Archive for October, 2008

Plant Sex

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Home cooking and more with tags , , , on October 30, 2008 by restaurantouring

So, while tending to my basil plants by the window, I got to thinking: “What a terrible life it must be to be a plant.”  I was in the process of cutting off a couple of the stems that have taken flowers when I thought of this.  When a basil plant flowers, any leaves that grow are smaller and less flavorful.  So, in the interest of taste, the flowers should be removed.  Any why not?  Basil is useful!

But, I mean, think about it. . . . plants don’t get to have sex whenever they want to, if humans are involved.  Take the case of my basil, for instance.  No flowers means no sex.  For the human (me), no flowers means bigger and better basil leaves.  I’m like an evil, selfish god to that poor basil plant.  I can’t imagine what it would be like if there were some sort of evil god out there, cutting off my reproductive organs.

Luckily, humans (for the most part) are useless.

A Dessert of Epic Proportions

Posted in Home cooking and more on October 29, 2008 by restaurantouring

I’m thinking about making a dessert inspired by Pacman and by bacon and eggs.  I guess it’s two separate desserts, really.  I was really proud of the bacon and eggs idea until I found out that Wylie Dufresne does something called the “cyber egg” at his restaurant, WD-50, in New York.  Sigh.  Oh well.  I’m still gonna make it.

Sorry for being so vague and non-descriptive — I just wanted to share that with all two of you out there.  Recipes coming soon (hopefully)!

Comments from the Chautauqua Institute Lecture on Food

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food in the news with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2008 by restaurantouring

A reader on Michael Ruhlman’s blog left some interesting questions and comments in response to the previously posted lecture from the Chautauqua Institute, which you can also view here.  I thought I would post the conversation here, as well, because I think where our food comes from and how it is grown or raised is a very good and important question to ask.  It is a complicated issue, to be sure, and food has a greater impact in this world than I think most people give it credit for.  For example, food has an impact not only on our health and our bodies, but it has political, ecological, environmental, and economical implications as well — and more.  I joined in this conversation fairly late in the game, so I actually refer to a much earlier post.  Apologies!  Anyway, without further ado, here’s part of the conversation so far:

Despite Chef Barber’s misanthropic idealism I agree that the most ecological and ethical choice is also the most delicious, but it is also the most expensive. And while we may not have “an inalienable right to protein” many of us most certainly do not have the luxury of being self-righteous about our food origins, owning multiple successful businesses (restaurants in his case), or befriending Spanish foie gras farmers either. How is making food more expensive (albeit much tastier) going to help feed the hungry? Just curious.

JBL

I think the argument for making food more expensive in the hope that there will be more food for the hungry is pretty shakey no matter which way you look at it as it assumes that poor people are somehow going to have more money to pay for food.

Honestly, I think that the biggest reason for poor nutrition is not lack of access to good food, but a lack of money and the access to high quality education and housing and information that money provides. And the reason there is not enough money among the underclasses is that our lovely global economic system is set up so that wealth trickles up not down.

Moreover, super fresh food like the kind used by the the Dan Barbers and the Kellers of this world will be available cheaply and on a massive scale unless it is grown much closer to where people actually live -And with over 80% of the population of the US living in cities and increasingly urbanized suburbs that seems like an impossible task.

Mr. delGrosso, Am I to understand, given your second paragraph, that poor people are too stupid and ill-informed (and obviously too broke)to make better nutritional assessments and that somehow the global economy is to blame?

@JBL:

Not sure how it can be argued that if you have less money, you are going to have fewer opportunities at an education. And if you are less likely to have a good education, you are more likely to make ill-informed decisions. Of course, it’s a generalization. But I didn’t see anyone call anyone else stupid.

I really wish Barber expanded on the inalienable right to protein.

Mr. Escobar,
You are correct, not stupid per se, just ill-informed (or ignorant or unlearned, or you say tomato I say tomato). But we don’t need a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree to hear about saturated fats, high cholesterol, high calories, evil carbs, artery-clogging fats, etc…we just need a television.

And Mr. Escobar,
I will argue that one indeed CAN get educated in this country if they’re broke; in the form of grants, loans, scholarships, etc..I speak from experience! Unless of course you happen to be a white male/female which opens up a different can of worms.

JBL:

I was pretty careful to avoid saying that one couldn’t get educated. Lots of people do. I said fewer opportunities :). Strong disagree that TV teaches you anything about nutrition, or how to eat healthy. If anything, it is a continuous swirl of contradictory messages.

Pablo Escolar,

Point taken with respect to your egg shell walk; and if you think TV is a “continuous swirl of contradictory messages” try college! (kidding…sorta’)

While it is debatable that even the “news” objectively informs (teaches anything), free information is available, via various media, for anyone who cares or chooses it to actively pursue.

@Pablo Escolar,
Also seems like you’re “paisa”! 🙂

Oh no! Knowlton is a judge?! Kill me now!

JBL

It’s axiomatic that lack of access to money, results in a reduction of access to high quality education or, more to the point, the didactic experiences that enhance critical thinking skills and that help people make wiser eating and other life-style choices.

Also, being poor kind of limits what one can afford to eat to what they can afford.

How you read that I was suggesting that the poor are too stupid to make wise choices is not at all clear to me. I’m pretty sure that IQ scores follow a more or less normal distribution throughout the global population. Of course, the same thing cannot be said of money spent on education.

As for the global economy being to blame for limiting the choices of the poor, well, I’m not willing to go so far as to suggest that an abstract concept can cause anyone to do anything. However, I am sure that the global economic system is not the result of a unanimous decision by a myriad of businessmen and government officials that the end product should be the intellectual, physical and monetary enrichment of the poor.

Mr. delGrosso,

“It’s axiomatic that lack of access to money, results in a reduction of access to high quality education…”

We just have to agree to disagree with respect to this point. Where you see axioms I see non-sequiturs; in fact, I’ve already provided a counterexample.

“Also, being poor kind of limits what one can afford to eat to what they can afford. “

That’s also true for the non-poor (credit not withstanding).

Pertaining to your statement regarding the IQ of the entire world’s population I hasten to say: “I don’t know”.

I also do not think that the global economic system is the result of any unanimous decision period (wacko conspiracy theories not withstanding).


JBL,

Not to dismiss anything that has been discussed already (about education, socio-economic status, etc.), but this response is about your original post, which asked “How is making food more expensive (albeit much tastier) going to help feed the hungry?”

The point of all this is NOT to make food more expensive. Rather, it is about becoming conscious of where our food comes from and understanding what it does to our body, what it does to our environment, and how our environment impacts us in turn. It’s a cycle. It’s about appreciation of that food. Only then can we hope to affect and justify [massive] change. Hopefully, once we better understand food in and of itself, we can not only make food healthier, but stop wasting so much of it so that the poor and hungry can have something to eat as well.

Initially, you’re right. Locally growned, “natural” foods WILL be more expensive than conventionally grown produce and factory-farmed meat, but there is a massive ecological cost to those methods that is difficult to quantify, yet it is catching up to us today in the form of polluted air and waters, obesity, and sickness and disease from food-borne illnesses. Salmonella and E. Coli occur today in far more resilient forms, and are also present in greater quantities of our food. Thousands upon thousands of people get sick every year from contaminated batches of meat and even vegetables (spinach salad, anyone?).

The alternative (one of the alternatives, anyway) is to buy locally. Not only does this help local farmers and local economies, but because small scale farms are better able to control quality and the conditions under which their animals and plants grow, the potential for sickness and disease is greatly diminished. The shorter the distance that food has to travel from farm to plate, the less time there is for food to spoil. Additionally, there are fewer hands involved in the exchange of raw foods, which may result in less of a chance for cross-contamination as a result of long-distance shipping. Finally, if the food DOES happen to be contaminated, the pathogen(s) has less time to reproduce to significantly harmful levels (bacteria need time to multiply) AND the contamination should be limited to a relatively small quantity of food produced in a specific region, unlike the massive recalls of millions of pounds of hamburgers that have occurred over the past few years.

Thus, a better question might be, “How much money is spent on medical care as a result of food-borne illnesses caused by commercially grown food?” Or, perhaps, “How much money is lost through a lack of productivity as a result of people being sick from these food-borne illnesses?” If we knew the answer to those questions, the answer should be clearer.

My personal answer to this problem is a combination of Michael Pollan’s first three sentences in “In Defense of Food,” and of one of Chef Barber’s responses during the Q&A session, “Vote with [my] forks.”
1) I will eat food: not that expensive, unsatisfying, processed crap that harms both my body and the environment, AND benefits big companies that thrive off of carelessly grown produce and livestock.
2) I will eat mostly plants: Meat’s more expensive and I don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables anyway. It’s healthier to boot. Plus, if everyone eats less meat, there’s more of it to go around. A part of the law of supply and demand is that, with a given supply of something (we’ll use meat as an example), decreases in demand result in a concomitant decrease in cost. Since meat is highly perishable, the meat will need to be sold quickly, even if it is at a lower cost. This example (admittedly, none of what I’ve said) isn’t foolproof, I know, but it is a suggestion. I am not claiming to be infallible.
3) I will not eat too much: See above, but apply that to food as a whole.
4) I will vote with my fork: (Also, see number 1) I personally would trust a local farmer more with making sure that deer (which, btw, also carry E. Coli! Imagine that!) don’t go prancing all over his or her farm, shitting all over the leafy greens that I eat (spinach salad, anyone?), than a factory farm of epic proportions which may not be able to do this — may not even care– in an effective way at all. If I have a significantly more expensive cut of locally raised meat, it will probably be tastier and healthier, and I will be damn sure to eat all of it, and probably also to stretch it out so that I can keep my food budget down. It’d be too much of a shame to let that beautiful food go to waste otherwise, unlike the tons and tons of food waste produced by restaurants and home kitchens in our throw-away culture.

To further lower the cost of food, I personally grow some of it. Hell, I just watered my basil plant while reviewing this ridiculously long response. With technology, home gardens of even miniscule scales are possible with little mess or effort. For example, Michael Pollan gave a lecture in New York’s Public Farm 1, where I met Dr. Paul S. Mankiewicz, Ph.D while standing in line for book signings. Paul — and I apologize profusely if I am mistaken or if I am forgetting anyone — is the inventor of Gaia Soil ( http://www.GaiaSoil.com and http://www.GaiaInstituteNY.org ). With Gaia Soil, easy, lightweight, convenient gardens can be created in almost any environment with access to light (it’s nighttime now, but my baby basil seems to be doing just fine photosynthesizing with the ambient light from the various fixtures in the room).

My point is this: I believe that even with these proposed, dramatic changes, food will not become significantly more expensive to obtain. Additionally, any increased costs in obtaining food may very well be offset by the lower incidence of illness as a result from food poisoning. Health of both body and planet will improve, local farmers and economies will benefit, and the only losers will be big agri-business (which is a GOOD thing). Hopefully, others will think the same way I do in terms of not letting more expensive food go to waste. That way, less food overall is eaten (a potential solution to obesity!), and less food will be wasted or go bad and spoil overall. With decreased demand for more expensive foods (meat), costs will likewise decrease (farmers tend to produce more to break even with production costs, rather than produce less to artificially increase prices for profit), enabling the poor to afford food as well.

I look forward to your response. Also, sorry for the wordiness. I’m REALLY good at that.

I forgot to mention the costs of fossil fuels required to grow, fertilize, harvest, refrigerate, and transport the goods, but you knew that already anyway.

Interesting Talk on Food

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food in the news with tags , , , on October 28, 2008 by restaurantouring

Check out Michael Ruhlman’s blog for a very interesting talk about food.  He and Chef Dan Barber both speak for twenty minutes, with an additional 20 for Q&A.  The whole video is over an hour long, but if you’re like me (and you love love love food), you’ll wish it were longer.  You can also find the video here.

A Cook’s Job is Never Done, Part I

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2008 by restaurantouring

A cook’s job is never done.  That, I think, is a fact that most serious cooks need to understand and accept if they really wanna cook in the kitchen.

There’s too much to do.

There’s not enough time.

You gotta eat every day anyway, right?

A cook’s job is just never done.

This week, I worked as usual.  I also cooked a lot.  A friend of mine comes and visits me on Tuesdays, so I spend my Mondays prepping all the food.  This week, it was the beef short ribs I talked about in my “About Me” page.

Shopping.  I found a pack of Flanken-cut short ribs.  Not my favorite cut, but still good.  And cheap.  Two bucks and change per pound, cheaper than a fancy steak, and damn tasty to boot.

So, slice and trim them.  Salt — ALWAYS KOSHER — and pepper.  Heat the cast iron (clad pans work too).  Sear.  Flip.  Repeat on all sides.

Meanwhile, I retrieve the bag of beef bones I’ve been saving in the freezer.  Every time I have a steak or some ribs or oxtail or anything, I save the bones.  Them’s good eatin.  Well, not really. . . not YET anyway, but you’ll see. . . .

Boil a big pot of water.  Rinse bones.  Dump them into the boiling water to blanche for a minute.  Dump.  Refill the pot with cold water.  Bring up to temperature.  Skim that nasty foam.

Too complicated already?  Too bad.  That’s the way you make stock, so pay attention.

Bring the mix up to a boil for a minute and turn the heat down low.  Way low.  I don’t want to see my stock boiling anymore, but I want it piping hot.  Collagen starts to break down and turn into gelatin at around 140 degrees, so I want it anywhere from 140 to 180 degrees if possible.  Gelatinous stock is delicious.  Leave the lid off, since keeping it on will make the liquid boil even with the lowest possible flame.

Some people call this simmering.  I think it’s more like steeping, like tea.  Steep them bones for a few hours.  Then toss in your aromats.  Thyme, parsley, bay leaf, rosemary.  Celery, carrots, onion.  Classic French Mirepoix.  Maybe some garlic.  An hour later, you’re good to go.

Strain it.  Chill it.  Refrigerate.  You’re done for the night.

Well. . . almost.

Gotta clean.  Gotta do the dishes.  Damnit.

The downside to living in this apartment is that there’s no dishwasher.  In a restaurant, you have a dish washer.  After service, you might have a night porter that cleans everything else up for you.

I don’t have a night porter.

I don’t have a dishwasher.

Well, technically, I AM the dish washer.  Ah well.  I clean things better than any machine anyway.  Suck it up.  It’s relaxing and meditative anyway.

Soap. Rinse. Dry dishes. Put them away.

Wipe down the stove top. Wipe down exhaust hood, top AND bottom (that grease gets EVERYWHERE). Wipe down handle of the oven. Wipe down knobs and panel.

Wash the counter.  Spray with disinfectant (cleanliness is next to not-being-sickliness).

Quickly wipe the floors.  That grease gets EVERYWHERE.

Wipe eyeglasses.  That grease gets EVERYWHERE

Sleep.

Wake up.

Shit. Shower. Shave. Brush. Rinse. Get dressed.

Grab my shit: wallet. cell. keys. keys for work. work id. messenger bag. lunch.

Hungry. Eggs. Toast. Maybe some bacon. Maybe I’ll settle for milk and cereal instead.

Bust out the slow cooker. Peel carrots, wash celery, grab an onion.  Chop. Dump em in cold.

Take out the ribs from the fridge.  Dump em in cold.

Pull out a bottle of red.  This time it’s a Barefoot merlot.  I like cooking with cheap wine — the taste is more balanced once the liquid’s reduced.  Fancy wines just taste off-balance.  Drink the fancy, cook the cheap.

Pull out the stock from the fridge.  Remove the hardened fat on top (DON’T YOU DARE THROW IT OUT) and stick it in the fridge or freezer for when you make savory pastries or beef patties (I lived in Jamaica for a year and a half.  I’ve got a soft spot for beef patties).

Add both the stock and the wine to a pot.  About equal portions.  A little more of the stock than wine, maybe.  Boil.

Pour the hot stuff over the ribs and aromats until they are just covered.  Maybe a little more to account for evaporation.  Lid it.

Here’s the kicker: don’t turn the slow cooker on high.  Or low.  Turn it onto “keep warm”.  Remember what I said about collagen?  My slow cooker keeps things warm at 188 degrees.  I tested it.  Thermometers are awesome.

Here’s the downer: wash the dishes you just dirtied.  I don’t like leaving shit in the sink.

Time check: Damnit.  Five minutes late for work again.

Run, don’t walk.  Speed, don’t cruise.  Don’t get caught.  You’ll be great.

Check back for Part 2, folks.

Love is a Plate of Kielbasa and Kraut

Posted in New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2008 by restaurantouring

I know I talk a lot about foie gras and tasting menus and fancy dinners sometimes.  Maybe I haven’t gotten around to it too much yet in this blog, but it’s true that I talk about those things a lot in my day-to-day life.  But I’m not all about haute cuisine all of the time.  Rather, I consider myself bipolar.

I say I’ll eat anything.  I guess that’s not really true.  I’ll eat anything that has been carefully prepared.  I’ll eat anything that is new to me (or at least I’ll try really hard to do so, in case I can’t get my mind wrapped around eating something really strange and initially off-putting).  What’s more, (and I know this will sound cheesy, even before I say it.  Bear with me anyway) I’ll eat anything that’s been made with love.

The food of love.  My co-worker, Ben, introduced me to a little dive in Jersey City a little while ago, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for the longest time.  It’s called Sava Polish Deli, and they quite possibly serve the best damn food in all of New Jersey.  It’s run by an adorable old woman named Jadwiga, and she makes the food fresh every day.  Hell, she even ferments the sauerkraut herself!  The commercially available (often canned) sauerkraut it too sour-tasting, she says.  Beyond acidity, the flavor is flat, so Jadwiga will slice and salt cabbage and leave it to ferment in huge barrels in-house.  Fantastic.

Jadwiga (pronounced YAD-zia), the cook!

Jadwiga (pronounced YAD-zia), the cook!

The restaurant itself is small.  It has several small tables and chairs, and a huge fish tank obscuring the view into the place in one of its windows.  To be frank, it does not inspire confidence by most conventional standards.  But that’s all fine, because this woman really knows how to cook.  The menu seems to change slightly, but there’s plenty on the menu that’s there all the time: pierogies, sauerkraut and kielbasa, stuffed cabbages, and a couple other items.  I went back there with Ben to have lunch on Friday, and this is what he got for 11 bucks:

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, pierogies four ways – potato and cheese, farmer’s cheese, sauerkraut, and a veal and beef pierogi.  The potato and cheese pierogies are the best.  The farmer’s cheese pierogies are excellent, too — sweet and slightly tangy.  Good flavor.  The stuffed cabbage keeps getting better and better every time we go there, and Sava’s kielbasa and kraut can’t be beat.

I had almost all of that last time I went, plus I’m a huge glutton so my plate was more diversified:

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: pork rib, beef short rib with BBQ sauce, braised pork chop with dill and mushroom gravy, pork goulash on a bed of kasha (buckwheat groats), and a beet and kielbasa stew.  I started with the pork rib, which sadly did not have a lot of flavor.  The beef short rib (my favorite) more than made up for it, because it was ridiculously tender and juicy.  The pork chop with dill and mushroom gravy was probably my favorite, because it tasted the best, and was nice and tender.  The pork goulash was a little dry, but the kasha with the beet and kielbasa stew was fantastic together.

In this case, we overpaid for the variety of items that we got (me especially — I paid 19 bucks!).  Don’t let that dissuade you, though; most normal plates run no more than 8 bucks and change:

This place is so good, it’s even won an award!

Affordable home-cooked Polish food

Affordable home-cooked Polish food

Once you’ve gorged yourself on Polish goodness, Jadwiga’s a blast to talk to.  Last time, I remember cracking up at some of the things she said about Italian food (she is not a fan).  This time, we talked about business, catering, the rising costs of gas, food, and the cost of doing business, a little bit about politics, Polish food, and more.  Ben joked about how if things got more expensive at Sava’s, he’d go eat somewhere else.  Here, Jadwiga sweetly (don’t let the smile fool you!), jokingly threatens us by saying that if we ate someplace else, she would go buy a gun:

A disarmingly sweet smile

A veiled threat

Threats aside, I personally always like going there because Jadwiga gives us treats:

A smaller version of kielbasa, stuffed in sheep's casing

A smaller version of kielbasa, stuffed in sheep's casing

If you don’t go there for the plate specials, Sava also sells deli over the counter.  They carry several kinds of kielbasa, a variety of the usual cold cuts, and even specially made veal hot dogs:

Veal hotdogs (right) and Kielbasa links (left)

Veal hotdogs (right) and Kielbasa links (left)

I bought one of the hot dogs.  Cost me somewhere around 70 cents.  I think I’m gonna take Mike Ruhlman’s suggestion, from his book on Charcuterie, and just saute it and serve it with a steamed bun with some minced onion and good mustard.  I can’t wait.  I can’t wait to go back to Sava’s either.  All this talk about food has got me hungry.

Sava Polish Deli is located on 346 Grove Street, in Jersey City, New Jersey.  When you’re there, get the potato and cheese pierogies.  They are delicious.  If they haven’t sold out yet, get a stuffed cabbage before they disappear.  And of course, don’t forget the kielbasa and kraut.  It’s gooooood.  If you have time to chat afterwards, ask her for her honest opinion of the Italian joint across the street and prepare yourself for some hilariously scathing criticism about the “grrrass” that they put on top of their food (I think she’s talking about parsley).

Rachel Ray

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts with tags , , on October 11, 2008 by restaurantouring

I wonder if she realizes how much shit comes out of her mouth.  Or her kitchen.

All Work, No Play, and BBQ in Hattiesburg

Posted in Hattiesburg, Mississippi restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2008 by restaurantouring

Many, many apologies to my loyal reader out there (no that’s not a typo).  I’m wrapping up a somewhat absolutely insane business trip that has had me working anywhere from 12 hours to 17 hours a day, every day, for the past 3 weeks straight.  I fly home Saturday morning, have Sunday off, and then I have to go back to work early Monday morning, despite it being a holiday.  Good Lord, I wish I got paid for overtime. . . .

Needless to say, I have much catching up to do.  Since I most likely won’t get any significant time off until November, expect to see a flood of blogging around that time and a dearth of it until then.  I hope all of [the two of] you don’t mind.

So here’s the deal: I’m in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Crappy little college town (University of Southern Mississippi).  I’m here for work.  It’s probably my 25th or 30th trip down here or so in the past year alone, and their ain’t shit to do down here.  There’s a zoo in the historical downtown area — I think they’ve got a dog, a cat, and maybe some squirrels there.  Maybe baby deers.  I loves baby deers.  There’s a cool and thoroughly empty-looking library not far from the zoo, too.  Then, there’s Rockin’ Ropers cowboy bar (I don’t think they have a website, else I would have linked them.  Sorry.) off of highway 49 — a local hangout, painted in cowprint, and fittingly located in a sort of sinkhole off the side of the highway.  I’ve been there.  Five times.  Monday night is line dance night.

Suffice to say that I’ve eaten in pretty much every goddamn restaurant in this miserable stinkhole, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are pretty much only 2, maybe 3 places worth trudging through the ubiquitous mud and swarms of lovebugs to eat at.  Also suffice to say that I have the longest windups to my actual blogs evar.  EVAR.  I’ll try harder, I swear.

This blog is on barbecue.  The rest of it is, anyway.  For this entry, I will be focusing on the barbecued pulled pork I had at 5 places in Hattiesburg, as opposed to ribs or anything else.

The word “barbecue” comes from the Spanish Caribbean word barbacoa, which refers to a wooden, grill-like structure that the Arawaks used to dry or roast meat.  Although “barbeque” is an accepted alternate spelling of the word, I never liked it.  To me, it always looked like a bastardization of the other spelling, as if some lazy idiot came along and shortened the original word to “BBQ” (Q, obviously, because that’s what “-cue” sounds like), and some more idiotic idiot came along and reverse engineered the variant “barbeque” from the shortened form of the word.  No.  Judging from the origins of the word, I think spelling it with a “C” is the correct way.  Spelling it with a “Q” is just weird to me.  It’s like a question in Spanglish, as if a Spanish man is asking, “Barbe-que?/Barbe-what?”

Not that any of this matters.  I just enjoy nitpicking and beating dead horses.  I’m a miserable fuck, what do you want from me?

Divine Swine

Speaking of the bastardized version of the word, I noticed it printed all over the t-shirts on display behind the counter at this one barbecue joint in Hattiesburg, called “Divine Swine”.  How was the swine?  Cheap.  Fast enough.  Dry.  Flavorless by itself.  Soulless overall.  Thoroughly doused in a thoroughly awful sauce.  Served on a bland bun by a somewhat pretty, gloomy-looking, dour-faced, and probably underage girl.  It was the sort of place you’d go to if you were drunk, wanted something quick and easy, and in the mood to make bad decisions (about the food, not the underage girl you sick fucks).

I had cole slaw and baked beans with my pulled pork plate.  The cole slaw was all right.  Actually, it was thoroughly uninspiring, and drenched in mayo.  It was the kind of cole slaw that you can easily and cheaply buy in bulk at the store, and I certainly hoped it was purchased and not hand crafted, because the thought of a hand crafted cole slaw turning out like that makes me sad.  Likewise, the baked beans reminded me of Busch’s baked beans, only worse (if that were possible), and I sincerely hoped that what I was choking down came from a can and not from a kitchen.  But then again, what was I expecting for 8 bucks and change?

To make matters worse, I chose to eat on the premises, as opposed to taking the sorry meal back to my car to scarf and later barf in the privacy of my own rental vehicle.  The “dining room” (for lack of a better word) had cafeteria-style seating, was painted an obnoxious shade of yellow, and lit with fluorescent overhead lights which made it all the more obnoxious.  There was a bottle of “hot sauce” on every table, which was nothing more than rancid, whole chiles, steeped in vinegar.  Not a single bottle of that Louisiana “Just One Drop Does It!” stuff anywhere.  It was thoroughly sobering, and I wasn’t even sober.  I mean drunk.  Regardless, I was glad to get out of there.

Rose’s Bar BQ & Catering

Rose’s is off of highway 49 South, somewhere between Hattiesburg and Camp Shelby.  If you see it and you’re in the mood for some goooood pulled pork, I enthusiastically suggest you drive past it.  On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for some vegetables that haven’t been dunked in a tank of melted butter, then I would stop here.  Then again, you don’t even have to be in the mood for it — your irregularity and your arteries can do the persuading, considering you’d be in a region that does not know how to prepare fresh vegetables.

“Turnip greens,” I said to the woman behind the counter, after ordering the chopped pork sandwich, with their version of cole slaw as my first side dish.  She proceeded to mechanically scoop, strain, and slap the stewed-to-heck greenery onto a plastic plate.  Then, she assembled a massive mound of pale green and white cole slaw, split a bun, and scooped some pre-sauced chopped pork from a warm, electric buffet pan.  I paid for my plate and went to sit down.  Seven bucks and some change.  Not bad.

I dug into the turnip greens first.  Almost three weeks without some decent vegetation (if you don’t count the kind of vegetating that I do when I’m laying around in the bed at the hotel while watching Food Network) left me desperate for any kind of roughage not drowning in fat.  I got what I wanted, and I kinda like the taste of southern style turnip greens.  Win.

Next was the cole slaw.  Unfortunately, there was a woman with an infant sitting behind me, and I think her baby threw up all over the table.  Coincidentally, the cole slaw reminded me exactly of that — vomit — with perhaps a touch of mucous.  Okay, a ton of mucous.  Disgusting.

Finally, I bit into the pulled chopped pork sandwich.  It was basically a barbecue-flavored, pork sloppy joe to me, since it was somewhat tangy, not quite tasty, and completely unwieldy and awkward to eat.  There were additional condiments on the table — hot sauce, hot bbq sauce, mild bbq sauce, regular bbq sauce (not quite sure what the difference between mild and regular are) — but they were completely superfluous, even though they were decent, since the pork was oozing with a disappointing, reddish, tomato-based sauce already.

I finished as much as I could stomach to be polite and left quickly, before the toddler could offer anyone else any more free cole slaw by the barf-ful.

Three Little Pigs BBQ

Just outside the South Gate of Camp Shelby, off of highway 49 North, there’s a joint known locally as Three Pigs BBQ.  They serve up your usual barbecued fare, and the soldiers who work at Camp Shelby seem to love it (probably because of the proximity, convenience, decent prices, and less than stellar, but all right taste).  You’ll regularly see men and women in uniform either eating here or ordering massive quantities of food to go.  And why not?  The food at 3 Pigs is magnitudes greater than anything offered on post, be it at the chow hall (straight up horror stories, yo), the PX, or the gut trucks in the area (gut trucks called “Catfish One,” although cute, do not inspire confidence.  At all.  Nor do the “Burrito Brothers,” or whatever-the-fuck.  There’s a Domino’s pizza truck, too, but it’s Domino’s, so who the fuck cares?).  Whatever.  Food on Camp Shelby will have to wait for another blog entry.

My problem with 3 Pigs is that the pork I got there was dry.  It had good flavor, there was a decently tasty crust on the pork, the hickory goodness was there (you had to look for it, but it was there), but it was utterly dry and overcooked.

I suppose when you’re truly barbecuing, your meat is going to be technically overcooked no matter what, but that’s why you’re cooking it so low and slow.  Am I wrong?  The connective tissue — the collagen — dissolves in the pork’s own natural juices at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and when the muscle fibers get cooked, they are able to reabsorb some of that gelatin-y liquid goodness.  The result?  Meat that is tender, tasty, and succulent.  Good barbecue is supposed to be succulent.  Three Little Pigs BBQ is dry.  The BBQ sauces offered (apparently, they’re made in-house, but they tasted conspicuously like the ones at Rose’s) are okay, but the sauce only did a mediocre job in covering up the texture of the meat.  For shame, Three Pigs.  For shame.

The saving grace, if you can even consider it a saving grace, is that 3 Pigs gives you unlimited fountain drinks or iced tea and 4 sides with your order of any BBQ plate.  You pay more for it, so I suppose it’s not really a perk at all.  Plus, it’s not even worth it.  The garlic bread that comes with every order is stale bread, smeared with too much of a somewhat garlicky herb butter, and cooked on a griddle top until crispy.  Eating that first bite of bread reminded me of that one research study where scientists discovered that people will happily eat stale potato chips as long as they play an audio tape of loud, crispy, crunchy sounds.  Idiots.  I think the guy won an Ig Nobel prize for the study, too.

Likewise, the thick-cut French fries that come with your meal are pretty bad.  Properly fried French fries are thick, crispy on the outside, and almost like mashed potatoes on the inside.  Additionally, they are salted as soon as they come out of the fryer.  The dual textures result from frying the potatoes twice — once at a lower temperature, and again at a higher temperature, e.g. at 300 degrees F first, then at 350 or 375 degrees F.  Three Pig’s fries are neither salty, crispy, mashed potato-y, nor are they good.

For my other two sides, I opted for baked beans and for cole slaw.  The beans tasted just like the ones at Rose’s — bad.  The slaw was the same slaw I got at Divine Swine — also bad.  Nuff said.  Moving on . . .

Brownstones

Brownstones is a bar and grill located in historical downtown H-burg, not far from the “zoo.”  Strictly speaking, this place is by no means a BBQ restaurant, but I decided to give it an honorable mention here, since their pulled pork sandwich is pretty tasty.  The pork comes on a tasty buttered bun, and you can get a side of pineapple cole slaw with it.  Even though the slaw is usually watery (the cook really ought to salt them cabbages with some kosher and allow the veg to drain), it’s tasty, and I often order it for both my sides, even though I’m sure they skimp on me whenever I do so.  Whatever you do, though, don’t order the gumbo.  I made the mistake of ordering it the first time I was there (I was on a gumbo mission, but that’s another blog . . . ), and what I got instead was dirty, lukewarm water with cracked crab claws and broken bits of shell.  Nastytastic.

Leatha’s BBQ Inn

This one is the diamond in the rough, kids.  This one is the mother lode. Leatha’s is this rundown little dive, tucked away, off of the Highway 98 stretch of Hardy St.  It’s hard to find, since you can’t really see it from the road.  Hell, it’s located behind a freakin’ RV and trailer dealership for God’s sake.  But ohhh, is it worth it.  It’s worth driving up and down Hardy Street repeatedly, scratching your head and straining your eyes, searching for this goddamn hole.  There’s a big sign that points the place out that I just noticed a little while ago.  Not sure if it’s new or if I was just unobservant.  Either way, look it up — that’s what Google is for.

Eating at Leatha’s is awesome.  The BBQ isn’t necessarily the best in the world, but no other place I know of has the history, the hospitality, or the love that Leatha has in spades.  Upon entering, you can seat yourself.  If you don’t, Ms. Leatha’s daughter, Bonnie Jackson (or either of her sisters, Carolyn or Myrtis, or any one of their relatives), will quickly and easily makes you feel right at home.  Bonnie is fantastic.  Her memory is also sharp as a tack — she will not only remember every order for two or three or ten or fifty (yes, fifty) people, but she will repeat them back to you, spitting out orders in rapid fire, complete with drawl and “y’all”.  Hell, she remembered me nine months after I first ate there.  NINE MONTHS!

The pulled pork here is fantastic, too.  It’s not as smoky as I prefer, and there isn’t too much seasoning to it, but sometimes you just want the meat, with a touch of the sauce, to speak for themselves.  Best of all, the meat has that succulence I was talking about.  Fantastic.

The BBQ sauce here is sweet, tangy, and delicious.  Bonnie will bring you your two sides (cole slaw, simply dressed with some honey mustard; potato salad; house salad; or baked beans), along with a carafe of BBQ sauce, and warm, soft buns.  The price tag for all this food?  About $12.  Not.  Friggin.  Bad.

If you’ve still got room for dessert after all that food, you’ve got one option: pecan pie.  It’s made by a friend of theirs and is always in high demand.  In fact, I’m sad to say that I’ve never had it yet, even though I’ve eaten there 10 or 15 times now.  Maybe one of these days . . .

So there you have it kids: the bottom line is that Leatha’s is the only place that’s worth eating at if you’re going to have BBQ in Hattiesburg.  Hell, like I mentioned earlier, Leatha’s is one of the only places worth eating at at all in all of Hattiesburg.  I plan on returning many, many times.  I’ll bring my camera and I’ll document this place.  Leatha deserves it.  Bless that wonderful, wonderful woman.