Review: Premium meat from Mattingly worth the investment

A box of meat from Mattingly. Christmas came early?
A box of meat from Mattingly. Christmas came early?

Let’s get the tough part out of the way. This blog post is going to feature expensive meats firmly settled in Treat Yo’ Self territory.

Mattingly Foods – A. Thomas Meats invited me to review a selection of their products – hamburger patties, steaks and pork chops, to be exact. This local operation supplies high-quality meat to restaurants in the region and individual customers on a cut-to-order basis. It was hard to say no to a review request from a company with such deep roots in the city.

Yet, I was torn. The selection of meat from Mattingly is of premium quality with prices that reflect that commitment. Of the meat I sampled, the New York Strip is $13.75 a pound, pork chops are $5.50 per pound, and the hamburger patties are $3.50 per pound.

We’re all regular folks, here. You know and I know that the prices made us gulp. But if you’re going to go big, go with Mattingly.

Bringing home Mattingly Meat was like sneaking into the kitchen of my favorite steakhouse, clunking the chef over the head, and stealing slabs of beef from the fridge. My galley kitchen was instantly upgraded when I cooked a New York strip.

New York Strip with peas and mashed potatoes.
New York Strip with peas and mashed potatoes.

The steak cut like velvet, juicing sliding down the glowing pink grains. I only seasoned it with salt and pepper, and that was all that this strip needed.

Pig, meet cow.
Pig, meet cow.

The pork chop was equally succulent, with little fat and lots of tender meat.

A burger from Mattingly meat.
A burger from Mattingly meat.

The hamburgers were juicy and retained their size as the fat cooked off.

So how can you make this price point work?

Stretch out your meat:

  • The hamburger patties I received were SUPER HUGE. I took two of the patties and cooked them with a can of red beans and taco seasoning for burritos.
Beef and red beans.
Beef and red beans.
  • I took the three remaining patties and reshaped them into four smaller burgers.
  • The New York strip was large enough to share between two people, along with a couple of side dishes.
  • Future possibility for the remaining steak: stir fry.

Deciding to spend the money on Mattingly’s selection is hard. Fortunately, Mattingly’s offers a variety of packages and cuts of meat, and they even have a bargain outlet. Treat yo’ self to a belly full of premium protein.

For information on ordering, visit the Mattingly Foods – A. Thomas Meats website

The $10 Challenge: Mussel & Burger Bar

 

MusselBurgerentry

 

(Here’s the first winner of the Readers’ Choice $10 Challenge poll. Since there was a tie for first place, the second location will be featured in two weeks.)

I’ve thrown in a couple of extra bucks when a $10 Challenge isn’t going my way. Sometimes, the food is just so good, and the prices teeter just a smidge above my self-imposed limit, that I’ll fail a Challenge on purpose.

In returning to my frugal roots, I decided to adhere more closely to the terms of the $10 Challenge with one of my favorite restaurants, Mussel & Burger Bar.

Man, was that tough.

Mussel & Burger Bar has been open for less than a year. Yet the same folks who have injected flavor into the Louisville dining scene (think Guaca Mole Cocina Mexicana, Mojito and Havana Rumba) have created a concept around its titular offerings that have garnered much-deserved praise for this Jefferstown restaurant. The mussels are served in sauces such as curry cream or blue cheese beer pancetta that make this seafood more interesting than I thought possible. And the burgers would make the Hamburglar rip off his mask and weep tears of joy. The combinations of toppings transport me across the world and back again:

  • Spanish Blue: La Peral Spanish blue cheese and fig marmalade
  • Mediterranean: Ground lamb, quince marmalade, tzatziki sauce
  • Argentinean: Chorizo Argentino, provaletta, chimichurri sauce
  • Southern Bell: Fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese
The Spanish Blue.
The Spanish Blue.

These are masterpieces presented on wooden cutting boards and wax paper.

The ingredients are house-made and high quality, and the prices reflect these premium ingredients. An appetizer portion of mussels is $9, and an entrée size is $12. And the burgers, including one vegetarian option, start at about $11 (includes fries). For me, this has been fine and dandy. I expect to spend at least $20 on an entrée and cocktail when I visit Mussel & Burger Bar, and I’m treated to a meal and experience well worth the price.

When I limited myself to just spending 10 bucks, I was in a pickle. I had to take to the robust appetizer and side items menus to craft a meal that would fall beneath my price threshold. I had my mind set on the sweet potato fries ($4), but I made a mental note to try the duck fat potatoes (also $4) during my next visit. Choosing an accompaniment to the fries was tricky. Sliders made of either chorizo, Angus beef or soft crab were $8 and would have catapulted me past $10. At that point, it would have made more sense to just order an entrée that would have been about the same price. I also considered the short rib nachos ($8), an appetizer I’ve shared on date night. This dish, served in a small cast iron skillet, is made up of a layer of house-cut, crisp potato chips topped with slow-cooked beef short rib, cheese and guacamole. It’s a little bit of heaven that, unfortunately, would be a little too much money if I paired it with the sweet potato fries.

Short rib nachos.
Short rib nachos.

Since I was sticking to my guns about those fries, I only had two options to fit my budget – beef ($5 for five) or salmon tartare ($6 for five) taquitos. I went with the beef.

Taquitos and sweet potato fries.
Taquitos and sweet potato fries.

Did I squeal with glee when I saw this cute little presentation? YES. I love tiny versions of anything.

The taquitoes are bite-sized, hard-shelled tacos filled (well, as much as you can fill a tiny taco) with ground beef and black bean puree and sprinkled with queso fresco and pickled sweet peppers. The shells were nice and crisp even though a little beef grease had trickled out of the filling. The beef and bean combination was mild and slightly smoky.

MusselBurgertaquitos2

I knew that the sweet potato fries would be fantastic, and Mussel & Burger Bar didn’t let me down. Each fry is crisp and peppery on the outside with a healthy filling of sweet potato on the inside. And the accompanying smoky pineapple dipping sauce made me wonder why we, as a nation, haven’t explored more pineapple and sweet potato pairings.

Even though I didn’t have mussels or a burger, I was satisfied with my meal — until I watched my husband, Rob, enjoy his order. I had some extreme burger envy as Rob ate his BBB (Bacon Breakfast Burger, $14), an Angus beef patty topped with white cheddar, caramelized onions, pork belly, a fried egg, and maple-infused aioli. My taquitos seemed abysmal in comparison to that work of culinary art dripping on the butcher’s paper that served as the tablecloth.

It’s possible to finagle the appetizer and side menus to create a few combinations that will leave you with a $10 tab at Mussel & Burger Bar. The entrees, however, are well worth breaking this Challenge’s threshold. Control your spending by ordering just an entrée without an appetizer (portions are generous enough to keep you satisfied) or finding a few friends with whom you can split some dishes. Just don’t leave without at least trying a slider.

Mussel & Burger Bar, 9200 Taylorsville Road, Louisville

Five beef taquitos: $5

Sweet potato fries: $4

Total (without tax and tip): $9

Mission: Accomplished

Event alert: Butchertown Porktoberfest, Oct. 11, 2013

If you have an aversion to swine, look away.

BBQ smoked pork shoulders (Boston butt roasts)
BBQ smoked pork shoulders (Boston butt roasts) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Butchertown Porktoberfest

5-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11

The Pointe, 1205 East Washington Street

For more information: http://www.butchertown.blogspot.com/

The $10 Challenge: Addis Bar and Grill

My favorite meal at Addis Bar and Grill. It tastes better than it looks, I promise.
My favorite meal at Addis Bar and Grill. It tastes better than it looks, I promise.

I’ve embraced the “if not now, when?” motto in 2013. But all this change calls for some things to stay the same. I guess that’s why I refuse to order something new from Addis Bar and Grill.

Maybe the sweet sting of curry I smell when I enter the restaurant puts me into a trance. Maybe the wealth of options makes me panic and I choose something familiar and safe. Or maybe I’ve just found one dish at one restaurant that makes me happy enough to never branch out.

Addis Grill is an Ethiopian and Mediterranean restaurant on Fourth Street about a half a block south of Main Street in downtown Louisville. If provoked, I could probably give exact latitude and longitude coordinates — my day job is within spitting distance to Addis. Yet, it took me more than a year to stop in and try this eatery that is tucked away in the shadows behind concrete pillars. I ignored Addis as I walked several times a week to the more bustling food corridors of downtown Louisville for lunch.

One day, I got sick of the usual line-up of sandwiches, salads, and Mexican-inspired fare that I usually turned for a midday meal. A co-worker recommended Addis, a more international option than my usual standbys that was less than a five-minute walk from the office.

Addis serves up a broad menu that provides the chance to sample basic Mediterranean dishes. Appetizers, such as baba ghannouj ($4.75), creamy hummus ($4.75) and stuffed grape leaves ($4.99), are inexpensive enough to allow the more hesitant diner to try something new without spending too much money. The variety of dishes are wonderful for pleasing a group of hungry colleagues with diverse tastes, such as a selection of kabobs for meat-eaters ($7.95 to $12.95 depending on the meat) or vegetarian dishes such as the mujaddarah ($6.95).

All this sounded fine and dandy until my eyes settled on the Ethiopian Vegetarian, a lunch platter for only $7.95 that includes the following:

  • Misir Wot: Split lentil stew simmered in berbere (Ethiopian pepper)
  • Kik Alicha: Split peas stew in spiced turmeric flavored sauce
  • Misir Alicha: Whole lentil with onion and garlic jalapeno
  • Gomen Wot: Collard green with onion and garlic and spices
  • Atkilt Wot: Cabbage with carrot, onion and garlic in turmeric
  • Fasolia: Fresh string beans with carrots, onion and garlic

 

It was love at first sight. Variety? Check. Lots of vegetables, so it’s probably somewhat healthy? Check. Only $7.95? I couldn’t order fast enough.

The meal lost some of its visual luster when the employees stuffed everything in a Styrofoam container. Don’t be turned off by appearances — looks aren’t everything. Just let the spicy fragrance transport your mind to another world.

A full, un-Instagrammed view of the Ethiopian Vegetarian.
A full, un-Instagrammed view of the Ethiopian Vegetarian.

The Ethiopian Vegetarian is served over injera, a spongy, slightly bitter flatbread. Injera is very porous, so all the flavors from the thick stews on top seep into the bread. Injera is like an edible plate, and who doesn’t like dinnerware they can eat?

Though the stews are rubbing elbows with one another, each has a distinct flavor and texture. My favorite selection is the misir wot, a fragrant, rich lentil stew with a warm, spicy flavor. I also love the firmness of the cabbage, string beans and collard greens, a nice change from the more mushy texture of the lentils and split peas.

I’ve been to Addis three times in the past month. I have only ordered the Ethiopian Vegetarian. I’m sure the rest of the menu is just as delightful, but this spicy selection made a big enough impression that I don’t want to venture out.

Notes on Addis

  • My co-workers love the chicken curry that is served with rice, hummus and pita and only $8.49. One day, I’ll try it.
  • Visit Addis for lunch when the prices are a little cheaper than at dinner, but make sure to arrive before noon or you could face a line.

The Stats

Addis Bar and Grill, 109 S. Fourth Street, Louisville, Ky.

  • Ethiopian Vegetarian: $7.95
  • Total (with tax): $8.43

Mission: Accomplished

*UPDATE WITH WINNER* The $10 Challenge: The Irish Rover (and an app giveaway)

Congratulations to commenter number four, Jake! Check your email for information about your free download of the Menu and Hours app.

Blogger’s note: Irish Rover is featured in the Menu and Hours app, so Michelle Jones and I would like to give away a copy of the app for free! Just leave a comment on this post by Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. that answers the following question: What is your favorite Irish food?

The fish and chips from The Irish Rover.
The fish and chips from The Irish Rover.

Two things to remember before you visit The Irish Rover:

      1. Ten dollars will take you a long way at this Louisville Original, but $15 goes so much further.
      2. Don’t wear Spanx during your meal.

The Irish Rover delivers food hearty enough to stretch your waistline while your budget remains fairly intact. I say “fairly” because it’s hard not to sample a variety of dishes from a menu bursting with descriptions that make everything sound delicious. And the good (and bad) part about it is that everything lives up to its introductory prose.

The restaurant’s atmosphere is well-worn and humble, thanks in part to its location in a 150-year-old building on Frankfort Avenue. The entrance thrusts patrons directly into the bar area where drinkers mingle with folks just waiting for their table. It got a little cramped during my weeknight visit, but Rob and I were rewarded for our brief wait with a quaint table for two in a dim section of the restaurant. Lots of hardwood? Low lighting? A handsome date? I was a fan.

I quickly snapped out of my romantic lull when the waitress handed me the menu. This is when things got real.

I don’t know much about Irish cooking. But if I use The Irish Rover as my definitive guide, I would say the diet of our friends across the pond is filled with lamb, fish, potatoes and cabbage. In short, stick-to-your-ribs food.

Irish food is more than just Guinness Beef Stew ($6.95), fish and chips (market price) and bangers and mash ($6.95). The Irish Rover takes (what I assume are) traditional Irish ingredients like fish and rabbit and presents it in dishes that make the ingredients more accessible to those not used to this genre of food. For example, the Welsh Rabbit sandwich slides this meat into a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich on sourdough bread (totally mistaken about the Welsh rabbit, y’all) (with Irish chips, $6.95); salmon is presented
in casserole form with potatoes, cream and Swiss and Parmesan cheeses (smoked salmon and potato gratin, $8.95); prawn are paired with cashews in a light salad ($9.95). I wish I could say something more poetic than, “Everything looked good.” But it was true. Everything on the menu did look good, from the appetizers to the desserts.

I wanted a little taste of everything. We started with the Cordon Bleu Fritters ($4.95), little balls of ham, chicken and Swiss cheese batter and deep fried. They were crunchy, gooey and delightful. I followed with a cup of leek and potato soup ($2.95), a rich soup that was a soothing chaser to the sharpness of the fritters.

I was all set to order the lamb-stuffed cabbage ($12.95) until our nice waitress began to list the evening’s specials. I heard the words “meatloaf,” “stuffed with bleu cheese” and “brown gravy” before I blacked out from disbelief that such flavors could exist in one dish. When I came to, I ordered the bleu-cheese stuff meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy ($12.95).

The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.
The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.

At this point, my abdomen was screaming at the Spanx that was supposed to hold me into my date-night dress. I couldn’t possibly dive into this plate of deliciousness, could I? Oh, yes, I could.

This was a meal for the record books. A rich brown gravy covered two thick slices of meatloaf and hid the mixture of bleu cheese and mushrooms stuffed in the center. The creamy gravy and moist beef balanced the tanginess of the bleu cheese, a wonderful combination I would have never considered without The Irish Rover.

The mashed potatoes were lumpy and filled with onion and hunks of potatoes that escaped the masher. The mashed potatoes’ thick consistency was perfect for constant dipping in the gravy sliding along the edges of my place.

The steamed vegetables were the Michelle Williams of this Destiny’s Child of a dish — an ingredient that rounds out the trio, but you could honestly do without it. But I dutifully ate my vegetables to help balance all the meat and potatoes I put back in the course of my meal.

By the end of the night, I wasn’t sure what I was more excited to do — eat the slice of meatloaf and hunk of potatoes in my to-go box or change into more bloat-friendly sweatpants. I may have regretted my choice in foundation undergarments that evening, but I was happy I went over my $10 benchmark. I left with a second meal that reheated wonderfully and a taste of Ireland.

The Irish Rover, 2319 Frankfort Ave., Louisville

Cordon Bleu Fritters: $4.95

Leek and Potato Soup: $2.95

Bleu Cheese-Stuffed Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables: $12.95

Total (without tax and tip): $20.85

Mission: Failed

Downtown Louisville is about to get Smashed

Remember this?

The Bluegrass Smashburger.

That’s a close-up from Smashburger, a new-to-Louisville burger chain that I reviewed in September.

On Wednesday, March 21, Smashburger will open a location on at Fourth and Jefferson streets in downtown Louisville, right next to Potbelly Sandwiches and down the road from Fourth Street Live.

Here’s a corporate refresher if you forgot what Smashburger is all about:

Smashburgers are “smashed-to-order” the moment an order is placed. The burgers are made of 100-percent fresh, never frozen, Certified Angus Beef that are smashed on a flat grill to sear in the juicy flavor. To further the “better burger” experience, Smashburgers are served on a toasted artisan bun and topped with a selection of real cheeses, the freshest produce, and top-quality condiments.

I liked Smashburger a lot during my visit. But I’ve heard rumblings that the food hasn’t been as good since the restaurant’s Louisville premiere. Anybody visited Smashburger lately? What did you think of the food?

Garage Bar opens tonight in NuLu on East Market Street, features pizza, ham bar

The chef behind Proof on Main in the swanky 21c Museum Hotel will debut a new restaurant in NuLu at 5 p.m. today.

Chef Michael Paley has transformed a former auto service garage at 700 East Market Street into Garage Bar, a casual restaurant with a menu featuring artisan pizza, ham, oysters and a variety of Southern food.

Here’s a blurb about the restaurant’s pizza selections:

Pizza is the heart of the menu. Each pie is 100 percent handmade, naturally leavened, and cooked in a wood-fired brick oven that was built in Naples, Italy by Stefano Ferrara. Pizzas are baked quickly at 850 degrees to produce a thin, chewy crust that is lightly blistered and crisp on the outside.

I love pizza, but there is something more intriguing in the restaurant’s repertoire — A HAM BAR.

The rest of the menu is anchored by the ham bar, which serves up local and regional Country Hams served with Toast and Red Eye Aioli alongside an ever-changing selection of freshly shucked oysters. The ham bar seats seven diners and offers full menu service with a view of the open kitchen and pizza oven.

YES, PLEASE.

Visit The Root Cellar for some great fresh, local groceries

Don't let the garage-like appearance deceive you. There's awesomeness inside.

I’ve only been out of Old Louisville for a couple of weeks, but there’s a lot I miss already.

Pizza night with my roommates. Burger Boy right down the street. The beautiful scenery that made my walks with Roscoe pleasant.

But a relatively new local produce market will keep me coming back to my old neighborhood.

The Root Cellar opened this May at the corner of Third and Hill streets in what appears to be a former garage or gas station. The business’ aim is simple – provide only locally raised food to a section of Louisville missing a retail outlet for fresh, local produce.

Here’s a blurb from The Root Cellar’s website:

The idea for The Root Cellar was born out of a desire to be part of the local food chain in an environmentally positive and socially conscientious way … The neighborhood of Old Louisville has been in need of a small, Mom and Pop retail store for many years.  The people have longed for just such an new idea in retailing that The Root Cellar provides.  We also are anxious to reach out to the other surrounding neighborhoods like California, Park Hill, Algonquin, Smoketown, Shelby Park, Limerick and Germantown, as well as, serve the University of Louisville and its unique blend of faculty, staff and students.

The Root Cellar provides a generous variety of local food that extends beyond fruits and vegetables. On a couple of recent visits, the shelves and refrigerators have been stocked with items such as milk, honey, bison meat and yogurt. I am a big fan of the eggs that The Root Cellar offers.

It’s wonderful to have this market in this part of town. I hope that kids and adults without regular exposure to the joys of local eating will benefit from The Root Cellar’s presence. Find out more about The Root Cellar on Facebook and Twitter.

The $10 Challenge: Bunz Burgerz

A bison burger, fries and a side of Bunz sauce at Bunz Burgerz.

The only thing more aggravating than replacing a perfectly good “s” with a “z” in a restaurant name is waiting for an hour for your food at aforementioned burger restaurant.

Unfortunately, these are the things that I remember the most about my first visit to Bunz Burgerz on Baxter Avenue. My burger, though it was indeed delicious, wasn’t tasty enough make me forget all of the kinks that dampened my inaugural trip to a place voted “Best of Louisville” burger.

Groupon introduced me to Bunz Burgerz with a deal that allowed participants to buy $10 worth of food at the restaurant for just five bucks. I can’t miss a deal like that in my current economic state, so I purchased the Groupon and planned a Saturday lunch trip with two of my friends.

I was prepared to indulge in a good ol’ American burger made of local ingredients. Autumn, one of my dining companions, bought the maximum three Groupons to Bunz Burgerz because she liked it so much. And some online menu studying revealed that this restaurant provided many options to jazz up any hamburger.

Bunz Burgerz offers a list of Gourmet Bunz starting at $4.99. This portion of the menu features the restaurant’s original creations, such as the Blue State Bunz with two patties, blue cheese, pickles and Bunz sauce ($6.79) and the Highland Bunz with a single patty, feta cheese, fried capers, chopped olive blend and mayo.

The control freaks can build their own burgers with a variety of veggies, sauces and cheeses. And Bunz Burgerz tries to please lots of diets with a Portabella Bunz ($4.89), Salmon Bunz ($5.79) or Turkey Bunz ($5.89).

(Side note: My left pinky is about to go numb from reaching down for the “z” button so much.)

I decided what I wanted before I arrived at Bunz Burgerz. A Saturday lunch rush in a tiny eatery is not the ideal time or place for contemplating a menu’s options.

Bunz Burgerz is a four-tables-and-two-counters-sized joint. When I arrived at about 1 p.m., the dining area was filled with a line of people waiting to order, folks chomping away at delicious-looking burgers and onion rings at the few coveted tables, and individuals tucked in tiny places with their arms crossed waiting for their order.

After I ordered a Bison Bunz ($5.99) with pepperjack cheese (49 cents), lettuce and tomato, fries and a drink ($2.89), my two friends and I squeezed to a window-side counter with no chairs to wait for our order. Between teaching one another about our new Android phones, we table stalked, aka stared at patrons eating at other tables grasping for signs that they will leave soon. Eventually, we migrated to a table with only two chairs as the previous eaters were throwing away their trash. Then, after seeing that one member of our trio was left without a seat, a woman who just finished our meal offered us her soon-to-be-empty three-top.

An hour passed, and my friends and I were still burger-less. A trickle of hungry patrons went to the counter to ask about the progress of their order. Bunz Burgerz only had two people working at the restaurant – the cook and the cashier. They were generous with their apologies, but this duo wasn’t enough to effectively serve a busy Saturday lunch crowd in one of the most happening corridors in town.

About 70 minutes into my visit to Bunz Burgerz, bison burger was in hand, then in mouth.

My first eager bite.

The upside to waiting at the restaurant is that each burger is made to order. My bison burger, a leaner take on a traditional beef patty, was piping hot, as were the heap of fries beneath it. My patty was slightly pink in the center, which kept the burger from drying out. The bison appeared to be pre-patted, as opposed to the freshly formed patties of my friends’ beef burgers. But it was still a dang good burger without a lot of bells and whistles. And pepperjack is always a good road to take to Burgertown if the option is available. All this was perched on a soft sesame seed bun that was buttered and toasted.

The Bunz sauce, which I got in a container on the side, really spiced up my burger. It’s a mayo-based condiment with chipotle seasoning, which gave it a pink hue and a spicy kick. It was also good for fry dipping.

My buddies, who ordered the Red State Bunz (two patties, spicy pickles, pepperjack cheese, grilled jalapenos, grilled onions, hot sauce and mayo, $6.69) and a Single Bunz ($3.89), were just as pleased with their meals, if not more. The beef patties were juicy and thick. But waiting an hour for some meat between two pieces of bread is asking a lot from me.

Will I return to Bunz Burgerz? Probably so. My burger was good. My fries were crispy. My dipping sauce was delicious.

A restaurant is allowed to have off days. I believe in such things as an overwhelmed staff and doling out second chances. But I also believe that going to Bunz Burgerz on a weekday is the way to go.

Notes on Bunz Burgerz

  • When you enter the restaurant, a partial menu is located straight ahead on the lower part of the counter. Laminated copies of the full menu are on the counter. If you don’t know what you want, please step to the side or step outside – space is tight.
  • The restaurant offers Bunz of the Day, which can get pretty interesting. The special on my visit was a burger with chili and sour cream, among other toppings.

Bunz Burgerz, 969 1/2 Baxter Ave., Louisville, Ky.

  • Bison Bunz: $5.99
  • Pepperjack cheese: 49 cents
  • Lettuce, tomato, Bunz sauce: Free
  • Combo (addition of fries and a drink): $2.89
  • Total (with tax): $9.33
  • Groupon Total: $5
Mission: Accomplished

The $10 Challenge: FireFresh BBQ

The chicken tender special from FireFresh BBQ. There are chicken tenders under there, I promise.

I try to be a leader.

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.

The Stats

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
  • Total (with tax): $7.41

Mission: Accomplished