Girls vs Boys Southern Smokehouse Cook-off

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A man, a coffee and a smoker

It was to be another cook-off at foodisthebestshitever HQ. The teams were girls versus boys; the girl’s team comprising of my wife Jennee and her sister Liz (who can get an extra special mention right now because she flew in from the other side of the country especially for the occasion), while the boys team was made up of myself, yer ol’ uncle Grazza, and Jennee’s brother, Queenie. The theme was “Southern American Smokehouse” or something thereabouts. The esky was full of booze. The table was set. The competitors were ready. The Girls v Boys Foodisthebestshitever Cook-off 2016 was about to begin…

*The people in the story may be fictional, but the events are real.

The boys

We (the boys) felt there was a lot of smack talking from the girls. Like, a lot of smack talking. The girls were being particularly good at smack talking. In fact, I was walking down the street in a local town when I was approached by a young man who informed me that he had heard a rumor my man Queenie was very slightly hung. Now, Queenie may not be the manliest of guys names but I know for a fact that this brother is packing the equipment needed for the job. Well, I’ve heard he’s packing… don’t look at me like I’ve been sussing out my brother’s package. Holy shit you guys know how to contort a story… much like the women folk around these parts… great segue. That bloody smack talk.

A weaker boys team may have crumbled, but our resolve would not waver. We cleared our minds and our pipes, centered our chi and got the eff on with the job.

Our little tree motif was whittled by Queenie, made from 100% repurposed wood that was otherwise just laying around, taking up space and producing air and shit.

The rocks displayed our organic approach to our cooking and our lives, and the ebb and flow of the world we live in.

The plates were also repurposed old plates, which were recently introduced to their new life as, well, plates.

That was our story and we were sticking to it.

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Feel the emotion

Our Ode to the South was based on nothing more than a child hood obsession with KFC and an adult (or maybe more correctly termed; a 30-40 year old) obsession with smoked meat… and fried chicken… and an old Elvis 7inch. Still, it was our Ode to the South none-the-less, and it went a little something like this;

• Pulled pork finger, cheesy jalapeño crust, pickles, kimchi mayo
• Smoked rib, Big Red Rub, mustard sauce
• Tater tots injected with white trash heroin AKA cheese sauce
• Beer battered onion rings, ranch dressing
• Fried and then smoked and then fried again chicken, hot sauce, blue cheese sauce
• Smoked jalapeno popper
• Smoked brisket burger, crumbed (breaded) milk bun, slaw, barbecue sauce

The girls

The girls relied heavily on smack talk in an attempt to throw the boys from their game. But they did eventually bring some tasty and creatively produced treats to the table, ensuring a close competition.

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That layered salad was pretty special

The girls based their plate on a love of the hush puppy and 1980s layered salads. Happily re-jigged to fit with-in the guidelines of the “Smokehouse” brief, their entry went almost exactly like this;

• Layered salad with crumbled corn bread, smoked capsicum and corn, pickle and iceberg lettuce
• Smoked pork rib
• Smoked prawn, smoked Andouille sausage and smoked eggplant hush puppies

The result

Once the smoke had cleared and the gloves were un-tethered and removed to reveal calloused hands strapped crudely with ordinary house hold masking tape, the votes were tallied and the announcement of a winner was tasked to our youngest child, Obi. It was said around the table that both boys and girls had brought their A-games to the kitchen this day but unfortunately there could be only one winner – one team whose A-game was in fact a little A-er.

On this day of our lord, Sunday March 27th 2016 *drum roll please*… it would be the boys that would march away victorious from this cooking stadium, heads held high and then swiftly and smartly the victory was relegated to a distant memory, one that would not be spoken about ever again, as we were the men folk and we knew about the way of the world…

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That onion ring. Bangin’

A recipe for the WINNING BEER BATTERED ONION RINGS (enough for a few sides or maybe a Friday night on the couch watching midget wrestling)

2 med-large onions of your choosing
1 cup plain flour
1 cup self raising flour
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon Big Red Rub or Cajun/Créole spice mix
1 bottle o’ beer… whatever you’re drinking will be fine
Oil for deep frying
Seasoning
Ranch dressing and extra Big Red Rub to serve

• Slice onions into 1cm-ish rings, popping the first 4-5 center rings out for something else you’re cooking that has onion in it
• Heat oil in a deep fryer or pot or plastic bucket if you’re not that smart. 180C is the go
• To make batter mix flours, oil and spice mix. Slowly whisk in beer until your batter is quite smooth and is thick enough to coat your finger nicely. Not too thick is the key here
• Coat the onion rings with plain flour and then dip them into the batter. Drag them out of the batter and ever-so-slightly drag them across the side of the bowl to remove excess batter
• Lower them gently into the oil and fry for 2-3 minutes until crisp and golden, turning half way through
• Drain on kitchen towel, season with salt and pepper and a little extra Big Red Rub, serve with ranch sauce on the side

The Empire Café and Burger Bar, Mullumbimby… a really nice place to eat a burger

the empire cafe and burger bar mullumbimby
This place is doing the town of Mullumbimby a service.

It has brought to town a cracking range of burgers so that the local burgerfiles may be satisfied. And I’m sure it has done many other good things for the town to boot – fed a lonely puppy dog or mowed lawns for the elderly or something like that, just because the people who were working in the place seemed like they would do that sort of stuff. They just seemed genuinely nice and like they actually gave a fuck about how your stupid day was going or if you were enjoying your meal. When we arrived at 11am to realise that lunch started at 12, we told them no worries but we would come back in an hour when lunch (and the freaking burgers that I had driven out here to eat) were ready to get into my face, and then do you know what the young lady behind the counter said? Probably not, unless you were one of the three folks sitting along the wall, who had their faces deeply embedded in their laptops… but I don’t think that was you… well, I don’t think it was… Well what that young lady said was this; “You can order off the lunch menu now if you want”. I did want. I did want very much and I was very thankful for the offer. That is certainly something that could be called a textbook definition of hospitality.

The menu looks almost exactly like this
The menu looks almost exactly like this

I feel like I should be taking a bit more piss out of something these folks did, but I gotta tell you, everything about these peeps was just nice. Sure it was starting to seem like they may be part of some kind of alien worshipping cult, but I was going to give their burgers a go none-the-less. I was liking this place a whole heap by now, but it was way past the time that I needed to be finding out if their Grazza McFilthy Mouth winning service was backed up by premium product!

“Zorba the Greek” ($13) for Dr Chris, the boys both ordered “the Wolverine” ($14), I hooked into “the Drover” (the name of a burger. I did not try to hook into the actual drover as he seemed like he wouldn’t really be a broke back mountain type of guy) ($13) and then I grabbed some onion rings and sweet potato wedges ($4 each) for the family… or mostly for myself.

The Wolverine. What a fricking beast!
The Wolverine. What a fricking beast!

“The Wolverine” was indeed a beast that was almost enough to leave a permanent scar on my children… almost. Although it did not come with retractable hand knife things, it did indeed come with a beef pattie, bacon, fried egg, caramelized pineapple, cream cheese, beetroot, tomato and lettuce. This thing stood tall and proud and it was not going to take shit from anyone that’s for sure. I don’t know if I was more impressed with the burger or the fact I had to fight my kids for a bite, but it was damn impressive either way. Truly a beast!

Dr Chris, who you may remember from “I’m not an actual doctor but I’m more than happy to take a look for you” fame, or possibly from the “A Current Affair” exclusive, or even from the fact that he is my dearest Jennee’s birth father, gave his lamb burger the tick of approval, although he said he was yearning for a bigger chunk of meat. Now, I’m not sure if he’d gone totally off-subject or if he was still referring to the meat in the burger but that shredded lamb would’ve done me fine.

Bloody younger generation and their damn trendiness *waves fist in air like crazy old person*

That Drover
That Drover

“The Drover” was perfect. Yeah, I know, that’s what she said. Everything I need in a burger was held between the cheeks of that decent bun; well seasoned beef pattie, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, chilli jam and chipotle mayo. So damn good.

I washed my burger down with the best sweet potato wedges I have quite possibly ever eaten and a few different condiments to lube them up a little for the journey to my belly.

The best sweet potato wedges with the third best onion rings
The best sweet potato wedges with the third best onion rings

OK, the question of everybody’s lips; the onion rings. You know the humble onion ring is a pretty touchy subject around these parts but, well, I’m always going to give them a go. They were OK but they were more of a thick batter ring than an onion ring. I did not send them to the lab for testing but that batter was waaaay to thick for me to find too much onion in there, so they were kind of forgettable which is probably why I kind of forgot about them. I know that you may think that I have some kind of onion ring hex on me with my luck lately, but I’m sure they will come good soon…

I don’t even know how I found out about this place but I’m sure it was an accident. Actually, that is a complete lie. I do know how I found out about this place and I know it was an accident.

The story goes like this; Jennee was scouring the guide for the Mullum Music Festival (a pretty good reason to head to Mullum in itself) when she came across an ad for these guys. She sent me a pic of said ad and then I went here. That is it. I love a short story!

Nom nom chomp chomp
Nom nom chomp chomp

So yes, the Empire Burger Bar has done the little hinterland town of Mullumbimby a very generous service.

Go there so I may sleep well tonight for I have spread the good word.

Empire Café and Burger Bar Mullumbimby

Bayger Gourmet Burgers, Byron Bay… still delivering the goods

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It had been quite a while since we had visited our ol’ fave, Bayger Gourmet Burgers in Byron Bay. Bayger is a bit of an old dog in a world of young pups when it comes to the local gourmet burger scene and we were keen to suss out if they were still delivering the goods and cocking their leg all over the place, or if they had become incontinent and spent all day in bed licking their own gear…

The storm clouds rolled in from the south as we headed into “the Bay” to rekindle this old friendship. Storm clouds in the middle of spring! That did not deter us though.

The sky bellowed like the stomach of Thor himself was rumbling after he had eaten one too many shrimp surprise from the all you can eat buffet. It was sounding ominous that’s for sure, but still we did not falter.

It rained (and I am always a little suspicious when the bright blue skies of spring are smothered by the fluffy grey harbinger of wetness. Yes, the fluffy grey “pocket rocket” battery powered woman’s accessory if you will…) as if Thor was indeed displeased with me. Displeased with me. And I have no idea why. I mean, in the last two weeks I have sacrificed three perfectly good goats… three goats… I don’t know… it’s between me and Thor I guess. Needless to say, we soldiered on.

We made it to Bayger and promptly ordered our meal as we were quite hungry, but we are always pretty quite hungry it is true.

Rolling with the big dogs and getting the hell into my face
Rolling with the big dogs and getting the hell into my face

Not a single one of our number could go past the Bacon & Cheese ($12.90);
Prime beef, crispy bacon, melted cheddar cheese, salad & BayGer sauce with your choice of wholemeal, light sourdough or Turkish bun. We all added the chips and home made lemonade meal deal option for an extra $2.50, and we also had the beer battered onion rings with garlic aioli* ($5).

The burgers here are both delicious and tasty. The patties are well seasoned, juicy and just cooked past medium, I had the Turkish bun which was indeed Turkish bun like and the salad makes the burger appear to be healthy, which it probably almost is until we had the bacon and cheese option. I’m not sure what is in their Bayger sauce but it kinda tasted like it was mayonnaise with chopped pickle… maybe not, but it still worked well on their burger anyhow.

Come here
Come here you sexy effer

The shoestring fries were a nice change. I don’t see them around a lot anymore and they are quite possibly my second favourites after the crinkle cut chip. Crisp and damn tasty, covered with some kinda special seasoning and perfect for carrying condiments to my mouth just like a good chip should be. Good chip. Good chip.

The home made lemonade (which has a drop of rose water I think) is cracking. I seriously crave that stuff as much as I crave the burgers. I crave it like I crave just one day free of stupid people. It is deliciously refreshing and once again gives your brain the impression that you are being healthy! They even gave us free refills, which mad me feel extra special and like this place even more. I am a seriously fickle mother fucker and that is the sort of shit that is going to have me coming back for more.

Very, very tasty
Very, very tasty

Now this is the part of the really good report card that I never like. I know I am not a teacher and Bayger is by no means my student, but that is the best analogy I can come up with so that shall be how we roll today. The onion rings. No good. The batter was almost rubbery. I don’t know why, but that’s how it was. Onion rings are some of my favourite things (along with unicorns, fluffy bunny rabbits and waterfalls made of that kick-ass home made lemonade) and I really think they aren’t done well often enough. That is what I reckon people.

And I will tell you this for free; these guys are still rocking their OG styles. Great burgers with a bit of a healthy aspect to them, loaded with local produce and washed down with awesome home made lemonade. Bayger are indeed still rolling with the big dogs and delivering what your burger eating face needs… possibly as long as your face doesn’t really need onion rings, that’s all. This place is still well worth the visit for the rest of its offerings!

Click here to save yourself the time it will take you to type Bayger Gourmet Burgers Byron Bay.

*I love it when people call aioli “garlic aioli”. Aioli literally translates to garlic oil. Garlic garlic oil is funny. It’s like that whole ATM machine or PIN number thing. I know, I should just leave people alone.

Byron Burger Australia, Byron Bay

byron burger australia
As we approached Byron Burger Australia my first impression was that it looked like what I thought a burger bar should look like and that made me happy. It had seats and tables, really happy staff who seemed genuinely happy to be at work, a grill to cook burgers on, and a menu that declared that many of the ingredients that would be cooked on the aforementioned grill were sourced locally. Bang on! The only thing missing was beer, but I was happy to let that slide and grab myself the southern white trash teeth-rotting standard – the Mountain Dew. Yep, I did the Dew.

I feel I need to say that I do not often “do the Dew”, but every time I do it reminds me of a joke…

There’s these three woman (of whatever race, colour or creed you decide they should be because I am certainly no racist or hate mongerer, just a regular guy of whatever other race you want me to be… I think I need to go now) talking about their lovers… heard it? I don’t even care… anyway, they’re talking about their lovers – comparing them to soda. The first woman says “my man, my man he is seven-up… because he has seven inches and they’re always up”. The second says “well my man is Mountain Dew… because I always need a mountin’, and he always do”. Then the third says “well my man, my man is Jaaaaack Daniels”. The other two in unison, “girl, that ain’t no soda pop, that’s one damn fine liquer”. She says, “I know”.

But these here pages are not all about the jokes people so let’s get back to the food, and more specifically, the onion rings.

You might get to see the postman ride past from your seat...
You might get to see the postman ride past from your seat…

They had crisp crumbed onion rings on their menu, which I can tell you now is enough to make me crisp in certain regions of my anatomy, but when I tried to order them they were out. Done. And it was only 11:45am. There was something amiss with that whole onion ring situation but I soldiered on…

The burgers arrived and those nice peeps behind the counter of this fine establishment must’ve known how to make it up to me because the burgers had a guindilla stabbed into them like the tribesman’s spear into the head of the visiting Englishman. Guindilla = happy Grazza! Anyone who doesn’t know of the guindilla is probably also incapable of using google so I feel it is my responsibility to inform you that it is in fact a pickled chilli of the Basque Region, and also damn tasty!

Tasty tasty tasty
Tasty tasty tasty

As were the burgers.

Grilled local beef, seasoned perfectly, gently held aloft by the right amount of salad and a tasty bun, and the addition of a big fat slab of melting blue cheese on mine (the Byron Burger with Blue Cheese, $14.50). A good burger indeed!

The boys both opted for the Tropical Lighthouse ($14.90) with all the usual culprits plus bacon, cheddar and grilled pineapple. I tried a bite of this bad boy and it made me very happy inside my belly. In fact, I will return one day to eat one of these burgers all to my self.

Look at that guindilla just begging me to get in there
Look at that guindilla just begging me to get in there

Chips for the table were perfectly cooked and crisp, and if I remember correctly they were only 4 bucks. Yeah, 4 bucks. I love a bowl of good chips for 4 bucks!

We left happily satiated and thanked the Northern Rivers region for giving us another worthy burger joint… in that same leaving process we also notice that they had a $12 meal deal with a burger (your choice of the Surfer Chick or Byron Burger with Cheese), chips and drink which seemed like a pretty damn common sense option and one I would definitely be back to take advantage of… but let’s face it, at the end of the day the cracking burgers were going to be plenty enough to get me back.

Well played Byron Burger. Well played indeed.

Great wall art by Fabien Fuego
Great wall art by Fabien Fuego

Byron Burgers facey is just a click away

Bayger Burgers, Byron Bay

Bayger burger joint, Byron Bay

Yep. You see what they did there with the name? Very sneaky. Like little white trash kids sneaking into the big top circus when it rolls through town… Very sneaky indeed.

Bayger is another addition to the ever-growing family of new wave eateries modern society calls “the burger bar”. Local free-range meats, locally baked buns, gourmet salad and home made sauces. Effing awesome. I love this shit.

As soon as I looked at the menu though, I discovered a typo. I continued reading and discovered a few more typos. This annoys me on a menu. On a random assed food blog – that’s fine, but on a menu… People got spell check right? A big brother or sister? Something? (Just in case, I will recant my previous paragraph if I am informed that they are crazy hippies and intended to write “we serve our beef burgers with slightly pink center enchanting the flavour”. I didn’t notice the pink center enchanting the flavour while we were there, but that’s not to say it wasn’t going on…)

Buffalo wings came with no blue cheese sauce, which was kinda disappointing since we were gagging for buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce, and got them because the menu read “buffalo wings… with a side of blue cheese dipping sauce”. But our buffalo wings came with no blue cheese dipping sauce. Maybe should of told us at the start instead of shrugging it off with a “no we don’t have any of that”. But they were good fried chicken wings tossed in sweet chilli.

Onion rings were good. Could have had a slightly thicker batter though.

Burgers were great except they were missing the pickle they were cited as having on the menu. But they were great. Cooked medium, juicy, well-seasoned, squishy soft Turkish bun… Fantastic. Really good burgers just let down a little by small inconsistencies. But this is what I’m always talking about. In the hospitality game, no matter how big your restaurant, or how small your wiener penis willy hotdog stand, you need to have consistency. You need to give people the product you are telling them they will get. And do it well… and then, as Jesus said*, life shall be good for all.

It was, like, 34 bucks for two burgers, fries, onion rings, “buffalo wings”, and a house made juice which tasted like fresh lemon, rose water and sugar? Maybe like a middle eastern home made lemonade. Well and truly worth it if they could just iron out a couple of kinks.

*may not be an actual quote from Jesus.