Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 | 8:33 p.m.
I knew “American Idol” Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks headlines at the Paris and that fans love his songs and guitar work. I never knew that he owned a blues barbeque restaurant and hails from generations of cooks. Now he’s hoping to open a similar Southern menu venue here because he says since living in Las Vegas so far, he’s been unable to find the food he serves at his Saw’s Juke Joint back home in Birmingham, Ala.
He’s quite the foodie: Two of his restaurant recipes appear in the new Taste of Home cookbook “Recipes Across America.” In all, there are 735 recipes from home cooks across America that reflect the best of American cooking. It’s more incredible when you realize that just 9,000 recipes were chosen for testing from 90,000 submitted. Only 3,000 made it for the Taste of Home food magazine, and Taylor landed two of the 735 that made it into the cookbook.
He told me: “Play your cards at the right time in this business, so I’m playing my food card. Saw’s Juke Joint is a restaurant that I started with a couple of friends back home. I tell people, if you want to get into the restaurant business, you need to play acoustic on Monday and Tuesday nights for five years. That’s one way you can know if you really want to be in the restaurant business or not.
“Juke Joints are good, down-home-fun establishments. It has a lot of soul. It is barbeque primarily, but we also have a Southern eclectic menu. Saw’s barbeque was listed in Parade Magazine as one of the Top 10 barbeque restaurants in the country. I’m very proud of having that establishment because it’s a wonderful outlet for me when I go back home or perform and see a lot of the fans who are back home. I love to eat really great barbeque, which I’m having a hard time finding in Las Vegas.
“When I go home, I make it a point to do really cool, kind of a blues acoustic set. I love the atmosphere, and it’s just a great place for me. I’m a foodie; I always have been. I think if you’re born in Alabama, you automatically have the right to be called a foodie. We’re coming up on our first year anniversary in October.”
I asked Taylor where he discovered his love of cooking. “We have chefs and cooks in the family,” he said. “A lot of my family members love to cook. We definitely have a flair for Southern food. My mother gave me old recipes handed down through the family. She had recipes that she used and her mom used. There are definitely recipes that get passed down. I love it! I love cooking. I love having that establishment and being a part of it and seeing it get the recognition it’s getting right now. I’m very blessed.”
Taylor is now 18 months into his residency in Las Vegas, having started out at Bally’s and moving now to the Paris. “The second anniversary will be coming up. It feels as if it’s my 20th, I’m so much at home,” he joked. “I love it here. What an amazing place to perform and be an entertainer.
“I’m loving the crowds, and the fans fortunately are still loving me. I love being a part of the Caesars family and working as an entertainer and being a part of history. When you perform here, you are a part of history.”
However, he admitted that he really misses that down-home Southern family cooking: “I miss the barbeque. I miss the pork and greens so much I’m tempted about opening a Saw’s Juke Joint in Vegas. I’ve definitely kicked the idea around. My team has kicked the idea around because there is a niche for really great Southern barbeque and fare. Now that I’m partnered up with Taste of Home and some of Saw’s Joint dishes are featured in this wonderful recipe book, we’ve got some talks started to bring it here.”
On the menu at Taylor’s restaurant is everything from fried catfish and fried oyster sandwiches, plus, smoked sausages and chicken wings with collard greens and onion rings. The mustardy Carolina burger and the Saw burger are described as “fabulous” with a 93 percent like-it rating on Urbanspoon. So thick, so tall, so juicy with its savory toppings, they use plastic knives to hold them together on the journey from kitchen to table, and the waiters have rolls of paper towels handy if needed to deal with the overflowing chili and slaw.
The beautifully designed cookbook, part of the Readers Digest Association, is divided into five regions: Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest and West. The pages are sprinkled with 450 color photos, food folklore, recipe histories, fun facts and culinary trivia.
Taylor summed up: “Taste of Home is an American icon. I enjoy reading all the recipes from my region, but every region is well represented. You get to see all of these recipes from all over the country. With two of mine in this cookbook, I’m very honored.
“It’s quite amazing. It went from 90,000 down to 9,000, then 3,000 and finally 735 in the book. And I have two of them. I would like to think that putting two recipes in this book is as hard as standing in line with 350,00 people the year that I won Season 5 of ‘American Idol’!”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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