Last week, I found myself in Elwood's Shack, a new breakfast and lunch spot on Summer Avenue. I knew it was new, but would never have known, from the quality of the food or the service, that Elwood's has been in business less than two months. Owners Scott Scheno and Tim Bednarski are restaurant veterans, and more on them later. For now, just know they know what they're doing.
With a big smoker going out front, you can find Elwood's, tucked away on the north side of the parking lot of Lowe's, by rolling your car window down. Chicken wings, big, meaty and black with jerk seasoning, fill the grates on the big smokers, fashioned from two 55-gallon drums (or at least made in that style). Excellent pork shoulder and beef brisket come from the same place, and a fine smoked hot dog, served with jalapeño slaw, starts in the same place.
Bednarski is from Texas and takes his brisket seriously. It's marinated in Guinness Stout, and smoked slow and low until fork tender.
The sandwich is served, as he says is traditional in Texas, with pickle, sauce and a fat slice of onion.
Everything we tried from the smoker was delicious, and portions are very generous. The $4 pulled pork and brisket sandwiches were big, fat handfuls, more than I would eat and plenty for my husband, who has a hearty appetite. A larger sandwich is $6.
Here's how good the Chicago Dog is: It costs $1 more than the small brisket or pulled pork sandwich. I know people who are crazy about hot dogs, but I never have been. Now and then I come across a hot dog so good that I understand how they inspire such devotion. Elwood's Chicago Dog is one.
The all-beef hot dog is fat and juicy, tucked inside a big, soft bun. Liberties have been taken with the "Chicago" style, as the bun is missing the traditional poppy seeds, and the toppings are more, say, an interpretation of the classic toppings. There's no nuclear relish or sport peppers, but the sweet and hot flavors are present in Elwood's relish.
There's a pickle spear, but served on the side, not inside the bun. Instead, cucumber slices join up with tomato slices and mustard to liven up the already excellent dog. A New York-style hot dog with sauerkraut is also offered, though we never got around to trying it.
We didn't miss much, though. Chicken salad, made in-house, is sweet with pickle relish. The sharp pimento cheese is excellent ("It's a Bobby Flay recipe," Scheno said), served in a heaping scoop between toast, with optional bacon and tomato.
The spicy Italian sub breaks no new ground, but it's a delicious (and again, huge) version of the submarine sandwich made with Italian cold cuts.
The roast beef is cooked to medium-rare in-house and served thinly sliced and piled high on a kaiser bun. The meat was very good, but the sandwich begged for a horseradish sauce.
Before Elwood's moved in, Pizza Shack occupied the building. Scheno and Bednarski kept the pizza oven, so they've got pizza on the menu at lunch and at breakfast. The crust is good, chewy on the bottom, with airy pockets around the edges. Lunch toppings are fairly basic, but they're good. Eggs Over My Hammy, the breakfast pizza, was delicious, topped with ham, bacon, tomato and eggs that were supposed to be over easy, though they were cooked to about soft-boiled.
We liked everything about breakfast, just as we did with lunch. Biscuits are big and a bit moister than many (also good) found in breakfast places around town.
Real butter is served, and honey and molasses are both available at the table.
Don't miss the cinnamon rolls, either, though you might if you don't arrive early enough.
Elwood's is a simple place; the kitchen is larger than the dining area. Orders are placed at the counter and delivered to the table.
There are televisions going in the small dining room, which I could've done without at breakfast, particularly as an old football game was on.
Bednarski and Scheno don't need me to tell them what to do, though. The former came to Memphis 18 years ago to work for Bahama Breeze and the latter from New York in 1997 to manage East End Grill on U.S. 64 in Bartlett. Bednarski would stop in Scheno's place when he left work, and the two became friends and eventually fishing buddies. Last fall, Bednarski saw a "for lease" sign and called Scheno.
"I asked him if he wanted to open a restaurant together, he said yes, and five days later we signed the lease," Bednarski said.
Contractors making early morning stops at Lowe's were a given customer base, so the partners decided to open for breakfast.
While they have no plans to expand to dinner service, they might extend their hours for to-go orders.
They have time; after all, the grand opening isn't until March 1.
2 1/2 Stars
Food: 3 Stars
Service: 2 1/2 Stars
Atmosphere: 2 Stars
Address: 4523 Summer.
Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
Reviewer's choice: Chicago dog ($5); spicy Italian sub ($8); roast beef ($7); pulled pork sandwich ($4 and $6); beef brisket sandwich ($4 and $6); biscuits, either alone or with a breakfast sandwich.