Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crazy Cat Bakers - Jackson

My friend Nick first told me about Crazy Cat Bakers. Frankly, the man was mildly obsessed. It seems that every time I saw him, he would ask if I had tried Crazy Cat yet. Not wanting to lie to him, I’d say it was on my “to do” list and I’d get there as soon as I could. Well, that line could only work for so long. So, I tried it once and was pleasantly surprised, but it was quickly pushed to the back of my mind. Fast forwarding a few months, during one of my daily deliberations about where I should go for lunch, Crazy Cat popped up. I figured I should give this little bakery another chance so what follows are the results of two visits to the Crazy Cat Bakers.

To start, you really need to know where you’re going. Crazy Cat is nestled in the corner of Highland Village. If Nick hadn’t told me where to look, I probably would have given up and gone somewhere else for lunch. Inside the small venue, there is plenty of cat related kitsch, all very amusing. However, once you walk in you can’t help but notice the small but enticing selection of desserts they have on the counter, but that would come later.

As interesting and healthy as salads are, I was interested in something a little more substantial, namely the Meatloaf Panini.

This panini looks quite appealing. There's a substantial wheat loaf and a good bit of meatloaf, peppers, and cheese peeking out from the sides.

Biting through the crusty loaf, there was an onslaught of sweet peppers and caramelized onions, but the flavor of the meat was strangely absent. Actually this wasn't really a cohesive loaf, instead the meat was past the point of juicy and more like a soupy, sweet mound of meat.

Looking past the initially promising Meatloaf Panini, I decided to try the Highland Club next.

Consisting of turkey, bacon, brie, romaine, tomatoes, sautéed onions, and basil pesto mayonnaise on sourdough bread, it certainly had the components for a high quality club.

With the creaminess from the mayo and the sweetness from the onions, the arugula provided a nice touch of bitterness. Actually this was a satisfying, very creamy, and sweet sandwich, but I prefer a meatier and more savory club.

Before moving on to the sweets of Crazy Cat Bakers, I'll finish with the savory; that means moving on to my second visit. As before, there was the constant lure of dessert when ordering, but I stayed my sweet tooth and focused on the special of the day, the quiche.

There aren't many sources of quiches in the Jackson area, so I had high hopes for this Ham & Asparagus quiche.

Overflowing with ham and crisp asparagus, this quiche ticked all the right boxes.

A nice feature of this quiche was the crust. With the perfect level of flakiness, it was an excellent foil to the filling.

Served just warm with a moist, eggy filling, the ham was a little subdued but with a touch of salt and pepper, this was a simply delicious lunch.

Even though the quiche was good enough to stand on its own, I reasoned that a side of soup couldn't hurt.

This was a smooth puree of tomato and basil. It was simple, hot, and extremely satisfying.

If there was one complaint about this soup, it was a little watery; a simple problem that was remedied by a few crackers. Regardless of the thickness of the soup, the combination of this soup and quiche was excellent.

With the savory portions of both visits covered, it's time to move on to the sweet; a segment where Crazy Cat excels. Of course there's only so much you can try at a time. So during my first trip to Crazy Cat, I thought the Espresso Brownie was an excellent place to start.

Much as you'd expect, this was an excellent dessert. On the bottom was a dense, incredibly rich chocolate brownie.

The frosting on top was more akin to a cafe au lait than the full flavor of espresso, but a minor quibble. This was an excellent brownie and entirely too rich to finish in one sitting.

On the second visit to Crazy Cat, I felt like I needed to try more of what Crazy Cat had to offer, starting with the bread pudding.

Covered with a brandy butter sauce, this was as rich and sugary as you expect a bread pudding to be. I just wish there was some variety in texture. Each bite was a mushy sweetness; I was begging to come across the occasional chunk of pecan or crunchy sugar from the crust. This was a good bread pudding, but I prefer a bourbon flavor to the brandy.

Sometimes the name says it all, especially with the Pumpkin Ooey Gooey Butter Cake.

The texture certainly lives up to its name and each bite was full of cinnamon and pumpkin.

Last was the Apple Cake with Brown Butter Frosting.

You would think the brown butter frosting would dominate this cake.

But with layer upon layer of apples, this was a superb dessert.

I suppose it's a sort of mixed bag with Crazy Cat Bakers. While the desserts alone are worth repeat visits, the savory was not as consistent. Even though the sandwiches were visually appealing, the meatloaf was had an unappealing texture and was too sweet. On the other hand, the quiche and tomato soup were hard to beat. I never have been completely blown away by the savory offerings at Crazy Cat Bakers. That being said, there are far too many positive aspects to discount this hidden eatery. Even if you're like me and have had mixed results with their savory offerings, Crazy Cat Bakers deserves to join your lunch rotation even if you just need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Crazy Cat Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Two Sisters Kitchen - Jackson

Situated in an old home on Congress Street, Two Sisters Kitchen is a Jackson landmark…at least that’s what everyone says. Personally, I never have been a big fan of country or southern style buffets. You may get a large variety of food and obscene amounts but the quality almost always suffers. Even so, I knew I should give Two Sisters Kitchen a try. So, with open minds, Sam and I tried out the lunch buffet at Two Sisters Kitchen.

Walking through the front door, you can’t miss the buffet. What surprised me is just how small it is. I wasn’t expecting a mile of steamer trays, but at Two Sisters the selection is pretty succinct. After being shown to a table, I immediately returned to the buffet and picked out a plate full of the kitchen’s offerings.

It was a little heavy on the starches but it was just the first plate.

Starting with the fried okra, I was pretty impressed.

This okra had been well fried and was quite tasty, although they were in dire need of salt.

Moving on to the grits, I was a little disappointed at what I found.

I realize everyone in south hasn’t realized the virtues of stone ground grits, but these instant/ quick grits are just boring. That being said, for Quaker Oats grits, these grits were buttery and quite good.

One true standout from the buffet line was the mashed potatoes.

Served skin with a creamy, buttery texture, these mashed potatoes were fantastic. As for the gravy, it was all right but it needed a good shot of black pepper.

Realizing that the Two Sisters Kitchen is known for their fried chicken, I knew I had to try a piece of two.

I realize this thigh had been on the buffet for a little while, but this was still a quality piece of chicken. The skin was dense with, for the most part, a beautiful crunch and not at all greasy but with a heavy pepper flavor. There was a subtle flavor to meat, not the real forward chicken flavor that I look for in a quality piece of fried dark meat. Surprisingly this thigh wasn’t at all juicy. It wasn’t dry, but not the moist, flavorful meat that I was expecting.

Knowing that fried chicken is especially susceptible to the pitfalls of the steamer tray, when I heard there was a fresh batch being put out, I immediately grabbed a fresh plate.

Well, this fresh chicken was more of the same.

The chicken was still hot from the fryer, but not much juicier than the previous pieces.

It’s always interesting to see a country fried steak on a buffet line.

This was like a big Dairy Queen steak finger, a questionable beef product and full of salt but pretty good with gravy.

Something seemed amiss about the creamed corn.

This corn was sweet, almost unbearably sweet and yellow. Actually what was really surprising is just how little corn was in this helping. Sure there was a lot of creamed bits but not much in the way of actual kernels.

How about some other southern favorite, black eyed peas?

Well, these peas were a waste. They were watery, cooked to death, and too salty for their own good.

Before moving onto dessert, I couldn’t forget about the ubiquitous southern side of cornbread.

Well in the case I probably should have forgotten it. This cornbread while quite dense lacked the essentially saltiness of southern cornbread and replaced it with an odd raw flour taste.

Two Sisters Kitchen is known for two foods, their fried chicken and the bread pudding.

Still warm and full of a simple bourbon sauce, this was a pretty good bread pudding. Despite lacking a buttery mouth feel and a real richness, the cinnamon flavor and bourbon sauce made this a fine bread pudding. This wasn’t anything too outstanding, but not too shabby.

I can say with certainty that the location and kitchiness of Two Sisters Kitchen make up a significant amount of their appeal. The food, while substantial, was far from noteworthy; the relatively famous fried chicken and bread pudding were pretty fair. As I stated beforehand, I’ve never really cared for the Southern/Country style buffet. That being said, Two Sisters Kitchen is a decent lunch choice, but I think it hardly deserves the title of best fried chicken in Mississippi.

Two Sister's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Two Sisters' Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 18, 2010

City Grocery - Oxford

The last time I was in Oxford was for Halloween weekend. Auburn, then ranked #1, was playing Ole Miss and despite the next weekend being homecoming, the city was packed to the gills. Looking to beat the crowds, I skipped work on Friday and Alvin, Kate, and I made the short drive to Oxford that morning. Of course that meant we needed plans for lunch and I had just the place. It may have taken four separate tries, but this trip, I was finally going to eat at John Currence’s flagship, City Grocery.

After being shown to our table and going through the motions of drink orders, the first thing to arrive was a serving of the house cornbread.

Served warm, this cornbread started off sweet but finished with a smooth pepper laden flourish. It’s far from your average Southern cornbread, but it was delicious.

Enticed by the allure of a daily special, I went with the Quail Tart for an appetizer.

I realize this doesn’t look too appetizing as it’s all varying shades of brown, but there was a lot going on with this plate.

For one thing, they didn’t skimp on the meat. Each bite was full of crisp puff pastry, and bold, meaty quail. Amazingly each piece of quail was perfectly cooked.

One thing that I was conflicted about was the balsamic apple sauce. At some times it would overpower the quail and everything on the plate; at others its smoky flavor was reminiscent of barbeque. On the whole, this quail tart was peppery, smoky, and frankly fantastic.

Knowing that City Grocery’s Shrimp and Grits were the darling of the food world, my entrée was a forgone conclusion.

What initially surprised me about this order of shrimp and grits is that it was served on a plate, that and the sheer number of mushrooms.

Thankfully, Currence shows off his New Orleans roots as these shrimp were large, juicy, and perfectly cooked.

On top of the cheesy, smooth grits was the aforementioned mountain of sliced button mushrooms and numerous small pieces of peppery Texas bacon. Speaking of the bacon, I was disappointed in how each piece of the bacon was chewy and one dimensional. I had hoped there would be more of the deliciously spicy Tabasco cured bacon from Big Bad Breakfast, but this Texas bacon was all pepper.

I eventually decided that the mushrooms seemed to slightly mimic the texture of the shrimp. Each one was juicy and buttery but there were still too many. Even with these annoyances, all together, each bite of this dish was a whirlwind of flavors beginning with the cheese of the grits and ending with the pepper and slightly spicy background that leaves you with comforting warmth. Not the best shrimp and grits, but they are certainly above average.

There was one thing that left me particularly conflicted about City Grocery and that was their stinginess with the cornbread. After we finished off our first pieces, I asked for a second round, expecting them to be brought out in a few minutes. Well, with our appetizers long gone and our entrees also bussed away, the cornbread still hadn’t arrived. I thought the waiter had forgotten, but after asking, I was told they had just finished baking a new batch. That’s highly impressive that cornbread is fresh baked, but when I got my order of muffins to go, I was once again disappointed.

I wasn’t expecting a full tray of muffins, but two muffins per person for the entire meal?

Whenever I get the chance to eat a James Beard award nominee or winning restaurant, there’s always some level of elevated expectation. With City Grocery, I made sure to keep my feet on the ground. I wasn’t expecting culinary gold, and I was quite happy with what we received. The Quail Tart was excellent and the Shrimp and Grits were above average, but I’m not really sure if I’m sold on the excellence of City Grocery. I would like to see how different things are at dinner. At the very least, City Grocery is one of the best if not the best in Oxford.

City Grocery on Urbanspoon