Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Foods I'd Kill You For.

I freely admit it. I'm an omnivore. I've yet to find any food that I have a real aversion to...and, sadly, I've the physique to prove my point. Certainly, there are those foods that don't, at the mere thought of them, elicit a Pavlovian-like drool from me. Lutefisk comes to mind (and you can read my review of this Norse classic by clicking here), as does poorly-prepared chitlins (if you don't know what those are, don't ask).

Traveling as much as I do, I've encountered enough exotic and downright bizarre foods to give Andrew Zimmer a run for his money. There are, though, those foods that I truly love so much that I oft times find myself craving them. Having grown up in The South, most of these foods naturally hearken to this part of the world. But my passion for these foods is derived not out of blind bias, but, rather, an preference born from having tasted all other offerings.

So, without further adieu, let me share with you foods I love so much that I just might kill you for them:

1.) Soft Shell Crabs.
I've got a real soft spot for these soft shells. They'd definitely be on the menu if I was afforded one last meal before visiting Old Sparky. I adore these tender crustaceans...fried and served in po' boys, in a sushi bar Spider Roll, or delicately sautéed in butter and served au natural.

The good news is that we're about to get into the season for these beauties...May through July. Let's Eat!

2.) Old South Bar-B-Q in Smyrna
There are some that hold that Smyrna Georgia's greatest contribution to the fine arts was serving as the birthplace of Julia Roberts. They're sorely mistaken...it's Old South Bar-B-Q. I've been going there since 1978, and it still serves as my 'go-to 'cue'. Nowadays I make it a point to stop there for lunch on my way back to the Atlanta airport, and I always order the same thing: barbecue pork salad, a cup of Brunswick Stew and an order of ribs. Same as it ever was.

3.) An F.O. at The Varsity.
When I took Amie back to Atlanta for the first time we were met at the airport by my parents. As we drove through Atlanta I asked my dad to make a stop at the Varsity. "No!" my mom protested, "you can't do that to Amie! Not on her first visit!" I could, because, one, I was hungry, and, two, it was a sure-fire way to determine if Amie and I were destined to be. Nearly 12 years later and now it's Amie who shouts out for a Varsity stop on our return to the Peach State.

We both adore an F.O., also known as a Frosted Orange. It's like a cross between an orange cremesicle and a milkshake. It's the ideal accompaniment to the sweet yet greasy rings and oh-so-delicious dawgs that are practically de riguer on game days...or return trips home.

4.) The Lemon Caper Sweetbreads at Bayona
If you ever had a notion to do me in, find out where I'm going to eat and poison the sweetbreads. I'm a sucker for them...if they're on the menu, you can bet they'll soon be on my table. I've had them everywhere, all across the U.S. and Europe. On fine china in five-star restaurants to grease-stained paper bags at a farmer's market.

So it should come as no surprise that I consider myself quite the connoisseur when it comes to lamb and/or calf thymus gland and/or pancreas. Of all the incarnations of the same I've ingested, none have made me so delighted as those served by Susan Spicer at Bayona in New Orleans. Susan has a deftness with sweetbreads...light, ephemeral orbs that have just the right touch of crispness on the outside, with all that tasty sweetbread goodness on the inside.

5.) The Lumière Cheese of Sweet Grass Dairy.
Sweet Grass Dairy is an artisan cheese producer based in Thomasville, Georgia. Certainly my initial interest in Sweet Grass was due to the fact that they were based in GEORGIA. But, after tasting their products I came to realize that Sweet Grass was the 'real deal', and their cheeses rank up high as some of the best made in the U.S. They also hold their own on a world stage.

My absolute favorite* is an ash-covered goat's cheese they craft called Lumière. It haunts me. In a good way. Go get your own by checking out the Sweet Grass Dairy website.

6.) Steamed Crayfish.
Call them what you will: crawfish, crawdads, crodgers, or (my favorite) mudbugs...just be sure to call me to the table when you serve them. Get a group of friends around a steam pot full of these critters and a cold keg of beer and you're bound to have a good time!

7.) My mom's corned beef and cabbage.
In retrospect I have to say that my mom wasn't a real adventurous cook. Don't get me wrong...I never went hungry, but to my parents food was seen as a necessity of life. Dinner was a well-balanced meal of a protein, a starch and a vegetable, no more, no less.

Every St. Patty's Day mom would get out the Crock Pot and prepare a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. Red new potatoes, carrots and rich, dark bread with butter would serve as accompaniments. I loved this meal so much that it became my traditional birthday dinner growing up. I still love it...and Amie sees to it that it's still on my birthday board of fare.

8.) Alan Benton's Hams and Bacon
Three years ago I was invited to be the guest winemaker at the Southern Foodways Alliance weekend at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. One afternoon a number of us boarded a van and made a trip to nearby Madisonville, home of the best cured pig meat on this (or any other) planet, Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams.

Since that visit, I'm proud to say that I've gotten to know proprietor Alan Benton better. Alan is a gracious, soft-spoken man; a man visibly passionate about his craft. His efforts rank right up there with the very finest Serrano, Ibérico, or Parma. Nowadays, Allan's pig meat is in such high demand that it's often difficult to procure. Lucky for me, he loves my wines! Try to get your own by visiting the Benton Hams website.

9.) The Chicken Wings at Taco Mac.
There was a time in my life that half my body weight consisted of Taco Mac chicken wings. Taco Mac was started in Atlanta back in 1978 by two boys from Buffalo, New York. I can tell you for a fact that their wings are every bit as good as the Anchor Bar's (the Buffalo-based restaurant that was the original Buffalo chicken wing purveyor). My preference was for 30 hot, bleu cheese and a wheat beer.

I say 'was', because these days, while I still crave Taco Mac wings, they've been known to play serious havoc with my gastrointestinal tract.

10.) Homemade Pumpkin Pie.
You may have noticed by now that none of my favorite foods employ the use of my sweet tooth. Truth be told, I don't have much of one. If I were to have to claim allegiance to one sweet, it'd have to be pumpkin pie.

Back home in Atlanta, my passion for pumpkin pie is the stuff of legend. The legend started the night before Thanksgiving, 1977. My mother had baked four pumpkin pies in preparation for our Thanksgiving guests. I awoke in the middle of the night feeling a bit peckish. I entered our kitchen, and came face to face with four - count 'em, four! - beautiful pies. "Who's going to miss one small slice?" I rationalized to myself. That kind of rationalization led me to another, and then another slice. It finally dawned on my teenage brain, "Perhaps it's best if I eat the entire pie. Maybe my mom will forget if she made four or three pies?"

The mother entered the kitchen Thanksgiving morning not questioning her memory, but her children. "Who ate the pumpkin pie?" she asked us all. Not being able to tell a lie (well, perhaps not a lie...just that lie), I fessed up. My dad was a bit shocked, asking, "Mat, you ate the entire pie?" When I told him I did, he put another pumpkin pie in front of me. "I don't believe you. Show me." Now, my dad had tried (and, obviously, forgotten the outcome of) that routine with me five years back with a six pack of beer. I quickly devoured a second pie...just as quickly as I had the six pack.

To this day, every time I'm back with my family for Thanksgiving my mother makes two extra pumpkin pies just for me. Try as I might, I haven't been able to recreate this little piece of family folklore for over 12 years.

* Dear reader, please understand this: to choose an 'absolute favorite' from the SGD lineup is like saying, "Who's prettier, Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren, or Audrey Hepburn?" Picking one in no way diminishes the others...they're all beautiful.

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Rickey Henderson said...

It's a damned good thing Rickey doesn't live in the south. Cause judging by those pics, if Rickey did, he'd weigh 500 pounds by now.

mrviognier said...

Naw...all he'd have to do is room with Daryl Strawberry. They'd do enough blow to work off the poundage.

Anonymous said...

Taco Mac is okay, but Three Dollar Cafe wings were better and closer to home..

mrviognier said...

And they're not as wet and they're meatier...I know. I love them too, but Taco Mac is still my sentimental favorite.

Is that you, Graham-O?

what's a donzer said...

Introducing The Varsity to suburbia was like ushering in a crack wave to my neighborhood. My family joneses so bad that my baby and weiner dog were both hot dogs for Halloween. Sick.

mrviognier said...

Another Georgian! Hey, Donzer...will gladly send you some wine if you FedEx me some Varsity slaw dogs, onion rings and some Taco Mac wings!

what's a donzer said...

It's a deal. I'm gonna throw in a Dreamland slab o'ribs, too, to keep you honest.

mrviognier said...

Not to look a gift horse and all, but for me Dreamland died when those folks in Atlanta bought it...and then made a chain of Dreamlands. I still recall going to the original in Tuscaloosa when the old man ran it. The only thing I found incongruous was that he served PEPSI. Sacre bleu!

I would take some Old South ribs...and may just give you the key to my winery.