Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Category: Food (page 1 of 8)

Atlanta BBQ Battle: Heirloom Market vs Fox Bros…

Although a familiar refrain this season, only moments after touching down in Hartsfield Atlanta Airport, I am gleefully awaiting my order at one of the finer barbecue establishments in the city.  In what has become a thriving barbecue scene in Atlanta, Heirloom Market BBQ – with their unique brand of American and Korean BBQ fusion – has quickly asserted itself as one of the best in the city.  Tucked off the side of Interstate 285, I pull into the parking lot of a shady convenience store, the kind of place with bars on the windows and a rainbow assortment of bum wines.  A red vinyl banner hanging over a corner of the building announces Heirloom Market, the tiny joint tucked inside a small side building.


My friend Katy greets me there, her tailored blue dress and matching pumps elegantly out of place among the usual rabble.  Although a staunch vegetarian, she graciously agreed to meet me here and give an appropriate evaluation of the rotating menu of crafted side dishes at Heirloom.  An avid chef and purveyor of Squash Blossom Kitchens, a local boutique catering company, Katy has a developed palette despite those dubious dietary restrictions. Squash Blossom Kitchens Website

I order up the “Texas Trinity” an appropriate name for my usual order of brisket, pork ribs and sausage, and an acknowledgment of the joints Texas roots.  We round out the order with some spicy mac & cheese, kimchi cole slaw and a cucumber radish salad.  Once our number is called, we retreat to one of the few, standing only, outdoor tables under the shade of a pop up tent.  Standing next to a few of their custom built, Southern Pride smokers, it’s an easy glimpse into the workhorses behind their reputed fare.

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True to its reputation, the barbecue here is excellent all the way around.  The brisket was heavily smoked with a pronounced smoke ring and well developed bark.  The only fault with the brisket is that it had dried out a bit, and some fresher slices probably would have been better.  The sausage was fair, while it’s house made (a move that I typically applaud), it had an overpowering sweetness that just didn’t agree with my palette.  Ribs, however, were expertly cooked with a deep pink color inside and pulled from the bone with a slight tug.  They had a delicately sweet profile with a touch of Korean influence, but the flavors worked perfectly.  These are first class ribs all the way around.  Even the hand crafted sides here have a nice attention to detail, the spicy mac and cheese in particular was completely ravaged.

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My appetite satiated, but not dead, I decided to squeeze in an epic BBQ doubleheader before the Georgia Tech game.  Fox Brothers BBQ with their Texas roots and one of the most decorated joints in Atlanta would be the perfect head to head comparison with the fare at Heirloom.  After a quick jaunt down the highway, I pull into the gravel parking lot and take a seat, jostling to make room for my second meal only 30 minutes later.


Here, I order my typical brisket and pork rib combo, but after hearing legends about their wings, I toss an order in for some poultry to complete the trifecta.  Rounding out the order is a side of mac & cheese, as well as Brunswick Stew – an elusive southern bbq staple.  A few minutes later, the waitress sets the heaping platter in front of me, and I’m elbow deep in another couple pounds of meat.


The brisket here is well cooked, and delightfully, they provide slices from the fattier point end of the brisket – always the more flavorful side of the cut.  While the protein is cooked appropriately with well rendered fat, the meat isn’t as smoky as I would have hoped for and could have benefited from a few more logs on the fire.  Baby Back ribs are cooked well, but a bit on the dry side, although the savory rub really accentuates the sweet flavor of the pork.  The wings, true to reputation, were sublime.  Perfectly crispy on the outside, and delectably smoky and pull apart tender on the inside, they really are about as good as chicken wings get.  Brunswick stew was hearty and delicious, and reminded me of a summer in North Carolina where I routinely ate it with a pile of ribs.  It’s a side dish I wish a few more Texas places would readily adopt.

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In the end, the Atlanta BBQ scene certainly impressed, their pork is expectedly top notch and they and had some of the better briskets I’ve found outside of the state of Texas.  Oddly enough, since both of these joints have Texas roots (both founders have ties to Texas) it’s no accident that they have risen to the top of the Atlanta BBQ heap.  If you forced me to choose one, I’d probably have to give the nod to Heirloom Market – their brisket has a better smoke profile, and the ribs are absolutely perfect.  But on a day when you get to eat BBQ twice in the span of an hour, everybody is a winner in my book….

Special thanks to my friend Katy for accompanying me on the BBQ trip, and a broader culinary tour of the thriving Atlanta food scene!

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Eckerlin Meats: Gotta get Goetta…

During my brief stint in the Queen City, I wanted to sample one of those signature regional dishes exclusively found in the city of Cincinnati: Goetta.  Goetta, for those of you as unacquainted as I was, is a breakfast patty style sausage of German American origin believed to have been developed by working class German immigrants in the mid 19th century.  Composed of ground pork, beef, onions spices and steel cut oats, the dish is a holdover from times when meat budgets had to be stretched out over several meals.  Today it stands as a cultural nuance unique to Cincinnati, and worthy of a sample.

Shortly after the Bearcats game, I made a bee line towards the historic Findlay Market in search of a place called Eckerlin Meats, rumored to have the best Goetta in town.  In continuous operation since 1852, Eckerlin has been a family butcher shop for over 160 years, likely the oldest establishment I have visited on my travels.  As I press into the tiny storefront, I’m greeted by Christa and her husband Bob, the 5th generation owners of the cozy butcher shop.  With an enticing array of house cured meats tucked behind glass cases, I motion towards the Goetta, shelved in a long, pressed loaf.

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After sharing my story with them, they generously offer to fire up the cooktop (already shut down for the day), and crisp up a few slices for me.  Bob tells me that they go through about 500lbs of the stuff here a week at Eckerlin’s, and the city of Cincinnati consumes some 2 million lbs of the dish annually.

Already pre cooked the Goetta crisps up quickly. Christa presents me with a golden browned slice of the meat, along with a Goetta and egg breakfast sandwich.  Crispy on the outside, the interior is chewy and filling, with notes of onion and mild spicing.  After sampling both offerings, the dish most closely resembles scrapple or haggis.  But the savory profile of pork and beef pairs perfectly with a few eggs, and this makes for one fantastic breakfast accompaniment.

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Before I leave, I have Bob vacuum seal a few pounds of the stuff for me to take back to St. Louis.   After a long night out on the town, Goetta deserves a shot in the vaunted hangover breakfast rotation and I’ll have a few chunks in the freezer ready to go…

Eckerlin Meats Website:

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Peg Leg Porker – Getting a leg up on the Nashville BBQ scene…

In the pantheon of Tennessee barbecue the city of Nashville is far out shadowed by its more reputable brother Memphis.  Memphis lays claim to the most famous BBQ joints in the state (arguably the country), and even it’s own regional style of BBQ aka “Memphis Style” which espouses a dry rub finish on ribs.  Nashville, despite being an emerging food city, hasn’t garnered the same acclaim in the BBQ arena.  During my brief time in the Music City, I endeavored to find to find the real deal.

Peg Leg Porker, my friend Merritt assured me, was the best that she had tasted during her three years in Nashville.  Having provided a few top notch recommendations before, her cue’ credentials were bonified.  Founded by accomplished BBQ competition pitmaster Cary Bringle, the sit down restaurant has only been open since May of this year, but has already garnered high praise for BBQ in the Nashville area.  Cheekily dubbed “Peg Leg Porker”, the name is a reference to the prosthetic leg that Bringle totes around on behind the counter of the restaurant.  His leg lost to cancer at age 17, the prosthetic replacement actually sports a hog butchering diagram.  Even the t-shirts here sport the slogan “limpin’ ain’t easy”.  Between that sense of humor and well over 20 years on the competition circuit, Peg Leg Porker held high hopes.

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Sauntering in on Friday afternoon, and arriving just before the lunch rush, I promptly order up a full rack of their baby back ribs (dry), pulled pork plate, and a couple of sides.  After a few minute wait, our name is called and we collect the hefty trays at the counter and retreat to an open wood table.  Merritt eyes me nervously as I survey our formidable tray.  She is well aware of my BBQ snobbiness, and bears the heavy responsibility of having personally endorsed the swine at Peg Leg Porker.  Her reputation is on the line here…

Any fears there may have been, however, were quickly erased with the first bite of succulent pork that I tugged gently away from the ribs.  Expertly cooked, the ribs pulled cleanly from the bone with only a slight tug.  The dry rub had and ever slight kick that complemented the sweet pork perfectly.  I picked up notes of rosemary, cumin and paprika – and I’m sure a host of other spices which Bringle would be unlikely to reveal.  The pulled pork was pleasantly tender and moist with a nice pink smoke ring.  If I found any fault with the pulled pork, it’s that I would have liked a bit more crust or “outside brown” mixed in with it.  But I also understand that isn’t necessarily the regional style.  Even the sides here have an appropriate attention to detail, especially the smoky, sweet baked beans.

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Having sampled a few other Nashville BBQ joints, I can say with confidence that Peg Leg Porker is the clear winner in Nashville.  Though it may still be early, based on the meal I had here, I’d say it could stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the titans of the Memphis BBQ scene as well.  More importantly, Merritt can breathe a contented sigh of relief knowing her endorsement record now stands at an unblemished 3-0.

Peg Leg Porker Website:

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Philly Cheesesteak Showdown…

It’s the iconic sandwich the City of Brotherly Love is known for, and although glaringly cliché’ I wanted to eat a handful of these delightfully greasy gut bombs during my weekend in town.  While most visitors are immediately drawn to the vaporous neon glow of Geno’s and Pat’s, I wanted to find something beyond the usual tourist traps.  I’d been to of those places before, and while it may be blasphemous to any native Philadelphian, I found them completely underwhelming and substandard.  I’d love to hear a counter argument in favor of any dining establishment that espouses the use of “cheese wiz” on anything they serve.  So during my quick weekend in Philadelphia, I endeavored to find the real deal.

Three places emerged to the top of my research: Dalessandro’s, Jim’s and Tony Lukes. While each of these may be well known to Philly natives, they are not as familiar to outsiders.  In order to give an accurate comparison to the three contenders, I ordered the same sandwich at each – a simple cheesesteak sandwich with American cheese and grilled onions.  Why that combo?  Because I like it, that’s why.  And, it’s simple, and these are simple, working class sandwiches after all.

Tony Lukes – My first stop on Saturday morning. Hustling through the industrial wasteland part of town, I skirted past the beckoning entrance of Ricks Cabaret & Lounge – an adult entertainment club touting “divorce parties” and pulled into the red and white checkered confines of Tony Lukes.  A few yellow lights and some flashes of stainless steel trim round out the décor of the simple sandwich stand.

Tony Lukes2Whatever anticipation I held for the sandwich to come, however, was quickly extinguished by the gruff counterman who could barely be bothered to take my simple order.  Conveniently, Tony Lukes also refuses to provide water for customers, so I had to order an overpriced soda.  As if the dirtbag service and water miserliness wasn’t enough, Tony Lukes doesn’t have any heating in the dining area (in December) or provide public restroom facilities of any kind.  What a complete dump.

Fear not, however, because the sandwiches at Tony Lukes are thoroughly craptastic as well!  The french roll is chewy, and instead of being mixed into the steak, the meager cheese allotment is tossed uncaringly onto the top cold.  Even the steak itself is lazily sliced (not finely chopped) into lifeless, grey, gristly slabs of rubber that left my jaw feeling like I just went a few rounds with Rocky.  I made sure to take a good look around before leaving Tony Lukes, because I’ll never see this place again.

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 Jim’s – I visited Jim’s late on Saturday night after spending the entire day fighting off the blustering cold mist in Lincoln Financial Field during the Army Navy game.  Chilled to the bone, and thoroughly exhausted, I probably could have eaten the ass end of flattened roadkill – an option that still sounded better than a second sandwich from Tony Lukes.

Jims 2Fortunately, Jims fared much better.  Here, you watch the cook through a glass window, deftly whacking away at a pile of steak on the steaming cook top.  He chops the steak up finely, lays a few slices of American cheese into the bun, and tops the sandwich with a few caramelized onions.  Though I would have liked to see the cheese mixed into and melted across the steak, overall this was a solid sandwich.

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If I can think of one drawback to Jim’s, it’s the agonizing lines and wait time for a sandwich.  Located in center city Philadelphia, a bustling part of town on a Saturday night, throngs of hungry revelers lined up around the block for upwards of a 30 minute wait for a sandwich.  I don’t know if the wait times are always that bad, but it’s something to consider.

Jims Website:

Dalessandro’s – My final cheesesteak trial, I optioned for a breakfast at Dalessandro’s on Sunday morning before catching my flight out of Philly.  Making the fifteen minute drive to Northwest Philadelphia, the tiny corner shop is located a few miles outside the downtown Philadelphia area.  I line up promptly at 11AM, sliding into one of their counter stools soon after they opened the doors for business.  Not long after arriving, the place is jammed with takeout orders, clearly a popular neighborhood spot.

Dalessandros2Of the three, Dalessandro’s was finest offering of the classic Philly Cheesesteak.  The steak was finely chopped and browned, with the cheese completely folded in and melted across the steak.  A handful of onions garnished across the top, and the roll had a nice crunch on the outside but chewy inside.  It was well executed simplicity.  The perfect start to Sunday morning.  

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Dalessandro’s Website:

In the end, Dalessandro’s was a clear cut winner based on my criteria. Jim’s, however, would be a perfectly serviceable option if I found myself in the downtown area with a hankering.  But in case you missed it, I’d sooner eat three year old sofa pizza before returning to Tony Lukes again…

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