Saturday, April 28, 2012

Arkansas Barbecue

Rex Nelson has a good post on the topic "What is Arkansas Barbecue?" over on his Southern Fried blog.  He includes in it a nice excerpt from my contribution to 
The Slaw and the Slow Cooked: Culture and Barbecue in the Mid-South, a collection of essays from Vanderbilt University Press edited by Ted Maclin and Jim Veteto.  If you want to dig into the history of Arkansas BBQ, check it out.

Nelson also just wrote the preface for the Arkansas section of the Southern Foodways Alliance's Southern BBQ Trail, which is collection of oral histories of great barbecuers and restaurateurs from across the South. For Arkansas barbecue fans, there's now a treasure trove of information out there on the state's unique style.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Charleston Gravy Train

I've been listening to Josh Ozersky being interviewed on Chris Gondek's University of Texas Press podcast about his book Colonel Sanders and the American Dream.  When discussing how difficult it is not just for KFC but for any restaurant to make good gravy, Ozersky says:
I'm a food writer who lives in New York City.  I eat out all the time.  And now we're in this wonderful lardcore renaissance and all these Southern chefs are trying to cook things here. None of them makes good pan gravy.  I haven't had a first-rate pan gravy since Sean Brock cooked chicken in a pan for me at Husk.
In other words, don't order gravy in New York. Come down here to Charleston.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Early Virginia Hams and Bacon

I've been reading the journal of Nicholas Cresswell, a young Englishman who came to Virginia in 1774 with the ambition of making a fortune as a planter. He got sideways with his neighbors after the Revolution broke out and he refused to support the rebellion.  Threatened with "Tar, Feathers, Imprisonment, and the D---l knows what," Cresswell fled Virginia in 1777 and ended up returning to England.

Before he departed, though, he captured in his journal this excellent account of the art of curing bacon and ham in Virginia:
The bacon cured here is not to be equalled in any part of the world, their hams in particular. They first rub them over with brown sugar and let them lie all night. This extracts the watery particles. They let them lie in salt for 10 days or a fortnight. Some rub them with hickory ashes instead of saltpetre, it makes them red as saltpetre and gives them a pleasant taste. Then they are hung up in the smoke-house and a slow smoky fire kept under them for three or four weeks, nothing but hickory wood is burnt in these smoke-houses. This gives them an agreeable flavor, far preferable to the Westphalia hams, not only that, but it prevents them from going rancid and will preserve them for several years by giving them a fresh smoking now and them.
The hogs, he noted, grew fat in the woods on a mast of "acorns, Walnuts, Chestnuts, and all wild fruits").

And now I'm officially hungry.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Scenes from Opening Day: Mt. Pleasant Farmer's Market

The Mt. Pleasant Farmer's Market opened for the season yesterday at Moultrie Middle School on Coleman Boulevard.  Here are a few scenes.

Of course, it wouldn't be a market without a little funnel cake:

The pick of the day: this remarkable asparagus from Ambrose Farms:

All in, my haul included some local ground lamb, Bull's blood beets, fresh asparagus, green garlic, and some magnificent strawberries.

The good eatin' time of the year has arrived.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Straw Man Beer

Writing over at CNN's Eatocracy blog, Nathan Berrong just posted a bit on beer and restaurants that made me pause. "Why do restaurants neglect beer?" he asks, arguing that it's hard to find amazing beer and great food in the same place. "Maybe the best restaurant in town serves Guinness," he states, and "I'm baffled when I go into a nice restaurant and the beer list mirrors the offerings of the convenience store down the street." Budweiser and Heineken are called out for particular abuse.

I paused to check the date on the piece.  It was April 3, 2012, not, as I first suspected, 2006.  My next question was, "where in the world is he eating?" No location in the dateline, but I did note that Berrong "works at CNN's satellite desk."  So, he might still be in orbit, which would make things understandable.

Because, frankly, I have no idea what he's talking about. Good beer is everywhere in good restaurants these days, and not just in Charleston (where, admittedly, we do have some culinary advantages) but just about every city I visit. Victory HopDevil is the new Budweiser, Allagash White the new Heineken.  It's quite typical to find anywhere for eight to two dozen really good beers on tap--a handful of locals and a bunch of craft/micros from all over the country, plus a few dozen more bottled names. And that offering is not just for the bar crowd: chefs are highly attuned to beer, too. It's  becoming quite common to see a beer or two slipped in among the wine pairing suggestions on menus, and it seems like there's a beer-paired dinner every three or four days here in Charleston.

About two years ago, as I reviewed restaurants around town, I would note with delight, "The bar has a deep line up of craft brews, too . . ." and list a few examples. These days I rarely even mention the beer selection because it almost goes without saying that they're going to have a deep line up of craft brews (and they have coffee, too, both regular and decaf, and your choice of sparkling, still, or tap water!).

Now, in Berrong's defense, he's really just creating a straw man that he then pounds to shreds by listing a bunch of restaurants in New York, San Francisco, Denver and cosmopolitan Decatur, Georgia (my birthplace!) that focus on craft beers and pair them with the meals. But, that straw man is getting pretty dusty and dry these days.

As the formerly encyclopedic wine list shrinks to a manageable page or two, and the attention to beer and cocktails increases, I predict that before long beer and wine will share equal billing at your typical "nice restaurant". Whether that's a good thing or not is a subject that's open for debate, but that seems to be where the winds are steering us.

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