Eating My Way Through Wisconsin…Ribs, Bluegill, Sisig, and Hmong!

15-19 July 2015

As in a few previous trips, I have tried my best to experience more locally-unique places, as well as BBQs, during the lunch hours. Sometimes I wonder why only for lunches, after the 2 disastrous dinners I’ve had in Milwaukee so far. Looking back, the lunches were some of the most interesting foods of this trip, and each of them tells a story about Wisconsin.

Again, I began by flying into Milwaukee. Before that terrible dinner at Braise, I had lunch at a little bar just west of the city called Double B’s BBQ & Burgers. A non-descript bar & grill with country music on and golf on the TV, it is known for some of the best BBQ in the Milwaukee area. I ordered some ribs to test it out.

double b milwaukee

Rather good, solid flavours and tasty meat. No dryness here, a fine choice of meat with healthy smoke too. Happily was dry-rub as well, so the flavours really was of the meat and not the any sauce. They offered a variety of sauces on the side; not necessary. Very nice. I took some “bacon balls” out for later (meatballs wrapped with bacon) — which saved me after that disastrous Braise dinner…

The next day I headed for Madison and en route on a very busy morning I stopped quickly in East Troy, a bit south-west of Milwaukee, and visited LD’s BBQ. Yes, a BBQ joint in a gas station. But people rave about this place as the best in all of Wisconsin. I was there just as they were prepare to open, and they were coincidentally just pulling the rib tips out…

LD's East Troy tips

These are fabulous rib tips. I was planning on eating them while driving (yeah, I know…) but they were good enough (and also heavily sauced) I pulled over to enjoy them. Sauce brought out the meat well, and you know I rarely like heavy BBQ sauce. Good stuff, compared well with A&R in Memphis — though nowhere close to the amazing rib tips at Sim’s in Little Rock. But solid stuff, certainly ranks on top of the list in Wisconsin.

I had my excellent dinner at A Pig in a Fur Coat that night and the next day was a busy one in Madison — despite the hangover. And it being Friday, I decided to follow the Wisconsin tradition of the Friday Fish Fry. With a huge Catholic population, this has become a celebrated event on Fridays all over the state, especially with good fish sources from all the lakes. I was in Madison, and the best place for it was Dexter’s Pub.

A large bar that’s also a haven for craft brew, I enjoyed a few (hairy dog, m’fraid) before my lunch arrived…

dexters bluegill

Ahhh… Bluegills are considered one of the delicacies for Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry sessions and they were excellent. Very little breading, fried just right, full of flavour. The portion wasn’t as small as it looked, it was the photo angle (sorry). There was actually ample fish. The fries were heavily garlicked too, so that was perfect. I drank more beer than I should (not due to alcohol but my recent digestive issues with beer…) and headed out very happy. Loving this particular Wisconsin tradition!

And that night another wonderful dinner in Madison at Forequarter. I left Madison loving the town even more than I did the last time I left. It is such a little haven for wonderful cooking and friendly people that will bring me back. However, I had to head north for an event way north of the state, so I meandered up through the early morning and stopped for lunch in Oshkosh. Huh?

Yeah, I stopped in Oshkosh this Saturday late morning and dropped into Manila Resto. Filipino food in central Wisconsin? Yep, and in a prime location too. I was very early so it was not busy this morning (plus there was a fair nearby). I had a hectic afternoon and long drives so wanted a solid lunch. And I got it, and more.

manila

The starter was the sisig (left), which honestly didn’t work that well for me. I wished it was more rustic with “proper” parts used, not just meat. It should have snouts and all sorts to make it real, to have texture. Plus, I usually don’t like the mayonnaise’d version compare to straight vinegary. But overall, for middle of Wisconsin, it was solid. Then the main, the pork adobo, was tempered a little but tasty. A good intro to Filipino cuisine for those who don’t have experience with it I suspect. There was also a sushi bar inside and they also do robata, so it’s a catch-all type in this small city, which is probably necessary. Charming owners too, who came by to have a chat.

I headed north full and satisfied, with a box of sisig leftovers. Knowing I have to skip dinner due to the event later on, I had this leftover and needed more. For the next few hours I meandered north and in the mid/late afternoon arrived at the town of Wausau. I then dropped in to get some carry-out at a place called Hmong Eggrolls.

Hmong food?

Yes. There is a huge population of Hmong in Wisconsin, especially central and west, along with their large numbers in Minnesota. In fact, Hmong is the largest Asian minority in Wisconsin, and actually makes up over 10% of the population. Their cuisine has never featured prominently even in larger population areas, but Hmong Eggrolls is a rare (and excellent) exception. Looking like a “typical” Asian restaurant, it had some fabulous stuff under the heating lamps. I wish I had time to eat properly but had to rush off further north. So I took a bunch of stuff to go and sadly drove on…

hmong sausage-belly-rolls

When I got to my destination I opened my food and this was there after I ate a few of the egg rolls. The prawn one was best, but all of them were excellent. Sorry for the terrible picture as it had gotten wee soggy from the long drive from restaurant to motel, it really doesn’t do it justice. And the sausage was just fantastic, and the roast pork belly? Fantastic and decadent. All roasted red. Fabulous. I should have taken the pix at the restaurant…you’d be drooling.

I went to my outdoor event, got utterly frustrated by the organisation — and especially the people — and was eaten alive by mosquitos. I made my way back to the motel and finished the food happily, but the rest of the night was a trial thanks to idiots in adjacent rooms… Why are children jumping around at 2am? Where are the parents?!

With not much sleep the next early morning I made my way back south via the eastern coast and got back to Milwaukee in early afternoon, where I dropped into the legendary Solly’s Grille for lunch. I got there early but it filled up very quickly and by the time I was done people were queueing for seats.

This old school diner is famous for its burgers, cooked with butter. It’s rich as hell, and I ordered the jalepeno version.

sollys jalapeno burger

Mmm, this is fabulous. Rich and solid, with a good bite from the japeleno. I can see why this is rated the best burger in Wisconsin. Service is very old school diner, with one sweet old lady working the counters at her pace. I left as quickly as possible to let all the hungry diners get a slot and I drove out. Later that night was the again-not-quite-right meal at Goodkind.

Frankly that soured me so much the next day, my last day in Wisconsin, I chose to skip lunch. Originally planning ethnic — especially German — but I didn’t want volume for lunch. You’ll understand why when you see what I had for dinner — which is the next review.

But truly, Wisconsin has a great variety of local flavours, some touched by older tradition like the Fish Fry, some coming from newer ethnic communities such as the large Hmong population. If you get a chance, explore this state, it is beautiful and interesting in so many ways. Just minimise your time in Milwaukee, maximise your time in Madison, and beware the mosquitos and other bugs of the forests! And eat, eat, eat your way through it!

Double B’s BBQ & Burgers
7420 West Greenfield Avenue
West Allis, Wisconsin

LD’s BBQ
1880 County Highway ES
East Troy, Wisconsin

Dexter’s Pub
301 North Street
Madison, Wisconsin

Manila Resto
107 Algoma Boulevard
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Hmong Eggrolls
1040 South 10th Avenue
Wausau, Wisconsin

Solly’s Grille
4629 North Port Washington Road
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Review: Goodkind

19 July 2015

After being eaten alive by mosquitos and having a terrible night thanks to crazy people in adjacent rooms in a northern Wisconsin motel, I headed back down driving along the eastern coast. Took a few hours to get to Green Bay, and just rolled down the coast through Manitowoc and Kohler/Sheboygan. Got back to Milwaukee and thought about the food situation, as I’ve booked nothing. Nothing excited me, especially after the Braise disaster.

Oh, I wish I was driving back to Madison…

Alas, that’s not the case. I got to Milwaukee and eventually decided on an early dinner. I had a list of possibles, but ended up choosing Goodkind. Lots of good words about this place, which focuses on small plates and rotisserie. So why not. I called for a spot and I guess it wasn’t necessary as it was rather empty at this early hour. I looked over the menu and enjoyed a cocktail, then ordered.

A pretty casual place with a large, wrap-around bar, I was chilling out with the cocktail when the first item arrived, listed as a snack — seaweed chips.

1-seaweed chips

Interesting, rather tasty. I like the idea, very nice to feast on with drink in hand I must admit, However, probably didn’t need the sticky sweet sauce on it, the flavour of the fried seaweed was far enough. Plus, it made a mess with the fingers… Probably should have learned from Forequarter in Madison… I was trying, with no luck, to rub the sauce off the last pieces… I finished my cocktail and switched to wine when the next dish arrived, and I blinked a few times…

2-squash

I thought I had ordered one of the day’s specials, the squash blossoms. Well, if there’s any of them, it’s covererd in unnecessary sauce on unnecessary carb solids. Why, why do Milwaukee chefs feel they need to screw with natural goodness? Now if this was in Madison we’d have a clean plate that celebrates the goodness of nature. Once again my heart sunk thinking about Milwaukee cooking…

Service here was friendly but as it was not busy (early yet), the staff seemed more keen on chatting away with each other, rarely taking a glance my way at the bar. A bit annoyed by that. Starting to wonder if they gave me the wrong description of the special that was the previous dish… Finally got their attention for some wine before the last dish arrived, which they said was one of their staples.

3-crab_bucatini

I can see why. This is a nice bucatini with crab, cooked well and is very tasty. However, it was advertised as “spicy crab pasta” but I taste nothing spicy whatsoever. But it was good, cooked well generally.

Honestly at this point the staff’s lack of attention was driving me a bit up the wall, so I decided to just take something to go and finish up with an after-dinner drink. I headed out of there once the item was packed for me and I drove back to my hotel. This was my finale.

4-leg_of_lamb

Rotisserie leg of lamb. Actually very good, strong flavours. Little adulteration, exactly what’s needed here. Sadly the best dish of the night came from a styrofoam carton…

Tonight’s dinner was not bad; actually the food was pretty good, especially the pasta. But there is just something not-quite-on with the cooking for a big food town like Milwaukee. I’d expect this kind of stuff in a small, isolated town in the winter, not a big city in the summer. And for once, it’s not the execution — the line did what chef asked them and did it well. Problem is elsewhere.

There’s something about Milwaukee that’s a disconnect with the rest of Wisconsin food-wise, especially Madison. They feel they need to cook the hell out of the dish for no reason at all, and just waste the perfectly good natural flavours of their otherwise excellent local ingredients. Look at how effortlessly it was done by A Pig in A Fur Coat, things just flowed, celebrating natural flavours of Wisonsin’s fabulous products.

Seriously, you can get frozen squash shipped from Timbuktu if you’re gonna plonk it in so much sauce.

Oh, I really am not liking the cooking frame of mind in Milwaukee, not at all. I think I need a major change for my last night in town tomorrow…

Goodkind
2457 South Wentworth Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Review: Forequarter

17 July 2015

I was still re-living the wonderful evening at A Pig and a Fur Coat last night. The food and cooking was just fabulous, a wonderfully fun and friendly atmosphere, loved the hospitality overall. But also, nursing a nasty hangover… Took it easy in Madison for part of the day, but did have a productive day before it got too hot and humid again.

When I was planning to visit Madison again, I was of course looking to go back to L’Etoile. But 2 other restaurants really caught my attention. One was obviously A Pig in a Fur Coat, the other was Forequarter. So for my second and last night in this wonderful town I headed to Forequarter for dinner.

I took a slot in the already busy bar at a relatively early hour and enjoyed a cocktail, now the hangover has worn off. The bar was moving well, and it is as well stocked as last night’s — sorry, couldn’t get a good clear pix. I looked through the menu and heard the specials and ordered. I enjoyed the cocktail before the first dish arrived.

1-puffed_tendon

Puffed tendons. Interesting, though I have to say it (like other similar items) has a bad habit of sticking to the roof of my mouth and back of teeth. A totally nice drinking snack for sure. The whipped marrow as a dip made it even richer. Frankly they did a far, far better job with the whipped marrow than the disaster at Braise in Milwaukee the other night (remember, the fat-embolus-on-a-plate?).

I switched to some wine at this stage, after 2 cocktails, and then awaited my charcuterie plate.

2-goat_salami

I chose today’s special, which focused on goat from local producers. Wisconsin has so much good farms it’s a shame not to enjoy it, so I did. I was gonna order some cheese too but I feared it would be too heavy for my main course, so sadly skipped it. These were also a great snack. I see lots of people eating this and other charcuterie here, which is a good sign.

I also witnessed many of the main courses coming out and they looked fantastic. I went with the special, and it was a wow dish when it arrived.

3-pork

The humble pork chop. This was fabulous, one of the best pieces of pork I’ve had in ages. Rich and juicy, not any signs of dryness as it was cooked just perfectly inside. The cauliflower was a treat too. A very nice dish, rich and extremely satisfying!

I closed the night off with some apple brandy and relaxed before heading out. Oh, Madison, you’ve spoiled me with food the last 2 days. Please, please go to Milwaukee and teach them a thing or two about what kitchens should do to the wonderful products Wisconsin blesses you with!

Off north tomorrow, where I will be returning all this rich feasting to nature as mosquitos are bound to eat me alive…

Forequarter
708 1/4 East Johnson Street
Madison, Wisconsin

Review: A Pig in a Fur Coat

16 July 2015

It was a long, long day meandering from Milwaukee to Madison, taking in some of the smaller towns south of the two major cities — without crossing into Illinois. I rolled into Madison mid-afternoon happily, revisiting a town I really came to love before. If it wasn’t such a hassle to get there (thank you Scott Walker), I would visit far more often. My last visit was very memorable, including a fine dinner at the top place in the region, L’Etoile. I was skipping it this time as there’s too many other places to visit, and not enough time!

Today was a melancholic day for me as it marked something very significant for me in my past, so I wanted a good meal (and lots of booze) to drown it all out. And I found the perfect place, a charming little eatery called A Pig in a Fur Coat. Now that is classy.

I walked the 20+ minutes from near the Capitol all the way in the terrible humidity and found A Pig in a Fur Coat. I chose to sit at the bar, which I was told was just recently built as an extention. This was my view, and I was a happy boy.

bar

The night was graced with excellent cocktails, and I relaxed and tried to put my personal woes out of my head for a little while. The menu looked fantastic, and from what I heard the execution is perfect here — not like Braise in Milwaukee last night. I placed a few orders for small items and just played it by ear.

I enjoyed chatting with the staff over how the restaurant scene in Madison is developing and then the first item, recommended by the bartender, arrived — the lamb carpaccio.

1-lamb_carpaccio

Oh, these were excellent, fresh and tasted of lamb (not some neutral — or neutralised — version of “lamb” that is so often sold in the US), with a golden yolk that added to the appeal. But one of the stars on this dish were the corn shoots…so full of natural flavour. Fantastic! Now this is what Braise didn’t do, let the natural flavours shine. This is excellent. I am smiling so far.

I finished this excellent carpaccio dish and enjoyed more cocktails and chat, now with some fellow diners at the bar. Then the next item arrived, and this should easily put Braise to shame.

2-beets

Beets, just good ol’ beets. I love beets, and this was just good. I had a quick flashback to that “marrow” dish from last night and shuddered… Fabulous stuff so far. Then the next item arrived, one of the day’s special.

3b-pork

Now this is some good pork, full of flavour from a well-cooked and well-sourced pig. Excellent on the outside, juicy on the inside. Once again, simple but damn good. Let the natural flavours shine, don’t screw with it if it don’t need screwing’ with! Awesome!

I chilled out and spent a bit of time imbibing as I needed a wee break. It’s interesting hearing about the Madison dining scene, especially in the summer when both the University of Wisconsin-Madison is out; plus the media is following the trainwreck that is Governor Scott Walker’s idiotic presidential caravan. Seriously, if you can’t manage your own state government what makes you think you can run the entire country? But the place also quietly got really full and the bar was standing-room-only by now.

At this point I decided to get one last dish to see me through the evening, and this was a big one that I had targetted earlier, and it smelled divine when it arrived.

4-pork_tripe

Pork tripe, ’nuff said. Done in an Iberian fashion, with some pork belly to add richness and a healthy amount of white beans in the tasty sauce. I wish there was a little more tripe though, I like a lot of it in my dishes. But it was tasty nevertheless.

I finished up some after-dinner drinks and watched as the place slowly emptied out for now — until their late rush. I happily took my leave before then, to free up the much-envied space, thanking the staff for their excellent and friendly service, as well as the fabulous food.

When you let the natural flavours rule the day, that’s a kitchen that I truly respect. You rather take great ingredients and manipulate it so it loses its natural goodness? You can go do TV cooking and open up in Las Vegas. Madison gets some of the best products of Wisonsin’s amazing farms, and their ability to bring their flavours to the forte without overchef’ing something to death is something that’ll get me back in Madison — especially A Pig in a Fur Coat — far more often.

Excellent, not to be missed. You’ll love this place as much as I did.

A Pig in a Fur Coat
940 Williamson Street
Madison, Wisconsin

Review: Braise

15 July 2015

I embarked on a rather long, two-part trip in the middle of July — just when everyone else is travelling… I had to be in northern Wisconsin for an event so I decided, for the first part of the trip, to spend a little time in Wisconsin. It’s been too long since I’ve been there, and I’ve always enjoyed it.

I made my way at first to Milwaukee for a quick overnight stop, and take in dinner at the well-acclaimed Braise. They are known for their connection to local producers, so I was looking forward to sampling some of the best foods Wisconsin can deliver and what this kitchen can cook up. I got there and chilled out with a drink and looked over the menu. Small plates seem to dominate, so I decided on a series of plates for tonight’s dinner.

I chilled out and tried to relax, but my back was killing me from a busy day (not helped by the flight very early in the morning). Then the first snack item arrived.

1-lamb_bun

This was a lamb bun, a special of the day (they do a pork one too). Sadly it was a bit meh for me, as the bun tasted odd, nowhere near the Asian street style they were trying to replicate. The condiments also worked against the meat, like they wanted to do too much. Over-cheffed? Anyway, let’s see what dish two brings. But when it showed up I was confused…

2-bone_marrow

This is bone marrow? Problem is what they did to it. It’s basically coagulated into something that’s really not pleasant to eat. The lump on the right of the picture was especially unpleasant, reminded me of day-old crisco that’s been left out. Why didn’t they just bring out nice, roasted marrow — instead of trying to turn it into a some coagulation that just tasted like it was gonna lodge itself in my aorta like a huge fat embolus?

I was starting to feel this dinner isn’t going my way. I’m not sure what this kitchen was thinking to be honest…all this great produce, but messed around for absolutely no reason. It’s like someone who decided they need to overdo something. Why can’t I just have the fresh ingredients in their glory? Then dish number three came and I was now sure…

3-chanterelles

I love chanterelles to death, I can eat them all day…but not really on this place. The liquid was far too acidic and just ate into the mushrooms; the knödel-wannabe (supposedly made of polenta) tasted more of matzoh. I really am souring, no pun intended, on this place… I couldn’t wait to finish the last dish and get out of here…

4-humba

And this is “humba” supposedly, a dish that I love eating. Regional Filipino cuisine is awesome if done well…but this was, just well, trying too hard. The rice cake was getting soggy and the sauce was rich but fought the other ingredients. The meat itself was lacking, and really fell in the spirit of doing Filipino cuisine. Frankly the daikon on top was probably the best feature and it soaked up the sauce far better than the rice cake.

I got a coffee and headed out, extremely disappointed. Once again, the restaurant I prioritised during trip planning turned out to be the weak link, such as Farmhouse in Kansas City. Great sourcing is vital for excellent restaurants, but when they are not executed well, you may as well be eating stuff you get at the low-quality volume grocery stores. I know Braise is trying to be experimental, but this falls flat on so many levels and ways.

Off to Madison, where I KNOW the food — especially the cooking — is excellent. Should have gone there a day early…

And once again, I should NEVER look at the James Beard list. They frequently lead folks astray…

Braise
1101 South 2nd Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

More Ribs and Tips….and a Turkey Leg!

25-30 June 2015

As during previous trips within the US, I have spent a bit time sampling the barbeque from various parts of the country. Again, I usually use ribs as my gauge on how good the barbeque is, instead of other meats like brisket (of which 90%+ of the time is disappointing). And I love ribs, so this is such a fun thing to do. The previous trips saw some very fine items, from fabulous ribs at Roper’s Ribs in St Louis to the succulent ribs at Biemer’s BBQ in Lawrence, Kansas. This trip brought me from the Mid-South to South Florida, and I happily hit the rib joints everywhere.

The first stop was immediately after arriving in Memphis. Right from the airport I headed to the suburb of Germantown and dropped into Germantown Commissary to get some ribs to go. People rave about this place, and if you rave about ribs in Memphis, it’s gotta be good. I drove quickly to my hotel not far away and opened up my dinner.

germantown commissary 25 june

It looked good but it didn’t taste very good. The speed that they processed this take-out makes me think it was just re-heated quickly. The meat lacked flavour; the smoking was not smooth, and the meat had that re-heated aspect about it. Wow, what a letdown to start this trek…

The next day I made my way to Little Rock and after a busy morning and early afternoon, I stopped in the middle of town at the local place most popular for their ribs, Sims Bar-B-Que. It was a pretty rough area, with the storefronts graced by metal bars. The doors were entry-exit on different sides (to deter crime), CCTV everywhere (including one employee monitoring it) and they forced everyone to remove even sunglasses inside (as it can be construed a disguise). Wow. But I grabbed some food to go and after a bit of a wait I headed out of there and off to my hotel nearby. I opened up my lunch and smiled…

sims bbq tips 26 june

Instead of full ribs I just grabbed a box of rib tips. I love these things, if done right I can eat them forever. Now these were fabulous, cooked perfectly, with excellent flavour. Just fabulous stuff, with the smoke fully in these morsels with just a tiny bit of sauce on the bottom. Fabulous. I’d risk my safety to come back to Sims again. Nice! Was the best food of the day (considering the odd meal I had at South on Main that night, which I chose not to review…).

The next day I skipped the BBQ heading for Oxford as I just ran out of time, so I did not revisit my ribs quest until the day after when I booked the hell out of that disgusting motel in Oxford. No matter how good that dinner at City Grocery was, that motel just ruined the night for me… I had a busy morning and dropped into a small BBQ shack in a rough part of Memphis called A&R Bar-B-Que. I took some food to go as it was pretty grimey inside, and I headed to my hotel. Damn, room wasn’t ready, so I sat in my rental car and had my lunch.

A&R tips 28 june

Luckily I ordered tips again, which made it easier in the car. These were good, with a spicy sauce on top. Meat was not as good as the fabulous stuff from Sims, but it really wokred well with the hot sauce, which made this quite interesting. But they didn’t chop this one up as well, so it was not as simple to eat as the ones from Little Rock. Nevertheless very good.

I ran a few more errands that sad afternoon (Chris Squire RIP) before I had a surprisingly good dinner at Robata. I got quite trashed at the hotel bar that night due to the Chris Squire thing really hitting me, but I had to fly out early in the morning so was just trashed but not smashed… I went to my room and remember I had something else from A&R…

A&R turkey 28 june

Yep, one of their specials, the smoked turkey leg. I apologise for the photo (and the unnecessarily wrinkly skin) as this thing was sitting wrapped in foil since late morning. But it was delicious, the smoke was very deep and made the leg very tasty. With a touch of hot sauce this was heavenly. Definitely need to eat this hot one day, but even cool it was fantastic! It probably saved me from having the hangover from hell the next morning dealing with that hellish thing called Allegiant Air…

Now in South Florida, I missed the opportunity to have lunch the first day thanks to that aforementioned crap “airline” called Allegiant Air. But a fabulous night at NAOE made it up. The next day was very busy as I headed far north, as far as Jupiter before heading on back. I made two stops then back in Fort Lauderdale, the first was to visit the grave of one of my bass heroes, the tragic Jaco Pastorius

jaco

This has so much more meaning after the Chris Squire news the other day… Then I made a second stop at one of the top BBQ places in the region, Tom Jenkins’ Bar-B-Q. It smelled so good from even blocks away… I got my order after a bit of a wait (reassuring, after that Germantown Commissary “quick” turnaround). I hopped back in my car and booked it back to Miami to my hotel and popped my lunch open…

tom jenkins 30 june

These ribs may look dry, but they are anything but. It was extremely flavourful, no need any sauce. Excellent meat, fabulous flavour. Totally worth running to Fort Lauderdale for these.

So on this trip I’ve had some poor ribs (Germantown Commissary) and some excellent ribs (Tom Jenkins’), as well as some amazing rib tips (Sims) and some excellent rib tips (A&R) — as well as the smokey and awesome turkey leg (A&R). This just reaffirms my love for BBQ of all sorts, of different meats and methods. I can’t wait for another trip just to have more variety of BBQ!

Germantown Commissary
2290 South Germantown Road
Germantown, Tennessee

Sims Bar-B-Que
2415 Broadway
Little Rock, Arkansas

A&R Bar-B-Que
1802 Elvis Presley Boulevard
Memphis, Tennessee

Tom Jenkins’ Bar-B-Q
1236 South Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Review: Blackbrick

1 July 2015

One of the big problems of Miami, in my opinion, is the transport hell that it is. The amount of toll roads is ridiculous, especially for those not familiar with the area. Then there are parking nightmares, especially off onto the barrier island. There are plenty of good restaurants there, from South Beach north, but frankly it’s not worth the trouble most of the time. So I stayed on the mainland for the entire trip (except the Brickell Key drop-in the other night for that fabulous NAOE dinner). At least with NAOE I could walk and use the free Metro Mover, but elsewhere? Forget it.

So looking for places in downtown not too far from my hotel, as I have a very early flight out of Fort Lauderdale in the morning, I ended up at Blackbrick. You may think why am I at a Chinese place in South Florida of all places, but it’s one of the highest rated places in the area, and the menu looked interesting, so I gave it a go.

It was hellish finding parking even at an early hour…they really need a pay lot for an area with so many restaurants (and no Metro or Metro mover). Miami in mid-summer is not for a long walk or else you’ll need a shower at all the restaurants… But I eventually found a space and got to Blackbrick, a small and unpretentious place with a semi-open kitchen. I sat down and ordered a cocktail and relaxed…

Not too busy yet, but I think this will be packed later, so I ordered a large number of dishes and just chilled and waited for the cascade of food. In the meantime, with my cocktail I enjoyed some of these snacks, basically faux cracklins — a vegetarian version laced with a kitchen-concocted non-MSG seasoning. It was actually pretty damn addictive…

0-fake rinds

I emptied the bowl and switched to wine when the first item appeared, the shrimp egg rolls.

1-shrimp rolls

These were huge, and extremely hot. So I actually let it “breathe” a little after the first bite. It was good, filled with goodies inside, but also on the oily side as you can imagine. As it cooled off my second item arrived, the tofu skin with pork.

2-tofu skin pork

These are similar, but far less oily and very tasty; most places don’t fry these up, but they did, and it worked pretty well. There was no need for sauce for either of the rolls, as they are solid with flavour. The cascade continued with the lamb dumplings.

3-cumin lamb dumplings

These were also on the oily side, but very tasty, with a good amount of cumin flavour. It really grew on me as I kept at it, switching between them and bites off the various rolls. Then the first steam item arrived, the very traditional shumai.

4-pork shu mai

Simple and good, as if anyone can really screw this thing up. Tasty. This was followed by a more exotic steamed dumpling dish…

5-duck dumpling

These were excellent, with a excellent duck shred inside. I enjoyed the flavour very much on this. Again, no dip needed.

By now the restaurant was very busy and service was starting to get real slow as there was just 2 servers/bartenders for the whole place. They probably need more help, even middle of the week. I thought about having a little more but my parking meter is about up and I don’t want to fight the humidity just to add money to the machine, put the tag in the car, and back, so I grabbed a snack to go and headed out.

But it was good tonight, albeit at times too oily. But I’m surprised a place like this does so well here, with more exotic tastes that really has a more West Coast audience. But that’s excellent. Along with NAOE, I’m glad to see the South Florida palate expanding — and not just bad NYC/Vegas knock-offs that are lounges or clubs first and restaurant second. Blackbrick is a good find, recommended.

Maybe there’s some hope for Miami after all.

Blackbrick
3451 NE 1st Avenue
Miami, Florida