Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Old Ball And Chain-- Should You Eat At Mom & Pop Places, Regional Chains, Or National Chains? My Treatise On Eating Out.

Over the last 11 months my job has taken me into parts of Louisiana I’d never explored before. I’ve enjoyed the chance to see so much of this state for which I’ve fallen so hard in love. Louisiana loves food. We celebrate it constantly. There are festivals year round that highlight our bounty of seafood, fruits, nuts, porcine, grass turned into sucrose, baked goods, sausages, and wild game. I love food in Louisiana. I love our courage to use spice. I love how we use the whole pig nose to tail, everything but the oink. I love how there are so many great places to find good food here. It has been so much fun find restaurants that are new to me but that are legendary locally. Amongst a group of my friends there has been a discussion brewing about the issues of patronizing chain restaurants. More specifically, the point is being driven that chains, except the local chains, should be avoided. There is the belief among some that large chains can drive small one-of-a kind local eateries out of business. That chains can destroy the unique fabric of a community. What defines a local or regional chain? What if a large regional or national chain alters its menu to fit in with local flavors and customs? What if the local place doesn’t try to match the needs of the community? First let me tell you of some of the best food finds I’ve found through my job.

  • I love a good steak. It is no secret that in Baton Rouge, I think Doe’s Eat Place is tops. The casual atmosphere, the servers, the guys in back, the owners, the barkeep are all great. The steak is freaking delicious. The sides are all great, brunch is pretty good (please try the Eggs BeneNic), and dessert is delicious. Let it also be known that Doe’s Eat Place is a “Regional” franchise. There are locations in Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Missouri, and here in Louisiana. Yes, I’ve actually done some business here.

  • The Diamond Grill in Alexandria serves an interesting steak that might come close to Doe’s. My guess is that they age it in some way that imparts new flavors to the meat (think blue cheese), I enjoyed it. The atmosphere there is pretty swank to boot.

  • Tony’s Po-Boy in Chalmette makes what I think is the penultimate catfish or shrimp po-boy. I used to eat there so often for lunch that one day when I forgot to pay, they let me walk out the door knowing full well I’d be back later that week.

  • The Seafood Pot in Destrehan serves up some of the best boiled shrimp and crawfish I’ve ever eaten. My expense report was through the roof when I ended up taking eight people to lunch at once there, but everyone was happy. They are always happy to top off your Barq’s root beer and sell some of their own stuffed peppers or boiling seasoning.

  • East Gate Barbecue in Morgan City impressed me. The brisket, ribs, pulled pork were great. While they make several unique sauces, the meat stood on it’s own. I also found the staff to be incredibly nice.

  • Nobile’s Restaurant And Bar in Lutcher serves one hell of a plate lunch. Do not bother looking at the menu, order the special of the day and leave some room for pie. Great atmosphere in this old converted drug store and the staff and patrons are awfully friendly. I guarantee that you will leave fat and happy.

  • Cafe Des Amis in Breaux Bridge made quite an impression on a customer from Wisconsin. We happened to eat there on Wednesday night, a night they usually book for a local band. The food was fantastic and we really enjoyed ourselves. My friend left talking about how well seasoned food in Louisiana is and how he loves our musical traditions.

That being said, I have been to some real stinkers run by Moms & Pops as well. For instance yesterday’s lunch was at a place I’d heard for years had the best fried chicken in Port Barre. I was let down by the food and cleanliness of the booth I sat in. I ate at a barbecue joint in Chalmette that claimed to have won all kinds of awards. I found they served pre-sliced brisket that had been sitting under a warming lamp for ages (and I was early for lunch) drying out. I was at a seafood restaurant in Buras-Triumph that was supposed to be the best place south of Empire. My sweet tea tasted like bar soap and my food was, well almost forgettable, save that I know I didn’t enjoy it. Mind you, there may be three places to eat south of Empire Louisiana. I found poorly cooked frozen vegetables and undercooked chicken on my plate at a local/regional chain restaurant in LaPlace. I used to eat at a restaurant in Krotz Springs (now under a new owner) where I would call in my order, giving them my name so they would know to make sure that my food was hot. Otherwise it would take way too long and come out cold.

The problem is that while I love the exploration and adventure of trying out new restaurants, sometimes I want to eat at a place where I know the food and cleanliness should be at an established level of expectation. McDonald’s hamburgers are the same across the country and most of the way around the world. McDonald’s also has a reputation for clean bathrooms, but maybe not for clean playroom balls. Chili’s baby back ribs are going to be fine and the women from the office I used to work in expect to loosen up after a few El Presidente margaritas. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are many small towns across the US where the only place to get dressed up to eat is a chain like Chili’s next to the interstate.

It is unreasonable to expect that a “Diners Drive-In And Dives” like establishment is going to be open in every small town. It takes a certain person to run a restaurant like that. Many restaurateurs are focused on being small business owners providing a service to the community, not working on making corned beef and baking potato bread buns from scratch. They are worried about overhead, food distribution, limited labor, and making sure that they serve food that is going to sell. This helps to explain the proliferation of Hunt Brother’s Pizza and Krispy Krunchy Chicken (substitute whatever sign you see in all those gas station greasy spoons) signs seen in small towns. These franchises make it so much easier to operate a place of business that serves food. Believe me, I’d rather see a Nobile’s in Port Barre and Buras-Triumph where locals made unique and well prepared food that made people truly happy.

It takes a lot of effort, it takes knowledge, and dedication to run a restaurant. Of course, I say that having never run one. The entirety of my food service experience is as an underling at the Great Steak & Fry another one of those national chains, in another one of those horribly generic American food experiences, the mall food court. What I do know from that experience is that if an operator is trying to keep labor costs low, it is terribly difficult to keep a good quality staff on hand. Low wages means more skipped shifts and higher turn over. Somehow a regional chain that started here in Baton Rouge, Raising Cane’s, has been able to keep that down. I can’t speak to the wages they pay, but I do know that the staff at each and every one of their locations I’ve been to is smiling and helpful. The worst customer experience I’ve had at a Cane’s was the one time I waited in the drive through line for chicken, and someone came on the speaker telling me, “Hold on, we cook our chicken fresh, so it will be a while”. No bags shoved in my face, no holding back ketchup, no wordless window interaction with the subtext, “Here’s your food, go away”. 99% of the time I have a great customer service experience there.

So what then is the difference between local or regional chains and nationwide ones? Does it matter? I don't care. I’ll say this much, Raising Canes has a devout following here. Todd Graves is a local hero, his story is inspiring. The guy had a dream and worked his ass off for years doing dangerous dirty work to save up the money to start his business. People want to identify with that. In Cincinnati, Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili are examples of regional chains that have devout followings as well. The story of Lambrinides brothers emmigrating from Greece, starting a lunch counter and working up from there is also inspiring. They are more mature institutions so the local boys who made good running them are long gone, but people still have their favorite locations and know the staff who serve them. My personal favorite Skyline location is the one on Clifton Avenue. They made certain to become involved with the University of Cincinnati community, giving away scores of coneys during Rush Week and feeding the drunken masses into the morning every weekend. Smart restaurants, whether they be Mom & Pop, local, regional chains, or national behemoths, know that customer service and building a narrative of involvement in the community is how to build a following and to become part of the community itself. That is the differentiator. Of all the national chains I can think of, Applebee’s is the one that comes to mind as a place that has best embraced that idea. They make a point of decorating each restaurant with pictures from local firehouses, little league teams, newspapers, and so on.

Here is what I think matters in the debate about eating at a small business versus a large chain: eat where the food, the service, and the experience are the best. If the small guy can’t provide a clean plate, good food on that plate, and decent service to get that plate to your table they do not deserve your business. If the national chain comes in and tries to force food that the community doesn’t like down their throats, don’t eat there. If some regional franchise sets up shop and consistently undercooks the chicken breast, stop going. You, the customer, deserve better. I may be in the mood for a good plate of pasta, but if the local place doesn’t make one I like, I should go where I can find one to my taste. I shouldn’t make myself eat bad food and suffer poor service just to patronize small businesses.

One additional comment. The most important thing we as customers can do when we come across poor service or bad food is to talk to restaurant management. It is something we hardly ever do because it takes effort and time. It is so much easier to walk out the door and spread the bad word than it is to give the establishment the chance to make things right. I am just as guilty as anyone else for walking out mad. We as good customers should give the places we patronize a chance or two. Another important thing to remember- when going out on a big date, or when taking that big wig out- go where you know the service and menu. Skip the new place (especially if it has only been open for a few months). Your date, your parents, your boss, that customer deserve to go where you know the food and service are good.

This is a hot button topic for some people. Understandably so. I invite your rational and well tempered comments below. I'd really like to hear what you think.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

BRFoodies Thanksgiving Jive Turkey

Thanksgiving, one of the very best holiday meals predicated upon great meat; foul or poricine. The premise of this blog has morphed over time, but the basic idea of being a place for me to track my favorite methods and recipes is rock solid. Time to talk some turkey! (Credit for the photo above goes to Kelly Spell- thanks for letting me steal this from Facebook )

A group of my friends (going by the self assigned moniker of @BRFoodies- see also the Tumblr blog) decided to beat the staid, stuffy, family traditional Thanksgiving by doing one of our own. We would take on courses in pairs and serve small (yeah right) portions while watching the Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University football game.

I took on the turkey. I’d been toying with the idea of cooking turkey sous vide ever since I watched this video and it’s sequel from Grant Achatz. Chef Achatz (you might have heard about this award winning chef and his battle with tongue cancer) just says screw the hassle of Butterball buttons, foil over the breast, carving complexity, and Aunt Millie’s gripes about how you cooked your bird. I agree. Thanksgiving should be about good friends, family, great food, booze, and football. I’ve seen too much T-day drama. I once saw a frustrated man slam dunk, a turkey carcass in dishwater out of frustration about criticism over his carving technique. I’ve seen people resort to buying turduckens to throw unfamiliar guests off kilter so they would be less able to complain. That kind of hassle is for the birds.

I’ve cooked chicken breasts sous vide before, but never a whole chicken. I picked up a chicken from a local grocery store, then disassembled it into breasts, legs, and wings. Bagging the chicken into my new favorite sous vide bags, Ziploc Vacuum Freezer bags, I added some butter, poultry seasoning, and some beer. Plopping the bags into a pot with water at 165F for about an hour and a half, I was able to produce a decent result. Even more exciting was the idea that I should smoke the bird before hand. Several times I’ve smoked turkeys for thanksgiving and really enjoyed it. Foul is an easy match for apple wood. So onto the grill for an hour’s smoking and then into the bag. Because I’d now dispatched several chickens, I also added some rendered chicken fat to the sous vide bags. If one was so inclined, it could almost be called a confit. This made for an awfully tasty chicken.

My attention now turned to brining. Grilling, smoking, or even roasting foul of any kind can dry the meat. We’ve all had chalky turkey breast. The kind of turkey that requires gravy and a mouthful of water to lubricate your throat enough to eat safely. Brining works by osmosis, that dreaded high school biology term, salt pulls more water into the muscle fibers. More water in the meat before cooking means more water in the meat afterwards. Brining can also help impart flavors to the meat. Again, I love paring apple and chicken or turkey. Soy sauce, beer, orange juce are also possible brine liquids. I'd be careful of liquids with lots of acid as you wouldn't want to cook the meat like is done with ceviche. Pork and beef can also be brined. Plenty of people also believe that brining makes a difference when cooking competition ribs. Cooks Illustrated does a great job describing brining methods, they also make the important point that not all kosher salt measures the same. I brined two chickens in water, apple juice, and unrefined sugar from a sugar mill in New Iberia Parish following the measurements Cooks Ilustrated suggests. I smoked both chickens for about two hours before placing them in a cooler for later. My friend Jay D. Ducote (you really should check out his blog) finished cooking them on his truly awe inspiring drum/keg grill and smoker for the famed Ford Family Tailgate before the LSU Western Kentucky game. I thought they were pretty damned tasty. They also come out a gorgeous lacquered brown.

These two important processes tackled I bought the turkey a week before our feast and waited for it to thaw (18 pounds of turkey, please come by and help me eat it all. I have so many leftovers). I decided to smoke the turkey first to impart that great apple wood flavor and then sous vide the turkey to give it some more flavor from the chicken fat, more apple juice/cider and beer. While the turkey thawed I picked up another turkey thigh to try the sous vide to see how much time it would require. I managed to fall asleep on the couch as it cooked, so it was in the bath for something like four hours. Way too long. Fortunately when sous vide-ing something this doesn’t make a difference, so long as the temperature doesn’t rise too far, the item cooked can’t be overcooked. The problem; however, was that the skin was, well, rubbery and unappetizing. If you’ve watched the You Tube videos of Chef Achetz mentioned earlier you’ll know that he pan fried each of the cuts before serving to make the skin golden and more crisp. I did this and was able to get the skin more to my liking. I also tried using my little crème brule blow torch (‘cause who doesn’t invent excuses to play with a blow torch) and found that the skin does turn, but not before fat explodes out from under the epidermis.

The day of reckoning arrived Friday. I began late that afternoon by preparing the brine, making sure to boil the liquid to be sure that the salt and sugar were completely dissolved. I then cooled off the brine, dumped it and the turkey into a kitchen garbage bag, and put that into a cooler with ice. It is important to keep the turkey cold, just as if you were storing it anywhere else uncooked. Saturday morning came around and I prepared my Weber kettle grill for smoking. I’ve talked briefly about this before, but I wanted to show you a picture of my setup. The pan below the grate (those are wood chips soaking before I get things going) is generally used to catch fat and hold water. The water’s purpose is twofold; to evaporate keeping the meat from drying out (alongside the brining) and to help moderate the temperature in the grill. The water boils off slowly taking extra energy from the fire, but if the fire goes out, it releases heat already stored. The foil covered bricks reflect heat back to the fire, and their mass helps moderate the temperature, and most importantly they help keep my coals in place. The thing sticking out of the grill lid vent is a candy thermometer I use to monitor the temperature inside the grill.

After smoking the turkey for about an hour and a half I pulled it off the grill and disassembled the bird for sous vide. I put the breasts in their own bags, then paired the wings and thighs in two other bags along with about a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon and a half of chicken fat, an ice cube of apple cider, and a quarter cup of apple juice, beer and, cider mix that I’d made earlier. I could have frozen the mixture if I’d thought about it before hand. The advantage of freezing the liquids is that it makes pulling vacuum on the sous vide bags easier. As you use the Ziploc hand pump, or some home use vacuum bag machines, liquids can come out of the bag and into the pump. This makes a mess and can foul the pump. As the bag heats up, the frozen liquids thaw, it just means that the bath takes a little longer to come to temperature. Speaking of temperature, the new FDA suggested cooking temperature for all parts of the turkey and for chicken is 165 Fahrenheit (oddly enough, Fahenheit is also the name of a Chinese boy band- look it up). My sous vide set-up is VERY rudimentary (shown here used to cook some chicken). Anyone with a stove, a really good candy thermometer or oven remote thermometer and a freezer bag can do this. I have a pot of water on the stove and I check the temperature every so often with a decent remote oven thermometer I got as a gift a while ago. If the bath is too cool, I turn up the burner a bit and wait. If it is too hot, I add ice cubes to the bath. There are much nicer ways to do this, sous vide appliances can range from $300, immersion circulators like those seen on TV cooking shows are easily $1,000, and there are DIY kits that you can get for less than $200. I let the turkey bathe for about three hours before I pulled it out. I let it rest for a fifteen minutes while I set up my frying pan. I then placed each piece into the pan to brown the skin as much as I could.

Think that was enough steps? Was that easier than the standard roast turkey? Yeah, way too complicated. But I will say this: it was nice to have a smoked turkey that wasn’t dry. It tasted delicious. I’d sous vide another turkey again. I’d smoke a turkey again. But not unless someone very special asks nicely with some sort of bribe am I likely to do that again. It was a stunt. A show-off. Something to wow my foodie friends and a way for me to flex my cooking muscles. Which, along with the good friends, football, and booze, was all part of BRFoodiesThanksgiving anyhow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You can't beat my meat.

Progress has definitely been made in my quest. Within the last week and a half I’ve grilled two steaks, a rib eye and a T-bone. While grilling the rib eye I placed my coals in the center of the grill, something I don’t usually do. See, I’ve become a fan of two tiered grilling, a zone on one side of the grill with coals piled high for direct heat and a second zone in the center of the grill for indirect heat where the coals from the first zone have tumbled down much like pebbles in a pile. This allows one to sear and still leaves quite a large bit of the grill’s surface area for indirect heat and warming of already cooked food. Someone cooking for a number of people or a variety of foods will appreciate this. Since I was cooking one steak, I didn’t really care about two tiered/zone cooking. I had quite a good pile of coals going and I fanned the flames (er, blew on the coals until blue in the face) to increase the temperature.

Using some fat trimmed from the side of the steak I prepared the grates for a room temperature, salt and peppered steak. That last sentence will raise red flags in some minds. First, I don’t think using an oiled paper towel would have been a bright idea with such a hot fire. Secondly, oiling the meat also seems silly when working with such high temperatures. In my opinion these two things just invite flare-ups and fires. I’ve also read that there are some who do not season steaks with salt until the meat is on the grill. Their idea is that salt will draw water out of the meat and make it more difficult for a nice seared and crusty exterior to form. I disagree. There is so little water and I was grilling at such high temperatures that any water should evaporate quickly without interfering with the Maillard Reaction (what forms the brown tasty crust). Grilling at lower temperatures with water on the surface may be a problem, but not when using a really hot grill.

I was able to achieve a wonderful brown sear on both sides. I was able to overcome my frequent flipping foible. However, I was unable to get over my concern for underdone meat. I left it on just a bit too long and ended up with a steak just on the wrong side of medium rare. I had no problems thoroughly enjoying it. The dogs did not get as much as they hoped, I’m sure.

My second attempt was a high-stakes steak. I had company over. It was time to impress. I halved and sliced two onions for sweating over low heat with plenty of butter while we prepped our steak and the rather good looking company made a wonderful pico de gaillo. Earlier that night we purchased a nice thick T-bone steak. I set the grill up with the extraordinarily hot coals in the center and used some fat trimmed from the steak to season the grate just as before. Plopped it on the grill, waited a few minutes, flipped it over, waited a few minutes flipped it back over to add some nice hash marks and on to the plate. We let it rest for a good while as I grilled off some squash, prepped with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and some thick sliced eggplant marinated in Soy Vay’s teriyaki sauce. The result is shown in the photo at the top. The steak was red in the center (looks a little more red in the photo than it was). Perfect. I now have rights to claim the ability to grill steak.

Not to worry. There are quite a few avenues of exploration left open here. As I mentioned in my last post I'd like to explore the use of compound butters, olive oil and other substances for basting while cooking on the grill. I'd also like to explore how to best cook a standard supermarket steak (1" or thinner), and how to cook a perfect steak indoors.

Photo Credit: My dining companion, @Ldeblieux

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Post Secret

I have a secret. Something I’ve only admitted to a select number of people. I, Josh Who Grills It All, can’t grill a steak. Somehow my father, the recently reformed vegetarian of more than fifteen years, can. Even when he wasn’t going to eat it, he turned out some great grilled steaks. I have always envied him for that. This summer be it resolved that I will finally learn to grill a great steak.

I have a problem, several really. I want to flip too often. This means my steaks cannot sear properly or develop that wonderful and tasty browned exterior. I find that I am uncomfortable with the idea of serving steaks underdone. I leave them on the grill for far too long. This means that I produce well done steak. I want a nice rare or medium rare steak.

There are two ways to fix my problems. First, I can go to a store that sells thick steaks. Cuts about an inch and half thick. According to the reading I’ve done this means I should be able to leave the steak over high heat for a few minutes a side. Enough time to develop a nice browned and seared crust and leave the inside of the steak uncooked enough for a few minutes to cook in lower heat. Secondly, I can learn to poke my meat. I know, I know, too much information. Seriously, though if you gently prod your steak you can gauge how done it is by the firmness of the steak. Pretend like you’re going to smack your head. Stop, just before you move your elbow. Those of you who have a hard time with instructions, pull your hand back from your forehead. Now with your other hand’s index finger prod the muscle just below your thumb. I’m told that with your open palm relaxed that the resistance that muscle has to your finger is what a person should look for in a rare steak. As you move your thumb next to your index finger that muscle tightens up and that resistance is about equal to medium rare. Move your thumb into your palm and the resistance at that point is too done for my taste. So with these tools I should be able to produce lip smackingly delicious portions of bovine. We shall see.

Several blog posts to follow could include; My Compounded Interest in Butter, The Hotter It Gets, The More Hot It Gets!, EVOO-pops And How I Learned to Love Rachel Ray, How Bloodied Do You Want That Steak, Does Benadryl Prevent A Bad Malliard Reaction?, Ruth’s Chris Can’t Be a Proper Noun, Can it?, Does Doe’s Do It Right? Sous Vide Gore Vidal, and My Victory.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Out of the ashes in my Weber Kettle arises a new blog?

It is time to reinvent Josh Grills It All. I’ve not been motivated to grill or blog about grilling for some time now. I really feel as though I’ve got something to add to the bloggosphere that won’t add to the clutter already out there. I’ve decided to write a narrowly focused blog that targets the following topics:

Grilling Mediterranean (Greek, Italian, French, Turkish, Croatian, Spanish,and others) Food
Exploring the food traditions of Louisiana
Local barbecue competitions and outdoor cooking events
Grilling Get Togethers

My goal is to post once better than every three weeks. I plan on putting more research into each recipe and work into the photographs. I’ve also heard from my dogs’ Agent who tells me that they are contractually obligated to a certain number of appearances and mentions.

I am open to suggestions and would like to hear from people in the Baton Rouge area about how I might help promote local restaurants, specialty food stores, grill supply stores, and foodie events. I do not want to earn anything from this or become a shameless self promoter. This is to be a hobby and a way to discuss grilling with others.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Is It Real Or Is It Memorex? Fresh vs. Canned, Lessons Learned

It is the inching towards the end of summer here in Louisiana and it is damned hot. So hot and humid that it feels as if you’ve been hit in the face with a nasty sweaty sock just off a foot from PE class every time you step through a door outside. What better than a nice cool tangy soup to cool a person off in such an environment? Gazpacho!

Of course the urge to make this hit me late last night, say midnight-ish. I wasn’t going to the store. I had plenty of canned tomatoes and a yellow pepper in the fridge, so I was a good part of the way there. Looking on-line I found a recipe that looked something like this:

2 each 14 ounce cans of diced tomato

1 diced onion

1 diced yellow pepper

Some portion of a diced cucumber.

1 minced clove of garlic

2 cups water

1 jalapeno

Splash of rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons of olive oil

I decided to proceed without the cucumber. I also deviated with the canned tomatoes going with one can diced tomato and another can diced tomato and okra, using plain white vinegar, and using the remainder of a jar of pickled jalapeno slices. I figured the okra would be a decent fit, the other compromises would just have to do.

Plowing ahead all went according to plan. To tell you the truth the best part of this whole thing was the chance the finally use the immersion stick blender I picked up in June. I’ve wanted one for years- they just look like so much fun! And I can now say that they are a blast.

I was disappointed last night when I first tasted the soup. Everything tasted flat. I added more vinegar to brighten things up, then the last of a bottle of Green Tabasco. It was still flat but at least it resembled gazpacho as I remember it. What was the take-a-way from this? Use fresh ingredients. Skimping on ingredients will always compromise a dish. I didn’t want to leave the house and hit a Wal Mart for what I needed and the soup suffered for it. Was it worth it? Yeah. Given 12 hours to come together in the fridge it tastes quite a bit better, but it is still muted. Sometimes you just have to compromise. Sometimes substitutions pull a dish into a whole different and yet exciting direction you might never have imagined. Live and learn. Meh.

If I had planned things out I would have followed a recipe like this one: . Cucumber and perhaps some cilantro would have made the dish brighter and fresher. Don’t worry- the dogs won’t get a bit of this stuff.

Have you ever found yourself mid recipe scrambling to find a substitute for something? How did it work out?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Restaurant Review- Sweet's Outdoor Grill

I never planned to publish reviews of eating establishments but at the request of one Theresa Overby, @TheresaOverby, of Doe's Eat Place I'll throw this into the mix.

I just finished gulping down a Brisket Plate from Sweet's Outdoor Grill , 2504 Government Street, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sweet's is a pretty simple place, a storefront with a large roof thrown out in front to cover the area where patrons order food and some plating occurs. No seating. No reservations. Get in line Brother. The menu is pretty much standard BBQ fare- chicken, rib, brisket, sausage plates or sandwiches make up its bulk. There are options for 1/2 pound or full pound meat only plates, which I almost considered. Side dishes include smoked beans, potato salad, rice dressing, and cole slaw. Sweet's also offers Italian Ice, a shaved ice or snowball like product and cookies as well as bottled cold drinks.

I was already on my way to campus so I packed my brisket plate and found a seat near the BRCC admin building. There I opened the black foam container to find my brisket, rice, potato salad, and cole slaw. My first impression was, "Wow the brisket looks great, but there just doesn't seem to be enough of it." How much brisket was there? I can't say. I imagine that it was somewhere between a quarter and a third of a pound. For ten dollars I wanted more.

Sides: The Cole Slaw- This reminded me of Waldorf Salad. A traditional cabbage cole slaw with rasins, walnuts and a bit of red pepper added kick. It was different for certain. People who know the Red Stick food scene will already be familiar with TJ Ribs cole slaw with peanuts. This is not as creamy or a dense with crunch. Walnuts are more of a solid bite through and offer different mouth feel. The raisins are a nice touch adding some sweetness that the acid in the dressing can be balanced with. The red pepper on the otherhand was not as obvious as the other ingredients. The first bite was surprising. Where did all this heat come from? It is unusual, but not a bad idea. I think that this could be incorporated a little better with some slight changes.

The Potato Salad- Sweets offers a standard Mustard Potato Salad. It is quite creamy both in mouthfeel and in taste. Plenty of paprika gives a good smokey flavor to this dish.

The Sauce- This is a vinegar and ketchup based sauce. There is a good bit of vinegar bite and quite a bit of sweet added from an unknown source. I'd hazard the guess that they use straight white sugar not a molasses or brown sugar. It is most definately not a bastardization of Cattlemen's.

The Rice- While I've lived in Louisiana for ten years now, I just cannot fathom why Sweet's plates with rice. This is plain white rice and butter, not rice dressing. Perhaps the idea is that it, like the white bread many BBQ joints serve, is to sop of grease. If so, I still don't understand why it is on the plate because they sold me a piece of white bread as well.

The Meat- The brisket was well done. Cooked through. No food safety issues to think of. Bark lovers rejoice, there is bark, nice crunchy black bark on this meat. Those of you who measure a man's meat by the depth of the smoke rings he leaves: One eigth to one quarter of an inch deep depending on the piece of meat. Plenty of smoke seasoned the brisket. It seemed that the rub stayed on the outside of the meat as only a few of the pieces in my container had much more than a smokey flavor. I could discern the standard rub ingredients, cumin, paprika, sugar, garlic powder, and salt. I did like the brisket, but I wanted more.

Unfortunately I did not catch Sweet's Outdoor Grill's hours. I was aware enough at the time to see that they do take three kinds of plastic- Visa, Master Card, and Discover. Plates are between 9 and 12 dollars.

Summary- I'd love to try more of the sides. If Sweet's other dishes were crafted with the same kind of imagination that went into the cole slaw they must be interesting and worh the time and money to try. I would love to trade the rice for more meat on my plate. I do plan to drop in again. And when I do I will try the rib plate with a different set of sides. Good barbeque, good low and slow smoking cooking methods do take time and while the cuts aren't always the most expensive, that time is a cost. What does that mean? I don't think the price I paid was out of line- if only I had a few more pieces of meat. Please Mr Sweet, ditch the rice. I will be back.

Sweet's Outdoor Grill
2504 Government StreetBaton Rouge, LA 70806
(225) 308-1414


UrbanSpoon Review

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