Monday, June 27, 2005

Mr. Sin conquers all

SliceNY, the pizza blog of record, just announced the winners of their pizza haiku contest. Who took first prize? Who do you think?

(This is it, isn't it? I just peaked.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Fried Foods at The Chip Shop

In America, we tend to look at fried food as the territory of Southerners ... they fry pickles, okra, corn, pork chops, turkeys and, of course, chicken. But, as I recently learned during a trip to the Chip Shop (129 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn), the British can stand tow to toe with Enis and the gang when it comes to dropping all sorts of food it batter and oil. And the world is a better place for it.

The Atlantic Avenue Chip Shop (the original is in Park Slope) serves fried things of every taste and description, but their main focus is on fish and chips (natch). So Miss E and I each got the cod and chips. It seemed as if they took a whole cod and split it down the middle for us, so huge and huling were the portions of fish. Well prepared, too, flaky fish and cruncy crust seperating under the fork. The chips were good, although the English fevor for these quasi-fries as opposed to an American home-made potato chip seems misguided.

Because it sounded too sinful to pass up, I ordered a side of "fried mac." Yes, that's fried mac & cheese, although all of the cheese seemed to be in the tasty crust, leaving the noodles to fend for themselves inside. It was pretty tasty stuff, if you got a bite of said crust in each bite, but mac & cheese might be the first food I've ever had that didn't improve with frying. Perhaps M&C is unviolable.

The British rep is for bland food, and I must say that once you got into the fish & chips, you did wish that the Brits would throw some seasoning into the batter. A spicy, southern-fried chicken type batter would have elevated the meal to a whole new level. As it were, shaking some vinegar onto the food added some much needed flavor.

Because of my gluttony with the fried mac, I didn't have room for one of the pub's fried candy bars, which means another trip a little later is in order. A fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ... well, that is right down Mr. Sin's alley. Or throat, in due time.

(note: not to harp on about it, but now that I've relocated to New York, I'm searching for sinful and unique dishes to write up. Please send suggestions to mrsin @ jordanharper.com)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A modest proposal

Over the weekend, I will be moving to New York City. Once there, one of my plans is to develop this blog into what I originally envisioned for it: write-ups of the most sinful foods I can find.

Here's how you can help. Send me suggestions for places for me to check out in the city. Here is what I'm looking for:

1). Single menu items. Instead of doing traditional restaurant reviews, I want to focus on one dish or dessert for each place I visit.

2). For the time being, I'd like these places to be cheap. Hopefully, that will change.

3). While I am looking for really good fried chicken or an excellent hamburger, novelty is a good thing.

Please leave your suggestions in comments below or email them to mrsin @ jordanharper.com. Forgive me for taking some time to get settled. Expect an essay on the best beef jerky in America after my roadtrip this weekend.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Why your chili sucks ...

Pappa Happa was kind enough to send a couple of Sherpas up to the Lou with a couple of quarts of Casper's chili. I learned a few things:

You cannot eat a quart of chili in one sitting, even if it is your birthday.

Casper's chili travels remarkably well; even with a freezing thrown it, it was still pretty good.

The secret of good chili is simplicity itself. People ruin chili without even trying. For one thing, they put tomatoes in it. This is a huge mistake. The acid is unneeded and the mushy vegtable texture is jut plain gross. Chili is meat (and i think the secret to Springfield's best chili is the cheap, cheap hamburger they use. When the fat melts away into the gestalt, the remaining meat fiber is toothsome) and beans and spices. That's pretty much it. Keep your green peppers and chunks of onion out. There's no need for anything fancy: a cubed-steak and black bean chili with roasted vegtables will never, ever be as good as a decent roadhouse bowl with some saltines or, even better, a grilled cheese for dipping.

I guess I'm sad

That I'm going to miss the New York Barbecue Festival going down this week. But I figure I'll catch up quickly.

A sad fact: even though one of the most famous cuts of ribs are known as "St. Louis Style," there is a lack of quality BBQ in this town. I'd easily guess that New York is better, our rep be damned.

I cannot read about barbecue without getting hungry. I might have to make a stop at Mama's Coal Pot for lunch.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Explain bleu cheese to me ...

I'm a cheese-lover, which doesn't really mean a lot today. Who doesn't love cheese except those poor, sad vegans?

I'm a good writer, too, if I do say so myself. So, why is it that even though I've been eating a lot of bleu cheese recently, I can't describe it to you? That is, I can't describe it to you in a way that transmits how delicious I think it is (in my opinion it is the only cheese to eat on its own). But the words ... salty, yes, and piquant, whatever that really means, and mold (yuck) is its base, and the intensity of the flavor is part of it. But I feel defeated by bleu cheese. Any help?

Breaking the fast

Sorry to my two or three regular readers for the hiatus ... don't worry, I haven't stopped eating. In fact, I recently returned from yet another wedding with amazing food. Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Stange, I had a weekend where I consumed all of the following ...

Fried turkey, smoked pork shoulder, venison sausage (or was it elk?), deep fried tortillas, smoked spicy chicken wings, bacon dip, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, cucmber vodka with tonic, custard-style french toast with a homemade brat, creamed eggs and ham with asparagus, pulled pork, some more sausage and one hungover trip to McDonalds. Yeah, it was a long weekend, but still, thanks to everyone who made that much eating possible.

My man Joe's new in-laws host a famous pig roast each year, and it breaks my heart that I'll be in a moving truck eating beef jerky when they kill the pork this year. Thankfully for me, they hosted the rehesal dinner (where much of the above food was consumed), so I got my yearly taste of the best farm-hosted food I've ever had. I wouldn't trade my annual meal at the Leuker (Lueker? Leeueeker?) for a thousand stacked and plated avant meals.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Pig Roast!

While I'm still here in St. Louis, I'm happy to see that tapas joint Modesto has chosen to start roasting a pig each and every Wednesday. I'm going to be missing my favorite annual pig roast this year, so it's good I can go get some pigflesh to hold me over.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Nectar of the golf gods

I am always thirsty. Literally. Maybe its because I smoke, maybe I've had infected tonsils since I can remember, but if I am awake, I am thirsty. So I drink Diet Coke all day and water all night.

It also means that I can wax rhapsodic about all sorts of nonalcoholic beverages, since I've had ample opportunity to try as many as I can. From Blenheim ginger ale (and Vernors and Jamaican ginger beer) to Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Soda to sweet tea, if it's cold and tastes more interesting than water, I'll give it a shot.

But now I've found it. I've found the drink I can take with me to the grave. Because now they're putting Arnold Palmers in cans. An Arnold Palmer, in case you don't know, is a mixture of half tea, half lemonade, and is without question one of the best drinks on earth. I was introduced to them when my friend Malcolm Gay (who just picked up a James Beard award ... nice work there) ordered one at the legendary Blueberry Hill. Since then I've been an avid fan of the drink.

Look: lemonade is a great drink, but it is flawed because its overwhelming sweetness and tartness make it difficult to quaff in quantity (the citric acid can also cause a little problem). Ice tea is drinkable unto infinity, but even with a twist of lemon and some sugar, it kinda just lays there. Oh, but the Arnold Palmer! A strong tea bite with mellow lemon sweetness as an aftertone. A nice jolt of caffeine, but nothing you couldn't drink all day. And I do. The canned version, produced by canny Arizona, is even made with Splenda, so it's pretty low calorie. (I know, talk of calories is against the ideals of this site, but I'm looking for an all-day drink here).

The website says they're planning on making one-gallon fridge-ready jugs. Oh, boy.

(speaking of drinks, Randall Roberts, another friend (and a James Beard finalist himself), writes the popular Drink of the Week column for the Riverfront Times. This week sounds pretty sinful. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I want avant?

Here's an article in the Times about the state of avant garde cooking in America. Some sample dishes they taste:

Ribbons of bison meat filled egg-size indentations in the surface of a horizontal glass tube, the hollow interior of which contained burning sticks of cinnamon.

... a strip of partially dehydrated, butterscotch-coated bacon, arrived dangling like a Wallenda from a teensy trapeze ...

...rushed Altoids instead of mint jelly with lamb and ... lollipops of foie gras encrusted with Pop Rock...

...a peeled, heated grape, still on a sprig, that had been dipped in a peanut pur�e and encased in a thin layer of brioche...


Don't get me wrong; I'd love to eat at one of these places ... once. But check out the attitude of one of these chefs:

"The first person to put steak on a fire - that was novel, right?" Mr. Dufresne said in a telephone conversation. "Was that a gimmick because before that they were just throwing their spears at it and eating it?"

Uh-huh. And that was eight thousand years ago and we're still doing it. Wow, we all must be backwards for eating grilled steak and all the other dishes that developed and perfected over the literal thousands of years during which the major cuisines of the world developed. It's a good thing we have folks dripping butterscotch on bacon to save us from prime rib.

Charlie Trotter has a wicked rebuttal:

"If it's truly valid, I'll be delighted to have this conversation with you in two years."

Boo-yah! Truly interesting innovations can come along ... or, more likely, will migrate from someplace else. Take sushi. In the '80s, eating raw fish was a hip and trendy thing to do. Now, home of John Ashcroft Springfield, Missouri, has six or seven sushi joints. It lasted because sushi is really fucking good. Fondue ... not so much.

And perhaps in a couple hundred years, grandmothers will bake lamb wil Altoids and kids will love them for it. But I doubt it.

Why oysters?

Sorry I missed the Monday deadline I set for myself. I don't think that posting once a week is going to work. I'm going to step it up a little bit.

Perhaps I was still recovering from the insanely good meal I'd had on Saturday night. Big Pappa Happa was in town so I am able to write about something besides pizza and French fries. Saturday we dined (yes, dined) at An American Place. If you've never heard of it, please read this review by my friend Rose to get the backstory. But, in short: it's a hell of a restaurant.

While the other folks at our table had more reasonable meals, Pappa Happa and I did one of our favorite things ... Appetizer grazing. Our first course: A dozen West Coast oysters. Our server tried to tell me the different varieties, but I waved her away. I'll be honest ... I can't even tell you what oysters taste like. It's the act of eating them that is pleasurable. A squeeze of lemon, a dash of red, tipping the briny shell to lose some juice. The rough lip against your own, the morsel not just giving way to gravity but running to embrace it, straight down your throat.

There's a metaphor in there, but I think I lost it.

"Don't fill up on bread," people always say. Well, you know what? Fill the fuck up on bread if you want, especially if it's as good as the fresh-baked French at An American Place: Crusty and rugged as the surface of Mars on the outside, airy as the stratosphere on the inside. Throw a little butter on that, and you're talking about food with few equals.

But there was more food: a duck breast and foie gras pirogue that was delicious, but as good as a slice of foie gras on toast with a sauterne on the side. Foie gras is superb, a truly sinful food: Pure buttery, lardy, fatty flavor distilled. It is also a food that I can only defend eating through extreme hedonism.

There was also an elk carpaccio, so raw red it made rare steak look pink ... It was the pure deep red of life. The slices were paper thin and tasted game but clear, like they'd been run through a filter. Despite the wonderful presentation (which I never notice), it was a primitive dish.

Tell me, honestly ... How many things on earth are better than a meal like that?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bad pizza ...

Mr. Sin just sealed the deal on his new Brooklyn Heights apartment. This opens up a whole new world of food, but, harshly, less funds to enjoy them with. So, let's talk pizza. I'll mention some good pizza, but mostly, let's talk about that thing so rare some claim it doesn't exist: bad pizza.

I currently live in St. Louis, where the second worst pizza in the world is made. St. Louis style, for those of you who've never had it, consists of a thin, brittle crust, diabetically sweet tomato sauce and the cheesestuff known as Provel. Provel is cheese from a harsh dystopian future: it might go great with Solent Green. In proper doses, it can be mildly enjoyable, as most cheesestuffs can be. A good St. Louis-style pizza is tolerable, but it doesn't qualify as pizza in my brain. When I say, "I want pizza," it means I've already excluded the possiblity of St. Louis-style.

Not that there aren't great pizzas made here in the MO. Down the road in Columbia is Shakespeare's pizza, which I consider to be the finest I've ever had. It's thin (for the real world, in St. Louis it would be called thick), and their wheat crust has a bite of flavor without the mealy-mouthed dryness that other whole-grain crusts can get. Their pepperoni is hand-sliced, nice and thick. If you ever happen to stop in, I recommend a wheatcrust pepperoni and peppercheese ... so totally sinful, ropes of spicy cheese and full bites of pepperoni, with a full-blooded sauce and the crisp, cornmealed crust (cornmeal on the bottom is another thing that usually bothers me that Shakespeare's does right). Beer's cheap, too.

St. Louis-style, however, is only the second-worst pizza. The first is, obviously, Chicago style. Perhaps if I'd been trapped in the Andes with only frozen human flesh to nosh on, Chicago-style would sound good to me. Until then, I stay away from what amounts to a soggy loaf of bread with cheese on it. I'll eat Totino's frozen pizza-discs before I'd eat Chicago style. In pizza, as in politics, it's good to ignore the extremes.

But New York ... ah, New York. I understand that it is a town in which it is very difficult to make it, so difficult in fact that if you are able to indeed make it there, you'll probably find sucess in any other place that you might try to make it later. But they got lots of pizza.

I found this quote from the above linked Slice NY. It's from a girl with a pizza inked on the back of her neck (sigh):

"I worked in ice-cream before this and I always say if you're not in ice cream, pizza or the medical profession, you're not doing humanity any good. If I wasn't in ice cream or pizza, I'd have to be a doctor and I don't want to be a doctor."

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Going to McDonalds for a salad is like going to a whorehouse for a hug

My planned piece this week on the joys of the profiterole was dashed when Atlas, the French bistro in my hood, switched to their spring-themed, profiterole-less menu. So, instead, let's take a moment to study perhaps the pinnacle of our modern industrial-food society: the McDonalds french fry.

When served piping fresh and properly salted, no hand cut pom fritte, no beskinned steak fry, no potato in the world is the equal of the McD fry. While the list of ingredients would probably make your head spin, the fries emerge as simplicity itself: a crunch, salt, heat and starch combo that melds into one solid, joyous flavor. But eat them fast: in mere minutes they go from little snips ‘o pleasure to portable paste sticks. It’s okay to burn the tongue a little.

The burgers at McDonalds are disturbing. Their chicken nuggets, palatable. But the fries, oh the fries! They are the Platonic ideal, the icon of fried potato. Dip them in a chocolate shake if you dare; I prefer one of McDonalds high-test orange drinks myself. Get a large fries, and laugh at the giant Americaness of it all: the fucker takes two hands to hold, and it's full of golden glory sticks. U! S! A! U! S! A!

In general, I agree that fast food is a problem, delivering too many calories to too many of us. I've read Fast Food Nation and seen Super Size Me. My argument against fast food is that convenience isn't worth the damage bad food does to you, but real pleasure is. Maybe McDonalds is killing the rainforests, enlarding our children and forcing bland sameness onto our landscapes. But they gave us their french fries. Can't we call it even?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

It's free ice cream day.

The reason I say above that I'm only going to update every Monday is that I really want most of these posts to be full-fledged essays. But, when Free Ice Cream Day at Ben and Jerry's rolls around, you gotta say something. So, I'm going to quote myself from an old issue of the Riverfront Times:

"Let's make some ice cream. Get some heavy cream, some whole milk, some sugar and whatever else you crave (we like to throw in some chopped-up Cherry Mashes). Don't measure anything out, just mix it together in whatever ratios feel right. Dump it in an ice cream maker, let it run until it looks like ice cream and then stop. You will not mess up. It will be delicious. It takes a lot more willpower, time and ingredients (with names like carrageenin and locust bean gum) to make bad ice cream than it does to make good. But to make great ice cream is the hardest of all. That takes patience, subtlety and the understanding that every ingredient, including the air that is whipped in during the freezing process, matters."

I'll get more in-depth on ice cream on another, hotter day. But God bless a country that has free ice cream day.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Red Hot Riplets and the Nature of Heat

A true story from some years back. The setting: some nameless McDonalds on some highway somewhere in America. I approach the counter, a sandwich with one bite out of it in my hand.

"Um, I ordered the spicy chicken sandwich."

"That's it."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Yeah, that's it."

"Oh, okay. Thanks."

People have talked for years about all the silly and sad ways that our litigious society has sucked the sap and vigor out of the American character. Playgrounds are soft and soulless, there's nary a high dive to be found and fireworks give nothing but little colored farts now. But for someone who lives on the gluttonous edge of life, there is little sadder than what has happened to the word "spicy" (places that won't serve rare steaks ... oh, but that's another post).

Oh, how many times have I had to convince a Thai waiter that I can handle what they serve? How many little flame logos next to a menu item have augured nothing more than a light dusting of paprika? If the word "wet" had been abused as much as the word "spicy," restaurants would serve glasses of gruel with your meal.

For those of us who hunger for heat, a tiny twinge on the back of the tongue will not do. We want our mouths to become the forge from which we can be formed anew. We want sizzling virtual pain, the agony box from Dune that tests your human nature.

"But how can you taste your food when it's like that?" people ask. Does hot wax on your chest make your genitals numb? Spice transcends flavor; if anything it is closest to the Japanese concept of "umami," a whole mouth taste. But it goes beyond that as well. Because when the sweat breaks out on the upper lip and the pain doesn't subside between bites, true seekers of the flame understand that heat is a drug.

All good foods are, of course, but spicy foods do have a literal drug in them: capsaicin, an alkaloid that fools the brain into thinking there is a chemical burn. And it makes you sweat and buzzes your metabolism. It's an upper. And that's what we're looking for when we look for heat.

Which brings us, finally, to Red Hot Riplets. Riplets, the finest packaged food to come out of St. Louis, are exactly what they advertise: red frickin' hot. My girlfriend can't eat them any more since one went down the wrong pipe, bringing on a coughing fit and mental trauma. These chips, blessedly, aren't "kettle cooked" or "dashed with sea salt" or any of the other horrible things that people have done to try to fancy up potato chips. They are chemical wastelands, rippled and radioactively hot, like the world of the Road Warrior. They are fantastic.

Last year, the chips got a more visible champion in the visage of Murphy Lee, one of the St. Lunatics. Murph's debut album had a tune called "Red Hot Riplets," including the chorus "I need some Kool-Aid/ With my Red Hot Riplets." St. Louis leads the nation in Kool-Aid consumption. Is there any wonder?

But, to my grief, Red Hot Riplets have yet to break out of the local chip market. In fact, you can't even find them in most suburban grocery stores around here. So, I'm eating them while I can, enjoying each orange-fingered powdery goddamn moment of it.

I'm going to Heaven

I promise a full post tomorrow morning (on the joys of heat and Red Hot Riplets), but up late and boning up on my future home, New York City. So I did a Google search on New York Pizza and got over four million hits.

Mama, I'm coming home.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A sinner's manifesto

I had the great pleasure this weekend of attending the Chicago wedding of Matte and Shelley Elkins. I had looked forward to seeing old college friends again. A little older, a little fatter (well, I'm fatter, anyway ... they seem to have all gotten thinner, the bastards) but still we clicked into old familiarity, picking up old inside jokes like we'd last told them yesterday. But as much as I was anticipating the reunion, it was only with slightly less fervor that I waited for the after-wedding meal.

The Elkins, God bless them, know how to eat. Too often, wedding food mistakes highfalutin words and a little presentation for flavor (in fact, you could say the same thing for most trendy restaurants in America). But the Elkins/Holmes wedding had Alabama fried chicken with batter so thick it could have been tempura, roast Iowa pork, corn bread, clouds of mashed potato, shot-sized milkshakes ... real food, the kind of meal you'd ask for as a last request. After we ate until drunk with blood sugar I snuck out back to grab a smoke, where I met up with a Cuban American from Miami named Eugene. And as we puffed, we talked about the meal, reliving it. "I'm Cuban," he said, then confessed how much he'd enjoyed the sweet and spicy pork, adding "no way I thought these people would be able to cook pork as good as we do."

Then the conversation got interesting, as Eugene explained to me how his family roasts whole pigs: they pick their own swine at the slaughterhouse, where it is shaved and gutted. Then they roast the whole beast in a Chinese Box covered in coals. The skin is coated with more oil than a teenage tan junkie, and with the same effect: "The skin gets crispy as a cracker," Eugene said. "Everybody eats it first." They eat the rest of the pig, too: Eugene and his father even crack open the skull and spread the pasty brain on crackers.

And even though my stomach pressed against the buttons of my shirt, even though I'd just eaten for hours, my mouth was watering again. It was as if I'd popped in a porno after fantastic sex.

Food and sex have been compared to each other so often it’s passed beyond cliché into truism. They are the two realms where basic existence and pleasure completely intertwine. There aren't many people obsessed with breathing, and no one's body drives them to attend ballet. But sex in America is so open and boring these days that food has surpassed it as the final sin: Paris Hilton happily films herself rutting, but not stuffing herself with chocolate. Now that AIDS cocktails are coming up, AIDS isn't quite as scary as it used to be, but lard-encrusted eight-year-olds terrify and titillate us.

But we are obese not because of the great, sinful foods that fill you with animal lust. No, America is fat because we eat like a teenage boy masturbates, compulsively and badly. The empty Doritos bags in our trash cans are the stiff sweat socks of our pathetic onanism.

But it doesn't have to be that way. In the same way that that thirteen year old will hopefully one day learn that sex is more than a tickle and a squirt, we too must remember that truly sinful food is worth the added weight, worth the extra plaque in the arteries. There are two diets that cannot be tolerated: one in which you eat whatever junk floats your way, and the other which is so strict that you would just ask for salad at the Elkins' wedding or Eugene's pig roast. One won't let you live long; the other doesn't let you live at all.

This blog is dedicated to the worthwhile sin of eating, the pleasures so fine that the risks are embraced. It will not be an every-day blog; just as the type of eating it celebrates cannot be an everyday thing. As a side note, I'll be taking potshots at the type of stupid cooking that pervades America's restaurants right now, the type referenced above that places novelty over flavor. To return, as we so often will, to the sexual metaphor: if we were all pressured to keep finding new sexual acts each time we copulated, the results would be perverse, ridiculous and unsatisfying. Just like fine dining is today. This blog is for those of us who know that no mushroom foam or cilantro granita can ever replace the old simple pleasures. This blog is for fried chicken, sushi, ice cream and rare steaks. Butter, crusty breads and sausage marinara. Chocolate, steamed shrimp and crispy duck.

Oh Christ, I'm hungry again.