Meat? No Meat?

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When I was young and had no deadlines or mortgages (or a blog), I was footloose-and-fancy-free right after I finished college. So just about the day after graduation, I hitched on a backpack and headed to Europe. In was the 80’s and it was the thing to do. As I traversed the continent, I met scores of other kids my age doing the same thing and we world-wise travelers (or so we thought of ourselves) were a friendly bunch and would easily meet up and just go off and travel together. My fondest memory was when a small merry group of us banded together and decided to hitchhike through the former Yugoslavia with the intention of ending up in Turkey where we’d explore the entire country in one exhilarating month.

One fellow that came along was a very, very blond fellow named Kaj, who was from Finland. His hair was stark-white and wherever we went, people would drop everything, stop and gape, having never seen locks so blindingly void of color. Occasionally, their curiosity would get the best of them and the locals would reach over and caress his hair. In addition to his popular noggin, Kaj was a vegetarian, which made dining out a challenge. Luckily the Turks are very friendly and they were happy to take us into their restaurant kitchens to look over what was available so we could decide without deciphering the menus. Speaking no Turkish, Kaj would point at the various pots and cauldrons simmering away and ask, “Meat?” while pointing at one. Then “No meat?” while pointing at another. Then “Meat?”…No meat?…Meat?…”, while working his way through all the dishes simmering away.

It because a source of amusement during our travels and the question would crop up at the most unusual times. Whether we were sitting on a bus taking one of our many long voyages, shopping at the Grand Bazaar, or just sunning ourselves on a pristine beach, one of us would completely out-of-the-blue pop the eternal question…“Meat? No Meat?”

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I don’t know where Kaj is now, but he would have not been very content traveling with me this time during my recent US tour. I ate so much meat that I’m about to get fitted for a turban and become a card-carrying veg-head for a few weeks. Yes, I think I’ve reached my fill of ‘ol Bessie. But let’s face it, it’s hard to beat meat. She’s an integral part of American cuisine. We Americans are real meat eaters and in between the most exceptional plates of beef ribs I had for lunch in Fort Worth, Texas at George’s Bar-B-Q, to the beef brisket I had at Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas, I sampled the best of the best.

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The original Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas opened in 1910. Nowadays the parking lot is full of pick-up trucks and once you step inside, it’s pandemonium trying to reach the counter to place your order. Even though I live in France and am used to people trying to wedge in front of each other, I assumed that it’s not prudent here to cut in line…especially after eyeing the fully-loaded gun racks in the trucks parked in the dusty lot outside.

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Seeing as I left my overalls back in Paris, I did my best to fit in and ordered a combo plate, speaking with a bit of a drawl. My platter was some soft, warm slices of beef brisket and turkey (I added the turkey since I’m beginning to sport a ‘muffin-top’ after this trip.) But I couldn’t resist those jumbo, cripsy onion rings, which tasted every bit as good as they look.

The past week has been an orgy of meat, and it all began at Salumi, in Seattle. I was attending a culinary conference and my friend Judy proposed a multi-course lunch there, how could I say no?

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Armandino Batali is the owner of Salumi. And if his name sounds familiar, his son is the muffin-man himself, Mario Batali. After years of working as an engineer for Boeing, Armandino packed up and went to Italy to learn the art of air-curing meats and making sausages. And when we showed up, the line was out the door with locals waiting for warm sandwiches crammed with slices of porchetta and spicy oxtail meat.

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As we crowded around the table, the family-style meaty platters began descending on the table. The first sausages were thin rounds of mole salami, with a curious chocolate flavor from a good dose of Guittard cocoa powder (which Armandino told me was very popular with the local Mexican community.) There were also slices of prosciutto made with flavorful lamb and cured pigs cheek, called guanciale. Armandino used to teach a class, ‘Make Your Own Prosciutto’, which sounded like great fun. On the first day, you’d be presented with a pig leg, then you’d return each week to rub your leg with spices and whatever else goes into making prosciutto. He had to discontinue to classes since he no longer has the time.

He then presented us with enormous, steaming bowls of tiny French green lentils from Puy, topped with warm rounds of cotechino sausage, softly-scented with real vanilla. The course that really got the most comments were little toasts covered with just-melted aged cows-milk cheese, topped with crunchy nuggets of salt. Yum! Was that ever good. And I ate pig’s ears for the first time (I abstained from eating the stewed tripe so I figured I needed to keep my ‘cred’ and not look like a lightweight with all those famous eaters around the table.) So I ate all my pig’s ears, which were really quite good. Served on a pile of mixed salad greens, the crunchy slivers of pig’s ears tasted like faintly-cooked, crunchy onions, but with a bit more ‘bite’.

Taking a non-meat break, we had a fabulous platter of giant white beans tossed with tinned white tuna, finely-sliced red onions, all tossed in a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar. It was great, and I made a mental note that it would make an easy, and nice summer salad if Paris ever warms up.

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At that point, I was begging to stop so Judy reached in her purse (is there no end to what a woman will pull out of her purse?) and brought out the Italian secret weapon: grappa.

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Packed like cigarettes, each cylinder was a thin glass tube of grappa, a perfect shot of this high-test liquor, which primed us for the few more courses that were to follow.

Finally, after eating way too much and trying to scribble notes, we all begged ourselves away from the table before Armandino could set another platter amongst us.

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Salumi
Pioneer Square
309 Third Avenue South
Tel: (206) 621-8772

Sonny Bryan’s
Visit web site for locations.

Categories:

USA

16 comments

  • *laughs* love the last picture.

  • David-
    Thank you so much for your visit to the big D. I had a fabulous time at your class and have already WOWED my friends with the toffee.

    Meat? No Meat? I’ll have to add that story to my arsenal. ;)

  • hahaha! the last photo is hilarious!

    being a “no meat” person myself, i was most intrigued by the white bean ‘salad’, sans tuna. i shall have to come up with a variant! it looked really good!

  • Where did she get those Grappa tubes, David? I know someone, who adores Grappa and has a birthday coming up later this month! What a wonderful gift they would make.

  • sonny bryan’s = “best”? hmmm.

  • Hmm, I used to work at Boeing, too. And I, too, like to beat meat. Maybe I should open a gourmet deli.

  • Gail: Judy got her grappa ‘shooters’ at the Central Market in Florence. If you click on the link, the company has an online inquiry form.

    Jeff: I think there’s a typo in your comment. Don’t you mean you like to ‘eat’ meat? : )

    Tg: When I first went to Dallas years ago, everyone there told me Sonny Bryan’s was a ‘must-go’….so I went! (And as you can tell, I’m more than happy to go where I’m led if there’s good food involved.) I do think that the ribs at George’s in Fort Worth were the best beef ribs I’ve ever had.

    I plan to go back next fall, so all advice gladly taken!

    Adrenna: …. just for the record, that photo’s not me.

  • gee David, by the looks of that picture it sure looks like you’ve been eating well since you left Paris. And wait a minute, did you get married too?

  • i once had to squire around (another) foodie big-shot named david (here, let me tease you: last initial R.), and he aussi had been told he must hit Sonny B’s. i bit my tongue and drove him there. i mean, it ain’t BAD and it’s colorful and all that history blah blah but … how to put it, “a BBQ place for new yorkers”. meanwhile, oh goody for your return trip. we count the days

  • but p.s. i offered comment only cuz your posting propagates the myth. thumbs down to “conventional wisdom” i say

  • Michele: That’s not my tummy…it’s yours! (I snuck the photo at the vernissage in March.) The ring I can’t explain, but I think you need to do something about those hairy hands.

    tg: Although I think I was only ‘out-of-towner’ at Sonny Bryan’s (when my friend picked me up she said that it was obvious that I wasn’t from Texas, since I was wearing black) I’ll take your word that there are better places around town. But considering the lack of BBQ In Paris, I’ll devour practically anything if it’s been BBQ’d.

  • I also just recently had pig’s ear, but it was served completely differently. Instead, the ear used to cook down the cartilage to create a sauce. I know, it sounds gross but it actually towards a very good dish!

  • I’m so jealous about your trip to Salumi. I dream about my last meal there in December –I was sick with 100+ degree fever and should have stayed in bed but went anyways since I’m so rarely in Seattle. Even with all the congestion in my head the flavors and spices of the the meatballs and Polpatonne came busting through. If only Seattle were closer the L.A.

    Maybe I can sneak up there for a visit over Memorial Day weekend. *sigh*

    FYI – Salumi is only open Tues. thru Fri 11am to 4pm.

  • David, when i grow up, i want to be you. :)

  • Dear Sir,

    Have you no decency? After innocently stumblimg upon your site with the intention of reading about your Kitchenaid tour experience,(much eye -glazing and wiping of drool from keyboard)I find myself mesmerized…Food proudly photographed in all its brazen glory, mouth watering descriptions of each sinful bite – does your mother know what a nice boy like you does for a living?

  • To the above comment:

    sonny bryan’s = best.

    Just like to point that out, i’m from Dallas, but i’ve been everywhere and it is still the best “chain” barbecue i’ve ever had. Also wanted to know DAVDID if you liked that box chocolate thingy or not (i was in your April 6th cooking class), just curious…