Monday, August 31, 2009

Fuel Pizza & Price’s Chicken Coop (Shaw Goes to Charlotte, Part 2)

Concluding the culinary recap of my trip to see Chris, Michelle, Nora and Hank.

Fuel Pizza
We stopped by Fuel Pizza for some late night eats after hitting downtown Charlotte on Friday night. There are actually a number of these around town, all decorated with scavenged old gas station signs and related paraphernalia.

Fuel Pizza serves it up New York style, and does a solid job. I picked out a slice of pepperoni from the case, and it had just the right amount of double-crisp once it was heated up in the oven. I do love a slice with a good double-crisp.

Price’s Chicken Coop
As mentioned in the first part of this entry, according to Urbanspoon the #1 restaurant in Charlotte is The Penguin. Mac’s Speed Shop BBQ is #2, and although we didn’t have a chance to go, Chris assured me of its quality (he swears by the brisket). But he’d never even heard of #3, Price’s Chicken Coop,* so we headed that way to pick up lunch on Saturday.

Despite warnings of lines stretching around the block, we hit a sweet spot in the traffic and were able to order within minutes. Good thing, too -- the aroma of delicious fried chicken would’ve made the wait unbearable.

Price's Chicken Coop is no nonsense and all business, from the location to the decor to the employees. One of the guys working there even bore a striking resemblance to Colonel Sanders. I like to think it actually was The Colonel, having defected to The Coop to lead a revolt against the blasphemy of Kentucky Grilled Chicken.

Suspecting, and correctly I might add, the cashiers to be the type that expect customers to be ready to order, we made a point to look at a menu ahead of time. We went with a whole mixed chicken (8 pieces, $9.65), an order of hushpuppies ($1.30), a pint of potato salad ($2.25), and tater rounds ($1.20). Then we hustled to a nearby park to enjoy the goods before they got cold.

The chicken itself is incredible, moist without being greasy. Whatever the secret is to perfecting fried chicken, The Coop clearly must’ve discovered it a long time ago. Sides-wise, the hushpuppies and potato rounds were both good -- but the potato salad was the real standout. Mustard-based with a tangy kick.

Reluctantly, I had to leave before I got to try more of the local fare. Special thanks to Chris and Michelle for being great hosts, Mel for hanging out on Saturday, and Andrea for babysitting on Friday so we could hit the town. But the biggest thanks goes to Nora and Hank for being cool-ass kids. Looking forward to seeing you guys again, so hurry up and come see us in KC.

Don't make me publicly shame you guys into visiting -- Lunch Blog has literally tens of readers.

*As of the time of this visit, Price's was in third place but has apparently since been overtaken by Big Daddy's Burger Bar on the Charlotte leaderboard.
Fuel Pizza:
214 North Tryon Street | Charlotte, NC 28202 Fuel Pizza Cafe on Urbanspoon

Price’s Chicken Coop:
1614 Camden Road | Charlotte, NC 28203Price's Chicken Coop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Penguin (Shaw Goes to Charlotte, Part 1)

To enjoy this post Southern Style, top monitor with chili and cole slaw.

Thanks to a public Facebook shaming about how I never visit, I finally made plans to go and see my good friends Chris and Michelle and their kids Nora and Hank on their home turf of Charlotte, NC. Of course, while I was there I had to check out some of Charlotte’s finest grub -- #1 on my list being The Penguin. Not only is it the top ranked restaurant on Urbanspoon, but it came with a strong recommendation from Chris and Michelle, too.

The Penguin is notably small, with four booths, six tables and about 15 or so stools for lunch and side counter seating. Combine that with the popularity of the establishment and you’ve got yourself a bit of a wait. Everybody from the staff to the patrons handles this in stride, though. No exasperated sighs or snarky comments -- the wait is just part of the experience.

Once we finally got seated, we ordered drinks and hot dogs for Nora and Hank, and then Chris, Michelle and I started drawing up our battle plans. So we could sample a variety of stuff, we settled on splitting fried pickles (half-order for $3.25), buffalo wings ($6.75), and a Small Block Burger topped Southern Style with chili, mustard, onions and cole slaw ($3.25). At Chris and Michelle’s urging, I also had to try the famous Winky-Dinky Dog -- a hot dog loaded with pimento cheese and chili ($2.75).

I’ve had fried pickles before in Kansas City. First, years ago at BJ’s Lounge (now the Lava Room) where they were spear-cut and reminded me of overcooked bananas. The second time was the other week at Tomfooleries, where they were served with an overly thick, bready battered coating. The fried pickles at The Penguin were a completely new and utterly tasty experience.

At The Penguin, the pickles are cut into chips and dipped in a kind of light, flaky batter that made me think of a fish fry. On their own, these fried pickles are tangy and almost buttery without being too greasy. Dip ‘em in a little ranch, and you take it to a whole new level.

The Winky-Dinky Dog was also a new experience, although at first I didn’t think it was going to be a pleasant one. The first couple bites grossed me out a bit, registering as salty, squishy and distinctively processed. Somehow by the end I was convinced it was awesome.

Less impressive but still good, the Southern Style Small Block Burger represented itself well. However, the wings proved to be just okay. The buffalo sauce struck me as spicy without a lot of flavor and almost watery.

The price is definitely right at The Penguin, and the menu is filled with all kinds of national and local diner favorites. With a few brews in me, I could see myself making lots of deliciously bad decisions there. But I don’t care if they are just chicken tenders -- I’m not eating anything called “Penguin Fingers.”

Next time on Lunch Blog: My trip to Charlotte concludes with Fuel Pizza and Price’s Chicken Coop.

1921 Commonwealth Ave | Charlotte, NC 28205Penguin on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Burrito King

Lunch Blog's #1 BK. Runners-up: Batman creator Bob Kane, British Knights.

As soon as my college roommate Ben learned a new joint called Burrito King was setting up shop in the restaurant black hole at the corner of 9th & Illinois, he was obsessed. I think he drove by nearly every day to see if it was open yet. And when that day finally came, he showed uncanny restraint -- Ben actually came back to the apartment to pick me up before getting a burrito.

So yeah, the day Burrito King opened for business in the spring of '96, I was there. No big deal. (It's totally a big deal. Man, this post took no time devolving into the "Losing My Edge" of fast food.)

I ended up going back with our other roommate Dorsett for my second BK burrito later that night. Or maybe it was the night after.

I'll go ahead and admit that I may be getting some details mixed up. Not only was this more than a decade ago, it was in the thick of the 951 Arkansas $5 PBR Challenge -- an ongoing contest in which Ben, Dorsett and I competed to see who could get the most change back from a $5 bill when purchasing a twelver of Blue Ribbon. While I was the ultimate champion, that much I'm sure of, I can't remember how much my victory change added up to except that it was eighty-something cents. We may have been single-handedly responsible for driving up the cost of PBR.

Back to Burrito King. Were the burritos good? Yes, they were good -- and after last call, they were fantastic. The foil-wrapped burritos were huge, stuffed with your choice of fajita beef, pork or chicken, rice and/or beans, and lettuce, tomato, sour cream and cheese. We quickly discovered that no matter how you picked up a BK burrito, there was always a sour cream pocket waiting in the bottom right-hand corner.

They also came with a little cup of some seriously tasty red sauce. We'd save the leftover red sauce in the fridge and dip our microwave burritos in it -- burritos of one form or another were a staple of my college diet, the rest consisting almost entirely of Chinese buffets, Jeno's Crisp 'n Tasty Pizzas and Shells & White Cheddar Pasta Roni.

Burrito King was great late night food, yet I was always curious about the breakfast burritos on the menu. Filled with beans, eggs and cheese, plus either ham, bacon, potato or chorizo, they sounded so delicious but were only available from 7 to 10:30 a.m.

At long last I tried a BK breakfast burrito fall semester 1997, en route to KJHK 90.7 FM and needing something to hold me through my Friday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. shift. The burrito was incredible, and from then on I got one every week before going on the air. My standard was the chorizo, which at the time seemed rather exotic.

Flash forward to 2009. Realizing I've been working in Lawrence since January and hadn't been back to the "Home of the Famous Burrito!," fellow Burrito King enthusiast Kelly L. and first-timer Todd joined me for a trip the other day.

I am ridiculously excited to tell you that the breakfast burritos ($2.79) are now available All. Day. Long. They're as awesome as ever, and so is the red sauce.

The Burrito King building looks the same, too -- which is to say it looks like it could go out of business at any moment. It's still got that '90s dinge, although I can't remember if the sombreroed Jayhawk has always been there.

Much like Gumby's, the Burrito King menu has gotten complicated since I was in school. There are tortas, tostadas and tacos now. And tongue. And barbacoa by the pound. A sign in the window says Burrito King has the "Best Soft Mexican Tacos in Town." Opposed to what other kind of soft tacos, I have no idea.

As the Dark Empire of Chipotle ascended to power during the Great Foil Wars of the early aughts, it laid waste unto many. New York Burrito. Z-Teca. Qdoba Mexican Grill. But even after all this time, Burrito King continues to lead the rebellion, steadfastly holding its ground at the corner of 9th & Illinois. Yub nub, Burrito King! Yub nub!

I think we can all agree it helps that Burrito King is only closed for four hours a day.
900 Illinois | Lawrence, KS 66044

Thursday, August 13, 2009


A new Guys' Night record for farthest fall in quality between where we intended to go and where we ended up.

Shaw: Believe it or not, your Lunch Bloggers don't stick exclusively to dives, and for Guys' Night we decided to check out the specials on the bar menu at Sullivan's. Little did we know how hopping Sullivan's would be around 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening.

Robert: I swear the last time I was at Sullivan's it was pretty quiet. Now that I think about it, though, that was in the dead of winter. Tonight it was nice out and the windows to the patio were open and everything. When we arrived, there was a bachelorette party piling into a limo, after getting a head start on the night.

Bamf! Next thing I know, we're at Fuddruckers. I have no idea how that happened.

Shaw: We were somewhat dazed after finding Sullivan's packed to the gills. Facing such disappointment, we just halfheartedly threw out suggestions. Nothing sounded as good as the bleu cheese chips we were missing out on. Fuddruckers popped into my head -- I can't believe you and Dorsett went for it.

I walked into Fuddruckers expecting a T.G.I. McGillicutty's-type operation, but was completely thrown by the butcher shop and walk-up order counter. I ended up getting a Fudds Meal Deal with a 1/2 lb. original burger, adding on cheddar cheese ($9.54).

Robert: For a second, I thought about getting the sliders version of the Fudds Meal Deal, but it felt disrespectful to the memory of the White Castle that used to be nearby. Besides, tiny burgers aren't what Fuddruckers is all about. I got a Fudds Meal Deal with a 1/2 lb. burger fixed up with "The Works." That's code for smokehouse bacon, grilled onions and American cheese ($10.79).

Fudds Meal Deals come with a beer, too. I am 100 percent in favor of meal deals that come with a beer. You also get Fudd fries, which made me think of Duff Beer's chief competitor Fudd Beer, which made me wonder how similar Fuddruckers and Krusty Burger might be.

Shaw: The tomatoes, onions, pickles and everything else on the topping bar looked fresh enough. However, I started to feel like a sucker for coughing up the extra 99¢ for cheese when I saw there was cheese sauce on the topping bar for free. Then I tried the cheese sauce on one of my Fudd fries. Turns out it doesn't taste like cheese so much as it tastes like viscous.

Robert: They also have jalapeno cheese sauce, which tastes like viscous, but with a kick.

Shaw: There's a weird atmosphere going on at Fuddruckers. Odd assortment of video and prize games? Check. Bathrooms that look like they were lifted from an old AMC theater? Check. Old photos of rock icons including The Beatles, Elvis and Jim Morrison -- not all intermingled, but in separate, carefully organized sections? Check, with a side of OCD.

Robert: Fuddruckers is like a run-down amusement park -- a place that should be fun but is now permeated with sadness. Before you even get to take a bite, the remorse sets in while you wait for your food.

Shaw: It's as if Fuddruckers is a weird combination of other places. Maybe a TGI-Kingy-Cheese or a Chili-Donalds. With the outdated video games, excessive use of mirrors and extremely organized CCOTW, I'd expect to find Fuddruckers all over Canada.

Robert: Canada?

Shaw: Canada. I wonder if the burgers are part moose meat.

Robert: I'm fairly certain it's just ground beef. I don't think they actually eat moose in Canada.

Shaw: Have you ever been to Canada?

Robert: No. Whatever. Here's the goofy thing -- Fuddruckers is crazy depressing, but my burger wasn't half bad.

Shaw: Not goofy at all. I'd agree -- these guys know what they're doing in the burger department. The Fudd fries are pretty good, too, even if they are heavily seasoned. Plus, the staff and manager seemed really nice, and genuinely interested in making sure you enjoy your Fuddruckers experience.

Again, I suspect Canadian influence.

For the record, according to Wikipedia, Fuddruckers is based in Austin, Tex. I don't know what Shaw's deal with Canada is. --Robert
_________________________________Fuddruckers on Urbanspoon
8725 Metcalf | Overland Park, KS 66212

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

RJ's Bob-Be-Cue Shack

It’s never too early for barbecue.

Breakfast at a barbecue joint? Yes, please. There couldn’t be a more perfect place than RJ’s Bob-Be-Cue Shack for Kelly and I to meet up with Jeff and Jill, in town from Manhattan for the weekend. Phil and Arika joined us, too, with Phil wearing a t-shirt made of equal parts awesome and nightmares.

The people at RJ’s are way friendly, and the restaurant is pretty welcoming. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a pig in a chef’s hat who appears to be a little slaphappy and quite possibly drunk. But hey, if I was a pig working in a barbecue joint, I’d be drinking too.

Although there’s lots of tasty sounding stuff on the breakfast menu, I figured it was necessary to order based on whatever comes with the largest amount of smoked meat. That meant skipping over the Country Fried Steak & Eggs and the South of the Border Breakfast Burrito, which would have been contenders anywhere else.

Thus, I went with the Farm Hands Breakfast Platter ($7.95), as did Jeff, Phil and Kelly. It’s your choice of two out of pit ham, link sausages and smoked bacon, alongside two eggs, country taters, and biscuits and gravy. Considering that both the meat and gravy groups are represented, everything on the platter plus a diner-worthy cup black coffee adds up to a perfectly balanced breakfast, at least as far as I’m concerned. Eat your fruit garnish and you may even get some vitamins.

Meanwhile, Arika ordered pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream. Hmmm. (To be fair, I think she was planning to gank some of Phil’s bacon.)

What happened next was the best -- our server brought over two plates of surprise cinnamon rolls. I am now firmly of the belief that every meal should start with surprise cinnamon rolls. I suppose after a while the cinnamon rolls would cease to be a surprise, but so long as they kept coming, I think we could all agree to fake it.

About a cup of coffee later, our breakfasts arrived. For my two meats, I got pit ham and smoked bacon -- and I can’t emphasize how ridiculously delicious the bacon is. It’s super-thick cut, comes out a deep rosy-caramel color, and every bite is full of super-smoky flavor.

Only later did I realize the correct order would have been to get neither ham nor sausage -- but rather, double bacon. Seriously, I’ve been thinking about stopping back in just to get a side of bacon to go.

Using my ham to try both kinds of RJ’s sauce, I thought the original had a nice sweet taste, but preferred the peppery kick of the spicy variety. And while the biscuits and gravy weren’t the world’s greatest, with everything else on the Farm Hands Breakfast Platter, they were good enough as a side. Especially when paired with the bacon high I was on.

If there is one downside to hitting a barbecue joint before 10 a.m., it’s that you will reek of barbecue for the rest of the day. Actually, that’s not really a downside at all.
_________________________________R J's Bob Be Que Shack on Urbanspoon
5835 Lamar Avenue | Mission, KS 66202