Ed Mitchell’s “The Pit” to Open in November

October 29, 2007


I confirmed with Ed Mitchell and Greg Hatem that their new barbecue restaurant, The Pit, will open in Raleigh on November 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving. The new joint will be a high-end place in the old Nana’s Chophouse space and will initially serve only dinner, with lunch available in January.

I had a plate of Mitchell’s barbecue this past Saturday at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, and it was some of the best pork I’ve ever had. Plus, it was fun to see barbecue guru Bob Garner and Hatem working on Ed’s crew! I’ve always liked Mitchell’s barbecue, but I never raved over it. He often had quality control issues, with the barbecue being dry one day and overly sauced the next. Folks, Ed Mitchell has his act together, as the pork was tender, juicy, slightly smoky and just damn good. Every fan of slow-cooked pig should start marking their calendars for this exciting opening. The new website, which is not live yet, will be www.thepit-raleigh.com.


Hot Tamales — On the Road to the SFA Symposium

October 28, 2007


When I booked my flight to Memphis for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, I made sure I was on the earliest departure available as I wanted to explore the Mississippi Delta region. I was on a quest for the legendary hot tamale. I’ve heard about the great tradition of hot tamales in this area, and although I’m still wondering how a Mexican food has become a mainstay in the region (and particularly part of the African American foodways tradition), this was a time to conduct a survey of a lot of interesting joints. Unfortunately, due to a delayed flight, we began our journey later than expected, and once we hit the road, bad luck became our passenger.

The first place we visited, Sears Grocery in Tunica, MS, was not yet serving food for the day, primarily because someone had just placed a large to-go order for 30 people. So we reluctantly got back into the car and headed south and west to West Helena, Arkansas. I wanted to visit this area for a few reasons: first, I’ve never actually driven across the Mississippi River. Second, I wanted to see Helena and West Helena, two towns that have a legendary history but have fallen on hard times. And, of course, I wanted to visit Pasquale’s Tamales. Well, unbeknownst to us, Pasquale’s no longer has a store front — only a cart on the weekends. Thus, we were 0 for 2 in our hot tamale quest. Helena is a sad shell of a town that was obviously a thriving gem at some point in its history. With a downtown strip that runs parallel with the Mississippi, Helena was once home of the King Biscuit Flour Company, and the King Biscuit Flour Time is still broadcast from KFFA in downtown Helena. Today, I can see why folks would be singing the blues in Helena, as it truly saddened me to see how the town had fallen on such hard times. However, I did see something in Helena that was new to me: a combination deli and auto shop. Yes, while you’re getting your oil changed at the Haynes Car Care, you can feast on hog maws and beef tips next door at the Haynes Deli.

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Bourdain Knows How Food Nerds Work

October 24, 2007

Oh my god, Anthony Bourdain just completely cracked me up when he recently wrote about the best way to get great food advice. Rather than just researching the internet and the multiple blogs, forums, and travel guides, Bourdain suggests the following, using the example of how to find the best laksa (the Malaysian noodle soup):

[V]isit some foodie websites. Egullet’s Asia/Pacific board would be an appropriate first choice here. Oozing certainty, begin a thread titled ‘Best Laksa in Malaysia!!’ describing your ‘recent experience at the perfect, off-the-beaten-track laksa joint in Kuala Lumpur’.

Proudly insist that it’s The Best – better than any other place you tried. Be sure to misspell a few words – maybe even get an ingredient wrong.
Now stand back and watch the fun. Outraged, indignant food bloggers from the U.S., Malaysia, and Singapore who’ve dedicated their lives to chronicling their adventures in laksa – photographing ever order, violently arguing about their choices with other bloggers and journos – will seize on you and your post like enraged seagulls, conveniently disgorging their own experiences at ‘far superior’ and ‘much more authentic’ places in their rush to prove you an ignorant bob.
Many will provide colourful descriptions, lavish details of ambience, menus, links to other websites and blogs – and helpful photographs.
In an appropriately chastened response, defer to their greater wisdom, and be sure to ask for addresses.

Bourdain gets it. He may abhor those of us who write about food, we who are so obsessed with it that we are compelled to sacrifice income-generating opportunities to preach about the latest use of agar, but Bourdain has finally figured out how to completely manipulate us. We are nothing but Bourdain’s pawns, and it’s only now that we’ve been let in on the secret.

I feel so cheap.

The Oxford Shuffle: The 10th Annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium

October 23, 2007


I am headed down to Oxford, Mississippi early Thursday morning to attend the 10th annual Symposium of the Southern Foodways AllianceThe State of Southern Food.  Needless to say, I’ll provide plenty of reports on the Symposium when I’m not dining on fried catfish, hot tamales, koolickles, Memphis barbecue, pig ears or sipping bourbon.  I’ll be rubbing elbows with the likes of Alice Waters, John T. Edge, Shirley Corriher and a slew of other food dignitaries, some of whom are actually my friends (yes, I’m an unapologetic name dropper).  Most of all, I’ll be sharing stories and enjoying convivial feasts with a lot of people who are passionate about food — Southern food in particular. So you’ll get stories about my side trip to the Mississippi Delta in search of hot tamales. I’ll also get to tell you about finally sampling some real Memphis barbecue. And, of course, there will be lots of stories about Southern food.

An Open Letter to Chowhound, by Charlie Deal (detlefchef)

October 22, 2007


Charlie Deal, chef-owner of Chapel Hill’s Jujube, has written an open letter to the moderators of Chowhound in response to the food forum’s unexplained policy of deleting all discussion of Jujube. This practice is based on no known policy or forum rules and has been discussed extensively on this blog and CookingEatingDurham. Following the break is what Charlie sent me, expressing his frustration with Chowhound’s action and lack of explanation.

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Chocolate Gravy — Yes, Chocolate Gravy!

October 21, 2007


You may have thought you knew Southern food, but unless you’ve had chocolate gravy, you really are just a dilletante — which is what I was until I lost my chocolate gravy virginity this morning.  For some reason, the gospel of the almight chocolate sauce has not been preached from the Appalachian mountaintops.  I’m fairly well-read on Southern food, but until earlier this week, when I was reading the New Encylcopedia of Southern Culture’s volume on Foodways, I read a description of a type of “gravy” common in the Appalachian regions of the South.  This flour-thickened sauce is typically served with biscuits for breakfast. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, there are several legends regarding the origin chocolate gravy:”Spanish Louisiana had a trading network in to the Tennessee valley. This trade may have introduced Mexican-style breakfast chocolate to the Appalachians, where it is called ‘chocolate gravy.’ (Another possibility is that the very old population of mixed-race Appalachian Melungeons has preserved the dish from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish colonies on the East Coast.)”

Of course, I had to thoroughly research this sauce. Is it a mole? Is it sweet or savory? Is it just for breakfast? I had lots of questions, and fortunately, chocolate gravy isn’t as uncommon as I would have thought. Search the internet, and you’ll finds hundreds, or even thousands of entries on chocolate gravy. I was getting depressed, as I really didn’t know how I could manage to live 44 years without ever having tried this Southern specialty.

After looking at a bunch of recipes, I decided I needed to choose one that looked right to me. And then I realized, this is just a bechamel with cocoa powder and sugar added. Once I realized that, it was a piece of cake to make the stuff. Melt some butter, add flour, cocoa powder and sugar. Slowly add some milk — just like you might make a meat-based gravy. Finish with vanilla. Wow, it was good and will be a staple at our breakfast table for years to come.

Recipe after the break.

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Collards: Coming Soon to a Pot Near You

October 19, 2007


We’re finally getting some rain, and hopefully, a cool spell will be behind it bringing a night or two when the temperature drops below freezing. That’s when the collards will truly be ready to eat. There’s something about a light frost that gives collard greens a slightly sweeter flavor, and they’re a bit more tender, too. Farmers claim that the frost “fixes” the plant’s sugars in the leaves, rather than the roots.

A member of the cabbage family, collards have a distinct place on the Southern table. Some claim that collards were just about the only vegetable that survived in Southern fields after Sherman’s siege at the end of the Civil War, but it is certain that this nutritious vegetable was a mainstay in the post-War diet. A vegetable that has grown on the European continent for millennia, African slaves are attributed with cooking collards the modern way: slowly boiled/braised with some flavoring meat until a rich broth, known as potlikker, forms at the bottom. (By the way, “potlikker” is one of the best words every coined. Go ahead and say it to someone — you’re sure to get some sort of response out of them.)

The typical way to eat collards is with a splash of vinegar, accompanied by cornbread. As is often the case with Southern foods, there is even a debate over the best way to eat the cornbread: one school dips the cornbread into the potlikker, whereas others will crumble it into their greens. Either way is mighty tasty to me. Often served with vinegar, collards are one of my all time favorite vegetables.

You really don’t need a recipe to cook collards. You sweat a diced onion, some pork product (hocks, bacon, ham, fatback), add spice to your liking, and some water and salt (but not if you’re using salted meat). Cover and cook slowly for a couple of hours until the greens are completely tender. Sure, this is going to stink a bit, but remember that it’s a member of the cabbage family, all of which are somewhat odoriferous! Serve with cornbread (and I’ll be writing about that before long), but biscuits would do in a pinch.

Heck, the Southern Foodways Alliance, my favorite food organization, will have two lectures about greens and cornbread at next week’s Symposium on the State of Southern Foods. That’s how important this is! I’ll be there and will be sure to report back.

Barbecue and collards from Bum’s in Ayden, NC