Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review - Eischen's Bar in Okarche

(Okarche, OK) - Still another week until we get back to the judging table so we continue our forays into Reviewing Other Foods. This week finds us in Okarche, Oklahoma at the world famous Eischen's Bar (est. 1896 - self-proclaimed oldest in Oklahoma).

We've read a lot of reviews on this place and it seems time to offer a little objectivity (at least as we see it) -- so let's start by answering some frequently asked quesitons:
  • It true what they say about the table competition? Yes.
  • Is it true they only take cash? Mostly - I think they'll take a check but no plastic.
  • Is the wait really that long? Yep, at least when they're busy.
  • Is the help really that rude? They are busy - so not real chatty.
  • Is it expensive? Mindbogglingly.
  • Is the chicken good? No. It is great.
  • Is it worth the trip? Yes.
Eischen's is an Oklahoma rite of passage. It is as The Salt Lick BBQ in Austin is to Texans. That analogy further holds true in that it is more of an overall theme park type experience than it is a trip to get some grub. At the Salt Lick it's best to bring a cooler full of beer to enjoy during the afternoon wait for a table while that guy sits over there with his acoustic guitar singing a mix of Jerry Jeff, George Strait and Eagles tunes.

At Eischen's they serve beer (bottles and draught but strictly of the 3.2 ABW variety) and the music is piped in classic rock (and a pretty good mix of it -- not just limited to the really tired stuff) but the wait is just as long. The difference is no lawn to sit on. Everyone stands and waits until someone gets up and then the mad dash is on for the open table. At that point the wait for chicken can stretch up to 2 hours when they are really busy.

But they will keep bringing the beer so folks that show up with patient friends -- all expecting to wait awhile and have time to visit -- will enjoy the experience. And all will be really happy when he shows up with big baskets of chicken.

Yes. The food. Is it the best chicken you've ever had? No. The chicken you're grandma used to fry up on Sundays in her old cast iron skillet was better than this. You're mama might even have topped this regularly. Babes in the Metroplex has better chicken. But with all of that said this is still some outstanding fried chicken. Crispy and not greazy -- it's deep fried in the same simple mix and fashion that was used three generations ago by the grandaddy of the Eischen boys that still own the place. The place is more restaurant now than bar but they never changed the recipe (for more info on that see their episode of Triple D on which they got a "Winner winner chicken dinner").

 The okra got thumbs up around our table. Onions, pickles and white bread comes with it. They have BBQ beef and roast beef sandwiches (don't know -- didn't get them) and ballgame nachos ($6 without the "homemade" chili). All of that could be very good but we went for the legendary chicken.

If you are in central Oklahoma and have time to kill or if someone says "You gotta..." then you should. Just go knowing what to expect and be prepared to deal with it. If you do you'll enjoy the experience and you'll love the chicken and the okra. As for us -- we wouldn't mind trying the chili. One of these days.

Eischen's Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Review - Juan del Fuego in Norman

(Norman, OK) - As we wait for the fall session of Barbecue Competition Season to fire up again we are holding forth on visits some non-barbecue places of note. Juan's is absolutely worthy of such.

We have frequent occasion to travel I-35 and have discovered ourselves making a habit of stopping in the pleasant tree-lined All-American college town of Norman (location of our sweet People's Choice 1st Place Pork Shoulder victory) to eat at this hidden gem of a spot. Yes, it's a BBQ blog. But it can't be smoked meat three meals a day EVERY day. Occasionally the palate must be cleansed, if nothing else, for the sake of perspective. Our experience dictates this is an excellent place to do just that. Besides - it is summer and it's hard to find a contest to judge anywhere near the South Plains so we've time on our hands and we've empty stomachs.

First a little back story. The namesake is one Juan Herrera whose first 15 minutes (we believe there are more to come) came as the "floor show" a couple miles to the east at the venerable, 110+ year old Diner during an episode of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives on the Food Network. While owner Mark Amspacher (deservedly) hogged the glory with Guy Fieri it was Juan in the background doing all the work. The community lost a well-loved and affable character a little more than a year after that episode aired when Mark died.

The Diner soldiers on under the eye of his family and long-time employees. We've been once since then and it is still crowded and the food is still great. The only thing we noticed missing was Juan - the Eddie Van Halen of the flattop. Asking around a bit we learned that after nearly two decades (for whatever reason - and we've heard a few) he left The Diner. Juan found a spot in a largely overlooked but tidy strip mall next to a Sam's Club on the west side of Norman, a stone's throw from I-35, and set up shop amidst comfortable tables in a bright and airy room adorned with pressed tin and images of the unibrowed countenance of Frida Kahlo.

The floor show remains. Juan is used to people watching him work his magic, he knows he's good, and he likes for us to watch. A spot at the counter is a box seat for excellence in short-order cheffery. This master is turning out the best food of his career and he's doing it his way and this time around HE is the boss.

If we've learned one thing about eating here it's that it is pretty much impossible to go wrong. The menu includes standard American breakfasts, Tex-Mex lunches, vice-versa and a number of hybrids. Best as we can tell (it'd be wrong to stop Juan and ask him when he's that busy) everything that can be home made from scratch is. For fans of The Diner's legendary flapjacks - good news - you can get 'em here too even if Marks two-time state champion chili didn't make the trip down Main Street (I would guess that is a function of Juan's respect for Mark's legacy - because you KNOW he knows the recipe by heart).

Most of the meals come with potatoes: home fries with onions, fries or hash browns (the latter two not fresh made but rather SYSCO specials - fine though). The house-made chorizo is loose and carmelized a touch on the flattop and just spicy enough to get it done without scaring away the timid or meek. There are three sauces: verde, ranchero and red -- all are Juan's own creations and they are outstanding. When Juan cooks eggs he gets them just right and when he puts them over easy on a pair of pork tamales covered in red it is sublime. The tamales boast a generous 1:1 pork to masa ratio and have to be some of the finest anywhere north of Texas.

This blog is to be continued with more photos and more food -- as we eat it. Stay tuned and check back often!

Juan Del Fuego on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review - Bacon Explosion

(The Plains) - It's the mid-season hiatus in the south. Not much doing between early June and September. So, emboldened by our success in Norman and not motivated enough to trek out into the heat to find a good 'cue joint we decided to do something we've been curious about for some time. The meat fattie they call the Bacon Explosion.

We had a feeling. We suspected. But all of the reviews we read disabused us of the notion that it would just be unexciting bacon and sausage flavored only by rub and sauce. They were wrong. We used the best bacon, freshly ground sausage and Butchers run and sauce (our favorites). The finished product looked just like the pictures on the website. It was not bad. Just disappointing.