Filled with an overabundance of love for Memphis

So, for lunch yesterday, some of the guys from the office and I decided we’d give Main St. Hound Dogs a chance.

We’d all seen him on Twitter and heard good things about him. We’d even stopped and talked to him for a few minutes while walking down Main St. on our way to another lunch destination downtown. Christopher McRae is genuinely one of the nicest guys you’ll find in Downtown eateries, and he spends his midday at a hot dog cart by the trolley tracks!

Open from “11ish to 2ish” Monday through Saturday, Chris sells his dogs (turkey and beef) and his fresh-squeezed limeades (regular and cherry) on the corner of Union Ave. and Main St.

Photo of Main St. Hound Dogs from : Main St. Hound Dogs blog

If I worked in Downtown proper, I’d be at his cart multiple times a week. The dogs are cooked decently, but are prepared with a good selection of toppings. One companion (@aranhia) got his turkey dogs with “all the standards:” deli mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, relish and onions.

My other companion (@blakepalmer of @memphisnews fame) went with two beef dogs, one with deli mustard, celery salt and salsa (I’ll be trying this next time) and one with sauerkraut, celery salt and mayo. Continue reading Filled with an overabundance of love for Memphis

Borderlands Leveling 1-13

I don’t want to make any final judgements on Gearbox’s Borderlands, but I thought I’d post an update with my impressions through the first 13 levels of leveling in the game. It often takes me longer to get through games like this as my personality makes me want to see all classes of a game before I commit to one.

First, you should know, the game’s art direction is superb. The opening sequence with all its cel-shaded, “Ain’t-No-Rest-for-the-Wicked” goodness is truly a beautiful tone setter for the game. Little bits of humor, other than the first skag (a sort of alien hyena) roadkill, accentuate the character introductions. Each of the four characters displays their “actual” name and their “character” name, such as “Roland as ‘The Soldier’.” The last character, however, the large brutish fellow who is a heavy gunner and berserking fist fighter, is simply “Brick as Himself.” Really. With a name like Brick and his design, you don’t need much else.

Gameplay so far is fairly standard first-person shooter fare with four “classes” to add customization. The soldier specializes in assault rifles and shotguns; the hunter is your sniper and so on.

The shooter aspects feel a little loose to me. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not the greatest FPS player in the world, but I feel even more inaccurate with all the classes.

I really enjoy the fact that each class has a special move (though, truth be told, I wish there were more skills of that sort). So far, I’m partial to the hunter’s bird, which he sends out to fight opponents, and the soldier’s turrent which shoots enemies but can also be specialized to heal party members or regenerate ammo.

I do have a beef with the game. The RPG elements for specializing your characters are just too weak. I feel like I’m looking at World of Warcraft talent trees (a fact made painfully obvious by the fact that they’re set up nearly identical to WoW’s system). These incremental boosts to my character are nice, but they’re not the substantial type of reward that makes me desperate to attain the next level.

Really, the way this game is meant to be played is cooperatively. I’ve been playing with my on-again-off-again roommate both split screen and over XBox Live. It’s quite a bit more fun this way and the loot the gets dropped tends to be much better.

Oh, that’s another high-point to the game. The sheer number of guns that can spawn is really daunting. The only downside to this is yet another WoW comparasin, the loot is color coded to let you know its rarity/power. White is common, green is slightly more rare, purple is rarer still (epic, if you will) and orange is hardcore (I’ve not seen an orange drop yet).

As a UX specialist for Web sites, I understand the necessity of using conventions such as these (links being a different color than regular text, navigation being grouped at the top of a page), but as a gamer, I want new and original, not rehashes of other properties.

As a whole, I’m digging the game, and I definitely can’t wait to dig more into the story, I just wish the RPG elements were deeper than the FPS elements and gun creation.

Cordelia’s a must for Harbor Town dwellers

I have a confession to make. I hope this offends no one, but Harbor Town creeps me out a little bit. It’s just a little too pristine, pretty and picturesque.

It's Greek to Me sandwich casingThat said, if you live in Harbor Town, you have no excuse to miss out on Miss Cordelia’s. If you live or work within 15 minutes of Harbor Town, Downtown I’m looking at you here, you also have no excuse.

Nestled away in the back of the same-title grocery store, Miss Cordelia’s puts together good sandwiches, and, when I was there, had quite tasty Snickerdoodles (I can’t pass up trying Snickerdoodles).

So, I bustled over to Mud Island on my lunch break and brought the sandwhich (and cookies! don’t forget the cookies!) back to the office.

I was a little nervous about the size of the package I was handed for my It’s Greek to Me sandwich. It looked awfully small.

When I got it back to the office, I understood why it appeared small to me in the bag, while the sandwich was not wide or sprawling, it was stacked high! In point of fact, it was a bit too high and a little awkward to get my mouth around.

The flavor and mixture of ingredients was pleasant, though I wasn’t a big fan of the bread. The menu said it came on focaccia, but I’m fairly certain mine was on a wheat roll. Not bad, just wasn’t the best match for the sandwich.

I’ve written before of my affinity to feta cheese, which this sandwich has, but I’d like to also add that a well-roasted pepper is almost on the same level. Mix roasted red peppers, feta cheese, cucumber and chicken together with some pesto mayo and you’ve got Cordelia’s Greek. I wouldn’t have minded some olives or to have substituted hummus for the pesto mayo, but the sandwich was damned tasty (not to mention those snickerdoodles!).

photo-5All of their sides, displayed in a glass deli counter looked to be good quality, but I was unable to try them. They also sold these sides and certain entrees such as meatloaf by the pound.

I was also glad to see their presence on social networks. They have a twitter account (@MissCordelias), which they post specials or new local products (“We are happy to have a new local product. Going Nuts Pecans……Chocolate, Praline & Roasted…also their tasty peppermint bark.”).

Also, the ability to order it online is nice, and it seems to be function well (will have to try that out next time).

Cordelia's on Urbanspoon

A good lunch for a Bardog (oh the puns)

Sorry, I’ve been fairly quiet on posting recently, gang. Living life. Was ill for the better part of last week, too. I’m going to attempt to do better. – Note from the Geek Management

I hit Bardog for lunch with @rakuette not too long ago. The place has a lot of personality and it’s actually really welcoming as you walk in (I walked in from the rain, so perhaps that’s where the impression came from).

Meatball Hoagie and friesThe bar has two floors: the top floor is more of a bar and the bottom floor has no smoking and is more of the restaurant setting with more seating.

We sat at the bar on the top floor. Having a bar that’s nice to serve food on is a tricky business. Bardog’s misses the bill a little bit. It was a tad too high even for my 6-foot-3-inch frame and was even worse for my shorter lunch companion.

The fare is slightly upscale for a bar, including a $25 “Surf and Turf” entree.

We stuck to sandwiches, though.

I ordered the Meatball Hoagie and my compatriot ordered The Amazing Island Club.

I can’t speak for the club, but the Meatball Hoagie was quite delicious. Stuff with eight meatballs, provolone and parmagiano with marinara, the sandwich was perfect for the dreary October day. The problem lay in eating it without making a mess.

Innards of a Meatball HoagieThe bread was slightly too light to handle the dense meatballs and marinara. I had to eat the second half of my sandwich with a fork and knife, feeling distinctly British for some reason (who knows?). Flavor-wise, definitely a hit, but the bread was quite possibly a big whiff. I think a meatball sandwich needs a heartier bread. Not so stiff and crusty that you injure your gums, but something that the sauce won’t soak completely through.

Like the innards of the sandwich, the fries that came with our meals were a quite good. They’re seasoned with sugar. I love a good mix of savory and sweet and these were just right. Crispy, light and with the sugar, definitely something different, but lovely.

I’ll be giving Bardog another go in the coming weeks and will let you know. I think I’ll try the Sliders next.
Bardog Tavern on Urbanspoon

Profile for @memphisnews’ “Getting to know The CA” series

So, last week, Blake Palmer interviewed me, not as a Geek of Memphis, but as an Online Site Producer and UX Specialist for The Commercial Appeal. He filmed it using his flip cam, so, of course, I had to film my perspective on mine. Below are his final product and my raw footage.

Blake’s piece

Raw footage from my cam

You can follow Blake’s series as he learns more about the faces behind The CA and on The Memphis Blog.

Quetzal: A story of patience, decent food and a slightly high cost

Mediterranean melt and garlic potatoesWhen I try to think of my passions when it comes to food and what I truly enjoy, it always comes around to one topic: sandwiches. When looking for a lunch spot, my mind always springs straight to places that will serve me good bread with meat and veggies in between.

That led me invariably to Quetzal on Union on the edge of Downtown Memphis. The restaurant certainly has some atmosphere. With warehouse-esque ceilings, slightly deconstructed walls and computers everywhere, you definitely get the feeling that the owners are trying to make this a hip coffee house.

Before I get into the food, however, you need to know, the waitstaff isn’t particularly interested in serving you fast. When I entered, I took a seat against one of the booths lining the walls. It was more than five minutes before I had to go on a quest to find a menu. If a place is crowded, this is forgivable. I give servers the benefit of the doubt whenever I can. Quetzal, however, was dead.

With two other occupied tables and two servers to cover, I was a bit let down by a lack of attentiveness. I’m more than willing to give them another shot on this. Maybe they were having an off day. It happens to the best of us.

The food is mainly what we’re hear to discuss, anyway.

I ordered the Mediterranean Melt, a focaccia panini. The sandwich comes with chicken, sun dried tomatoes, olives, Feta cheese and pesto. As a point of full disclosure, I should tell you: If put Feta cheese and pesto on a sandwich, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to love it.

The Melt is no exception. The flavors meld quite well, though I could have used fewer olives. The focaccia is light and toasted to a nice crunch.

The one problem I have with the sandwich is that it’s way too easy to bite through the bread. This may seem an odd issue, “Why is ease of eating an issue?” you may very well ask. Well, once your teeth push through the nice crust their grill has left on the bread, there’s nothing else that stands in the way. I felt like I was in a Peanuts strip and Lucy was going pull the football away as I kicked at it.

You’ll be happy to note, I managed to escape without injury.

The sandwich comes with your choice of a side salad or garlic potatoes. The menu makes note that you should order the potatoes “while they last.” With scarcity like that, I had to order them.

The insides of a Mediterranean MeltThe potatoes were roasted perfectly. Just enough browning on the outside, fluffy potato on the inside. The seasoning isn’t quite right, though. Some bites were great with a larger amount of garlic (real garlic pieces, not garlic salt), others had no garlic on them and there was nothing to hold the garlic to the potato and no spices to help combine the flavors.

Overall, the potatoes are mediocre, but they’re definitely not meant to be the star of the show.

The food at Quetzal is pretty good, but definitely not worth the price point. With tip, my bill topped out over $17 for lunch.

And trying to cram Quetzal into an hour lunch break (even when in walking distance) is a push with the service.

Worth a try if you’re into sandwiches, but I can think of better sandwich shops in the area.

Quetzal on Urbanspoon

With Flip in hand, do we venture forth to video

It’s true. There’s now a video component to the site. This is just a goofball video of us playing around with the cam, as it came in today (woot!).

Enjoy some random bloopers and be prepared for some video reviews and commentary. I’ll get this up as a Vimeo video tomorrow for better quality. For now, enjoy some YouTube love.

The long-awaited South Philly review

Cheesesteak and Water iceThat’s right, folks, I realize I’ve been slacking a little bit, but we’re back on schedule with a post about what has got to be the best cheesesteaks in Memphis (perhaps even the Mid-South).

I’ve eaten at what are arguably three of the best cheesesteak joints in Philadelphia: Pat’s, Jim’s and D’Alessandro’s. Although it’s been years since I had a cheesesteak in Philly, I’d put South Philly’s sandwiches right up there with those titans.

South Philly’s aim, according to their Web site, is “that the sound of the cook chopping the steaks on the sizzling grill, the savory aromas and the come-as-you-are setting bring the flavor of Philadelphia to you even before you take that first bite.”

This isn’t marketing hyperbole. When you walk into the restaurant, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the scent of cooking beef, the clang of metal on an iron griddle and the symphony of good conversation that seems to always be there when I enter (maybe that’s because I always enter around lunchtime on a weekday).

Scattered about the walls are photos and memorabilia from around Philly and they even have a sign teaching you how to order your sandwich, starting with whether you want the cheesesteak “WIT” or “WIT-OUT” onions (you should definitely order it “wit”).

When the food gets to your table, it’s hard not to notice one key thing: cheese integration. This is what makes or breaks a cheesesteak for me, and South Philly’s has been perfect nearly every time I’ve been. Each bite has a perfect mixture of beef, cheese and onions (I’m a purist, so that’s all you’ll find on a cheesesteak I order).

They’ve also brought another staple of Philly cuisine: water ice. I’m far from a connoisseur of water ice, so I can’t speak to how good their ice is. I enjoyed the Strawberry Lemonade flavor I tried, but it didn’t blow my mind quite like their cheesesteaks.

The thing that really puts South Philly over the top is the dedication to service. Owner Mike Dinwiddie is in the shop most days and if anything is ever wrong, he does his absolute best to make it right.

I promised previously that I would get to the bottom of the recent drought in the TastyKake market. I e-mailed Mike, and he took time out of his day to let me know what’s going on.

Unfortunately, Tastykake does not have a distributorship near Memphis. To the best of my knowledge they only distribute in the Delaware Valley, and as far south as Virginia, and as far north as NY.

Mike mentioned that shipments to out-of-region vendors may have stemmed from one person trying to “help out cheesesteak joints” and that it may have become too much of a burden.

South Philly may begin to sell Hostess in the future.”They are local and local is good,” Mike sent about Hostess.

My hat’s off to Mike for replying to me so passionately (he also informed me that they’e just switched to a local water ice vendor “Parker’s Water Ice” and that they use Amoroso, a roll “Philly people go nuts over” and Ritter meats) and for running an absolutely incredible “cheesesteak joint.”

If you haven’t already, hit them up downtown. If you’re in the area, you can order on-line and they’ll even deliver to certain areas.

It’s completely worth it.

South Philly on Urbanspoon

Portrait of a nearly perfect geek lunch

South Philly Cheesesteak, Italian Ice, Geeks of Memphis and my laptop. Awesome
South Philly Cheesesteak, Italian Ice, Geeks of Memphis and my laptop. Awesome

I’ve got a lengthier review of South Philly on the way, but in the meantime, here’s my view from lunch today. It’s truly a thing of beauty.

Pristine MacBook with a meal delivered from South Philly downtown. Suffice it to say, I wolfed down the cheesesteak (almost forgetting to photograph it for my review later).

Lunch doesn’t get much better.

OK, it does get better. But only by replacing the Italian ice with some TastyKakes. South Philly may no longer be selling them. I’m going to be doing some investigating to find out why and where else in town one might find some.

Very initial impressions of Guitar Hero 5

I’ll continue pounding the pavement on Guitar Hero 5, never fear, but after a night of playing through a decent chunk of songs, I’m ready to lay down some of the basics of the game.

And don’t worry, we’ll talk about more than just rhythm games on here, it just happens to be some of the first of the bigger titles that have come out since we opened up shop here.

I love rhythm games. I have since I played Dance Dance Revolution in the arcade and brought home a crappy pad and the first release for the original Playstation.

We’ve been playing using our Rock Band 2 controllers, and it’s been working rather well. At least, I’ve been pleased that I haven’t had to shell out the cash for a new set of controllers.

It looks like NeverSoft is attempting to make their game harder … by making the interface incredibly hard to use. When playing WITH anyone, the interface becomes so small that from anywhere beyond 5-6 feet away it becomes quite difficult to read where the notes are, especially once you enter star power.

The meter that lets you know if you’re about to fail out is tiny and quite subtle. I didn’t notice it until I was watching my roommate drumming by himself. The Star Power gauge is a bit easier to see, but just as small.

(As I’m writing this, as a matter of fact, the roommate has started playing. The game picked Ex-Girlfriend by No Doubt)

Enough with the negatives! I still have my favorite new feature to talk about!

Party Mode.

Party Mode allows you to start playing almost immediately after starting. That’s great, but here’s the kicker: people can join in halfway through a song. You can change difficulty halfway through the song.

This doesn’t require loading screens. It doesn’t require restarting the song. It’s a beautiful thing. In fact, after my roommate played Ex-Girlfriend, he went into Ring of Fire, which of course forced me to pick up a controller and play some. That’s dedication, folks. I stopped writing when a good GH5 song came on. Sue me.

Speaking of which, more impressions to come later. More research is needed, I think. We’ll talk avatars and career mode next.