A Very Unhealthy Season

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In the last week I cooked chicken breasts in the oven and ate them with red quinoa and kale. I made an omelet in a non-stick pan without butter. I downloaded a calorie tracking app. I even—I can’t believe I’m even writing this—went for a walk.

How did I get here?

For about a decade my weight has fluctuated pretty wildly, and to be honest I didn’t really mind. When I was at my low weight I would feel sleek and vital. When I was at my heaviest I would wear nothing but my little pink swimming trunks and eat pork chops with my hands in public. I would spill champagne on my thighs or let marinara sauce run into my chest hair. I’m not sure what they were really thinking but in my head people would see me and think: “Wow. That guy really knows how to live!”

 Shameless

Shameless

Since around thanksgiving my weight stopped fluctuating. I couldn’t fit into my suits anymore, and had to buy new jeans. The elastic band in my underwear left a nasty looking ring of broken blood vessels around my waist. Finally, I outgrew my pajamas. Family members started whispering about gout. Not good.

This post will not be about me getting fit.  Anyone who knows me knows I will never really get my appetites under control. This post is about the glorious, decadent five weeks that got me to rock bottom.

Let’s start at Thanksgiving.

This was the first Thanksgiving I didn’t spend at home with family. My girlfriend and I decided to spend it at our apartment cooking, just the two of us.

We made this stuffed turkey breast from Juila Child, wrapped in its own skin and cheese cloth, and basted over hours with melted butter. We stuffed out breast with the caramelized onion and kale stuffing from smittenkitchen.com, and made a second batch for good measure. I love stuffing.

For sides there were buttery roughly mashed yellow fingerling potatoes with blue cheese and garlic, classic cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts with thick-cut chorizo and toasted almond slivers. All served with a big pot of gravy made from the surplus turkey skin, turkey drippings, and shallots, and spiked with white wine.

 Feast for two. Note the gravy pot.

Feast for two. Note the gravy pot.

Again, there were only two of us.

And we drank.

 Everyone in Brooklyn must have an esoteric home bar.

Everyone in Brooklyn must have an esoteric home bar.

On Thanksgiving morning, we woke up to a bottle of cold champagne, planned the meal for the day and split a bottle of dry cider for good measure. While we cooked it was bourbon over ice—a surprisingly good whiskey from Hilllrock Distillery in New York’s Hudson Valley—and small glasses of Pommeau de Normandie, a kind of hard apple juice fortified with calvados. Over dinner we dug into the wine: reds and sherry for her, and vinho verde and chardonnays for me with maybe an ale towards the meal’s end. In between courses we split shots of a cheap, harsh calvados—an old Normandy feasting trick—to help make room.

And there was dessert: sour smurf gummis—the best haribo ever— and dark Ritter Sport chocolate bars with hazelnuts, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream, and bottles of dark stout.

Afterwards when I was sure I was going to die, I downed a quick Underberg, a German digestif and felt much better.

The next day things really went off the rails.

 Obligatory leftovers sandwich shot.

Obligatory leftovers sandwich shot.

After a few leftovers sandwiches, we took what was left and made a thick slab of shepherd’s pie: with a base of toasted rye bread, a top of mashed potatoes covered in oven-blistered sharp cheddar, and a midsection sloppy with hot gravy.

We proudly talked of how, with the pie thanksgiving could last us a week! And then took the whole thing to bed and ate it over one episode of Narcos.

In retrospect, that semi-somnolent shepherd’s pie was just the appetizer in a feast that was about to last me forty five days.

I spent December in California “working”: researching and writing stories like the best tacos on the west coast, a California dive bar taxonomy, San Diego’s best fish tacos, and a deep dive into the bay area’s flourishing Tiki scene.

For the first two weeks I met friends and made my way up the coast from the Mexican border to the Napa valley north of San Francisco.

In Tijiuana at Taco Nazo I had one of the best bites of my entire life: a tripa taco whose chunks of boiled small intestine turned the color and texture of caramel on a battered iron plancha. 

 NYC, why can't you get this?

NYC, why can't you get this?

 

With a six pack of dark Bohemias from the adjacent convenience store I worked through Nazo’s entire taco menu: spicy birria—goat stew—the tortillas soggy with broth, fatty, chewy carnitas, charred carne asada, spicy chorizo, and al pastor cut thin from a spit-grill like a pork shawarma served with bits of burnt pineapple.

 Proper Al Pastor

Proper Al Pastor

Over one afternoon in San Diego I ate at five different fish taco places before ending the night at one of San Diego’s best dive bars, Last Call, a bar sandwiched between two pay-by-the-hour motels, where there were hotdogs on the grill out front, and the slogan was “get ugly early”.  Whenever emergency vehicles with their sirens on went by, the bar tender passed out kamikaze shots to the whole bar. There were a lot of sirens; we obeyed the slogan.

 Guess where.

Guess where.

There were tacos in LA too, and an obligatory stop at Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles.

A friend visiting from Hong Kong joined me over prohibition-era cocktails at The Varnish—the least obnoxious speakeasy in the world—gin and tonics at the famous Frolic Room (where I decided I love bars with murals), beers and snacks at the Chateau Marmont, and martinis at the Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.

The best meal in Los Angeles came as a surprise: a pastrami sandwich on rye from Langer’s Deli. They claim to serve the best pastrami sandwich in the world, and as a deli fanatic living in New York City it’s hard for me to admit that they might be right. Their rye bread, chewy and toothsome with a nice crunchy crust, is certainly the best I’ve ever had.

 Lookin fly Paulie

Lookin fly Paulie

Then it was up the coast, stopping at the greatest hits to give my visiting friend a taste of California road food. We had rushed In n’ Out burgers along the 101, ate piles of fried seafood and sardine sandwiches over looking the pacific ocean in Morro Bay, and closer to San Francisco, ordered up two of my favorite burritos of the moment, a steak super burrito from La Corneta Taqueria in Burlingame with pickled jalapenos and fresh lime juice.

San Francisco is my home and every time I’m back I check in at my favorite dives. San Francisco is, or rather was, woefully misunderstood. It used to be a hard city, a rough and dirty drinking city where the Brown Jug opens at 6am, and corner stores sell plastic cups of vodka under the counter for a dollar.

Things are changing and not for the better, but that’s a story for another post.

 The oldest tiki bar in the world.

The oldest tiki bar in the world.

Anyway, San Francisco used to be home to the best dive bar culture around. Sadly, when I tried to take some friends on a tour of my favorites, one after another had  closed, or been scrubbed up and sanitized and was now full of furry roly poly white people in fleeces taking pictures of each other. Luckily the Geary Club is still there, unchanged and unchangeable.

The tiny, sticky bar is maybe my favorite dive bar in the world; it has absolutely nothing to recommend it but me. I used to do my homework there, and passing drunks would splatter my textbook with jaeger. This time, like every time I visit the Geary Club I was gleefully, gratefully, and disastrously over-served.

I had decided I would try and get healthy in preparation for the holiday-binge but missed the mark by a fair bit when I ate another burrito, this time from Taqueria La Cumbre, home of the original mission burrito, in the bathtub first thing on Christmas eve morning.

That afternoon was the big family dinner, this year a little restrained by our standards: green beans steamed and tossed with lemon juice and sea salt, Brussel sprouts wilted in bacon, and huge salads of bitter greens with perfect Oregonian pears, candied pecans, and little nobs of goat cheese. The main course was a whole tenderloin, smeared with rough mustard, wrapped in pancetta and roasted. Then my family’s traditional Christmas dessert: peppermint ice cream pies with hot fudge.

 A proper Christmas breakfast

A proper Christmas breakfast

This year, for the first time we hosted Christmas morning at mom’s house and she gave me a free hand in planning the breakfast. Enter a whole spiral cut honey baked ham with a pot of spicy mustard, lox with whipped cream cheese and capers, fresh baked cinnamon sticky buns, a pyramid of sausages and three tiers of donuts. Another friend, also visiting from Hong Kong but from the U.K. was put in charge of the bacon buttys and brown sauce, while I made eggs scrambled in truffle butter. Fresh orange juice. Egg Nog. Champagne.

Just a few hours later was dinner time. For the last few years we’ve been having Christmas dinner at a friend’s; he’s an ex-chef and plans his holiday dinner for weeks ahead of time.

It shows.

 The whole flock

The whole flock

Already full, I found room for green garlic soup, gravlax cured in gin with pickled onions, rare roasted duck, quails stuffed with homemade turkey sausage, a bowl of thick risotto and two slices of dark chocolate, candied ginger macaroon cake drenched in chestnut liqueur.

First thing the next morning I headed off to  join my girlfriend’s family for their Christmas tradition: passing the holidays in the Napa Valley—San Francisco’s wine country. She promised all we would do was eat and drink, a nice change of pace for me.

Days in Napa were spent dripping runny cheeses onto draped piles of charcuterie from the Fatted Calf, or eating sweet duck liver pate straight from the jar, or putting on layers of sweaters to sit outside in the frosty mornings slurping fresh Hog Island oysters.

The Napa trip was a trip of firsts for me: my first visit to a winery, my first dip in a hot spring, my first mud bath, my first oysters bingo—fresh oysters piled with garlic, spinach, and cheese then broiled.

It was also the first time I sat in a California bar that allowed smoking. In fact that was the biggest surprise of the trip, that the uppercrust wine country was also the home of some of the best and diviest bars in the state. It’s like the local bar scene is trapped in amber.

We visited Pancha’s where the bartender/owner Rose has a fearsome reputation. I thought stories of her might be exaggerated, she was unfailingly gracious to us, then she told a group of be-ugged tourists to “fuck off” before they even got in the door.

 The legendary Green Door, Napa

The legendary Green Door, Napa

We also visited the famous Green Door, where the bartender told me stories of working biker bars up and down the coast: “Those guys had something called honor.”

Both bars readily sold cigarettes, provided ash trays, and encouraged patrons to light up. Many drunk people tried to explain to me how this was so:  legal loopholes, the owners were grandfathered in, they weren’t technically public bars. But, I think it mostly came down to those two bartenders. Some people you just don’t fuck with.

Writing about Napa is bringing back memories: tacos from a truck in the dusty lot down the street from the French laundry, barbeque and rare small-batch bourbons, the best fajitas I have ever had, and of course near-perfect classic cheeseburgers from Gott's Roadside.

I'm not a breakfast person, I'm usually too full from the night before, but in Napa I discovered one of my favorite light holiday breakfasts: pizzelle, those Italian waffle-cookies flavored with anise and lemon zest, dipped in a glass of Dream Catcher, an Irish liqueur made from roasted chestnuts backed up with a cup of black coffee.

My girlfriend and I got back into town with just a few days to spare before New Year’s Eve. I had work to do, which for me meant visiting 14 tiki bars in three days as research for this story in Time Out: that's 14 mai tais with a few scorpion bowls and at one place a full rum tasting thrown in for good measure. I know I must have eaten, but the only solid food I remember in the whole tiki haze is a cheeseburger with bone marrow from KronnerBurger in Oakland. 

 Too much?

Too much?

New Years Eve came as a welcome respite from the thatch, and sugary cocktails. New Years Eve is also our anniversary and we have something of a tradition: sequester ourselves in a house by the beach and cook a too-large, labor intensive meal.

This year it was David Lebovitz’s Chili with chocolate which was a joy to make and turned out OK. I followed my personal New Years Eve tradition by falling asleep on the couch before 11. At least this time—for the first time in years—I managed to wake up for midnight and force a few sips of Prosecco. My spirit was willing but my body had had enough of 2015.

 Chopped Liver, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen

Chopped Liver, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen

Writing this I keep remembering more meals I’d forgotten. The spot-on Taiwanese food from a strip mall in a suburb south of the city, the reuben, lox, and out of this world chopped liver from Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen in San Francisco,  and the famous Nopalito carnitas, served slick with grease and steaming in a paper sack.

 The happiest boy in the world.

The happiest boy in the world.

And how could I forget the ham? One of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received. A whole 400 day old, peanut fed, heritage hog ham hock from Virginia, meant to put even jamón ibérico de bellota to shame. It’s sitting on the counter in my Brooklyn apartment as I write this, all but its sharp little hoof covered in dish towels and wrapped in twine to keep the rats at bay.

On my last night in the city I met an old friend at Hard Water, a New Orleans style whisky bar in the fog out on pier 3. I’d heard they had a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 years, supposedly the best, certainly the most expensive, and certainly the most over-hyped whisky on earth. Bottles of Pappy are getting so rare I’d never actually seen one in person. And, they did have it but only offered it in half ounce tastes as part of a flight that would cost me nearly $250. I passed on the Pappy, and instead drank two other breathtaking bourbons I’d never heard of. When I got up to settle my bill the bartender slid over a glass and smiled at me. “I don’t want you leaving thinking San Francisco isn’t cool anymore.”

San Francisco isn't cool anymore, but the Pappy was excellent. That said, I think I preferred my $40 Rittenhouse 25-Year-Old Straight Rye. No sip of anything is worth $250.

It was a very good month.

Now I have cauliflower and some boneless skinless chicken breasts to tend to. Just don't think I'm giving up too easy.

 

Smokes and Ears: Dining in the Delta Pt. 2

A quick post about my last meal in Mississippi. The Big Apple Inn in Jackson was actually one of my most-anticipated stops on the whole trip. It’s appeared on lots of TV shows, including No Reservations which my shrewder readers will have realized this blog follows pretty much entirely. It’s also been on Bizarre Foods.

God I hate Bizarre Foods.

I’ve hated it ever since I watched the perpetually wet Andrew Zimmern struggling to swallow some raw meat on a trip to Ethiopia. He was all exaggerated gagging, grossed out googly-eyed over-acting while the place’s embarrassed proprietor stood by and a group of very hungry Ethiopian children stared, waiting until Zimmerman waddled off, so that they could enjoy his “bizarre” leftovers. I’ve heard that the host has gotten much more sensitive, but I don’t care. I find the whole premise of the show—that some food is objectively weird—offensive. I did hear that back in the day Andrew Zimmern was a crackhead living in New York and stealing purses at Grand Central Station for drug money, so that’s tight.

Anyway. The reason The Big Apple Inn was even on bizarre foods is because it’s known for pig ear sandwiches. The reason it was on No Reservations is because it is a rare example of a kind of cooking that has been the lifeblood of poorer, almost always African American, communities in the south for generations, and because the sandwiches—both the pig ear and a ground sausage sandwich—are supposed to be delicious.

Firstly, I love pig ears. I feel like that’s not even a very racy thing to say anymore. Pigs’ ears, and tails, and snouts are on bar menus all over the place—at least in New York, San Francisco, and London where I’ve seen them over and over again since moving back from Asia. My favorite ears are the ones I had in Hong Kong, done in a chiu chow style, marinated in master stock, boiled, then simmered until they get that slick-sticky-crunchy-bouncy thing that pretty much only great ears have. Ugly, wobbly, and brown those pigs’ ears are right up there in the running with boiled peanuts for the best beer snack of all time.

Which is all just another way for me to say that it wasn’t because they had ears in them that I didn’t like the sandwiches at the Big Apple Inn, it was in spite of the ears. They just didn’t do it for me: the ears were boiled to the point of jelly, the buns fell apart before I could even get them to my mouth, and the mustard really didn’t go nearly far enough to cut the cloying grease and glop of the ears. (In my after the fact google research I see the sandwiches also have hot sauce and slaw on them but either I ordered wrong or I smoked too much pot in high school because I don’t remember that at all.)

 A pig ear sandwich.

A pig ear sandwich.

They also specialize in sausage sandwiches called smokes. They were better than the ears, as smoky as you’d expect and spicy. I had two, nothing too memorable but fine.

It really pains me to say all this because I loved the Big Apple Inn; I want it to still be there in a hundred years and I will still go out of my way to pay a visit whenever I’m in town because it is just such an awesome, totally one of a kind place.

People always describe little hole-in-the-wall spots as neighborhood joints, well the Big Apple Inn is basically the whole neighborhood. The lone store in a long stretch of boarded up windows, abandoned businesses, and shuttered shop fronts. Whatever happened to this part of town was no good, but it was thorough. Still the area is not without its charm. People wave from their car windows as they drive by and the architecture is all languid southern allure. You need only squint to imagine the whole place as a coffee shop engorged hipster enclave—I like to think that the residents thought it was better just to shut it down and move out than become that.

Abandoned as it may have been out on the street, inside the inn the neighborhood is alive and well. I had the great pleasure to visit on the day a huge regional Baptist church conference was meeting in town and the place was full of customers in their very best Sunday best—I highly recommend anyone who can try and plan their visit to Jackson to coincide with a Baptist conference. It was a great mixed up crowd of old-timers returning to the area with kids in tow—in stiff lace, and corduroy bow ties—to show them where grandma used to eat, alongside young men with grease down their shirts—workers from the nearby tow yard I think—on their lunch breaks.

 Your hero. Between Meals.

Your hero. Between Meals.

The space itself is simple veering towards makeshift: a counter, a few chairs, a woman spreading yellow mustard on buns, pulling big flapping ears out of a bubbling pressure cooker, and, on the day I was there, a small tv-vcr-combo on the counter playing a documentary (https://vimeo.com/68061989) about the restaurant on repeat.  Other people have described the Inn as ramshackle, or shabby but I found it perfectly used. Warn down profoundly, in that way love can wear you down.

If you’d like to read more about the Big Apple Inn, and you should, check out their entry on http://www.southernfoodways.org. Southern Food Ways is an absolutely invaluable resource on Southern food. I would like them to offer me a job.

 

In Which a Sandwich Causes me to Completely Lose the Plot

I need to switch things up a little bit.

In terms of this blog I’m in Mississippi, with the amazing food of New Orleans, Cajun country, West Texas, New Mexico, and California’s central valley still ahead of me.

Meanwhile as I'm writing about all of that, I’m having just incredible new food experiences: I spent three hours at Swan’s Oyster Depot shoveling so much in that I think I swallowed a shell, had my mind blown apart by a plantain I ate on the beach in Far Rockaway—served in a tin foil packet covered in farmer’s cheese and guava jelly it was basically a food hallucination—ate too much herring on the roof of New York’s old Russian baths, hosted an informal turkey sandwich competition between the bodegas in my neighborhood, discovered definitively the best gummi candy there is, and  confirmed once again that the #5 at Barney Greengrass is the best sandwich, full stop.

So, I’m going to start breaking things up a little. When I tire of the open road, I’m going to throw in a quick post about my eating-life now. And, I’m going to start today with that sandwich.

Barney Greengrass: The Sturgeon King is justifiably famous. This is no secret off-the-beaten-path-snack. I’d been wanting to eat there for decades before I ever got the chance. In fact, Barney Greengrass (and the Wu-Tang Clan) played a big role in my choosing to attend college in New York over sunnier schools on the west coast.

Like too many great old-school immigrant cuisines, the kind of fare they serve at Barney Greengrass is disappearing. Technically Barney Greengrass is an appetizing store.

Appetizing stores, or appetizing tables, are pretty much the best stores ever. In the interest of keeping kosher, Jewish immigrants were careful to keep their fish and dairy separate from their meats. For the meat, there was the deli—just so my wishes are clear, I would like my ashes scattered in a deli—and for the fish and dairy, there was the appetizing table. That connubio perfetto, a bagel with lox and cream cheese was born in the appetizing store; they are magical places.

 The chopped herring. Better than ice cream.

The chopped herring. Better than ice cream.

Fish of all kinds, creamed, cured, pickled, smoked, and salted, along with caviar and assorted roes, and baked goods, blintzes, bagels, bialeys, and latkes all come together at the appetizing table.

Sadly, despite food writers talking about the “appetizing trend” for the last few years, true appetizing stores are few and far between, and unless you live in New York or a few other Jewish enclaves in North America, pretty much nonexistent. Ask most casual foodies where to get good appetizing and they’ll probably only be able to name two places: Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side, and Barney Greengrass on the Upper West. And, Barney Greengrass isn’t really an appetizing store at all.

BG is what I call an outlaw appetizing store. At some point since its opening in 1908 someone there made the inspired—albeit heretical—decision to cater to gentile tastes and serve deli alongside the traditional dairy and parve (neither dairy nor meat) offerings, which means you can get chopped herring with a side of pastrami on rye, and which makes Barney Greengrass my favorite place in New York City and the sturgeon king of my heart.

Every time I sit down at Barney Greengrass I order a plain toasted bialy, a serving of home made chopped herring—so sweet and fresh you could put it on a cupcake—at least five unsweetened iced teas, and the #5.

The number five. Don’t miss it. Hidden deep in the menu under “Triple Deckers”, a bargain at $15.75, the number five is more than a sandwich. It is three sandwiches singing in perfect harmony, a fresco of a sandwich, the number five is a masterpiece.

A lesson for Americans. When it comes to food, sometimes over-the-top is good, sometimes it is bad. Going by yourself to a restaurant and ordering three dozen oysters and a magnum of Muscadet is good, using grilled cheese sandwiches—or donuts, or pieces of fried chicken—as hamburger buns is bad. Serving bone marrow and parsley on toast after dessert (with ice cold shots of schnapps) is good, competitive eating of all stripes is bad. The #5 triple decker from Barney Greengrass is much better than good.

Roast Beef. Chicken Fat. Chicken Liver. Turkey. Cole Slaw. Russian Dressing. All between three thin slices of pungent rye bread. Just take a moment and think about that.

 The. Number. Five.

The. Number. Five.

The Roast beef: flaky, iron rich and redolent of the oven, draped over a thick velvety swipe of schmaltz which coats your mouth and fills your nose with the slick, dripping memory of a cramped, steamy Eastern European kitchen, and holds up the beef, saving it like an exhausted swimmer bobbing on a warm and salty sea.

Then, even more. Even richer, even fattier, the liver meets the fat like the river meets the ocean and mingles there, the liver pushing the fat deeper, the liver lifting the fat into the light.  Then, briefly, the gulped breath of the bread, the merciful just-in-time cut of caraway, a welcome but half-hearted palate cleanse, like smoking a cigar in a barnyard.

Then, the turkey, cut thin, roasted dry, and piled high. Savory, and gamey, the turkey is delicious, but I would argue more vital as structure: the teeth cleave through the stacked slices of meat, sheering the flaky bird until, slowing all the while, they meet the cole slaw just right, and ease in to the electric crunch of the cabbage, the cool cream, the light punch of the vinegar.

Then, finally, the Russian dressing, with its fat to coat your mouth, and piquant hum to finally wipe the palate clean. Ready again for another bite.

This is a sandwich that eats itself.

Grits and Glory: The Magic of the Southern Breakfast

 Something amazing happened here.

Something amazing happened here.

I’ll have you know that I didn’t only eat sandwiches and barbecue on the road. Some days I also ate breakfast.                  

Southern breakfasts are magical: shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, scrambles with country ham and fried green tomatoes, beignets covered in powdered sugar. I could go on and on. Instead, I offer here a paean to the best breakfast I have ever had: the Country Ham Biscuit at Biscuit Head in Asheville.

I had the country ham biscuit, but I think anything I ordered would have been just as good*. You see, Biscuit Head is not a restaurant. It is a dream factory. Seriously, I saw things in Biscuit Head that I have barely even dared to fantasize about, and certainly never hoped to see in real life. Things like a gravy flight. A gravy flight. Like a whisky flight for people who don’t want to live past 50. People who just love too much. People like me.

 Proof.

Proof.

The biggest thing Southern breakfasts have over breakfasts the world over? Southern breakfast chefs are salt monsters. They are animals when it comes to salt, and so am I. I’m the guy salting his French fries at McDonalds. They guy licking his date’s movie theatre popcorn. I can’t eat escargot because the snails foam up and shrivel as soon as they touch my tongue. A few nights ago—no joke—mom and I had a salt tasting; just the two of us at the kitchen table, munching palmfulls of flaky sea salt like trail mix. Southern breakfast chefs really get me.

 This is also real.

This is also real.

The country ham biscuit. So much more than the name implies. First, the biscuit was perfect: crumbly but coherent, buttery, fluffy, nice and crunchy on the outside and about the size of a large grapefruit. The biscuit was spit and crudely packed with fried green tomatoes, cheesey eggs, red eye gravy—gravy made from pork drippings—and of course thick slices of country ham. Wait a minute.

 

Ham rant.

 

I like Spanish ham. I am not a monster; Iberico ham is delicious. But, it is not so delicious that I somehow forgot that all other hams exist. Seriously the world is full to bursting with lovely hams each uniquely tasty. Why limit yourself to one country. I don't mean to be controversial but I don't belive humans are meant to be manHOGamous. Sorry.

Jokes aside my point stands, remember when prosciutto used to be considered great ham? It still is. In fact, Italy has lots of lovely ham, ditto Switzerland, and even Austria. I love French ham: Bayonne, bread, and goat cheese can make me happy to the point of tears. But that’s not even scratching the ham surface, what about the deep cuts? What about the excellent ham from China? Obviously there are the famous super-salty hams from Jinhua in Zhejiang province which are used mostly in China for cooking and soups but I love to eat straight like beef jerky. Or, even better, the many excellent hams from Yunnan often served thicker than the Jinhua hams, and with a stronger porcine funk. A nice slice on a steamed white bun with a crispy wafer and lots of honey might be China’s greatest contribution to global sandwich culture. And finally what about America? American hams, especially those from Virginia and farther south are really damn good. A good country ham will be very salty but clean and richly meaty. I love it and to be honest am much more excited to see a proper Southern country ham on the menu than the ubiquitous iberico.

 Edward Biscuit-hands.

Edward Biscuit-hands.

Anyway, the country ham on my biscuit was delicious, and so salty it tasted like it had been pulled from the sea. The cheddar was sharp to the point of outright hostility. The fried green tomatoes were pickle-tart and slick with oil and there must have been a whole hen’s worth of fluffy scrambled eggs. The gravy was unlike any gravy I had ever seen, nearly a stew, thick with chunks of meat. As soon as they brought it out it started begging for a mug of hot black coffee.

I ate half and promptly passed out in the back of the truck. And, tell you the truth, when I think about that other half biscuit, sitting alone in a pool of gravy I am filled with such deep regret and longing.

Country Ham Biscuit I will never forget you.

 

*Other options included the Brisket Biscuit with with brisket, pickled onion, smoked chevre, poached eggs, and bbq hollandaise. Or the Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit with mimosa fried chicken, sweet potato butter, Sriracha slaw, and a poached egg. Or, The Cajun Benedict: an open faced biscuit topped with creole mustard, local andouille, 2 poached eggs, hollandaise, roasted red peppers and scallions. I can’t even keep typing this. I’m looking for flights.