Friday, March 19, 2010

Restaurant Review: Buddy's BBQ in Knoxville, Tennessee

So I'm spending the night in Knoxville, TN after starting out the day by waking up in the back of a van in Bowling Green, KY. It's not as bad as it sounds. My father and I are on a fairly epic journey. We left Ann Arbor yesterday afternoon and headed down to Bowling Green. We camped out across the street from the Corvette factory located there. This morning, we toured the factory, then got back on the road. After some two lane driving through the hills of Northern Tennessee, we picked up a back seat for his golf cart (don't ask), and ended up in Knoxville. Tomorrow, we head to Bristol for the Nationwide race, camp out again, and to the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. Then we're back on the road, where Monday we may visit the National Museum of the USAF at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio before heading back to Ann Arbor. But that's not what I'm writing about right now. This is about barbecue.

I love my barbecue (or BBQ or Bar B Q, depending on what part of the country you're from). Being from the Midwest, I can't say that I'm from a place that has the best barbecue in the country. In fact, the height of Midwestern cuisine is tater tot casserole (from Minnesota), venison pasties (from the UP, and quite good), cheese (yep, Wisconsin), and Chicago style pizza (the best in the world). What this does mean, is that I'm not regionally biased about my barbecue. I give equal credit to the golden sauced pork of South Carolina, the brisket of Texas, and Memphis ribs. I love them all, and I can't get enough of any of them. So whenever I'm in the South, I have to get some barbecue.

I've been to Eastern Tennessee before, but this is the first time I've hunted for the best barbecue in town. Admittedly, I failed a bit in my research, but I also didn't know we'd be in Knoxville until about noon today. I attempted to consult Twitter, but ya'll failed me. So, I pulled up Google and did some snooping. There were two main factors in where my father and I chose to go: cost and location. From my Google quest, I've found that the two local favorites are Buddy's and Calhoun's. I also learned that Eastern Tennessee barbecue is largely influenced by nearby North Carolina, with a bit of South Carolina thrown in too. The barbecue here is smoked and pulled pork slathered in a thick, tomato based sauce.

Buddy's is conveniently about four our hotel. They've got a few locations around town, but we went to the close one instead of driving down to the river to go to a more scenic version. The place is a really interesting combination of fast food and sit down. You walk in and go up to the window and order, just like you do at many barbecue joints. The food arrives about three minutes later. Buddy's meals come with hushpuppies and two sides, all for under six bucks (just over eight for ribs). The unique part is that while you eat, an employee comes by to check on you several times. They bring you additional hushpuppies, refill your drink, and take care of your plate when you're done. I love this additional service.

Since Eastern Tennessee is a pulled pork area, I went with what they do best. I decided to go with baked beans and french fries for sides largely because I don't care for mayo products (ruling out slaw and potato salad) and my teeth suck (ruling out corn on the cob). My heaping pile of porky goodness (thank you Anthony Bourdain for a great term) and I went to a table and the journey began.

I want to talk for a minute about the hushpuppies that they served. For those of you who are unfamiliar, hushpuppies are a Southern tradition. They're small spheres of fried cornmeal batter. It's like cornbread, only better. If they're done properly, you get a crispy shell on the outside and when you bite in, you find warm cornmealy goodness that is super moist and delicious. These weren't any hushpuppies. These are quite possibly the best hushpuppies that I've ever had. In addition to the normal cornmeal there were a few additions that purists may not enjoy. Joining the cornmeal were diced and lightly sauteed onions and some small green flecks that I couldn't identify. Given the color and appearance, I'm guessing that they were either chives or green onion. These little spheres were perfectly fried, producing a roughly 2mm shell of crispy goodness. Inside was steaming hot and more moist than the best of chocolate cakes. Overall, these are the best magical little concoctions to ever come from the South. I could talk about these for longer, but the main event is the pork.

Much like Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, Alton Brown, and really every great foodie, I love my pork. If I believed in God, I'd say that pork is God's gift to man to make up for the poorly designed human body. This pork was good. It was cooked perfectly, which is hard to find in a restaurant. There's only one complaint that I can make about the cooking. It was very apparent that their meat was pre-smoked, chilled, and then reheated. As anybody who knows barbecue will tell you, chilling the meat between smoking and cooking causes the flavor to deteriorate. Though it was chilled and reheated, the smoke on the pork was pretty decent. I'm pretty sure it was hickory, but I have yet to hone my smoke identifying ability as much as I'd like.

I'm a stickler for sauce on my barbecue. I'm not somebody who says that it must be there or must not, but if it's there, it better be good. I was less than thrilled with the default sauce on the pork at Buddy's. It is mild, sweet, and rather plain. I've had better sauces from a two dollar bottle from the grocery store. Luckily, that sauce is not the final note in this song. At the table, like all good barbecue places, was more sauce. The mild sauce was there (in case you wanted to pour more mediocre on top of your perfectly decent pork), but there was also what they termed their "hot barbecue sauce". This stuff is amazing. More hot sauce with little sweet than barbecue sauce with a little heat, once I slathered the pork in a bath of this sauce, it sang. Let's be clear. I'm not talking about an angels from the heavens type of singing, but it was easily Taylor Swift in a slinky dress singing. The hot barbecue sauce provided just enough heat to let you know that you're alive, but not so much that you regretted it later. It had enough sweetness to balance the heat of the sauce, but not so much to overpower it. It had a richness and depth that can only be found by simmering your pot full of sauce and spices for hours on end. If they bottled and sold this sauce, I'd have bought one on the spot. However, there's something I'd change. The sauce was thin. I was quite surprised when it came out of the bottle as runny as it did. Despite that issue, I thought it was quite excellent.

I won't spend much time on the sides because, frankly, they're forgettable. The baked beans had far too much sauce and were rather bland. I've had better baked beans in a school cafeteria. The fries were a little better, but still sorrily lacking. The crispy outer shell that Buddy's performed so excellently on their hushpuppies was completely absent from the french fries. They weren't soggy, but that was their only redeeming factor.

I've got to say that for a quick look around Google, Buddy's is good barbecue. If I were in a pinch and needed some good barbecue fast, I'd get it again. However, If this is the best barbecue in Eastern Tennessee (which some reports claim it to be), the competition isn't very stiff. The pulled pork at Buddy's is rather disappointing when compared to the best I've had. Though, when you're comparing to Hog Heaven in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, most barbecue is disappointing. Luckily for Buddy's, I've never been to the Salt Lick, west of Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unbiased Media? You've Got to be Kidding

I was really hoping that I could go for a week without feeling compelled to write a letter to the hometown paper. Here's a letter that appeared in today's paper:

EDITOR:

This is in response to Richard Archambeau letter of the Feb. 19. I'm a conservative type guy who gets his news from Fox News, the Drudge report and Rush Limbaugh. I don't trust NBC (Blowing up pickups with bombs then blaming the manufacturer), CBS (The Dan Rather fake documents fiasco) or MSNBC (widely known as the channel furthest to the left). When I do watch any of these so called "News Programs" I find they twist facts and/or only tell half the story or outright lie.


At least Fox has a more equal number of liberals and conservatives and Rush will tell you the liberal view before shooting it down with logic and facts. The Main Stream Media went right along with Global warming but now that it's been proven to be a hoax you have to look to the UK press to find any stories on it. When unemployment started to rise under President Bush the press blamed Bush and did stories on those poor people losing their jobs. Now that unemployment has risen to over 10 percent the press does stories on "funemployment" and how these people finally have time to spend with their families.


As for our president, he spends record amounts of money then complains we're spending to much. Now he's trying to shove national healthcare down our throats when polls show 80 percent of the people don't want it. He's hired a bunch of czars who haven't been vetted by anyone including a Pay Czar who's doing a wonderful job. Bonuses are up 17 percent this year for bankers and Wall Street types. He hired Tim Geithner as treasury secretary (tax collector) who didn't even pay his own taxes. And the stories go on and on. It would be funny if it wasn't so serous.


Three things I know. (1) Liberals will try to take your property, (2)They will try to take your liberty, (3) We had to live through Carter before we got Reagan. Better times are coming.


Mark Winker

Here's the letter that he references:

EDITOR:

I'm a "Big L" (liberal) type guy but do seek other opinions and ideas about certain issues now and then. I usually watch the NBC National News, PBS, and MSNBC to see what's happening in the world of politics. I've seen clips on MSNBC of some of the Fox News broadcasts. I've always thought MSNBC may have embellished some of the clips to make them look more ridiculous than they really are. I was wrong. I watched two of the Fox news anchors the other night, Glen Beck and Bill O'Reilly. What I viewed was just ludicrous, beyond belief. How anyone could watch, let alone believe any of their trash is beyond me. I did watch long enough to see previews of coming attractions on Fox News. Here are a few upcoming shows for your viewing pleasure. (little sarcasm here)

1. Glen Beck will host an earth science special complete with scientific facts. The special is entitled, "Why the Liberals Want You To Think The Earth Is Round."

2. Bill O'Reilly will narrate and discuss. "Don't let them convince you the Earth rotates around the sun." It will surely poison your mind about other scientific facts.

3. Talk radio's Rush Limbaugh will anchor the science special "How to turn BS into Gold without the help of an alchemist.' This is a must for all the tea partiers out there. An explanation and discussion will follow.

In today's paper, Feb. 13, 2010, is an article by Dionna Harris entitled, "Obama needs a history lesson."

This article is a fine example of just how out of sync and out of touch these so called Americans are. I think those of different political persuasion can't quite comprehend that by over three million ( yes three million ) votes, the voice of the people elected Barack Obama president. We figured he might be able to correct some of the blunders of the past eight years and get our great country moving in the right direction, by the people and for the people!

All I can say about Fox News, unbelievable (so to speak). I think I'll continue to get my news from NBC and PBS.

Have a great day.

Robert Archambeau

And here is my response.

Editor:

I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the letters to the editor today. Now, I’m the first person to admit that I’m a liberal. In fact, when asked where I stand politically, I am known to tell people “More liberal than you are.” I’ve yet to find a person that this would be an inaccurate response to. However, between the letter by Mr. Winker today and the letter by Mr. Archambeau that he references, I’ve had enough laughs to last a week.

Both Mr. Winker and Mr. Archambeau are remarkably accurate in their assessment of news organizations, but at the same time, they’re both wildly off the mark. Allow me to explain.

There is no such thing as a truly unbiased news source. They quite simply don’t exist. Any news organization who tells you otherwise is lying to you. Whether it is in print, radio, or television, the news reported to us on a daily basis is tinted by the glasses of the views of the people and organizations that report it. No matter how fair or unbiased a reporter attempts to be, the news that they report is influenced by their personal political beliefs. Sometimes, this influence is intentional but a vast majority of the time, it is unintentional and minor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that everybody is a liar and nobody can be trusted. A majority of local news sources do their best to minimize any political bias in their reporting. The issue arises when biases are intentional and deliberate. Major television news organizations are playing into the fears and beliefs of different groups of Americans for the express purpose of boosting ratings. They omit, distort, twist, and outright lie to gain the greatest number of viewers. MSNBC knows that it has a liberal bend. They’re trying to corner the market and gain the biggest following of liberals as possible. Fox News knows that they’re the biggest source of conservative news in America. They know that their “fair and balanced” moniker is one of the biggest lies in media. Guess what? They don’t care! You have to understand that it’s all about the ratings. Even the attempts to appear unbiased are intentional and weak. Fox News paired Sean Hannity with Alan Colmes for a reason. Hannity is a young and charismatic conservative. Colmes is an old and unattractive centrist liberal who is not very convincing. They make a pair like this so that in any argument, the conservatives will come out on top. Liberal media organizations will make similar pairings between an old, unconvincing conservative, and the youngest and most charismatic liberal that they can get their hands on.

Look at the reality of the modern news media, folks. The only difference between Fox News and MSNBC and The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is that Comedy Central readily admits that their shows are entertainment with a little news thrown in for effect. Meanwhile, the major media machines present themselves as being reliable, unbiased news organizations. This is hardly the case. The sad part of this whole situation is that Jon Stewart has been shown by poll after poll to be the most trustworthy newscaster in America, and he’s a comedian! I’ll leave you with two quotes from Jon Stewart’s 2004 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire.

“What I believe is, they're not making honest arguments. So what they're doing is, in their mind, the ends justify the means” – Jon Stewart 10/15/2004

It's not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. And I will tell you why I know it. You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you?” – Jon Stewart 10/15/2004