Wildwood BBQ

May 4, 2008

Last Thursday, Jason and I had plans go to dinner at Wildwood BBQ with our friends D and B but sadly D got sick and they had to back out around 3. I tried calling Wildwood to let them know we would be changing our reservation to two but was greeted by busy signals for a good five minutes. After finally getting through, I was automatically put on hold for another five. I hung up after that and had we not been salivating at the menu for the past week that would have been enough for us to refuse to dine there. The tolerance of the busy tone is for Babbo, and Babbo alone.

That’s where the negativity stops though and to be honest, I almost don’t want to write about our experience at Wildwood because it was unbelievably positive. Whenever I read wholly positive reviews I become skeptical, a reaction I think most people would have. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of other B.R. Guest establishments – out of the multiple ones I’ve been to, I’ve repeatedly found them lacking in overall value:price ratio. Wildwood was altogether different.

After picking up our new toy at B&H, we arrived at Wildwood around 7:30 hoping they be able to seat us earlier than our rez. First thing I noticed after confirming my arrival with the host was that the restaurant was not packed despite it’s smaller than expected size. Never ones to complain about a reasonable wait (especially when we’re a half hour early), we headed to the bar to grab some drinks. I ordered a mint julep in honor of one of my hubby’s state prides, the Kentucky Derby, and he wanted a Manhattan with Maker’s Mark. Unfortunately, this was the only mix up of the night because the bartender thought I ordered a Maker’s Mark neat. It was bourbon all the same though so Jason happily drank it anyway. I have to mention, and the hubby confirmed, that the mint julep was spot on with its authenticity. With a bourbon list like this, I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t.

We were seated before we were halfway through with our drinks and were greeted by our friendly waitress right away. We settled on the bottle caps appetizer (deep fried jalapeno slices served with a thin Ranch dressing) and chicken wings slathered with Frank’s Redhot sauce. This wasn’t a tough choice because I had spent the better part of the previous three days studying the menu.

The bottle caps were lightly fried and crispy. The accompanying dipping sauce was refreshing against the slight spiciness of the jalapeno slices. I think the best part about the bottle caps was that they didn’t taste like poppers without cheese. Just like frickles are delicious because the pickle flavor isn’t lost, so were these bottle caps with their subtle spiciness.

Not surprisingly we found the buffalo wings to be the star of the show. Hands down the best I’ve had in the city. So many places use tiny wings that would dry out after 2 minutes in the fryer, you’re left eating skin and bones after the eatery fries them for five minutes. The most egregious characteristic that a wing can have is being too dry. As for the wings at Wildwood, they were exceptionally meaty and juicy and the Frank’s sauce on the wings was much thicker than their sauce straight out of the bottle. It leads me to believe the sauce was somehow modified and perhaps reduced, something we will try ourselves one day I’m sure.

I was so full after the meaty wings (we ordered ½ dozen) that I told Jason I didn’t think I’d be able to eat my Wildwood brisket sandwich that was to come. However, once the plate arrived, I knew I would eat my words, no pun intended.

Jason got the simple pulled pork sandwich that turned out to be anything but. The tangy vinegar flavor from the mop permeated every bite of the sandwich and absolutely zero additional sauce was needed. That’s saying a lot from a family like us that is all about condiments. As I’ll touch on in the brisket section, the smoke flavor and the quality of the cut was spectacular so overall, the pulled pork was in every way perfect.

As for me, well, there is an option of getting just brisket meat on a sandwich as Jason had gotten his pulled pork. But of course, I opted for the special brisket sandwich that came with melted provolone, co’ slaw, and onion rings on top. At first I thought all of the toppings might hide the flavor of the brisket meat but I needn’t have worried. The smoke flavor in the brisket was incredible and unlike any other I have ever had outside of the south. At another BBQ joint nearby to Wildwood, which will remain nameless, the brisket is decent but only when it’s ordered as marbled. But let’s face it, what meat isn’t good when it comes with tons of fat? The meat at Wildwood was lean but extremely tender and though there was a thin layer of fat on each slice it definitely was not enough to make me feel guilty. Always a good thing because heaven knows I’d eat it anyway! :)

For dessert, instead of getting the ubiquitous chocolate cake that’s bigger than a child’s head, we ordered the s’mores. They gave us three s’mores that consisted of graham crackers sandwiching melted marshmallow and peanut butter, and then half dipped in chocolate. How can you beat that??? Oh yes, the chocolate was then sprinkled with chopped peanuts. They were incredible and the perfect night cap.

Again, I feel like Wildwood was just too good to be true which is why even though I have talked about going back there almost every day since Thursday, I am nervous to go back. What if somehow the kitchen gods smiled on us, and every single thing we ordered was done perfectly for us and us alone? Will others go and have a totally different experience and think I’m crazy?

Well the only way for us to find out is to keep going and bring our friends to get their opinions. Anybody up for going with us? We will clear our schedule for Wildwood :)

Mission Cheap Eats 2008 – Tampa

April 14, 2008

Jason and I have vowed to save more money this year and since almost all of our money is spent on food, we have been seeking out good cheap eats places. A couple of weekends ago on a trip to visit my in-laws, we were lucky enough to go to two such places.

The first stop was for lunch with a taste of the south at Eli’s BBQ!

This outdoor food stop is only open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am-6 pm and the smokehouse – behind the converted ice-cream stand where orders are taken – is manned by Eli (Crawford) himself.

 

Jason and I went up to the smokehouse for a peek and he quickly invited us in to take a look at all the goodies on the grill.

Eli takes great pride in the food he serves which was obvious through his list of homemade foods. These include but are not limited to the sausage that he stuffs and smokes, cole slaw and baked beans that come with each meal, and both a mild and hot BBQ sauce. There are only a small number of offerings at Eli’s which is fine by me because we tried everything on the menu and it was all excellent.

There were 6 of us that day and we each ordered a separate meal with the tab coming out to a little under $40 dollars. I got the ribs and showed enough restraint to take a picture before digging in.

I feel confident in saying that they were some of the best smoked ribs I’ve ever had. The meat was slow smoked to the point of falling off the bone but still tender. The meat on top was crispy from the grill and contrasted beautifully with the juicy meat underneath. It was a perfect combination with the tangy, not overly sweet, BBQ sauce served on the side.

The other star in my opinion was the smoked chicken, which my mother in law chose. She ordered the ¼ chicken with white meat and it was some of the juiciest white meat I have ever had. We were all pleasantly surprised considering it didn’t look as though it would be moist. When we go back on our next trip, I think we’ll have to order the whole chicken and all share it. :)

The other cheap eats place we went to was Le Cabana del Tio, which as you guessed it, is a Mexican joint. We didn’t think we’d have time to give del Tio a try on this last weekend trip but as luck would have it, my father in law’s favorite boat supply shop is one block away and we had to go there to pick up some things.

The setup of this place is similar to a takeout Chinese restaurant where there are 2 tables, a counter, and an open kitchen where you see corn tortillas rolled out and grilled fresh in front of your eyes. The menu is above the counter and is almost entirely in Spanish. I must add that they had Chuck Norris playing on a TV mounted above the counter. And yes, it was dubbed. I have to include a picture of Jason and his dad being goofy while we wait for our food. Yes, he is his father’s son.

They serve only the basics here: tacos, gorditas, quesadillas, tortas, and some specials. No burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, or anything else you’d find at Taco Bell. I can’t be sure but I’m almost positive Mexican Pizza was nowhere to be found on the menu.

For about $20, we got 2 tacos (bistek, or beef, and pastor, or pork), an order of beef quesadilla, and one of the daily specials which I have wanted to try, menudo. Yes, I’m Chinese and my mother’s daughter.

According to Jason, everything we had was similar to the food he had in Monterrey in 2004 and while I’m glad it was authentic, more importantly, everything tasted great!

The tacos were simply made with corn tortillas wrapped around a bit of seasoned meat, garnished with fresh chopped cilantro, and served with a side of lime and smoky salsa. The quesadilla was a corn tortilla encasing a bit of melted cheese and steak, served with crema fresca and an avocado puree, not fancy guacamole.

The menudo was fierce and definitely not for the faint of heart. It was full of heat as you can see in the picture and had deep beef flavor from all of the offal. It was served a small stack of their fresh corn tortillas for dipping along witha lime wedge and raw onions to be added at my discretion. I could’ve eaten the whole bowl if not for the fact that half way through, I inhaled through my mouth and burned the back of my throat. After hacking for about 2 minutes, I knew my throat was done with menudo for the day.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with our two finds and can’t wait for our next trip back to Florida to see my in-laws as well as visit Eli and the friendly tortilla-making ladies :)