Sep 28, 2018

A commoner drinks at the Avenue Pub, New Orleans

If you spend any time in New Orleans, it doesn’t take long to realize there’s no shortage of great drinking establishments throughout the city, from the bars that accompany fine dining restaurants and high-end hotels to neighborhood dive bars open 24 hours, seven days a week.  In fact, when it comes to bars open 24/7/365, the Big Easy may have mastered the concept. 

And of all the bars that never close in NOLA, one of my favorites stands out for its choice location and variety of libations – the Avenue Pub. 

Located at the corner of St. Charles and Polymnia in the Lower Garden District, the Avenue Pub is a relatively short streetcar ride from the French Quarter and the Central Business District.  According to the establishment’s website, the building dates back to as early as 1845, and between the blue shutters and wrought iron balcony it’s rather hard to miss.    

Sep 20, 2018

A commoner dines at Moo’s BBQ, Newton, Iowa

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned about barbecue in my travels as a commoner, it’s that if you look hard enough you can find quality ‘que just about anywhere.  That includes the middle of Iowa. 

How did I find such good barbecue in an area more known for its pork tenderloins and loose meat sandwiches?  It started when I had apparently exhausted all my dining options in the small town of Grinnell while I was working on assignment there, I learned of a barbecue joint in nearby Newton, just a couple of exits west on Interstate 80.  I gave Moo’s BBQ a shot, and the experience highly rewarding.

To find Moo’s BBQ, go north at Exit 164 I-80 toward town.  Take the first right and follow the frontage road back south.  You’ll find Moo’s nestled among several standard fast food and chain restaurant options, inhabiting a building that probably was another of those fast food chains in a former life.  Fortunately, the food served at Moo’s is a vast improvement. 

The interior is just as no-frills, but as you approach the counter the vibe and personality of Moo’s starts to become more apparent.  Notice the blues concert posters to the left of the menu and the chalkboard promoting Moo’s “Artist of the Day” whose music you will hear during your entire visit.  Now it becomes more evident why the place is sometimes referred to as Moo’s BBQ & Blues.  I knew I had stumbled onto a place very much to my liking. 

The menu has plenty of tempting options, from signature sandwiches like the “Barnyard” and the “Taj Moohal” to fried flatbread tacos and Moo’s take on BBQ nachos.  But since I was eager to sample as much as possible, I ordered a two meat platter with two sides.  Upon completing my order, I learned of another quirky but charming feature of Moo’s – instead of a number with your order, you’re assigned a moniker to listen for.  I was Hercules.  I could have done far worse.     

The seating options are again very similar to a refurbished fast food joint except for the long counter window side seating, perfect for solo diners.  I parked myself at one of the seats and waited for my herculean sized order. 

And here it is – beef brisket and burnt ends, served with smoked green beans and creamed corn.  As fate would have it, Moo’s is known locally for having exceptional versions of both meats I ordered, and I quickly understood why.

Although the burnt ends were a little fattier than I’m accustomed to having in, say, Kansas City-style burnt ends, these compared quite well.  It didn’t hurt that they were literally wading in their own juices when served.  The composition of the burnt ends was more reminiscent of roast beef, and that’s not a bad thing at all.     

Now let’s have a closer look at the brisket.  See that pink ring that comes from being slow smoked?  Moo’s reportedly uses a combination of hickory and cherry wood, and the juicy flavor it provides is about as good as it gets.  If you can’t get to Texas, you won’t be disappointed with Moo’s take on beef brisket.  It’s that good. 

To complement the barbecue, Moo’s offers two styles of sauce on the table. The sweet blues sauce is very true to its name and adds a nice tanginess to the meat’s smokiness. The hot sauce starts similarly sweet but with a slightly more vinegar taste before a peppery explosion hits the back of your throat.  Most fans of spicy foods should approve of the latter. 

As with any good barbecue joint, the sides are noteworthy, too.  The aforementioned green beans are flavored with the same smoke as the meat and come practically swimming in butter.  The creamed corn definitely emphasizes the cream; the texture of the dish is more like a thick, whipped corn pudding.  And one final positive note about the entire meal – Moo’s provides generous portions of everything!

All in all, Moo’s BBQ was a real find in central Iowa and a pleasant reminder that really good barbecue isn’t confined to any particular region.  There’s practically a barbecue master everywhere you go if you look hard enough.  In Iowa, they’ve mastered it at Moo’s.

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...