Sunday, August 19, 2012


Non-Quest BBQ No 27 – Hardee’s

Rainsville, Alabama
During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

For many years now, several Burger empires have accessorized their beef-in-buns with the moniker “BBQ” occasionally. Most of the time that only meant that instead of ketchup, they slapped some dreadful “St.Louis style” sauce on it.
Yeah, right – if the sauce is sweet’n’spicy, that’s legitimate BBQ, regardless of what’s underneath.

So, I was on my way home from a Braves game in Atlanta, and my GPS told me to drive the northern route home. Very scenic, but not much of a BBQ area up there in the Little River Canyon region. Because I was hungry, I decided to not wait for a BBQ restaurant to cross my way, but to eat a quick burger at the first golden arches, castle or place that was named after a Confederate General I could find.

Hardee’s it was.
I always liked their burgers, so I went in and tried to find out what to order. My eye caught a sign above the counter that said “Memphis BBQ Thickburger”. Well, that sounded like one of those other burgers I mentioned above. But what the heck, I was hungry, had never eaten this before, and so I ordered the 1/3 pound variety of it.
Oh, and by the way, said the manager who took my order, this burger is not on the menu yet – I just hung up the sign a minute ago and it is supposed to be sold starting tomorrow. But because I must have looked really ragged, hungry, dangerous, or desperate, he told me that he would sell it to me anyway. And so I became probably the first paying Hardee’s customer in the USA to get a taste of this new creation.

And new it was.
“A 100% Black Angus Beef Thickburger®, Pulled Pork, BBQ Sauce, Crispy Onion Strings all on a Seeded Bun.”
Yes, indeed – it had pulled pork on it. Plus the 1/3 pound beef patty. Which makes this a carnivore’s dream burger, I guess.
Anyway, since the pulled pork was smothered in a not too bad variety of your standard supermarket BBQ sauce, I have no idea how the pulled pork tasted.
But the burger as a whole was just great – one of the best burgers ever. The different textures of beef, pork, onions, and the bun makes eating it a very interesting experience.
The BBQ sauce, as said before, is nothing special but gives it a kick in the right direction. The crispy onions on the other hand are hardly more than garnish and do not contribute much to the taste, which is clearly dominated by the BBQ sauce.

Although I would never classify this as a “BBQ Sandwich” in the classical sense, it is a novel idea to combine a burger with some pulled pork. I am absolutely sure that this is a staple of countless backyard and garden BBQ pit masters, but this was the first time I saw something like this in a mainstream burger joint.
And it was good, real good – as a burger. As BBQ sandwich … not so much. But still, I applaud the good people from Hardee’s to bring us something out of the ordinary, something else than two patties, a bun, pickles, onions … you get my drift.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Marie's BBQ House

Non-Quest BBQ No 26 – Marie’s BBQ House

Heflin, Alabama
During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

On my trip to Atlanta today, to attend two Braves games and spend some money at IKEA, I also looked out for a new BBQ place to visit.
Usually, when I go on a trip like this, I go online and check which BBQ places are located on the way to my destination, or at the destination itself.
This time, the rave reviews on the internet pointed me to a place in the middle of nowhere, adjacent to I-20 halfway between Anniston and the Georgia state line.

Marie’s BBQ House in Heflin, Alabama, was founded in 2005 and is one of those typical Mom-and-Dad joints you can find everywhere here in the South. The whole family, including children, grand-children, nieces and nephews works there.
They reside in a fairly new and custom built looking building that is littered inside with flags, pictures, and other decoration sporting the emblem of the other Alabama College Football team which won a National Championship in recent years.
There are some booths at the outer walls, and some tables in the middle of the room. The interior is bright and clean, and the furniture is modern and functional.
You order at a counter from a menu that has all the usual BBQ items on it – including Brunswick Stew all year long.
You can have your pork either sliced or chopped, but not pulled – which is kind of strange. My first thought was, is it not tender enough to just pull it off, so you have to use a metal object? Well, we’ll see.

As usual, I ordered a pork plate with potato salad and slaw. The pork came chopped – and with sauce already on it. Fortunately it was not drenched in it, but the sauce only covered about half of the pork. So I was able to actually taste the pork – it was tender. But a bit on the dry side, and not without some bigger bits of fat.
The taste was very smoky, yet not too intense. With a simple vinegar-pepper sauce, this pork would have made a wonderful meal. With the brownish-red sauce they poured over it, though, it was merely okay. The sauce tasted not very special, just your middle-of-the-road Memphis/St.Louis kind of stuff. What a pity.
The potato salad was of the creamy-mayonnaisy variety and had big chunks of egg in it. I like that, and the taste was fresh and just slightly sour, which made this salad one of the better ones I’ve had.
The slaw was also done with mayonnaise, and also tasted very fresh and creamy. There was a very nice crunch to the shredded veggies, and together with the smoky pork and the slightly sour potato salad, it produced a very harmonious taste.
You also get a thick slice of Texas toast, which is soaked in liquid butter.

For just a bit over nine Dollars, including sweet tea, the pork plate at Marie’s BBQ House in Heflin is a very good deal. The portion is fair and the taste, if you forgive them the so-so BBQ sauce, justifies a repeat visit. Too bad, that my next trip to Atlanta in two weeks will be by plane …

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Main Dish

Quest Log No 35 – The Main Dish
Meridianville, Madison County

This for clarification: I was torn. This is not your typical BBQ place, having only two BBQ related items on the menu. On the other hand, it says “Steaks, Seafood & Bar-B-Que” in BIG letters on the front of the building. So, should I include this place into the Quest or not? Well, if this was located anywhere else but the BBQ belt, I would have refrained from that, probably judging it as an anomaly. But if you write “Bar-B-Que” all over a wall, and serve pulled pork, you are fair game and have to compete with the rest of them. Sorry, live is not a pony ride.

But the owners of this restaurant already know that. Recently, they were one of the “victims” of Chef Robert Irvine, who travels the land on a quest of his own. In his Food Network TV series “Restaurant Impossible”, he tries to save failing restaurants from going under. In two days, he and his team give those sorry places a make-over, from making it pretty inside and out, training the servers, weeding out the almost always convoluted menus, to improving the cooking. Most of these establishments were tight-roping on the brink of failure for years, and one must seriously doubt that a few buckets of paint, some tips for a new tartar sauce and a general chew-out about work ethics and organizational skills will cure that.
But anyway, in May of this year, Chef Robert came to Meridianville and did his magic at The Main Dish.
I hadn’t been there before, so I cannot judge whether he did a good job or not. There are some indications of his work, though, that I immediately recognized – have I already mentioned that I am a big fan of his show?
For instance, the menu has only about twenty items on it, all with single digit prices. His mantra is, concentrate on what you are good and stop with the frou-frou.
The staff is extremely friendly and attentive and everything is spot-clean.
Also, the interior of the restaurant is modern and bright, with some whimsical accents like a room divider made out of china plates, geometrical lines on the walls, and stylized forks and knifes on the underside of the ceiling lights.
There are a dozen or so simple tables with black chairs in the room, which together with the black-and-white checkered floor, and the rest of the interior I just described above, make this a very nice place, indeed. It has flair.

But flair alone ain’t gonna cut it, sister. You have to serve a mean pulled pork too, if you want to play with the big boys on their turf.
So I ordered the BBQ plate, with fries and slaw on the side. The other BBQ related item on the menu is BBQ Bruschetta, but that sounded a bit too fancy for me. I rather stick with the basics.
Sorry, I had to take a minute here … heartburn and acid regurgitation, had to take a handful of Pepcid. Pooh, now it is better. It started right after we left the restaurant. And I know exactly what the culprit is – it was the pulled pork. Well, not so much the pork per se, but the fat it swam in. Liquid, all drenching fat that slowly crept across the plate and eventually also contaminated the first layer of fries coming in contact with it.
From the taste of it, the pork was not smoked but clearly slow cooked. And the fat was dripping out of it - but I have mentioned that already. Not that the pork itself was fat, but there was just so much liquid fat in it that my stomach at some point just raised the white flag and gave up processing it.
Needless to say that the whole pile of pork was a squishy, soggy mess. That the sauce that came with it in a cup was some kind of supermarket variety didn’t matter much anymore.
This was probably one of the worst plates of pulled pork I’ve ever had. It not only tasted like you know what, but it also gave me physical discomfort for the rest of the day.

The slaw that came with it, on the other hand, was quite exquisite. Crunchy, with a light yoghurt based sauce and a very fresh taste – one of the best I’ve ever had.
Also, the fried green tomatoes my wife had as an appetizer were nothing short of spectacular, especially the sauce that came with it. And her Fried Shrimp Po Boy was also very good.
So, let’s face the terrible truth – with so many real BBQ places around, there is no reason to subject your body to squishy, fatty, acid inducing, slow cooked pulled pork like this.
While Chef Irvine seems to have succeeded in all other areas, this is one major flaw he has overlooked. I will let him know if I ever run into him.