I’m beginning to think I have a problem with filling my agenda. That is, I fill it too much.
Along with the new job (hey, CNET!), I’ve also returned to grad school this semester. And I’m still promoting Louisville Diners. And I still write on this blog. And somewhere in the middle, a husband, a dog, friends and family. So you know what that means.
Anyhoodles, I have a steaming cup of the good stuff right here so I can let you in on some events coming up this weekend. Let’s do this.
Barbecue critic to sign books at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ
Taste of Frankfort Avenue to raise money for the Clifton Center
Food and fundraising go hand in hand, like almond butter and banana (trust me on this one). Enjoy both at the 23rd annual Taste of Frankfort Avenue event at the Clifton Center, 2117 Payne Street, this Sunday, June 14 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $45, and all of the proceeds benefit the Clifton Center, a venue that hosts cultural and community events. Here is a peek at some of the restaurants that will participating in the event:
These are my favorite kinds of fundraisers. So many options under one roof AND you get to support a cool facility that promotes the arts? I’m down. For more information and to buy a ticket, visit the Clifton Center’s website.
Now, I have a college degree under my belt and I’m working on one more. I’m smart enough to know that there is indeed rhyme and reason that explains how the folks at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ get the skin of the restaurant’s wings crisp and flavorful while leaving the chicken meat moist and juicy. There’s probably some science to how long to cook their pork before a set of magical hands pulls the tender meat off the bone and onto a Klosterman bun. But I’ve come to believe in a little bit of magic after several visits to Momma’s. It’s the only way to explain how this restaurant produces consistently fantastic food that charms newcomers, pleases regulars and inspires the staff to deliver warm, down-home service that matches the meals they serve.
Nostalgia inspires everything that comes out of the kitchen at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ. Owner Chad Cooley and partner/chef Jamie Givan serve Kansas City-style barbecue, an ode to Cooley’s upbringing in Kansas, according to the restaurant’s website. The mustard and pickles portion comes “from Momma’s love” — Cooley’s mother would make batches of mustard and pickles during his childhood and continued to send them in care packages as he moved around the country, the website says. Fortunately for Louisville, Momma’s has two locations (one in Jeffersontown, on in St. Matthews) where we can get our own jars of pickles and mustard, along with a healthy heap of barbecued meat and sides.
Is your heart warm and gooey with the mentions of Momma? Well, the restaurant also donates 2 percent of its sales each month to local non-profit organizations. Talk about a sentimental one-two punch to the gut. I couldn’t help but like these guys without even taking a bite. Now that I’ve tasted the food, I might be in love.
The Momma’s menu is heavy on the meat, as any self-respecting barbecue joint should be. The choices extend beyond the just the usual pulled pork, brisket and chicken that you might find at similar restaurants. For example, you can choose between pork ribs ($12 for a half rack, $24 for a full rack) and beef ribs ($16 for a half rack, $32 for a full rack), which was enough to impress this barbecue novice (I’ve heard enough grill-side debates to know that beef versus pork ribs is a contentious issue). I’m also a fan of the spicy sausage ($10 for a spicy sausage sandwich with two sides) that’s made in-house and the smoked turkey ($9 for a turkey sandwich with two sides), which would elevate any boring midday sandwich.
The side dishes ($2 for small, $4 for medium, $7 for large) are strong enough to stand up next to the bold flavors of the main dishes. The mac and cheese is one of my favorites (not as good as my mom’s, but that’s a battle no one will win). It’s a creamy bowl of deliciousness that made me understand how some people can eat macaroni and cheese as a main dish. The same seasoning that gives the restaurant’s wings a kick also coat the french fries ($2 for a small order), so the two dishes make a wonderful pair.
And those wings… I need a minute to wax poetic. Now, it feels a little wrong to order chicken wings at a barbecue restaurant, where I feel the need to eat a main dish that has been slathered, slapped and slowly smoked to submission. Slow-cooked barbecue is harder to find than an order of chicken wings, so why go with a dish you can get at any bar? The answer is simple at Momma’s: You can’t get wings like this anywhere in Louisville. First, Momma’s leaves the sauce off the wings, a bold move when it’s so easy to smother chicken pieces in sauce to hide the under-seasoned meat underneath. Instead, the mesquite dry rub of spices that coats the skin is on full, broad display. A waiter once told me that the restaurant uses a combination of quick frying and baking to cook the wings ($1.15 each or 10 for $10). The technique results in wing pieces with crisp skin on the outside and succulent meat on the inside. The menu brags that Momma’s has “THE BEST WINGS EVER!!” and I agree.
Fortunately, Momma’s provides many ways for customers to sample the menu with just $10 in hand. Here are some $10 meals I recommend:
Split an order of 10 wings ($10) and a medium fry ($4) with a friend and get yourself a small side ($2). Order total: $9
Portion sizes at Momma’s are pretty hefty. Splitting some fries and ordering another side is enough to supplement five wings. Also, we took a waitress’s recommendation to get a side of ranch and add a squirt of the barbecue sauce on the table and made a tasty dip for both the wings and the fries. Big shout-out to her for the tip and the rest of the staff, who are nothing but nice every time I visit Momma’s. Definitely ask them for recommendations on their favorites.
Treat yourself to the slider sampler that comes with one of each of the restaurant’s mini sandwich options: pulled pork, brisket, smoked sausage, chicken and turkey. Order total: $10
Rob and I ordered the sampler on our first visit since we couldn’t decide what to get. There’s no picture because we ate everything so fast. Our bad.
Try three sausage sliders ($2/each) and a medium side of macaroni and cheese ($4). Order total: $10
The spicy sausage is my favorite of the slider selection. Add a little of Momma’s barbecue sauce and some sweet pickles, and you’ve got yourself a treat.
Opt for a turkey, pulled pork or brisket sandwich that comes with two sides. Order total: $9
Along with the macaroni and cheese and french fries, Momma’s sides include coleslaw, potato salad, mashed potatoes, baked beans, green beans and “cheezy corn.” There are also some other sandwich selection for $10 or less, such as the grilled cheese on which you can add any meat ($10), a sausage sandwich ($10) and the turkey club ($9).
Momma’s Mustard, Pickles and BBQ is a Louisville treat. Try it yourself. I dare you not to believe there’s some magic there.
Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ
Two Louisville locations: 102 Bauer Avenue and 119 S. Hurstbourne Parkway
There’s also a Momma’s food truck you can spot around town.
Still on board? Then you might be interested in the first-ever Butchertown Porktoberfest from 5-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at The Pointe, 1205 East Washington Street.
Here’s a blurb about the event from the Butchertown Neighborhood Association:
This barbeque and pork inspired culinary competition will feature live music by Hog Operation and Johnny Berry, local brew from Apocalypse Brewery and food samples from more than 15 of Louisville’s finest restaurants. …
Participating restaurants include Atria, Cellar Door Chocolates, Decca, Farm to Fork, Harvest, Holy Grale, Jack Knife, Momma’s Pickles Mustard and BBQ, Monkey Wrench, Morels, RYE, St. Charles Exchange, Stellar Sweets, The Bristol and Wiltshire.
Don’t fret, vegheads (I say that term lovingly) — there will be vegetarian options at the event.
Admission is free, but bring some cash to buy samples, proceeds from which will benefit the Butchertown Neighborhood Association.
There are a couple of food-centric festivals going on this weekend. Here’s the rundown:
Louisville Irish Fest: A celebration of our friends across the Pond that includes music and family activities. I attended the event last year and had a blast. Don’t leave before you try some beer-battered fish, a dark beer and some hearty stew.
(Blogger’s note: This is Ashlee Eats’ first guest $10 Challenge from reader Matt Ruben. Want to get in on the fun? Here’s how.)
Like most of the businesses along this stretch of Whiskey Row, Harley’s is relatively new. Catacorner from the KFC/Yum! Center, it’s situated where a former blues bar, Zena’s Cafe, lived for many years. It’s easy to miss as a lunch option, with the flashier quartet of Patrick O’Shea’s, Doc Crow’s, Bearno’s and Los Aztecas across the street. But if you’re like me, you have an inner radar that sniffs out bars. And this bar does have a kitchen. Much like Denny Crum’s name adorns the court at Freedom Hall, Harley’s kitchen is the Big River BBQ.
It’s been my experience that bar food has a better chance of being good when the menu is smaller, and the Big River menu is nothing if not brief. There are a several lighter options like onion rings and soup, but for a full meal, your choices are pretty well narrowed to a meat sandwich – pulled pork, chicken, or brisket – with a choice of sides. Spare ribs or the bourbon brownie are an option if you aren’t restricted to a $10 tab. Plenty of tap options and a full bar for the happier hour crowd.
The pulled pork comes undressed on plain white toast, which is nice, since it gives you the option of trying several sauces on the table. The basic sauce is tangy and a little smoky, with options varying in the amount of heat they provide. My pork meat was maybe a little lean, but not too dry. Sadly, no vinegar-based sauces for this Carolina boy, but I know better than to expect that. My side of fries was pretty standard. The slaw was the one disappointment, standard cafeteria-style-in-a-jar. It’s as though they were trying to hide the cabbage. But the main act, the barbecue, was fine for the price. On the whole, a satisfying and casual lunch.
It definitely meets my criteria for a good business lunch in that service is quick and portions are reasonable (not too big, not too small). Traffic was light on the day I came, but my food was on the table less than 10 minutes after I ordered, and I paid the bill and was out the door in well under 30. The servers were very friendly. My waitress was experimenting with dissolving a sweet tart in some vodka, in fact. You’ll have to ask her how that turned out, since I never did stick around for the ending.
I’m always surprised at how much space there is in these old brick buildings. Ceilings are probably 15 feet high. Seating is plentiful and unpretentious, and there are pool tables and TV sets. But no one would mistake Harley’s for a dive bar either. I like the old Actor’s Theater headshots that line the walls. The waitress told me they used to decorate the walls at Zena’s, so they kept them.
I don’t feel like barbecuing this Fourth of July weekend.
I’m up to my eyeballs in moving boxes. I’ve got no time for grilling out.
If you’re feeling just as disenchanted with the thought of firing up a grill as I am, Groupon is offering a couple of holiday weekend deals for getting some barbecue without all of the necessary labor.
But when it comes to food, I am just a sheep following something shiny.
My latest $10 Challenge at FireFresh BBQ is a prime example of this follower-not-leader phenomenon that only strikes when I’m hungry.
I recently went to FireFresh’s downtown Louisville franchise, which is located on a Challenge-friendly block that includes Dish on Market and Chop Shop Salads.
FireFresh’s menu offers a lot of ‘cue. Specifically, a lot of meat. There’s pulled pork, pulled chicken, marinated pork, brisket, rib tips and ribs. Not into ‘cue? Then there’s fish and chicken tenders. You can get your meat on a salad (pulled pork or pulled chicken salad, $6.49; chicken tender salad, $6.99). You can get it on a sandwich, which comes in three sizes – rookie, regular and Big Bruce (starting at $3.49). And there’s enough sampler platters, combos and dinners to satisfy your hunger no matter what time of the day and level of hunger you might have. On top of all this meat, there’s 11 different side dishes that range from green beans to mac and cheese to cinnamon apples. The selection makes it easy for everyone to find something to love.
Conventional wisdom told me to order something, well, barbecued. If there’s a specific food or drink mentioned in the name of a restaurant, it’s wise to order just that (see Hillbilly Tea).
Instead, I did exactly as the customer in front of me — I ordered the chicken tender plate, the special of the day that included tenders, two sides, Texas toast and a drink for $6.99. This dish is one of the few things on FireFresh’s menu that isn’t barbecued, which seems like a bad decision to make at a barbecue joint.
Fortunately, my choice to follow a leader led to a delicious, filling lunch.
When I got back to the office to eat lunch, I opened my container and was greeted with a bounty of skinny fries that hid most of the chicken tenders. I’m usually opposed to such thin fries that demand to be eaten in bunches, but these were spicy and hot, so I quickly forgave their waif-like figures. When I first bit into one of the fries, my eyes widened and I said to no one in particular, “Hel-looo.” They were that good, y’all.
The country coleslaw that was my second side was very creamy as the cashier said it would be. The slaw had a tasty, sweet flavor to it, but the sauce that covered the cabbage was too thick for my taste. Next time, I might try the sweet vinegar coleslaw, which the cashier said is a lot lighter.
The Texas toast had a thick layer of butter in its center that overpowered the bread. This much butter would probably earn the Paula Deen seal of approval, but I could do without it.
Eventually, I got to the chicken tenders buried beneath the fries. The dinner only came with three tenders, but each were thick-cut breast meat that were battered and fried. The tenders were juicy and covered with just a thin coat of batter, a huge improvement from the tenders I’ve had from fast-food restaurants that taste more like flour than chicken. They were just spicy enough to be interesting, but basic enough to please a lot of folks.
My meal came with two to-go containers of the barbecue sauce of my choice, the Sweet and Tangy, in which I dipped the chicken and fries. I can imagine buying a bottle of that stuff and putting it on everything I own.
I was glad that I followed the woman in front of me in ordering the special. I got a lot of food for little money, and for the most part, it was pretty darn good. Others seemed to prefer following, as well – the guy behind me in line ordered the special, too.
Notes about FireFresh BBQ
The restaurant offers specials throughout the week. Follow them on Twitter to see the daily specials.
FireFresh sells bottles of their various barbecue sauces in the restaurant.
If you go to the downtown location, avoid the crowds by visiting closer to 1 p.m. when the lunch crowd begins to thin.
FireFresh BBQ, 211 S. 5th Street, Louisville, Ky. (two other locations at 8610 Dixie Highway, Louisville, Ky. and 81 Jeanie Drive, Shelbyville, Ky.)
Chicken tender plate with soft drink, seasoned fries, coleslaw and Texas toast: $6.99
I lived in Louisville for 17 years, but there was a lot of stuff I missed.
I didn’t discover all the shops along Bardstown Road until freshman year of college. I didn’t go to the Kentucky Derby until I was assigned to cover the event for the Lexington Herald-Leader two years ago. And I drove on Frankfort Avenue for the first time in February.
But the latest $10 Challenge made me hang my head in shame.
How could I spend the most formidable years of my life in Louisville, yet miss out on the greatness that is Mark’s Feed Store?
Sure, I had heard of Mark’s Feed Store. But for the longest time, I thought the business was a livestock supply company. So color me surprised when a friend told me about the great and inexpensive barbecue on which she feasted at Mark’s Feed Store. Those context clues were enough to inform me that: