The secret ingredient is love (shhhhh! Don't tell anybody).

Riverside Cookery is one of those places that you know about, but don't know about. It's that place when you tell someone that it's next to Hoosier Lounge in Casino Aztar, they say, "Oh yeah! I know where you're talking about. Next to Max & Erma's, right?"

The answer of course is, "Yes." Occupying the space left behind when Corky's Barbecue shut down a couple of years ago, Riverside Cookery has been up and running for about a year, but recently revamped their menu a bit by adding a few new items while keeping a few customer favorites.

On Tuesday, they invited members of the local print, TV, and radio media to stop by and try some of the new dishes. Seeing that I'm a member of the local media and they were offering me free food (my second such invitation this week), I obviously jumped at the opportunity.

Joining me for lunch were my friends and co-workers, Bobby G from our sister-station, 103GBF, and Leslie Morgan from our other sister-station, 99.5 WKDQ. We were greeted at the door by members of both Riverside Cookery and Casino Aztar management, then seated at our table where we were brought up to speed on the new items featured on the menu, including the Fried Alligator appetizer. Always willing to try something new, we ordered it up to share as we looked over the rest of the menu.

Fried Alligator appetizer (Ryan O'Bryan/106-1 KISS-FM)

A few minutes later our waiter, Titus, showed up with a plate featuring six big chunks of deep fried alligator set atop a bed of greens with a cup of cocktail sauce in the center. The tender chunks of alligator meat were deep-fried to a golden brown and despite the fact they were deep-fried, weren't greasy and had a consistency similar to that of shrimp, only with a tad less "give" meaning that you could cut one in half with your fork, but a small amount of force was needed.

And no, they didn't taste like chicken. Again, they were very similar to shrimp. A smooth texture with a slight buttery flavor. I could have easily eaten them plain, but used the cocktail sauce because it was there and well, because I like cocktail sauce.

Picking the appetizer was pretty easy, the main course on the other hand was way more difficult. Riverside offers an extensive menu of southern favoriteslike barbecue, fried fiddlers, and frog legs along with traditional fare such as burgers, fried chicken, and pork chops. New additions to the menu include a Shrimp Po' Boy sandwich and the Hot Brown, an open faced turkey sandwich made famous in the Louisville area.

The Hot Brown Sandwich. (Ryan O'Bryan/106-1 KISS-FM)

Bobby went with the Po' Boy, while Leslie chose the Hot Brown. I was torn between the Route 64 sandwich which featured smoked beef brisket sliced thick and piled high on a bun with horseradish sauce, and the Beale Street Sampler featuring a little bit of everything of everything with barbecue sauce including one rib, a smoked chicken breast, two slices of beef brisket, pulled pork, and smoked sausage. The platter also comes with two sides. Although it seriously was a tough call between the two, I wanted to sample as much as I could so I went with the Beale Street Sampler.

What showed up at our table a few minutes later was a meat-lovers dream come true. In hindsight, it's enough food that you could easily share it with two people and still have leftovers, but I'm a foodie and apparently have total disregard for the well being of my arteries, so I tackled it all by myself.

Nearly every piece of meat on the plate was slathered in Riverside's barbecue sauce which offered a nice balance of sweet and tangy. The rib looked like it was pulled from Babe the Blue Ox. It was a huge chunk of meat and bone, and while it didn't fall off the bone, the meat was tender, juicy, and had a nice smokey flavor to it.

The chicken breast also featured a nice smokiness evident by the light pink tinge on the top layer of meat. Normally when I eat chicken, I prefer dark meat because white tends to dry out easily. That wasn't the case here as each bite was tender and juicy. The pulled pork was also nice and juicy, however  I didn't get the smoke flavor from it as I did the rib and the chicken. No big deal as it was just as delicious.

The one meat not covered in sauce was the smoked sausage, the ultimate reason I went with this plate over the Route 64 sandwich. I love smoked sausage and will pick some up at the grocery store from time to time to use for breakfast or a pot of jambalaya when I have time to make it. The sausage I dug into at Riverside was smoked perfectly, featuring a casing that had a bit of a snap to it with a filling you could literally squeeze the juice out of. The spice of the filling was just right, enough to give it a little punch, but not so much it was overwhelming.

The crown jewel of barbecue platters, the enormous Beale St. Sampler (Ryan O'Bryan/106-1 KISS-FM)

As much as I loved the sausage (and everything else for that matter), the best part of the entire platter was the two thick slices of beef brisket. I've never tried making brisket at home because it's an all-day process that requires hours of low heat due to the connective tissue within the meat itself. Cook it too long and like anything else that's overcooked, it dries out. On the flip side, if you don't cook it long enough, the fatty connective tissue in the meat doesn't break down enough resulting in a gristly texture.

The chefs at Riverside know what their doing when it comes to brisket. The two slices on my plate were fork tender and melted on my tongue with a slight salt and pepper taste presumably from the spice rub they place on it before throwing it into the smoker. It. Was. Amazing!

The only downside to the entire meal were the sides. Don't get me wrong, they were good, but not spectacular. The baked mac 'n' cheese, while I don't know exactly how it was prepared, tasted like it may have come from a can then had some shredded cheese sprinkled on top and thrown into the oven long enough to melt the cheese. The mashed potatoes were also a little thicker and less creamy than I prefer. While I did finish the mac 'n' cheese (I mean c'mon, it's still mac 'n' cheese), I couldn't finish the potatoes, but in their defense I had eaten nearly half a farm before I even started on the sides.

Sweet (literally)! (Ryan O'Bryan/106-1 KISS-FM)

As uncomfortably full as I was when I finally threw in the towel on my sampler platter, I still made a point to choke down some dessert. Bobby, Leslie, and I each ordered something different with the intent of trying a bit of everything. We went with a brownie sundae, peach cobbler, and a slice of strawberry cream pie. All of which were delicious. The cobbler had a flaky top crust with a dash of cinnamon-sugar, and a warm sweet filling underneath. The pie, while a little wimpy in size, was served chilled and featured a smooth texture with a strong strawberry flavor.

The prices at Riverside are reasonable for the amount of food you receive however, I don't know that it's a place to take the kids as I didn't see a kids menu and feeding a family of four or more could get wind up on the pricey side. I definitely recommend a trip to Riverside Cookery the next time your in the mood for a great home-cooked meal.