful friend dragged my hungry self into Fox Bros.

Fox Bros means BBQ Texas Roadhouse style.  Looks like a converted barn, inside and out.  That’s a good indication that you’re strolling into the heart of barbecue country.

Of course, as every man who’s ever lifted a beer at happy hour on a Friday night knows, looks can be deceiving.

Fortunately, that’s not the case at Fox Bros.  ‘Shamefully delicious’ jumps right off the menu and that’s only the start.  Ask your server about the specials.  Go ahead, punk…ASK!

OK if I skip most of the palaver and get right to the food? Thanks, ‘cause my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Beef Rib with a side of Brunswick Stew

The star of the show, on this particular hot, thirsty afternoon, was succulent, well-smoked beef rib.  Yep, that’s singular.  Thickly peppered and meaty.  Anybody who can eat more than one of these hunks needs to live on the prairie and track down his own buffalo.

Fork tender, yet succulent and every morsel bursting with flavor.  To get beef this tender, you have to smoke it longer than it takes to sit through four blind dates sober.

What else is worth the mention?  Just about everything.  Pulled pork is as it should be, flavorful and juicy.  Ribs?  You bet!  Then there’s something called Brisket Taquitos.  Cheese, smoked beef, vegetable bits, and a special sauce, tightly wrapped.  Grab some Chicken wings with the look of aged mahogany and the taste of barbecue heaven.

Beef Taquitos

That’s it?  Barbecue.  Not by a long shot.  Take on some Brunswick Stew, grab an order of fried pickles.  Pick out your favorite beverage from the well stocked bar.  I chanced on a Mimosa.  Fresh juice and champagne.  An unconventional choice, but an excellent counterpoint to the spicy Q.

Fried Dill Slices


Think you can make barbecue in the smoker at home?  You’re welcome to try.  Fox Bros sells jars of both sauce and rub.  The problem is, at home you’re contending with a bunch of different things you probably haven’t considered:  type of wood for smoking.  Temperature control.  Smoke control.  Tending the fire - for long periods of time you can’t spare.

I often say that barbecue is more than the cut of meat, the equipment, and the time.  It’s part science, but mostly art.  All cooking is like that to some extent, but barbecue requires a special skill all its own.  Look around.  Do some tasting.  Every BBQ joint the same? 

Fortunately for the folks who live near Atlanta, or are passing through, I’ve done the work for you.  Only two names you need to remember, Fox Bros and Heirloom.

Ok, let’s split some hairs.  Which one is better?  I simply cannot answer the question, but I can point out some differences.  Heirloom is strictly a standup and eat affair.  Also, the four or five sauces are each wonderful, with separate flavors and spiciness.  Plus, because one of the chefs is from Texas and the other from South Korea, you get flavor combinations and accompaniments that catch your eye and take your taste buds where they’ve never been before.  However, the Q (and especially the ribs and brisket) are always the main events.  If you go expecting barbeque taken to the highest level, you’re always going to get what you came for.

Need to sit down with a group of friends and linger over lunch or dinner?  Fox Bros every time.  The beef is out of this world and there are many more traditional side dishes.   Don’t expect the unexpected…with one huge exception:  you’ll never experience BBQ that’s any better than this.

Two Atlanta BBQ things to remember:  Heirloom.  Fox Bros.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Monaco: A Small Pleasure

Quick!  What’s the smallest independent country in the world?  Come-on, you Roman Catholics, speak up!  The Vatican, of course, at .17 Square Miles (.44 Square Kilometers)

Ok, let’s keep it going.  Second biggest?  Monaco at .75 Square Miles (1.95 Square Kilometers).  This summer I spend a wonderful afternoon on the gnarled, cobblestoned streets and wide avenues that stretch along the aqua water’s edge.

Our ship docked in Monte Carlo, noted Riviera playground of the famously famous and fabulously wealthy.   Mind numbing questions plagued me as I strolled past yachts, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris.  Would a world class blond love me for my charm and wit?  Would my wife be content with our credit card limit?  Could I afford a beer?

 Monaco is a rolling, sun-bleached hillside of a country. Yachts only slightly smaller than Manhattan are strewn like toys on the deep blue water.  Clusters of white limestone buildings climb the hills. 

I call Monaco a jewel in the sun. Not only because it’s right on the area known as The Riviera.  It’s also the face of elegance. 

Who hasn’t heard of the fabulous Casino de Monte Carlo?  Hollywood certainly has.  Quite a few movies filmed there, including a couple of James Bond thrillers (1983 and 1995) and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.  Go in and take a look around for 10 Euros.

The Casino at Night

...and during the day.

Odd things about Hitchcock’s movie.  Not only did Grace Kelly go on to marry Prince Rainier III, Monaco’s former ruler, but there’s a scene in the movie where she drives too fast on one of Monaco’s mountainous, seaside roads.  Years later, she met her demise doing the same thing.  The Casino was built in 1878, same year as the Cathedral where Princess Grace and her prince are buried.

Inside the Royal Cathedral

Princess Grace's grave

Why build a casino here?  Takes you back to 1861.  Monaco was broke.  France grabbed the land where Monaco’s money crops, citrus and the like grew.  The casino wasn’t an immediate success, but the railroad changed all that.  The operation moved a few times and ended up where is it is now.

Many folks tend to think that Monaco’s wealth (per capita income of near $190,00 in 2011) is due to the casino.  Not true.  Banking and business being in 75% of the money, with tourism accounting for another 15%.

Lots of famous folks inhabit this paradise.  Ringo.  Bono. Gina Lollobrigida. The list of tennis stars, racecar drivers, and business moguls goes on.  If you want to be their neighbor, bring your checkbook and a good line of credit.  Apartments sell for upwards of $55,000 a square yard (about .83 square meters).  One reason the rich live here:  It is a tax haven.  For individuals, there is no income tax.  Well, that’s for most residents.  If you’re from the U.S., tough luck!   The United States government still requires you to pay.

Lots for the rich to do besides camp in their apartments and stare at their yachts.  Once a year is the ever-famous Monte Carlo Gran Prix, which next takes place 21-24 May 2015.  You can buy tickets online:  A two day ticket will run you from $300 for the cheap seats to upwards of $3500.

 William Grover-Williams in a Bugatti- the first winner of Monaco Grand Prix on April 14, 1929.
How about the rest of us.  I took a bus and walking tour, ambled past the government house, the oceanographic museum (see below), wandered the streets, stood outside the Royal Palace, and settled in a restaurant nestled in a narrow street, for an exceptional local brew and a sandwich. 

The aquarium and oceanographic museum are world famous.  Too much to describe about this center of all things that live in the sea.  But, here’s a tidbit:  On average, there are ten deaths per year from shark attacks.  The tiny mosquito accounts for 800,000 deaths per year.  And, you’re afraid to go in the ocean?

How about some basics?  Population of Monaco is only 33,000, but because the country is so small, it’s the most densely populated area in Europe, ranking only behind Macau, China world-wide.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem so crowded. Monaco is graced with profuse tropical flowers and palm and fig trees. They seem to lessen the impact of the teeming multitudes in the streets.

So, is Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) the capital Monaco?  Nope.  Monaco is the capital of Monaco.  Monte Carlo is one of the four sections of the country, although they’re so packed together, I defy anyone but a native to know exactly when you cross from one to the next.

What about the government?  The Grimaldi Family rules (and has for seven centuries) and the current head of state is Prince Albert II.  It’s a constitutional monarchy, but with a twist.  The Prince is the Chief Executive.  He appoints a Minister of State, who presides over a five member Council of Government.  The Minister of State is French, although that is not mandatory.  There’s also a National Council, with elected deputies, and a Communal Council, which takes care of city affairs.  How well does this work?   Two items to mention:  the streets are clean and the country is debt free.

Interesting relationship between Monaco and France.  French is the official language.  The French Army provides defense for the Principality and also the guards outside the Royal Palace (which you can visit).  Check times for the Changing of the Guard ceremony.  However, the Prince hires his own bodyguards.

The Royal Palace

A French Army Guard

While not a member of the European Union, Monaco does share several agreements with the E.U., such as the Euro currency, and open borders/customs with E.U. countries.

The agreements are important, especially for those work in Monaco, but don’t live there.  I was curious about that.  How can so many shop clerks and waiters, who obviously are not rich, afford to live in one of the most expensive places on earth?  Simple.  They work in Monaco, but live in France, or Italy.

I liked the general attitude and tempo of Monaco, but I couldn’t afford to live there either.   Put me in the shoe clerk category.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Well, Smack My Lips: Couple of Small Charmers in Charleston

When it comes to regional food, I thrive on Americana.  Off the beaten path.  Smaller the better.

Pop into a big name chain and grab something raised in Montana, processed in Chicago, shipped frozen to the distribution center in Southern California, and finally flipped on a bun in Rocky Junction?  Not this kid.  To paraphrase a long-time friend, why eat when you can dine.

Before you let the word ‘dine’ throw you for a loop, let me clarify.  I’m not talking about a place that can take your two-week paycheck in a single bite, or…on the other end of the spectrum…a greasy spoon adjacent to a major highway.

I’m talking about real Americana, a place highlighting simple dishes that take on complex flavors because somebody in the kitchen gives a damn, knows what they’re doing, and isn’t relying on speed and cheap meat to make a living.

How can you tell the good from the bad?  Small and slightly frayed at the edges.  Down a couple of little side streets.  Food so unexpectedly delicious and atmosphere so comfortably special, any little travel inconvenience makes no difference.  Ya, just gotta go there to scratch that itch.

I’ve found a couple of those in Charleston, SC.  Usually a line outside.  Normally, a mention in the newspaper or flyer that this wayside spot you’ve never heard of has won awards year after year.  Maybe a friend steers you in the right direction.  If he’s excited and presses you to let him join you, you’re onto something.

Moe’s Crosstown Tavern

Burgers and beer.  Find that anywhere, you say?  Not on your life.  Eight years running it’s won awards.  Why?  Things like a perfectly done burger, made with prime beef, slathered in melted blue cheese and dressed up with crisp lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a pile of home made onion rings?  If you’re not a burger fan, there’s plenty more to pick from.  And the beer on tap?  Some old favorites, but many are small town and haven’t made a name for themselves except among beer lovers.  Undecided?  Ask.  These folks know their beer.

You park down the street.  Amble into a small building that hasn’t had a facelift in awhile.  The Tavern is mildly dark, like a cloudy day in the evening.  Lots of dark wood.  Long, well worn, inviting bar.  But, you’re a party of four and op for a booth.  Your friends are telling…no begging you to order this and order that.

The waitress is patient.  You order an appealing beer, but it doesn’t do any good for me to slide the name past you.  Moe’s changes handcrafted beers with the tides.

The burger comes with fries, but of course your friends insist on an order of hand battered onion rings.  Yeah, well, force me.

The meal isn’t just filling, it’s everything a burger and fries should be, washed down with a dark brew that sails lightly on the tongue.

You walk away, wondering if anybody would object to coming back tomorrow…

I’m just sayin’, if you’ve ever in Charleston…

The Early Bird Diner

Sunday morning.  Yeah, you could just go home after church, or head to one of the many, jam-packed chains for breakfast.  Why in the world would you do that when The Early Bird Diner is right down the Savannah Highway?  Yep, it’s gonna be packed, but this small, eclectic touch of charm is worth the minor inconvenience of a wait.

Biscuits are delicious.  Fried chicken and waffles make your eyes dance and your stomach start to gallop.  Yes, that combination is THAT good.  Or, you can do what I did and settle for a low country favorite, shrimp and grits.  These shrimp and grits are anything but bland.  Dark red, rich gravy.  Creamy grits.  Fresh-off-the-boat shrimp cooked only until they are exactly done.  Succulent.

Want to try something simple and simply delicious?  Go for the grilled pimento cheese sandwich.  Crispy, crunchy, creamy.

Sorry, chain restaurants, but you’re never going to serve a breakfast this good.  Just ain’t gonna happen.  The Early Bird Dinner just may make you want to get to church more often.  Praise da Lawd and pass the biscuits.

Just a bit more about Charleston restaurants in general.  There was a time, when they were just ordinary.  No longer.  Charleston has developed into a foodie haven.  You can spend a little, or spend a lot, but wherever you dine, the bar has been raised.   I’m talkin’ “Look out New Orleans, Charleston is catching up.”

Moe’s and The Early Bird are leading the charge.