The Taste of Magnolia

I do my level best to go to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium every fall for a plethora of reasons.  The post-symposium tales I tell usually involve detailed descriptions of the food, which never fails to be stupendous.  But in between meals there are speakers, one of whom was author and chef Eddie Huang.  His topic was barbecue, but what I remember most from the talk was his spice story.
I think it is fair to say that knowledge of spices is essential to a chef worth his or her…salt.  Salt and pepper may be the Mama and Papa of the seasoning world, but they are really just the tip of the spice-berg.  Chef Eddie’s method of study was simple: he tasted them.  One by one.  By themselves. The picture in my mind’s eye is of him sitting at a table with a row of spice jars lined up from left to right – a “flight” of spices, if you will – tasting them individually in order to understand the true flavor of each.
Since that talk I’ve been fascinated by this idea.  And though I haven’t yet dragged out my entire seasoning collection for a full-on tasting (it is even more vast than my collection of barbecue sauces), I have certainly taken multiple opportunities to pour little bits into my palm for a lick.  (Clean hands, of course.)  Daughter likes to eat plain salt; I prefer blends.
About a year ago I had to buy a bigger spice rack.  A gentleman I had never met before stopped by my office and told me a story about his company – Magnolia Seasoning. It’s a hop and a skip from my house – not even a jump – practically under my nose.  And just like that, I was fascinated by spices again.
If you followed Mississippi food news in the last decade or so, you’ll know about Bryan Foods in West Point.  You may also know that somewhere along the way, Bryan was purchased by Sara Lee.  In the mix at Sara Lee was a division that created many of the seasoning blends used by the company for its food products.  Then, when Sara Lee closed its operations in West Point, Mr. Z (the aforementioned gentleman, who oversaw that division) opened Magnolia Seasoning.
Today, Magnolia Seasoning is still growing after almost ten years in the spice business.  In fact, they are the only company in the South who will make custom spice blends.  Primarily, they sell in bulk to restaurants and grocery stores, but if you look hard enough, you might just find some of their offerings in your own neighborhood grocery.

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Recently I had the rare opportunity to tour the Magnolia Seasoning operation.  I saw a giant mixer where Mr. K was blending up what appeared to be a fresh batch of lemon pepper.  Other mixers were so big I could have laid down inside them.  (I didn’t.)  Elsewhere on the production floor, bottles were being filled with a barbecue blend of some sort.  And somewhere in the building is a computer that guides the measurement of each individual ingredient, maintaining consistency from batch to batch.
One of my biggest questions had to do with recipe development.  How did they decide something tastes like it’s supposed to?  As it turns out, they have a taster: Mr. G.  In his own little laboratory, he develops each formula using a scale and what must be an exceptionally sensitive set of taste buds.  For example, if a chef wants a certain blend similar to an expensive national brand, but a little hotter, a little more salty, or a little less garlicky, Mr. G can match it.
I had been playing at home with Magnolia Seasoning blends for a while, but some of the things I learned on this visit inspired me to take greater steps towards my spice education.  For example, one of the best ways to taste spices is to put them on foods that have little flavor of their own, like chicken or cottage cheese.  I haven’t tried the cottage cheese test yet (though I bought some for that purpose), but I did have some fun with chicken.
I had a dozen wings that I planned to cook using my wing rack on the grill, so I picked six different blends and got to shaking: 3 Gunslinger’s Old West Steak Dust, Kickin’ Chicken, Redneck Bob’s BBQ, Orange You Glad, My Smokey Butt, and Lemon Pepper.  The Wife got the first bite when they came off the grill, and she was sold – lock, stock and gun barrel – on the Old West Steak Dust.  (I know it wasn’t a steak, but this blend was so tasty in my palm that I figured it was worth a try.)  My favorite was the Lemon Pepper, which Mr. Z told me had never lost a blind taste test versus lemon peppers from other companies.

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Over Labor Day Weekend I used the same method, but with riblets.  For these I used Gunpowder (which gets its name from the color), Steak & Rib, Smoky Steak & Rib, Barbeque, Memphis Baby Back BBQ, Whiskey Creek Bourbon BBQ, Hickory Smoked BBQ, and Buttery Mesquite BBQ .  Have you noticed the names?  Sometimes the name begets the mix, and sometimes the mix begets the name.  Some blends require certain names, while others end up with something wild.  Either way, they are having fun.  And if there is an unofficial motto of Magnolia Seasonings, it’s this: “If it’s not fun, why mess with it?”
My tastebuds are also having fun with the Greens and Vegetable seasoning that I picked up at Vowell’s (a locally owned market) a few months back.  Most recently I have sprinkled it on oven-roasted vegetables, as well as grilled mushrooms with a dash of Gunpowder to boot. (Son just about wiped out the shrooms before I could try them).  Mr. Z suggests sprinkling it on eggs – pizza, too! This bottle has earned a prominent spot on my rack.
Tailgate time is here, and the holidays are coming.  You need seasoning.  And you know it’s better to eat local.  Magnolia Seasoning covers it all.  Taste and see.

(Disclosure: As mentioned above, Mr. Z did bring me some sample seasonings to try.  However, I later discovered that I had experienced – and enjoyed – some of their products sold under a local store label.  So I think it’s safe to say that my opinions, though broadened by the generosity of Mr. Z, are my own. JR.)

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A Tale of Two Twinkies

I get a lot of flack for what I eat. More accurately, I get a lot of flack for what a lot of people assume I eat. “Why are you not 500 pounds?” they cry. Other times, it’s “Your poor arteries!” Why? Because I dig the fried stuff.
I didn’t fully appreciate the crucial role the fryer plays in the life of my family (and others in our community) until recently. It was The Wife’s birthday and we decided to go out for lunch. Son had an open schedule due to the life of luxury bestowed on college students, and tagged along. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were notified that the gas line was temporarily out of order. Translated: we could order nothing that was fried. Grilled? Okay. Pan-Seared? No problem. Blackened? Yep. But no fried chicken. No fried pork chop. No french fries. No po-boys (fried shrimp). You get the picture. I still managed to have a lovely meal, but I was slightly taken aback by how much of the menu depended on hot oil and gas.
If I were to list all the crazy fried things I have consumed over time, I’m quite sure it would be novel-esque in length. I’ve been to the Texas State Fair, and that’s pretty much a trump card when it comes to fried goodies. Going to the Texas State Fair is like going to the Boston Marathon – you need to qualify first, and I did so through a steady attendance rate at the Mississippi State Fair and scads of street festivals.

Big Tex says, "You finally made it!"

Big Tex says, “You finally made it!”

Years ago I was at a Wal-Mart – it had been a while since I’d been in one because we lived overseas – and I saw a Fried Twinkie Machine on the shelf in the checkout line. Now I can’t even find one on eBay. I guess everybody who bought one is keeping it, or they went the way of Mr. President’s “Cash for Clunkers.”
Nevertheless, the Deep Fried Twinkie may have been the first UFO (Unidenti-Fried Object) I ever tasted. It was at an upstairs shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and every time I return to that area I look up and remember the moment fondly. Since that time, however, I have focused on other UFO’s: Snickers, Milky Way, Reese’s Cups, Moon Pies, Goo-Goo Clusters, butter; the list goes on and on. (Remember? State Fair of Texas.)
But in Tupelo recently I returned to my roots. I was there for the Tupelo BBQ Duel. The night before, I was on a panel of judges that had the responsibility of choosing the best ancillary dishes prepared by the competitive barbecue teams. The next day I joined the throng of Tupelo citizenry around lunchtime to help determine the People’s Choice Award. Later that afternoon I spent some time with Mitch McCamey, of The Neon Pig and Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, who was doing a demonstration on the breakdown of a whole cow.
After all the pork consumption and beef education it was about time to head back home. As I began wandering towards my truck, I slowed down to check the menus of the non-barbecue food vendors set up at at the festival. Not surprisingly, I noticed one was selling deep fried Twinkies. It had been a while, and I debated whether or not I needed one. Funny, huh? Who NEEDS a deep fried Twinkie? Me, I guess. I ordered it. They dipped it in the batter. They fried it. Then sprinkled it with powdered sugar. And it was awesome. It was so awesome I ate it before I could take a picture of it. For me, that’s a big deal. So I debated again. Could I handle another one for posterity’s sake? It was only a few bucks, so yes – I could handle it, even if I only ate a little of it. Did I only eat a little of it? Heck, no. The second was as awesome as the first. And that is the Tale of Two Twinkies.

The Deep Fried Twinkie in its natural habitat.

The Deep Fried Twinkie in its natural habitat.

Twinkie Two, seconds before it disappeared.

Twinkie Two, seconds before it disappeared.

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Hagelslag: It’s What’s for Dinner

One night not long ago, I was surfing the World Wide Interweb, minding my own business, when two worlds collided. I suppose that sounds pretty dramatic; it was a little more subdued than that. This collision was more like a crazy connection between past and future, domestic and international. This was a collision of sprinkles.
Sprinkles don’t play a prominent role in my life. And to be clear, I’m not talking about light precipitation falling from the heavens. I’m talking about the colorful little edible beads that kids (of all ages, as you will soon see) tend to distribute on top of their cupcakes, ice cream, and more.
My most recent meeting with a sprinkle was the weekend before Daughter’s birthday when her long-lost friend Bama Buddy came for the weekend. (Bama Buddy is long-lost if you consider that she now lives over an hour away; not so much, though, since she joins our family via FaceTime most nights of the week.) Bama Buddy brought homemade cupcakes to the party, all but a few topped with sprinkles. I ate one or two, and enjoyed them, but I must confess: aside from a dash of color and a little texture, they didn’t add a tremendous amount to the cupcakes.

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Disclaimer: this is not Bama Buddy’s cupcake.

I also see lots of sprinkles on my Instagram feed. I follow my friend The Biscuit Lady; she bakes a sprinkles-laden biscuit that has got to be The Biscuit Shop’s best-seller. I’m more of a “what’s the new flavor this month” kind of a customer, but I have had my share of the sprinkley ones, too.
There is a reason I don’t interact too often with sprinkles, and it can be traced to a taste memory from the distant past. Somewhere along life’s journey, I must have met a batch of sprinkles that tasted like coconut. And that was the end of that. No more sprinkles for me. But in my old age I have ventured out again and found that my taste memory might be somewhat distorted.
What’s in ‘em, anyway? As you might suspect, they are mostly sugar. Throw in a little corn syrup, corn starch, food grade wax, artificial coloring and flavoring – and voila, a sprinkle is born. The chocolate ones? They have cocoa powder. No coconut to be found, unless that is one of the artificial flavors. I’m sure it comes as a great relief to know that no unicorns are harmed in the making of this rainbow-colored topping. It’s just a highly processed food that magically attracts the attention of small children when atop a donut, cake, or fro-yo.
That’s the back story – now let’s regroup and get back to the collision.
Sometimes I know why things pop up in my email, and other times it’s a mystery. Why I get a regular update from Good Housekeeping magazine is a mystery. No doubt I clicked on a recipe or bought a subscription to another magazine published by the same house. Either way, they send me mail. I clicked on a story I wanted to read, and off to the side (this is how they get you) there was a teaser for another article entitled, “It’s Totally Normal to Eat Sprinkles for Breakfast.” I took the bait.
Of course, around these parts that headline wouldn’t really be much of a shocker. See aforementioned reference to the sprinkles biscuit. See aforementioned reference to sprinkle-topped donuts. Sprinkles are not that uncommon for breakfast if you think about it.

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Behold: the Sprinkles Biscuit

But it wasn’t biscuits and donuts that triggered the memory in my brain, and in my taste buds. It was Fairy Bread.
When I was first introduced to this magical meal, our Dutch friends didn’t call it that. In fact, I don’t remember what they called it. We were invited for “breakfast for dinner” one night when we both lived in a kingdom far, far away. They told us ahead of time that it would be a simple meal: essentially just jam and bread. But when we sat down to eat, there was a box of chocolate sprinkles on the table. I was fascinated. What would these Netherlanders do with these sprinkles? And who even has an entire box (at least a liter in volume) of sprinkles, anyway? Don’t they usually come in little jars? It’s safe to say I was stupefied. The funny thing was that they were equally surprised that we didn’t know what to do with them – at least at the breakfast table.
It was nothing too fancy. They start with toast, slather some kind of spread on it (butter, nut butter, cookie butter, Nutella, etc.), then pour on the hagelslag. I didn’t learn that word till recently (they spoke English – we didn’t speak Dutch), but that’s what they would have called it: hagelslag is a Dutch word for sprinkles. Their box was chocolate-flavored, but a quick search on Instagram of #hagelslag will reveal all kinds of variations on that theme. In fact, if you like sprinkles at all, that search will set your mouth to watering.
The Fairy Bread term is an Australian thing. Same idea, different continent. Oddly enough, our Australian neighbors in that same far away kingdom never mentioned it. Or maybe they just didn’t invite us to breakfast.

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Lest I forget, I should say that a heavy layer of chocolate sprinkles on buttered toast is actually quite good. It’s even better with a base layer of Biscoff spread (see above). Call it fairy bread or hagelslag, it’s a delicious part of breakfast for dinner. At least it should be.

What’s your favorite way to eat hagelslag?

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Dinner With the SFA

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! That’s what I felt like shouting after all three dinners at the 2015 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. But I didn’t. That would have been slightly inappropriate and surely would have embarrassed The Wife. Wouldn’t have surprised her, but would have embarrassed her. And come to think of it, there was hardly a chicken to be found.

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On the first night, after the always fantastic foodways-focused taping of Thacker Mountain Radio, we sat down for a six-course dinner from Rob Newton, a Brooklyn, NY chef with Arkansas roots. At this dinner (as he does at his restaurant Nightingale 9) he took Southern standards and gave them an Asian spin.
A few things recognizable to most Southerners were waiting for us on the table: boiled peanuts in a Mason jar, slices of country ham, pickles. On the same plate: spiced duck breast and rolled rice sticks. This sort of snack would be served along with bia hois, a unique Vietnamese beer – much like bowls of pretzels and nuts at a local bar.

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The next course was a little cup of pho bo, aka the national dish of Vietnam. This soup can be really simple, as was ours (rich beef broth with herbs), or it might have rice noodles, beef strips, chicken, vegetables, etc. In Vietnam it is often a breakfast dish, but I don’t think anybody was worried.
Post-pho we received a little take-out container full of grits congee. Congee, in the simplest terms, is a rice porridge; our version was Southernized with grits standing in for the rice. Field peas gave a little texture, butternut squash provided some sweet bites, chicken and chanterelles provided the umami – and the crispy chicken skin was the perfect garnish.

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Then the salad, unlike any salad I’ve ever seen. When it was brought to the table, all we could see was a plate-sized piece of grilled rice paper covering a hidden bounty underneath. We shattered the rice paper to find pumpkin seeds, green papaya, herbs, fried shallots, and sorghum grains. Sorghum: that’s molasses, right? Yes, but wait! There’s more! In Asia it can be used as the base for spirits and aged vinegars or cooked, as it was in this salad.

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The main course was grilled quail stuffed with a Vietnamese-style boudin sausage, served with duck hearts, peanuts and baby collards over shaved slices of green tomato. Duck hearts I had only seen on Chopped; they reminded me of liver, perhaps a little more dense. The green tomato gave just enough brightness to offset the rich, dark flavor of the grilled quail. I could have eaten at least another serving of this. (Quail are small, remember. Quail are small.)

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Dessert was street style pineapple: fresh chunks of pineapple on a stick, with a sour coconut milk for dipping (The Wife represented on that one), plus Vietnamese chocolate, and a little tiny bag of spicy salt to sprinkle on the fruit. This was not my first time to combine chocolate with pineapple, but the spicy salt was a nice diversion from the norm.

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The following night we were back, as usual, to a Taylor Grocery catfish feast. No big changes to the fare Taylor provides – and that’s the way I like it. What differs from year to year are the catfish samplings outside – aka the Degustation. Chef Katie Button (Asheville, NC, our home away from home) took the Simmons Delacata cut and came up with a Chow-Chow Delacata Ceviche, served in crunchy little cones. Chef Justin Devillier (New Orleans) made Delacata Andouille Dogs with Turtle Chili. I think I’ve had ceviche twice in my life, and both times were at these meetings – any other place I may have passed it by, but I try most everything here. On the other hand, I’ve had lots of hot dogs, made with a myriad of meats. Never had a catfish dog. Never had turtle chili – only soup. It was a good night for firsts and seconds.
The final dinner was certainly right up my alley: the Lodge Cast Iron “Blank and Grits” Feed. I love grits in every form; this was grits heaven. Chef David Carrier (St.Simon’s Island, Georgia) started us with Deviled Shrimp and Grits Eggs. The yolks were “infused” with grits and the eggs were topped with a tasso and shrimp remoulade. My shrimp and grits world was turned upside down. The next world-turner was the Krill and Grits Tart from Kim Floresca (Chapel Hill, North Carolina). I confess: I didn’t know what a krill was until I saw the movie Finding Nemo, and here I was eating crispy fried krill in (and on) a quiche-like grits tart. Slightly more familiar was the Crab Cream Grits (Ricky Moore, Durham, North Carolina) and the Yellow Corn Grits with Squash and Grit Crumbs. One of my favorite bites was the Crispy Rice Grits with a side of Greens: think hush puppy sized, super crispy on the outside, tender inside. Think yum.

Dessert that night was not grits-related, but it was served out of cast-iron skillets, so it still fit the theme. Seersucker Candy of Nashville sent three of their handmade candy spheres: Muzzle Loaders (salted bourbon caramel), Cherry Bombs (pickled cherry cordials), and Lemon Drops (lemon drop-ish crunchy outside, lemon curd-ish creamy inside). I was sitting way too close to that table. It’s a good thing grits are filling and I didn’t have bigger pockets. These should definitely be on your bucket list; in fact, I suggest ordering a bucketful.

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From duck hearts to Delecata, congee to Cherry Bombs, and oh my goodness that black pepper pastry filled with spicy green tomato jam, my taste buds have once again made memories. Thanks, SFA.

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What’s in your lunchbox?

One of the many cultural tidbits we picked up in our years overseas was the significance of lunch.  With a few exceptions, Americans tend to steer towards light lunches and big dinners.  But in the Middle East it is flipped.  Weddings are celebrated with big lunches.  Agreements are sealed with big lunches.  Lunches are the big deal.  That has very little to do with the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium except for this: lunches are a big deal there, too.

Truth be told, all the meals at an SFA function are a big deal.  Not only that, there are themes that are pretty consistent year to year.  The first lunch, for example, is usually in a box.  This year was no exception, save the fact that the box looked like a suitcase.  A suitcase full of food – now that’s my kind of trip.

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During dinner the night before, we sat across from Chef Mashama Bailey and her colleague, Max, from The Grey in Savannah, Georgia,. Chef Mashama was responsible for packing the suitcase, called the Carry On/Throw Away Lunch.  She doesn’t like to throw food away, we learned, and this lunch was all about finding taste in the parts that many of us may toss in the trash or the compost bin.

We started with a collard green stem salad with ham hock vinaigrette.  Stems do get soft and tasty if you cook them long enough.  Alongside the salad was a Harris Neck Oyster hand pie – I’m not even a big oyster guy and I ate every crumb.  I don’t know the whole story, but I read enough to know that we were lucky to have any oysters from the Georgia coast; sounds like they are coming back.  Middlin’s, also known as rice grits, are the little bits leftover from the rice milling process.  Mashama transformed them into red rice, a Savannah standard.  To wash everything down, it was just tea – but the sweetener was a bottle of simple syrup infused with herb stems.  We may or may not have brought a bottle of that home with us.  For dessert, we enjoyed one of the silkiest vanilla custards ever to coat my tongue, topped with another throwaway: watermelon rind brittle.  Wish I had a suitcase full of that.

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The next day was the Tabasco Appalachian Groaning Table Luncheon, prepared by James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock – and his mama.  There were, oh, about 20 courses to this one, so I’ll hit the highlights.  Awaiting us on the table were mixed pickles, pone bread, sour corn (a first), cucumber slices, banana peppers, green onions, pickled ramps, and kraut balls.  I had only read of ramps before this day, and they turned out to be one of my favorite plates – very strong flavor, no doubt, but the pickling balanced everything, especially with a little piece of pone bread.  I’m not certain what all was in the kraut balls, either, but I ate my fair share of those, for sure.

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The next course was killed lettuce and onions, fried apples, dandelion-cornmeal fritters, soup beans and diced onion with Tabasco, and fried potatoes.  My favorites in this group were probably the fritters, chock full of dandelion greens and topped with some sort of pickled relish.   And those beans – not the least bit fancy, but crazy creamy.

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The second round was a skillet of good cornbread, creamed corn, and a plateful of fried bluegill with tomato gravy.  I recently learned that bluegill and bream were the same fish, and I grew up catching and eating bream – but no doubt this was the first time I’ve ever had tomato gravy on fish.  It was a very pretty plate.  Next up were greasy beans (called that because of their non-fuzzy coat, not necessarily because they are cooked in bacon grease), chicken and dumplings (self-explanatory), and leather britches (green beans preserved by drying, rather than canning.)  I got a real bean education at this table.  Finally, we got a box of desserts: paw-paw and banana pudding, hillbilly fudge (made with Velveeta, but you’d never know) and My Sister’s Chocolate Eclair Cake, which was a great way to end the meal.  And after all I ate, the table wasn’t the only thing groaning at the end.

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The final lunch, at the close of the Symposium, was something of a departure from the norm.  They called it a Pappy Meal.  It was served in a box with a handle, much like the other take-out meals that go by another name that rhymes with Pappy.  But this one was for adults, supplied with a little bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Strategic Reserve.  I don’t partake, but I heard William Faulkner was a fan, so I gave most of mine to him.

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As for the eating, at least seven different chefs contributed to the bounty.  Fried Chicken Green Tabasco Potato Salad Pushups from Oxford’s John Currence.  Remember the orange ice cream pushups from childhood?  Same vehicle, same method, except we were pushing up a very unique potato salad.  The Wife named this her favorite. Roasted Sweet Potato and Smashed Cucumber Salad from Chef Rob Newton (a Southern chef in Brooklyn).  More people should make potato salad from sweet potatoes.  Spicy Pickled Vegetable Slaw from Justin Devillier (New Orleans).  Interesting tweak on slaw, and a serious kick.  Pickled and Jarred Okra by Katie Button (One of Food and Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs for 2015).  I don’t always eat pickled okra, but when I do, I want more of hers.  Fried Pork Chop with Greens, Onions and Comeback from Drew Robinson (Birmingham) and Friends, served on a Benne Seed roll from Lisa Donovan (Nashville).  No one could call this “just a sandwich.”  The sweet finish was a big but not big enough piece of Spiced Pecan and Peanut Brittle from Dwayne Ingraham (recent winner of Cutthroat Kitchen).

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Are you wondering how we managed to eat dinner after all these?  Moderation, determination, and the fact that they removed the serving dishes between courses.

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Good Morning, SFA – Symposium 2015

 

It’s fall in Mississippi, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year. Football is in full swing, which tends to cause great havoc to my heart rate, and due to my loyalties to the hometown rival, can create a hostile work environment on the occasional Monday. It’s also the season for freaky weather. On a recent weekend I arrived in Oxford, Mississippi, one of my top three American cities, only to be greeted by a ninety-plus degree afternoon. The next evening I was wearing a heavy coat. (Huh?) Fall may also be the best season for Sunday drives. As I typed this, The Wife was at the wheel (she not only edits, she chauffeurs when I have a deadline). Fall colors are beginning to creep into the treeline, cotton fields are snowy white, and the ruddy orange of the sweet potato crop is beginning to emerge from the soil. For me, however, the pinnacle of autumn is the Symposium of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

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The Symposium has many layers. It is in part an academic conference. The SFA is housed within the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the Ole Alma Mater, and among other staff there is a professor devoted to the study of Southern foodways. Some of the lectures we hear are condensed versions of dissertations and scholarly articles presented by Ph.D.’s. Peel away another layer, and you find a family reunion. Chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, grocery store owners, and folks who are simply fascinated by all things culinary, all get together for this long weekend because – well, we just like being around each other.
It’s also very much about the meals. Even the most celebrated, James Beard Award-winning chefs are equally thrilled and filled with dread at the prospect of feeding this crowd. There are nine meals that fill the weekend, and each has its own story. We shall commence with breakfast.

Day One: Wildflour Pastries

Day One: WildFlour Pastries

Breakfasts at the Symposium are usually standup, casual and often served in brown bags, but that doesn’t mean any less work goes into them. On the first morning of the conference we arrived at the historic Lyric Theater to a bevy of brown breakfast boxes filled with the creative baking of Lauren Mitterer from WildFlour Pastry in Savannah, Georgia. The eye-catcher was a caramelized pecan sticky bun with cream cheese frosting. This was no wimpy little hint of glaze, like one might smear on a canned cinnamon roll. It was a thick swirl of white, crowning crunchy pecan halves, with the sticky bun serving as a solid foundation. Though I generally maintain a take-it-or-leave-it opinion when it comes to pecans, these were crunchy enough to provide a nice textural contrast between the copious icing and the sticky sweet roll. Slightly more savory was the fig, bacon, and goat cheese mini-quiche in another corner of the box. My relationship to goat cheese is off-again, on-again – it tends to be a stronger flavor than I can generally embrace. But in this pastry, the sweet fig and briny bacon worked well with the hint of sour-umami that the goat cheese delivered.

Day Two: Revival Kolaches!

Day Two: Revival Kolaches!

The second morning found us break-feasting outside on a campus lawn, with the early morning temps re-assuring us that fall might actually be coming. A table full of brown bags awaited the crowd, this time filled with kolaches. I occasionally see kolaches advertised in our area, but my first taste was in Central Texas, where Czech settlers likely introduced them many years ago. In my brief acquaintance with kolaches, I’ve seen them in basically two forms. They may look like a buns or rolls filled with breakfast meats of some sort, similar to a pig in a blanket. The other iteration has a bite similar to a cinnamon roll with a dollop of fruit or cheese filling on top. Our bags had one of each, brought to us by Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber of Revival Market in Houston, TX. The meat-filled kolache was laden with spicy boudin sausage (boudin in a blanket?) saving me the need for the saltine crackers I normally use as a vessel for breakfast boudin. They called the other one a Satsuma kolache, which had a cream-cheesy filling flecked with bits of Satsuma mandarin. The Wife went back for another one of those, and I did my part to help her make it disappear.
One of the speakers on Saturday talked about Cracker Barrel. The theme of the weekend was “Pop Culture: Who’s selling, who’s buying, and at what price?” and there is a lot of pop culture at Cracker Barrel. According to her research, the fine folks at the Barrel essentially invented the Hash Brown Casserole. For breakfast on the final morning, Chef Corbin Evans of the Oxford Canteen reinvented it. He called it Skillet Hashbrown Breakfast Taco Casserole with Salsa Verde and Crema (not in a brown bag or box, but on recyclable brown plates). I am not what you would call a frequent flier at Cracker Barrel. But if they had any part in the inspiration of this Latino version, then I am at least deeply thankful.

Day Three: Canteen Casserole

Day Three: Canteen Casserole

The food may change every morning, but there is one consistent factor: Royal Cup Coffee. In our home kitchen we have a collection of coffee tumblers that the Royal Cup folks provide for Symposium attendees each year. We pretty much wear them out. Over the years they have added the option of pour-overs, and an espresso-fueled truck. (Okay, that’s an embellishment – but you can get espresso drinks from the truck.) This year they also added a nitrogen-infused cold brew. I usually prefer my coffee sweet and creamy, but this cold brew didn’t need any add-ons. I was astounded and amazed. And after two of them, very much awake.

Royal Cup Brew-Mobile

Royal Cup Brew-Mobile

Stay tuned; lunch is coming.

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Taco Tuesday

Taco Tuesday. It just has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? According to Gustavo Arellano, author of the book Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America, a number of restaurants claim the original idea – one even copyrighted the term. No matter who thought of it first, I think it’s a great idea. And not long ago I had an inadvertent (but delicious) Taco Tuesday I won’t soon forget.

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A book you should read

The scene was Jackson, the capital of our fine state. For the purposes of my day job, which is medical in nature, I found myself spending the day at the Medical Mall. Until 24 hours before my trip, I didn’t even know there was a Medical Mall. For others unfamiliar, it’s an old shopping mall, retrofitted with clinics, pharmacies, health education and the like. Not necessarily the sort of place you’d think would harbor a great lunch spot. But pharmacists gotta’ eat, right?
When lunchtime came, my colleague gave me a quick tour of what served as an extended food court: Subway of course, because the next closest Subway must have been at least a half mile away. (I’m convinced they have the same expansion plan as Dollar General.) Chick-Fil-A in miniature (not a full-size restaurant – more like a stall with sack lunches.) And Picadilly Cafeteria, an apparent holdover from mall days, I’m betting. There were a few other places scattered about, but the one that caught my attention was a little kiosk halfway between Subway and Picadilly.
The sign said, “Sameerah’s Healthy Kiosk.” A bigger sign listed five or six varieties of grits: grits with bacon, grits with ham, grits with sausage, etc. The idea of grits for lunch brought me back, but when I looked at the menu – abbreviated but intriguing – it was a taco that sealed the deal.
It’s always tough to make a decision when:
1)I’m at a new place,
2)so many things look good,
3)I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to go back.
The struggle is real. Thankfully, there was another customer waiting for his order that was happy to help. I didn’t get his name, but I did get that he worked in the building. I also got that he had eaten with Ms. Sameerah every day, Monday through Friday, since something like January. He also revealed that she made everything fresh daily – if she ran out, she ran out. She even cut her veggies right there in front of us. I watched her shave slices of carrot right into our wraps. In the end, though, he wasn’t as much help as I had hoped: he had tried everything on the menu, and it was all good. I was right back where I started.
I finally settled on the black bean taco – it was a healthy kiosk, after all. She cut the veggies fresh, after all. Plus it was after 2 o’clock and I knew I’d be eating dinner in a few hours, so something lighter seemed the right thing to do. She started with one of her homemade wraps. I didn’t get details on how she made it, but I could see that it was special – chances are it was a secret, anyway. The next layer was something she called Sameerah Sauce – no secrets divulged on that one, either. Next she added black beans heated on the electric griddle, then fresh-cut carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, and more. Another squirt of Sameerah Sauce and it was done. Simple and delicious. On the side were grilled veggies unlike any I’ve ever had. Thin-sliced cabbage, green pepper, tomato, onion, and zucchini – heated up on the griddle with a blend of herbs that I assumed she wouldn’t share. (And she wouldn’t share.) I’ll just have to experiment and figure it out, because those veggies were ten times better than any side of fries. And healthy to boot.

Sameerah's Black Bean Taco and Grilled Veggies

Sameerah’s Black Bean Taco and Grilled Veggies

Lunch was a lucky surprise, but dinner had already been decided. I left the Mall after work and went a few minutes down the road to Fondren for my first visit to the Pig & Pint. As I approached the entrance, I was enthusiastically welcomed by one of the P&P servers. I told him I’d never been there before and requested his recommendation. Ribs were his first thought – apparently they’d won an award for being the best in Jackson. Next on his list was the taco sampler. Now he had my attention.
I think it’s ironic that a dish most old-school pit masters would never have offered in a roadside barbecue joint is now de rigueur in the newer places. And despite the purist streak in me, I dig ‘em. But I did take the time to peruse the menu. I had already heard about the pork belly corn dog. I was intrigued by the pimento cheese served with house made pork rinds. Boudin burger? Ordinarily I would have gone for it (I’m odd like that) or at least persuaded someone with me to order something different. That allows me to pretend to be a real food critic and try as many dishes as possible. But alas, I was alone and not quite starving, so I went with my gut and got the tacos.

Taco Trio @ Pig &Pint

Taco Trio @ Pig &Pint

The trio included one each with pulled chicken, pulled pork, and brisket. All had pico de gallo and mango jicama slaw, the slaw another rendition you are unlikely to find at a typical joint – yet it fit right in at the Pig and Pint. I think the brisket was my fave, but I didn’t leave a crumb from any of them. And despite my state of satiation, I geared up for the ride home with a decadent chunk of Parker House Bread Pudding, infused with cranberry jelly and covered in white chocolate sauce.

Decadence in a paper tray

Decadence in a paper tray

A long workday transformed into an unforeseen Taco Tuesday. That’s the kind of day I like.

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Let’s Eat Sweets, Y’all

If you were to peruse my social media feeds, you’d see pretty quick that I follow a lot of chefs. Back in the summer I happened to see a re-tweet from one of those chefs: a contest to win 2 tickets to an event in Ridgeland, Mississippi called Sweetest Chefs of the South, put together by Let’s Eat Y’all. I had seen that it was coming, but as intriguing as it seemed, I couldn’t figure out how I would swing a trip like that in the middle of the week. But just for fun, I retweeted it, too – and won the tickets! So I started re-figuring.
Female pastry chefs from all over the South were the focus of the evening: Mississippi, Florida ,Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama were all represented. Among those were two who were already on my radar, Whitney Miller and Martie Duncan.
Whitney is a native Mississippian from Poplarville and was the first winner of Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef competition. The treat at her table was Mississippi Mud Pie, but I assure you: it wasn’t your grandma’s version. Her take began with a Mason jar lid filled with buttery graham cracker crumbs, topped with a brownie, garnished with a dollop of cream cheese mixed with whipped cream, and finished with pecans. The brownie was chocolaty and rich; in her demo she revealed that secret: real baking chocolate (not just cocoa powder) and a little shot of coffee. I’ve served desserts in Mason jars before, but never in the lid. Something new to try.

Whitney and fam makin' mud pies.

Whitney and fam makin’ mud pies.

Whitney and I had crossed paths before, but this would be my first time to meet Martie Duncan. As an addict of the Food Network show, The Next Food Network Star, I felt like I knew Martie pretty well just from watching season 8. Still, I was a wee bit star-struck. But not so star-struck that I couldn’t bust up there and introduce myself, and we discovered pretty quickly that she’s just a good ol’ girl from Alabama. In her demo she showed us how to make an extremely versatile pastry dough called Pate a Choux, which she used to make the bite-sized cream puffs that held her One Bite Banana Pudding. When I quizzed The Wife on the way home, she declared this her favorite of the evening.

Martie and Me

Martie and Me

One of my favorites (there were several) was the S’mores Macaron from Stephanie Little, a private chef from Baton Rouge. Actually, Stephanie is from Oxford but works in the shadow of LSU; as a Rebel in Bulldog country, myself, I could relate. The cookie part of the macaron served as the graham crackers, with a touch of fresh-ground cinnamon to give a deeper flavor. For the Hershey Bar element, half the cookie was dipped in chocolate. And somehow (chef magic) she gave the marshmallow filling a smoky campfire flavor by infusing a special tea into the mix.

I want s'more of these macarons.  (Sorry.)

I want s’more of these macarons. (Sorry.)

Felicia Suzanne Willet (Felicia Suzanne’s of Memphis) made Butter Rolls with Brandy Peaches and Whiskey Anglaise. At one of the pharmacies I’ve worked in, we had a regular customer who rarely visited without mentioning his desire for butter rolls. I continually encouraged him to bring some to me, and I’m still waiting. It’s unlikely his had Anglaise sauce drizzled on them, but I was thrilled to finally get one.

Buttah rolls

Buttah rolls

Jen Adelsheimer (Broad Street Bakery, Jackson) had a table full of sweet stuff. Salted Peanut Butter Cheesecake, King Cake, Blackberry Peach Fruit Trifle, and a couple of other things I couldn’t pronounce. Corey Ellison (The Fairview Inn, Jackson) had tiny little peanut butter tortes with raspberries and lemon curd. Jacqueline Ladnier (French Kiss Pastries, Ocean Springs) brought Strawberry Cream Cheese Bavarian Cake. Head spinning yet from the sugar? Mine was.

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Nealy Frentz (LOLA in Covington, LA) featured Hummingbird Cake. As I walked to her table, the host of the event walked by and told me (with a mischievous look) I wouldn’t like it. Personally, I think he was probably trying to trick me into leaving him the leftovers. As it turned out, Chef Nealy had made a pretty little hummingbird nest out of coconut on top. Nice digs for the hummingbird, but coconut and me, we don’t agree. But I’m pretty sure The Wife and The Host happily enjoyed my share.
A couple of lemon-related desserts really caught my attention. The Lemon Ice Box Pie from Erin Swanson (Restaurant R’evolution, New Orleans) was unlike any lemon ice box pie Granny ever made, topped with meringue sticks, blueberries, and cubes of limoncello gelee. Blueberries were also the garnish of choice for Jamie Foster (The Manship, Jackson), on her Lemon Panna Cotta with Blueberry Coulis, another favorite.

Yes, this is lemon ice box pie.

Yes, this is lemon ice box pie.

Peaches were the fruit du jour. Mary Jennifer Russell (Sugaree’s Bakery, New Albany) diverted from her famous cakes and brought us a Peach Pie Parfait. Danielle Smathers (Restaurant 356, Atlanta) made peach cakes: layers of peach pound cake filled with peach jam, topped with cream cheese frosting and dusted with fennel pollen. Just knowing I had eaten something dusted with fennel pollen (and liked it) made for an especially memorable dish.

Peaches and Pollen

Peaches and Pollen

Finally, we made it to Von Larson’s station (Von’s Restaurant and Grill, Bayou La Batre, AL). Her dessert was simple: bread pudding with vanilla cream. I’ve had a fair amount of bread pudding in my life, and it can be hit and miss. Hers was definitely a hit, the kind that leaves you a bit dizzy from the richness but still ravenous for another bite or three.
To wash everything down, I picked up an iced “Ray au Lait” coffee drink from the Mississippi Cold Drip Coffee and Tea Company. (Not surprisingly, recommended by Ray.) It didn’t exactly cut the sweet, but it did help keep me awake for the trip back to Starkville.

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Due to our work schedule that day, the Sweetest Chefs of the South had another name that night: dinner. Perhaps not the best plan for everyday dining, but when among pastry chefs, a baker’s dozen of deliciousness suited us just fine.

Martie Duncan's Banana Pudding in One Bite

Martie Duncan’s Banana Pudding in One Bite

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Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2014, the Final Chapter: Comfort Food

If there’s one thing I like about attending the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium every year, it’s the nine meals we get to eat between meetings. Oh – and the snacks. Don’t get me wrong; the between-meal lectures are off the charts. The combo factor is what keeps me coming back. But if it were just these nine meals (and the snacks) I’d probably keep coming.
We began our first full day of the 2014 Symposium with Royal Cup coffee and a brown bag breakfast prepared by Cheryl and Griffith Day of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia. The bag was heavy with apple spice crumb cake and a sweet potato and sausage hand pie, a nice complement of sweet and savory. The hand pie made me sorry I don’t get to Savannah more often, but glad that we live near Vardaman – the sweet potato capital of the world. The apple cake was the kind of good that makes you want just one more bite, then just one more bite, and so on till you’re miserable or it’s gone or both. I ate all mine and a little bit of The Wife’s, since she listens when her tummy tells her it’s full, and I … well, I listen less.

Brown Bag Breakfast from Back in the Day Bakery

Brown Bag Breakfast from Back in the Day Bakery

The noon meal that day was called the Nashville Steam Table Lunch in Black and White. For reasons I’m not sure can be fully explained, Nashville has become famous for meat-and-three style lunch spots, or as those of use who indulge in that sort of thing like to call it: comfort food. Kahlil Arnold of Arnold’s Country Kitchen and Sophia Vaughn of Silver Sands Soul Food were our guest comforters that day. Kahlil brought squash casserole, corn-crowned green beans, collard greens and banana pudding. The squash had a little bit of sweetness in it that I could really appreciate. The banana pudding had a lotta bit of sweetness that I also really appreciated. Sophia started us off as we waited in line with little discs of hot-water cornbread, then we got helpings of bitty baby lima beans, macaroni and cheese, and black-eyed peas. So it wasn’t really meat-and-three I guess, but I was plenty delighted with my pudding-and-six, with a side of cornbread, thank you very much.

Comfort food can be a little messy - but don't worry, I cleaned the plate.

Comfort food can be a little messy – but don’t worry, I cleaned the plate.

The Friday night dinner at the symposium is the traditional catfish feed at Taylor Grocery, featuring Simmons Farm-Raised Catfish. The meal itself changes very little from year to year, and for that we are thankful. What varies are the small plates served in front of the restaurant that whet our appetites. In previous years we have had all manner of things at these outposts, but this year it was all about Delecata. The Delecata cut is what Simmons calls a “prime cut” of catfish: skinless, boneless, hand-filleted and deep-skinned. Others have called it “the filet mignon of the pond.” Charles Phan of The Slanted Door (and more) in San Francisco gave us a riff on a catfish spring roll – Mississippi catfish with a California spin. Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner (and more) in Raleigh, NC, took that prime cut, brined it, seared it, glazed it somehow with smoked ham hock, put it over creamed turnip greens, topped it with roasted tomato relish, and garnished it with cornbread crumbs. This is not your Aunt Ruth’s filet mignon.

Somewhere under that other goodness is some catfish.

Somewhere under that other goodness is some catfish.

On Saturday night it was the Lodge Cast Iron Beans, Greens and Cornbread feed. We like our cornbread at the SFA, can you tell? “Make Cornbread, Not War” – that’s what the hat says. Beans and greens may sound simple, but I’ll let you decide. Our cardboard trays were loaded with four variations on the theme, all from Georgians. From Eddie Hernandez of Taqueria del Sol (Atlanta): Charros, Turnip Greens and Green Chile Cornbread. Duane Nutter of One Flew South (also Atlanta) gave us Gulf Drum and White Bean Stew with Shrimp Acaraje’ (a black-eyed pea fritter.) Whitney Otawka (the one Athens representative) of Cinco y Diez, featured the Brazilian side of things with Carne Seca (a dried beef), Linguica (a sausage) and Lengua (yep – it’s tongue) with Feijoada (Brazilian stew) Sauce. Kevin Gillespie, chef at Atlanta’s Gunshow (the restaurant, not the firearms sale), had Heirloom Bean and Fatback Soup with Puffy Cornbread, probably my favorite cornbread of the night. We puffy people like puffy food, I guess.

Four beans, four breads, four goodness' sake.

Four beans, four breads, four goodness’ sake.

Dessert that night and a surprise afternoon snack came to us all the way from New York City. The Big Gay Ice Cream truck took a tour through a handful of Southern cities on it’s way to Oxford, where they passed out their special soft-serve, dipped in unique things like Nilla wafer crumbs and Wasabi pea dust. Our collective sweet teeth were satisfied in the evening with a choice of Coconut Ice Cream with Amarena Cherry Swirl or Dirty Banana with Crushed Nilla Wafers and Dulce de Leche. You know which one I got firsts and seconds of. “Just say no” to coconut. But yes, I dig homemade banana ice cream.

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Our final brunch was preceded by the usually unusual blend of the arts. While we ate Corbin Evan’s Bacon-Egg-Cheese Bread Pudding, we listened to Repast, an oratorio commissioned just for the symposium, focusing on Booker Wright, a waiter at Lusco’s in Greenwood back in the 60’s. Following that, logically, we ate the Greenwood Steak and Shrimp Brunch, led by Stevens Flagg, David Crews and Taylor Bowen Ricketts, all of whom do food right in their own way in the Delta. If you’ve ever been to Lusco’s or Giardina’s, you might recognize the flavors: Gulf Shrimp in Butter Sauce, Drenched Salad, Fried Onion Rings, Spinach and Oyster Madeleine, Baked Potatoes, Roasted Black Pepper-Crusted Rib Eyes, and Lemon Pie. Both the oratorio and the meal were a fitting tribute to Mr. Wright and the menu he used to sing.
It’s over. Sigh. Time to start saving dollars and calories for next year.

Delta Dinner

Delta Dinner

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Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2014, Part Two: Arepas and Underbellies

About a year ago I went to Houston, Texas for a seminar. Not long after that I went to Oxford for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. Ironically (or not?) the same chef showed up in both places. This is the story of that. And a little more.
My first night on the first trip to Houston I went with friends to Underbelly restaurant, the creation of Chef Chris Shepherd. I was slightly confused later as I read in the SFA’s weekly digest that a series of audio food documentaries (aka oral histories) had recently been done, also called the Underbelly of Houston. Lots of bellies here. I wondered if there was a link, and in a way, there was.
When I was in the midst of figuring out where I wanted to eat out in Houston, two different local residents (who have no ties to each other save the fact that they know me) recommended Underbelly – the restaurant. I was intrigued by what I discovered. Chef Chris describes his cuisine as Creole, defined as “the merging of diverse cultures with local ingredients.” Naturally, this kind of thing happens often in port cities, and Houston is the largest port city in the South. But he didn’t just say, “I want to do something Sichuan tonight” and pull out a Chinese cookbook – he found Cori Xiong and Heng Chen, the couple that owns Mala Sichuan Bistro, and learned from them. I’m told he also did the same thing in a number of other ethnic restaurants, and even encourages his restaurant patrons to check out some of these places before they come back to Underbelly.

Chef Chris plating at the Powerhouse

Chef Chris plating at the Powerhouse

At the Symposium each year, there is a big lunch on Saturday with a guest chef. This year’s lunch was given the moniker “Tabasco Dim Sum Luncheon” and Chef Chris led the way. I’ve never been to a dim sum restaurant (one more for the bucket list), but I’ve seen one on TV. Often the small portions of food are brought around on a cart, and the diner can pick and choose from several different options. This is basically how it was done at the luncheon, all the way down to the extravagantly decorated grocery carts. (Yes, there was a cart parade.)

Shopping cart bling

Shopping cart bling

At Underbelly (the restaurant – try to keep up) there is a full-on butcher shop where they make their own charcuterie, but this is not your Uncle Sal from Sicily’s salami. Some of the things we tried in Oxford were pho-spiced bresaola, paneer summer sausage, Sichuan saucisson sec, Vietnamese pickled pork sausage, whipped Gochujang lardo – and that all came with lard biscuits. Sadly, the biscuits were about the only things I could readily identify.

Charcuterie and pickles...and a biscuit!

Charcuterie and pickles…and a biscuit!

The charcuterie plate was waiting for us when we sat at the table. There were also pickles: daikon, red beans, soy green beans, mustard greens and carrots. The rest came in a controlled flurry in the wildly colorful carts. Salt Snapper Fried Rice. Sweet and Spicy Tabasco-glazed Ham Ribs. Korean Goat and Dumplings. The goat dish is on the menu at Underbelly, also, and by popular demand is one of a rare few that have not rotated off. This was not my first time to eat goat, but it was certainly the version with the most flavor.

Got goat?

Got goat?

But wait. There’s more.
Fried chicken with Tabasco-spiked Gulf Coast XO sauce, the chef’s version of a Chinese seafood sauce. Also from that genre, broccoli with caramelized fish sauce. Garlic cucumbers appeared about now, then fried bologna steam buns with Tabasco-infused Mayo. This was certainly not your Uncle Bob from Big Creek’s bologna sandwich. But it was good. Along the way were cold Sichuan noodles and eggplant with fig miso.

Bologna has come a long way, baby.

Bologna has come a long way, baby.

My favorite of the dozen plus courses was the char siu buckboard bacon with shrimp chow mein. I didn’t really recognize this as bacon, to be quite honest, and there is a reason. Typical bacon is made from pork belly. Buckboard bacon is from the butt or loin. And char siu is a Cantonese method of making barbecue pork. Every bite I ate seemed to get better and better.
Are we seeing the merging of diverse cultures yet, the real underbelly? Asian cheese in the summer sausage – you won’t find that at the Hickory Farms kiosk. Mustard greens I know, but pickled? Fried bologna bao? This was the kind of meal not to be entered with any preconceived notions, other than “Whatever that is in the takeout container is bound to be good.” And who doesn’t love a parade?

Bucket o' buckboard bacon

Bucket o’ buckboard bacon

Backtrack to breakfast, same day: another international meal to prepare us for the fusion to come. An arepa is a Venezuelan sandwich – a grilled cornmeal patty, sliced in half and stuffed with goodies. I had heard of them, but not served this way, and certainly not for breakfast. Lis Hernandez is the one who brought them to us, all the way from her shop in Atlanta: Arepa Mia.
The main arepa was the one she calls the Pernil – slow-roasted pork with caramelized onions. There were squeeze bottles on the table that looked as if they contained extreme green guacamole – cilantro sauce and guasacaca sauce. The two were similar, both with lots of cilantro, but the guasacaca had oil, vinegar and garlic while the other had mayo and jalapeno. For the vegetarians and the curiously hungry (that would be me) she offered another version with roasted butternut squash, eggplant, black beans, and caramelized onion. It didn’t make me want to be a vegetarian – the other one was roasted pork, for goodness’ sake – but it certainly left the garden gate open.

Condiment Coozies?

Condiment Coozies?

As I reflect (mouth watering) on these two meals, I have a couple of questions. It’s been a year and I haven’t eaten anything from Chris Shepherd – what did I do wrong? And would it be unfair to dream of a bowl game in Atlanta just for an arepa?

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