Category Archives: Southern

Featured City Posts: digesting Nashville one meal at a time

Nashville

A cross country move followed by two best friends’ weddings and a series of small trips can seriously damage a routine blogging schedule, as you all know. And while life has settled slightly since I’ve arrived in San Francisco, and I have had a handful of amazing blog-worthy meals, I knew I needed something epic to report about to motivate me to start back up again. So praise be to Nashville.

While my primary purpose of taking the compulsory 6+ hour, 1-stop minimum flight from SF to visit Nashville was to see my long lost friend Lauren and her fiancé Sam, the trip quickly turned into a food tour of every spot that came recommended to me by either fellow foodies or recent visitors. And fortunately for me, Nasvhille is relatively small, so limited stomach-space aside, checking places off my list was fairly masterable.

And boy are there great places! I started off touring the 12-South neighborhood in search of a coffee, and found the Frothy Monkey (recommended by Lauren), a quintessential college-town hangout that looked like a Berkeley transplant. Despite the many affordable, delicious bagel sandwich options, Coffee and a raisin bran muffin was all I needed to tide me over until lunch, which I found at another stand-up-and-order college-town eatery, Fido. Fido is located on the restaurant lined 21st street in Hilsboro village, just blocks from Vanderbilt, so as expected, it has a hearty list of $10 or less sandwich and salad options to choose from. I went for the chopped salad, which while not quite enough for lunch, was the perfect healthy mix of cabbage, avocado, golden raisins, feta, peppers, and tangy lemon dressing to keep me only slightly satiated before an amazing dinner at City House in Germantown.

Frothy Monkey

Frothy Monkey

Fido Big Chop salad

Fido Big Chop salad

City House is a great name for the restaurant, which appears as a random white house with brightly lit windows on a somewhat deserted, tree-lined street. Escaping a cold dark night and entering this warm atmosphere gets you even more excited to be a part of the crew that was able to score a reservation. The place itself is minimalistic, but the lighting, approachable menu and flowing cocktails create a homey and familiar atmosphere. After a few grapefruit cocktails, Sam, Lauren and I split a kale salad, an incredible charred brick oven belly-ham pizza, a roast chicken to die for and a local trout with crispy skin and peanuts. Everything was mouthwatering, but an often-doubtful chicken eater (me) was made dumbfounded by this moist, intensely smokey dark meat with crackling skin. I might even say it was better than Barbuto’s. Dessert of chocolate panna cotta and a pecan tart rounded the meal out perfectly. There wasn’t one thing I would have changed!

City House

City House

amazing belly ham pizza

amazing belly ham pizza

springer mountain chicken with sweet roasted rhubarb

springer mountain chicken with sweet roasted red onion and rhubarb

Carolina trout with breadcrumbs, raisins, and peanuts

crisp Carolina trout with breadcrumbs, raisins, and peanuts

Sam so flabergasted by the delicious desserts

Sam so flabergasted by the delicious desserts

My satisfying City House experience only motivated me to continue on the food journey the next day, and thankfully, Lauren was up for it. We had a list and there was nothing but cold weather holding us back. We started off with a biscuit at Puckett Grocery‘s downtown (which would have been great for a hearty breakfast if there hadn’t been a wait), a cortado with house-made almond-coconut milk at world-renowned Crema Coffee. Then we stumbled upon Marché Artisan Foods, a recommended brunch spot with loads of homemade baked goods and an adorable Mediterranean style, floor-to-ceiling window setting. I knew I had many meals head of me so I ordered a prosciutto and gruyere omelet to act as the base (and soak up the City House cocktails from hours earlier). Lauren’s frittata with asparagus and romesco sauce intrigued me more than my own order, but it was still a solid brunch in a great location. Next time I’m definitely getting a piece of zucchini cake to go.

crispy buttery biscuit

crispy buttery biscuit

sweet barista at Crema coffee

sweet barista at Crema coffee

Marché Artisan Foods baked goods display

Marché Artisan Foods baked goods display

fritatta + Lauren

fritatta + Lauren

After roaming by car around East Nashville, otherwise known as the Brooklyn of Nashville, we headed to Jeni’s, an adorable artisan ice cream shops known for its inventive flavors based in Columbus Ohio. With the store to ourselves on the cold fall day, the sweet and passionate ice cream scooper gave us tastes, accompanied by short histories, of almost every flavor. After sampling everything from burnt sweet potato and marshmallow, cheese curd and raspberry, cayenne, pumpkin, salted caramel, and a rich and inventive toasted coconut and roasted banana combo, I fell in love with the Buckeye – a roasted salty peanut and dark chocolate flavor that was sweet, savory, and mind blowing. Stuffed from our breakfast and ice cream samples, I walked out only with a bag of almond brittle and a newfound obsession for Jeni’s ice cream.

me @ Jeni's

me looking super cool @ Jeni’s

Enough time (15 minutes) had passed to re-ignite the hunger for something salty, so we decided it was time to check off my Southern BBQ experience at Edley’s in 12 South. I had very little desire to eat, but knew I had to do my food tour justice. I have no regrets about the smokey thick-carved turkey sandwich I ordered, and the sides of mac & cheese and green beans helped me survive an afternoon hunger surge.

Photos - 32

horrible photo – no shame no gain

Hours of lounging on the couch led us to motivate to honor our reservation at Holland House Bar and Refuge, a restaurant chock full of quaint details including a 360 degree bar, a fire place, and eclectic, wooden dining furniture. Our bartender Nate was so friendly that we decided to have our meal at the bar. The good? His undivided attention for cocktail making (which ranged from strawberry tequila drinks to vodka martinis), the beautiful low-lit vibe, and the cod brandade with whole grain mustard and pickled asparagus. The not so good? The over-salted braised greens (which we exchanged for the brussels sprouts), and the over-cooked burger (which we sent back for a more accurate interpretation of “rare”). The end result of a tender patty, caramelized onions and blue cheese reminiscent of Spotted Pig’s was obviously amazing.

Holland House outside

Holland House outside

bar @ Holland House

bar @ Holland House

I was honestly relieved to end the food tour there, but we somehow ended up at Walgreens (after failing at Piggley Wiggley’s, yes, that really exists), to buy ingredients for a festive Halloween rice crispy treat.. We whipped up a batch, which was just enough activity to put us to bed at a decent hour.

Ta-dah!!

Ta-dah!!

From the list of meals I had in Nashville, one might think I had been there for a week. And that makes me feel very accomplished! Nashville, you’re all the quirkiness, culture and beauty that everyone described.

Places Mentioned
Frothy Monkey
Fido
City House
Puckett Grocery‘s
Crema Coffee
Marché Artisan Foods
Jeni’s
Edley’s
Holland House

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Filed under Featured U.S. City Posts, Southern

Maison Premiere: dainty seafood in New Orleans’ fashion

My favorite thing about Maison Premiere in Williamsburg is not necessarily its food or its cocktails, but its ability to transcend time and create a feeling truly reflective of an 19th century New Orleans’ absinthe house mixed with a classic Paris-cafe. An unassuming storefront with french country doors, wooden stools, leather booths, a gorgeous marble bar, waiters with curly moustaches, gold-leaf monogrammed white china, and a pull-flush toilet show the owners’ incredible attention to detail in creating a fully-orchestrated experience for their customers. The restaurant was formerly known for its cocktails, but with a new chef and a robust seafood-stocked menu, there’s much more to be found than a long list of absinthe drinks.

dining room bar

seafood (photo from website gallery)

Bar it may be, but Maison Premiere’s food is nothing short of refined. My seafood plateau included an oyster with caviar, sea urchin with gaspacho, scallop with pear and horseradish, razor clam with celery root and apple, bay scallops with lemon grass and thai basil, and geoduck with white soy and avocado. My perfectly coiled raw Alaskan King Salmon with caviar and creme fraiche tasted like the most sophisticated version possible of my dad’s favorite lox and bagel breakfast.  The Lobster with sunchoke, chestnut, and custard was absolutely divine – a large white pot with creamy, soothing lobster broth and hearty chunks of lobster was the perfect thing to finish off my $3 order of home-baked bread and seaweed butter. Don’t expect anything but the raw oysters to be served traditionally here – my autumn salad, which was written sans description on the menu, arrived as a beautifully composed dome of fruit and lettuces, unlike any salad I’ve seen before. Dessert was just as eclectic – the rum-soaked cake and the absinthe panna cotta tasted shockingly more alcoholic than my wine, but the coffee pot de creme balanced out the oddities. And with dirty martinis and wine throughout, I left the restaurant feeling like I had quite a trip to the old bayou where alcohol induced artists and writers were the quintessential product of the times.

Smoked Alaskan King Salmon (photo c/o SeriousEats.com)

sea urchin close up (photo c/o seriouseats.com)

lobster with custard

oyster platter

Everything about Maison Premiere is intricately thought out, from the menu’s vintage font to each plate’s well-incorporated flavors. This is not a place for greasy food and brew. Come here only if you’re craving an experience – not a meal – of perfectly measured cocktails and delicate food in a hipster meets 19th century enclave. I commend this place not only for the inventive seafood, but for also staying true to the perfectly measured Maison Premiere brand. I’ll definitely be back for next season’s menu.

Grade: A
Location: 298 Bedford Ave between South 1st and Grand Street

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Filed under Brooklyn, Drinks & Apps, Romantic Date, Seafood, Southern

Bar Americain

Bar Americain

It’s not easy finding restaurants with character in midtown. You have your steakhouses, your power lunch spots, the hotel restaurants, and the chains. Today, I decided on Bar American, Bobby Flay’s Southwestern take on a typical French brasserie menu. With crab and coconut and mussels and fries with a green chile broth, Bar American is almost like a Tex Mix Balthazar, but without the young and scene-y atmosphere. Despite the flair, however, ambience is characteristic of the area – think business suits and Gen-X-ers.

Though the old-school Madison Avenue atmosphere isn’t my favorite, the food at Bobby’s restaurant is actually quite good. Lunch comes with a basket of hot and crispy cornbread (it’s got to be fried), and the menu has a wide range of interesting options. Just don’t expect to eat too lightly here.

Cornbread

"hot" chips with dip

We started with the tuna tartare andhot potato chip with blue cheese dipping sauce. The tuna was basic and well prepared with finely chopped garnishes, and the hot chips were incredibly thin, light, and delicious. With the oozing chunky blue cheese dip, they were highly addictive.

tuna tartare

I attempted to order healthily and had the Southwestern Cobb Salad for my main course, but with bacon, egg, cheese, and avocado, I felt like I had eaten a burger by the end of my meal. That said, it was a solid salad and definitely classically prepared.

cobb salad

Dessert was the major show-stopper. I could have made a meal out of the red velvet brownie with homemade cream cheese soft ice cream and the profiteroles with vanilla soft serve and pralines. David Chang, move over – Bobby would definitely win the contest of best chef-created soft serve. The red velvet brownie somehow incorporated the classic flavors of a perfect red velvet cake, but had the density and chocolate richness of a delicious brownie. Just as I had imagined, my two favorite desserts combined transformed into something out of this world.

red velvet brownie

profiteroles

I left much fuller than I should be after lunch, but I was actually quite pleased with my overall meal at Bar Americain. I wouldn’t come back from an intimate or particularly unique dining experience, but it’s a perfect fit for client or older-crowd entertaining.

Grade: A-

Location: 152 West 52nd Street between 6th and 7th Ave

Website: http://www.baramericain.com

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Filed under Business Meal, Cajun, Latin American, Midtown West, New American, Parents in Town, Southern

Eating My Way Through NOLA

NOLA

After various impressive meals in my hometown last week, I shamefully suspected that New Orlean’s food would fail to wow me during my visit there this weekend. But sure enough, as I sit here remedying three-days worth of southern food and beautiful weather with green tea and my heater full-blast, I can confidently profess that the city has outdone itself again. With its utter decadence, loud and distinctive flavors, and bold depictions of excess, authentic New Orleans’ cuisine will never cease to blow me away.

Though my schedule this weekend revolved around wedding festivities, I made every effort to squeeze in a foodie experience when time allowed. My first occurred with brunch at Stanley just off of Jackson Square, recommended by the bride and groom. At only 10:30am the area was popping with live jazz and boozing tourists, which made quite the people watching-scene during our hour-long table wait. Stanley, like most restaurants downtown, is fairly casual – a sophisticated diner with an open kitchen and black and white floors. My friend Sara (most notable for being a food partner in Atlantic City) definitely won the contest for best (and most expensive) order with the Eggs Stella, which came with cornmeal-crusted soft-shell crab, poached eggs, canadian bacon and creole hollandaise. Who knew soft-shell crab could be so massive?

Thankfully, her generosity helped remedy my order envy. Regardless, I definitely enjoyed the Stanley Classic, which was a well rounded breakfast plate of classics: bacon, hollandaise, poached eggs, toast, and potatoes.

Eggs Stanley

Although filling, breakfast was light enough to merit a stop in the Southern Candymaker’s for a fresh praline – if you’re not button-popping full in New Orleans, you can consider yourself hungry. As you enter this seemingly hole-in-the wall candy shop, warm butter and sugar instantaneously seeps into your sensors like pheromones, enticing you to lust after every beautifully hand dipped candy stacked in the displays. If you arrive uninterested, you’ll soon find yourself forking over $50 to ship the candy home. Buttery, admittedly overly sweet, and creamy, their pralines are the best I’ve ever had, and made fresh each hour. Make sure you get the pronunciation right before asking for a taste – the locals call them “Praw-lines” and will giggle upon hearing “Pray-lines.”

Southern Candymakers

Fresh N'awlins Pralines!

Pralines led into the evening, and after a little sugar shock, a wedding ceremony, and a night of dancing, my friend Jillian and I decided to do our weekend’s worth of exercise and walk to the famous Cafe Du Monde downtown for beignets and coffee. This goes without saying, but unlike other tourist obsessions (ie Magnolia Bakery), this line is absolutely worth the wait. The fried dough tasted just as I had remembered, crisp, dense, chewy, and drowned in powdered sugar. They’re literally un-replicable. Their coffee is also widely known in the area, and though my frozen iced coffee could have eased up on the sugar, it was the perfect thing to wash down the hot doughy goodness.

Beignets

After our little snack, we ventured to the Roosevelt Hotel for a Jazz Brunch with the bride and groom. Normally, I’m turned off by hotel dining establishments, but when I was greeted with a platter of mimosas and a buffet the size of my foodie imagination, I knew I’d come to the right place. We immediately started at the buffet which consisted of an unlimited supply of Southern fare. Food ranged from the traditional to the sophisticated: king crab legs, fresh oysters, crawfish, gumbo, rice, caviar bellinis, jambalaya empanadas, vegetable quiches, lobster bisque in puff pastry, and fresh fruit were just a few of the items that caught my eye. And the most amazing part of the buffet? Everything was incredible. The most surprising? It was just the beginning. After the buffet course, we were then given menus to order our entrees. How quintessentially Southern of this place?

The seafood table

so much to choose from!

Mike scooping up some gumbo

I of course couldn’t resist and ordered something unique – the eggs sardou: poached eggs on top of artichoke, creamy spinach, and vinegary heirloom tomatoes. Delish! My friend Jillian ordered the smoked salmon flat bread with pickled okra, capers, and cucumbers, which was refreshing and texturally unique. Mike’s crab omelette was the most decadent of them all – eggs filled with creole sauce, fresh crab, and cheese aside oven roasted potatoes.

Eggs Sardou

Smoked Salmon Flatbread

Crab Remoulade Omlette

Jillian with caviar

After 2 hours of noshing, I couldn’t believe that I still had stomach space for dessert.

The dessert bar was over the top. In addition to the mini creme brulees, the brownies, the petite fours, the cookies, the pralines, and the cream puffs, and the fruit tarts, a chef awaited orders to cook banana’s foster. Having had this New Orleans-born classic only once before, I had to order it just on principle. Though it ended up as an excruciatingly sweet, melted vanilla concoction, I couldn’t help but feel like an old Southern Belle in the gorgeous surroundings amidst live jazz music and friends.

petites fours

endless towers of sweets

 

Banana's Foster Chef

Bananas Foster

After three hours of gluttony, I was convinced that I had just participated in my most over-the-top brunch experience thus far. Las Vegas, you’ve got nothing on a New Orleans’s jazz brunch at the Roosevelt. The key to the delicious food here is that it’s made in small batches – buffet plates are constantly rotated, and all breakfast is made to order.

Unfortunately, my short trip wouldn’t allow for much more experimentation on the restaurant front, but with brunches and all the sweets in mind, I left New Orleans thoroughly dazzled by my foodie experience and ready for a detox. New Orleans, after a year of digesting this food, I’ll be back for you!

Locations Mentioned:

Stanley: Grade: B+, 4 Jackson Square, http://www.stanleyrestaurant.com

Southern Candymakers: Grade: A, 334 Decatur St, http://www.southerncandymakers.com

Cafe Du Monde: Grade: A, 1039 Decatur St, http://www.cafedumonde.com

The Roosevelt Hotel: Grade: A+, 123 Baronne Street, http://www.therooseveltneworleans.com


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Filed under Brunch, Cajun, Featured U.S. City Posts, Southern

SF – The Elite Cafe

Last weekend my parents and I strolled down Fillmore street in search of a pastry when the unexpected site of a crowd-free zone outside of the Elite Cafe suddenly changed our plans. Whatever the reason for the short wait for a table, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at the best New Orleans-style restaurant outside of the city proper.

At 10:30am after a late night out, I couldn’t manage to order hearty food, so I despicably ordered granola, yogurt, fresh fruit, and biscuits, and shared the Huevos Rancheros with my mom. The “Meeting House” biscuits, miniature versions of the massive NOLA bricks, were deliciously flakey, buttery, and hot – a perfect combination of my favorite Pillsbury Grands and KFC’s buttermilk. Served with strawberry butter, these biscuits were irresistible. In fact, they’re so irresistible that they are sold frozen by the dozen for those who cannot survive until morning without eating them again.

Buttery Meetinghouse Biscuit

fresh fruit: a sore thumb on the menu

Of course, seeing the various options side by side, I ended up focusing my attention the Mexican masterpiece of crispy corn tortilla and jack cheese quesadillas piled high with beans, fried eggs, salsa, guacamole and sour cream. The best part was the most subtle: the cheesy-grit like mashed potatoes soaked with tomatillo salsa. A breakfast fit for a (really hung over) king.

One of the best Huevos Rancheros in SF

My dad’s Alabama Scramble just screamed soul food at its finest:  scrambled eggs, minced bacon, mashed potatoes, and biscuits with gravy. Though the description conjures up images of heart failure, the dish’s incredibly robust flavors and fresh ingredients were an incessant reminder that this was New Orleans’ grease created in one of America’s healthiest cities.

YUM

Though the experience at the Elite Cafe is somewhat dependent on seating location, which can range from an isolated, closed off booth to a table smack dab in the middle of the bar, the brunch is inarguably one of the best this city has to offer. Though Elite specializes in Cajun and Creole cuisine, I would recommend The Elite to any visitor looking for a classic depiction of inventive San Franciscan cuisine.

Grade: A

Location: 2049 Fillmore Street btwn California St and Pine St

Website: http://www.theelitecafe.com

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Filed under American, Brunch, Cajun, Featured U.S. City Posts, Southern

Hill Country BBQ

Last night, I went to Hill Country BBQ for a “BBQ and Brews” event with clients. I like to consider myself a fan of all food (aside from mayonnaise), but BBQ is one food category that really doesn’t excite me. I love the idea behind it – the gathering of friends, a self proclaimed master griller turning meat over a smokey pit, good music, cold drinks, and best of all, a summer’s day, – but the crux of the BBQ, the smokey food itself, has simply never appealed to me. Nonetheless, I’ve been itching to explore the marvel of this Texas BBQ restaurant and challenge myself to eat a plate of America’s pride and glory, and was thrilled I finally had an opportunity.

The second I walked into the restaurant, I felt like I had traveled down South to urban sprawl, far far away from the glitz, glamour, and tight knit quarters of New York. The interior resembles a warehouse constructed completely of light wood with wood-panel signs and chalk board menus. Long benches with mis-matched chairs fill the space, and at any one spot you have access to a 360 degree view of the entire restaurant – it’s just that wide open and wall-less.

Upon seating, the hostess passed out “meal cards,” which we were told to bring to the meat order counter. This is a way for Hill Country to keep a headcount at the end of the night, as well as tally up the bill when it’s time to pay. Aside from drink service and clean up, Hill Country is pretty much a self-service operation. What they save on waitstaff they most likely use for their nightly live music and dance lessons that take place downstairs.

For coming off as such a down-home cooking-kind joint, Hill Country’s cocktails were actually exceptional. I started with a drink that consisted of sweet tea vodka, soda, lemonade, and mint. Proud to say it was my own creation, but the bartender crafted it perfectly with just the right proportion of lemonade to soda. For my second drink, I opted for the spicy margarita, one of their many creations. I love drinks with a spicy kick, and this one, albeit sweet, was particularly good. If you’re really lucky your drink will come in a mason jar, but sadly it was not my lucky day.

Generally, if you go to a steakhouse, you can expect a variety of options for the non-meat-obsessed. At Hill Country, there’s no such atrocity – you’ve pretty much got a selection of briskets, ribs, sausages, and chicken alongside a medley of bacon-fat sauteed vegetables. At the meat counter, you’re able to select a variety by ounce, and then you’re sent off to the sides counter where you can select as many sides possible in a choice of three container sizes. Considering our large group, we chose a variety of meat, along with the 20 ounce portions of brussel sprouts, collard greens, baked beans, corn pudding, cucumber salad, and corn bread.

The sides really caught my attention, but they were sadly the most disappointing. One commonality among all the sides (as well as the meat) was that their temperature. Sitting in heated vats, then served in paper cups, they were expectingly luke war. This definitely affected the taste of the collard greens and brussel sprouts, which I would have much preferred piping hot. The baked beans, which were closer to a bean soup than a side dish, definitely could have benefitted from less liquid. The star of the medley was the corn pudding – subtly sweet, creamy, and decadent with a baked crispy layer on top. The cucumber salad served more of a technical purpose than for pleasure, as it was just cold and crisp enough to cut the grease of the rest of my food, and great for bites in between bites of pig fat-laden food.

Keep in mind I don’t love the odd smokey-sweet flavor of BBQ. Coming from an unbiased perspective, though, the BBQ chicken breast was incredibly moist, and immersed in smokey flavor throughout, it was obviously generously marinated and carefully prepared. The brisket was also very tender, but a little too fatty for my liking. My favorite, surprisingly, was the pork sparerib – it was incredibly tender, just slightly crispy on the outside, and filled with subtly salty flavor. The meat was plentiful and I didn’t struggle to bite it off the bone. I’ve never been known to enjoy a rib, and was pretty proud of the fact that I took a few down last night. Another good find was the sausage – just a little spicy and dense with spices and flavor, I probably would have been best off with just one of these.

I was close to rolling up into a ball and take a nap until my eye caught the distant dessert counter sign in maroon writing. On the meal card, a list of pies, cupcakes and ice cream drove me to make my way to order a smorgas board of their best offerings. Unfortunately, they were out of their famous homemade pies (supposedly the owner’s mom’s recipes), so I ordered two chocolate pecan squares, a red velvet cupcake, a peanut butter and jelly cupcake, a chocolate chip cookie, and three dixie cups of ice cream.  The table was overwhelmed by the platter, but we did a decent job finishing it off – especially the warm chocolate pecan bar (not pictured), which was moist and decadent and just heaven on earth next to the vanilla ice cream. The cupcakes were …cupcakes – nothing too rave about, and with typically sickly sweet frosting, I focused most of my time on the bar.

Once finished, the waiter was given the difficult task of clearing our thousand paper plates and….throwing them out. Hill Country is running quite the efficient operation given their staff’s time is devoted to clearing and providing drinks rather than taking orders and transporting dishes. For this reason, along with the fact that the restaurant has a reverberating youthful energy with live music blaring down stairs, it’s a great place for getting rowdy with a large party. If I had a group of male and female friends in town looking for somewhere plentiful to eat with no inhibitions and without the hassle of figuring out the bill, Hill Country would be on my list. But after last night, I can finally admit out loud that no, I do NOT like BBQ and would never pick a BBQ restaurant if given a choice again. 

Grade: Unbiased: B+; Biased, BBQ-hater: C
Website: http://www.hillcountryny.com
Address: 30 West 26th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue
*pictures courtesy of Yelp.com

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Filed under American, Barbecue, Gramercy, Southern