Meme Pork Dinner

Wives, children and cholesterol levels have all slowed SoG members recently. But certain sequences of words will always make our hearts aflutter and break our lethargy.

“Five Course Pork Dinner” may be at the top of the list.

Meme, the shoebox size restaurant at 22nd and Spruce, was holding said pork dinner, and it featured five heavyweight chefs from around the city, who each would tackle a course, with a wine or beer pairing for each. One rule: use pig in some way or another. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it must have appealed to tons of people, as we were only able to score 2 seats to the dinner. A tough decision loomed: send two member of the Society, or unite in solidarity and have no one attend.

I am now lying through my internet teeth. There was no decision. It was five courses of pork! Kyle, an SoG Board of Trustees member, and I got the honor, mostly because 1) I called and 2) Kyle was standing next to me when I called and 3) it was five courses of pork! I mean, I was envisioning things like pork toothpicks and bacon breath mints. Nothing could stop us.

So we went on an only slightly awkward man date. We arrived at the restaurant a little before the 8:45 seating and the chefs were mulling around outside, having just completed their first seating. Excitement, and wafts of jowl meat, were in the air. What follows are crappy iPhone pics I took. If you want really well-lit and composed photos from the dinner, check out the Meal Ticket gallery here.

Hors d’oeuvres by Meme’s David Katz: The host really set the tone for the evening. In fact, the above photo attests to the fact that I was so excited, I began consuming the plate before taking a pic. These four tastes were a real highlight of the entire meal. No descriptions on the menu, so I’m winging it here by saying it was (from left to right) an awesome, awesome, awesome pate, a fried quail egg atop pork belly (“an entire plate of breakfast in one bite” according to Kyle), some pork rinds (I think), and a pork stuffed cherry pepper. The only thing that could make this collection of dishes better, and porkier, is if it was served on a flap of pig skin rather than a plate (Chef Katz, feel free to use this idea, free of charge).

First Course: Lettuce Soup with Pork Belly, Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes by Bistrot La Minette’s Peter Woolsey: This was a soup that was all fresh summery summer-ness, with a big ‘ol slab of pork belly in the middle. Pretty damn good.

Second Course: Crispy Pig Head in Filo with Gribich Sauce by Bibou’s Pierre Calmels: This dish arrived and kinda looked like a seared Hot Pocket next to a lump of tartar sauce with a few greens next to it. But then I bit into it. Holy hell, it was fantastic. It was the absolute essence of pork, swaddled in a light filo dough that gave just enough crunch to that unbelievable pig head inside. This whole thing may sound weird, but it was amazing. In a night of really great dishes, it was the clear winner.  On a side note, this was paired with a really weird white wine, an ’04 Etoile “Savignon” Domaine Montbourgeau. The sommelier for the night told us it would be “challenging” while I found it more “metallic” and Kyle thought it was “gasoline-ish.” Whatever, I’d drink gasoline if I could have that pig’s head again.

Third Course: Grilled Wild Shrimp with House Cured Pancetta, Orrchiette, Rosemary Butter and Shrimp Jus by Fork’s Terence Feury: Chef Feury introduced this dish by talking about how he and his brother, Patrick, had worked with Victory Brewing on a special Fists of Feury Ale, and the beer turned out to be fantastic. Victory’s beers sometimes get a little to bombastic for their own good, but this one did not. As for the food, at first I was a little disappointed to see the lack of pork on the plate, but if you were going to have a seafood-heavy dish, it should be on the heals of the previous pork bomb dish. And this dish was very good.

Fourth Course: Pork Belly Confit with Creamed Corn, Sea Urchin, Mango Pickle by Zahav’s Michael Solomonov: We were really excited for this dish. It’s pig cooked in it’s own fat, for tit’s sake. But something happened between the kitchen and table, as the whole dish turned out to be a little weird, particularly from a texture standpoint. It was all slightly mushy–like eating a raw pork cutlet. The sides were good and it was paired with the best wine of the night, a really earthy red, a 2006 Rosso di Montalcino, La Torre.

Fifth Course: Honey Grilled Peaches, Marscapone Sorbet, Capricola, Almond Brittle by 10Arts’ Jen Carroll & Monica Glass: Pork dessert has the makings of a disaster, but this was really, really good. I’d sprinkle that almond brittle and capricola on just about anything, and the seasonal peaches and sorbet lightened it all up. This dessert made me happy. So did the five courses of beer and wine.

All in all, it was a great night, with awesome dishes across the board. Though at the risk of sounding like gluttons (which we are), Kyle and I both thought the chefs could have even gone a little porkier with the dishes. But that’s a minor quibble from two fairly disgusting human beings. I’ll be back next year. Maybe I’ll bring the pork toothpicks.

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SoG emerges from food coma; enters the year 2008 by joining Twitter

We eat rich, fatty foods in the Society, thus leading to laziness. Twitter seems to be ideal for such advanced sloth. Follow us (and our trail of grease) at:

Twitter.com/GluttonySociety

Postings will not be less than 140 calories.

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Brauhaus Schmitz: A Sausage Fest for a Sausage Fest

I am no stranger to the unwise. I have been on a first name basis with Dumb before. But heretofore, I had never met Das Boot.

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This was rectified at Brauhaus Schmitz, the German beer hall on South Street that has thankfully taken over Philly’s German helm since the sad demise of Ludwig’s Garten, which had been running on fumes for a few years–quite literally, as Ludwig’s smelled like Jürgen Klinsmann‘s sweat sock.

The Society was treated to a Bavarian feast at the Brauhaus, where we enjoyed great treatment from an awesome staff on a miserably rainy night that kept a few key members from attending. I had emailed Chef Jeremy Nolan prior to the dinner and he put together a menu that appealed to the SoG’s lust for odd animal parts and all things pork. And I will now try to recap some of these things, but for some reason, my memory was a bit hazy from the dinner.

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Ah, yes, that must be the reason.

Outside of glassware resembling footwear, the Brauhaus’ beer list  is amazing, and the huge print of the German Purity Act of  1516 on the wall shows the commitment to not serving swill. We began the gorging with some of their housemade soft pretzels–Chef Nolan said his wife makes them each day–which were really awesome in their own right. But I took the advice of a German coworker who told me to order it with the Obatzda, a delicious Bavarian cheese spread that she said reminded her of home. It reminded me–like most German food does–to keep drinking heavily, as the saltiness helped me plow through the upper portion of the boot–the sock, if you will.

We followed that up with our typical foray into organ meats with Leberknödelsuppe, a liver dumpling soup in beef broth. As the weather gets cold, I may seek out this hearty broth, a comically oversized beer from Brauhaus’ extensive list, and a barstool to plop my fat ass upon during a sporting match. Next up came something right out of the SoG playbook: Schlachtplatte, which translates into the butcher’s plate, and was described by Chef Nolan as “a heaping mound of sauerkraut with a cured and smoked pork chop, a house made bratwurst, a knackwurst, blood sausage, liverwurst, bacon, and potato dumplings.” Fittingly, The Society of Gluttony was treated to an actual Sausage Fest. We had three of these sexy beasts on our tables:

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To be honest, at this point the boot was kicking my ass, and while all the sausages were good, there was one in particular that struck a chord. Alas, I was too drunk to take note of which one it was, and now I long for that sausage, and I would sincerely contemplate placing a Craigslist Missed Connection ad seeking out this Wurst if I thought it may respond. If you’re out there, Mr. Sausage, let’s talk.

Though sufficiently tanked at this point, I was smart enough to capture the obligatory Jeff Franck-eating-something-odd-in-an-overly-erotic-manner-that’s-uncomfortable-for-all-parties-involved moment:

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Alongside that plate of awesomeness was a Schweinshaxe, a pork shank thrown on a rotisserie for a long afternoon spin and rubbed with mustard and salt. Seriously, how can you go wrong with that? It was great. Plus, it provided a burly keepsake of a night where my memory took a Bavarian holiday.

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A mutant bone. Steins of beer. Good laughs. Even though I woke up the next morning smelling like a Berlin sewer, I reckon that’s a damn good night.

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Thank you sir, I’ll Zahav another.

The Society of Gluttony’s Magical Mystery Meat Tour of Aught-Nine brought us to Old City’s Zahav, where another massive roasted animal was put before us. This time, the barnyard treat was a lamb–lamb shoulder to be more anatomically exact. Having already devoured a roasted pig at Amada, widely considered one of Philly’s best restaurants, we now found ourselves in front of a pile of lamb deltoids at Zahav. This Israeli restaurant was recently named the city’s best restaurant by Philadelphia Magazine, the region’s foremost authority on Jerry Blavat, botox injections, and cuisine (not necessarily in that order). Like Amada, we felt a little rough around the edges for the scene, but the allure of charred flesh gets us to do crazy things–like wear deodorant.

We had scheduled the affair as part of the restaurant’s Mesibah dinner, the contents of which are outlined here:

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Now, I don’t speak Hebrew, but after having the Mesibah, I’m fairly certain that it translates into “a metric shit-ton of food.” Thankfully, the food was awesome. Because of the size of our party (10), our friendly waiter told us that he would choose the salatim and mezze (salads and small plates, respectively) based on what were the most popular dishes.

Thankfully, one of the SoG’s most devout members, Kyle, had found something on the web site called The Jerusalem Grill.

The Jerusalem Grill. The name tempted us. Sounded exotic. Vaguely dangerous. Like an interrogation technique of the Israeli Army.

The description further enticed us: “Mixed offal (all the good stuff), charred sweet onion.”

This was in the SoG wheelhouse. We specifically requested it, with no real clue of what those mystery meats may be.

In the meantime, we mowed through the salatim course, which was a nice variety of Middle Eastern-influenced dishes like baba ganoush, tahini and other small dishes filled with chick peas, roasted peppers, and eggplant. They were unique and nearly uniformly delicious.

Then, the Jeruselum Grill arrived.

Our server was eloquent in his description of contents of the plate, which I have roughly broken out below:

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Now, our last foray into animal testicles went horribly afoul, but we were willing to give it a go again. And these duck testicles were not only shockingly large–though maybe we got the mallard equivalent of Peter North–but they were actually damn tasty, albeit with an odd, spongy texture. I personally thought the duck’s heart was the best thing on the plate, as they were meaty, gamey and packed with flavor, but the tender rabbit kidneys also drew raves with a rich, smokey taste.

Of course, no SoG recap is complete without a pic of Franck eagerly throwing testicles into his mouth:

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Among our other mezze courses were an amazing fried haloumi cheese, which is something I would gladly eat every day, and a very tasty chopped liver, which made a stong case to have the phrase “what am I, chopped liver” permanently stricken from the lexicon:

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But the main draw of the meal was the lamb shoulder (and the jokes associated with SoG member Joe Beal’s notoriously sculpted deltoids). Two full plates arrived with the main dish, featuring glistening hunks of roasted lamb, studded with pommengrantes and chick peas:

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This amazingly tender cut of meat easily fell of the bone, requiring little more than a fork to distribute it to the ravenous table of carnivores. Within a few tastes, we discovered the optimal way to eat it: a bit of the meat, a few flecks of the charred ends, some coagulated fat (lamb mayonnaise as Kyle called it) and a few spoonfuls of gravy. This carefully considered equation made for an insanely good bite of food.

The lamb was really good, though it was not quite as transcendent as the roasted suckling pig at Amada. However, the other dishes at Zahav really made this dinner something special. We were even treated to a selection of desserts, an SoG first. And honestly, the desserts were one of the real high points. I would go into more detail, but vast amounts of wine were beginning to take hold. There was something in the creme brulee category, something chocolatey, and a few other things. My foggy recollections were justified when the bill arrived:

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Indeed, it was a pricey night, but really an amazing selection of food that we don’t usually encounter. Near the end of our meal, chef Michael Solomonov stopped by our table, and he was pretty enthused that we enjoyed the Jeruselum Grill so much, speaking about the other organ meats that sometimes grace the dish. It was our kind of conversation; our kind of people.

We left stuffed, drunk and happy–to the point where one of our more typically camera-shy members felt the need to enjoy a seat in the grass outside the building.

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It can be difficult to compliment a restaurant with words sometimes, but I think this photo conveys our utter satisfaction with Zahav. Or maybe he was just ‘faced. Regardless, it was a great night.

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Uzbekistan: An Odyssey in Oddness

In hindsight, perhaps we should have stopped short of the testicles. 

You see, things were progressing nicely during our dinner at Uzbekistan, a Northeast Philly restaurant where we were recklessly devouring an unfamiliar cuisine that was turning out to be pretty fantastic. But as the contents of our of BYO bottle of vodka dwindled, our bravado increased at roughly the same pace. And we were reminded of a note in the Phildelphia Inquirer’s review of Uzbekistan: “Lamb testicles are also available for aficionados by special order.”

This sounded like a challenge; and we in the Society are nothing if not rubes for a foolhardy challenge. So we asked our waitress if they were available that night and after a check with the kitchen we were good to go. 

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That is Franck, our group’s most ardent seeker of testicles, clutching a skewer of the lamb’s nads. We passed them around the table and gave them a sample. And the verdict was as swift as it was harsh. The best description of its taste was “a grilled urinal cake” while the texture was something close to a non-hollow racquetball. All in all, it was one of the worst foods I’ve ever consumed. Henceforth, I shall refrain from putting testicles in my mouth. 

(I’ll pause so you can internally say “that’s what she said.”)

(Ready? Okay.)

But the testicle adventure should not mar an otherwise great meal, where a rapid succession of dishes came to our table and our shot glasses were frequently filled with vodka, a task made easy with an ingenious table setting that included an empty wine glass next to a shot glass. The fairly tight restaurant has a jovial feel (see also: vodka shots), as our party of 8 was one of the smallest of the night. We were also the only non-Russian patrons as well. A trip to Uzbekistan feels a bit like a trip, well, to Uzbekistan, as servers speak broken English and the menu has few English translations. As such, it’s hard to even know what the hell we were even eating, but rest assured, most of it was pretty good.

Before the vodka really took hold, we stored up on the awesome bread they serve, a circular ring of warm bread with a slightly sunken center that slightly resembled an ariel view of Veteran’s Stadium. We had a great Greek salad that had some delicious prosciutto-esque cured meat atop of it and sampled some of their hearty soups. There were also several rice based dishes and some really good dumplings that were topped generously with dill, an herb that is met with consternation by Franck, the aforementioned seeker of lamb’s balls. For those scoring at home on his tastes: yay to gonads, nay to dill. No one ever said the guy made sense. We also sampled some chilled veal tongue, which could have passed for decent roast beef at a deli, just with a far grosser sounding moniker. 

While we were passing around the apps, a TV that was tuned to what seemed like the Russian version of MTV brought forth an unexpected surprise: nudity! 

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The Eastern European flesh was certainly a bonus, but flesh of another sort quickly grabbed our attention: numerous meats, grilled on skewers over an open flame. We ordered pretty much one of everything on their kebab menu and were greeted by a heaping plate of lamb, lamb ribs, chicken, flank steak, liver (animal origin unknown), and chicken hearts: 

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The lamb was really the star of the show, as it seems to be the meat of choice of Uzbek food. The chicken hearts were a source of debate at the table, as there were as many guys who enjoyed them as those who didn’t. I found myself in the favorable category, as I thought they blended the flavor of dark meat chicken with the tenderness of white meat. My opinion may not carry much weight, though, as I was not only sporting a ridiculous mustache for the occasion, but I was also compelled to pay tribute to Brian “Weapon X” Dawkins with a skewer-filled Wolverine pose: 

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As things began to get out of hand, we were greeted by one final surprise of the night: the check and its paltry total. 

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Yes, eight gluttonous guys ate for $20 a person after a tip, and were well-lubricated on vodka, beer and wine. The back of the check added to the comedy, as it showed the ridiculous food we had consumed: 

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As we were leaving, we weaved through a crowd of middle-aged, vodka-soaked guys in track suits sporting haircuts that resemble Jerry Seinfeld, circa 1991. They were inexplicably accompanied by young blonds, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. After all, this was a typical Friday for them.

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Amada’s Whole Roast Suckling Pig

Originally posted January 28, 2009

“We’ll call you about 48 hours before your dinner to confirm the number of guests to ensure that we have the right size of pig for your party.”

To be honest, my heart was somewhere between aflutter, smitten and several other adjectives that are typically reserved for emo kids during prom season. My juvenile excitement was simple: I had ordered a whole suckling pig that was going to be cooked at one of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants and devoured by a hand-picked squad of the some of region’s most ardent swine enthusiasts, The Society of Gluttony.

Special moments like this call for the creation special things. And by special things, I mean bad-ass logos with bacon banners:

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This coat of arms was created by my colleague Mike Burton, a super talented graphic designer who understands the power of pork. His still-in-progress work was unveiled the night of our pig feast and was met with rave reviews by the Society members, who at that point had begun to get slightly rowdy.

Amada is typically thought of as the place that taught Philadelphians what tapas meant. Or it’s seen as a restaurant where an eager fellow will take his lady in an attempt to gain premature admittance into her britches. It’s a place where Philadelphians prove to out-of-towners that Philly is a seriously boss food city. To be honest, I thought it might be a bit too high-brow for nine guys likely to argue over who deserved the jowl meat.

Then I entered the restaurant and nearly tripped over a massive pig statue. Immediately, my fears shrank; my hunger grew.

We were seated front and center in Amada’s dining room, perched atop the restaurant’s largest table. We ordered a healthy round of drinks and waited for the most important guest in our party to arrive. And just like that, he was triumphantly wheeled to our table:

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That’s a half of a baby pig, split length-wise, ready for carving (the other half was carved in the kitchen). The little guy’s only food source was his mother’s milk — hence the “suckling” moniker. That commitment to the healthy world of breast-feeding results in a more tender, flavorful swine. You see, I may be a savage, but I’m a savage with access to Wikipedia.

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The pig was carved table side, and deposited on our plates. With absolutely zero hesitation, we all dove into our plates.

Holy. Mother. Of. Swine.

To be honest, going into this dinner, I thought the pork would be good. I figured it would be more of an event — a curiosity where we got in touch with our inner Cro-Magnon and enjoyed an animal slow cooked over a fire. But it was far, far more than that. It was, quite simply, the best pork I had ever eaten. It reminded me of the first time I went to a great steak house, where I entered with a “I’ve-had-steak-before-so-how-good-could-it-be” attitude and was utterly blown away by the quality and preparation of a simple meat. This pork had a similarly transcendent quality. It was salty, tender and had a lasting flavor that lingered on your palate far more than a supposed white meat ever should be able to.

A quick look on the internet shows how Amada’s Jose Garces gets this pork to be so damn good:

“Chef Garces brines each suckling pig for 24 hours in a salt water and sugar solution, to ensure the meat is tender and flavorful. Then he confits the pig in pork fat for up to three hours. After roasting it at 250 degrees for another hour, to crisp the skin and lock in its natural juices, it is finished with sea salt and arbequina olive oil.”

All that labor was well worth it. In particular, we appreciated the attention paid to the skin, which quickly became the most sought-after scrap at the table. Salty and hearty, this pork rind had bacon-like qualities, which can only be considered a good thing. By the end of the meal, I had an increased interest in porcine dermatology.

The meal, which is an absolute steal for $32 a person, also included four sides: Charred Green Onions, Herb-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Chickpeas with Spinach, and Rosemary White Beans with Ham. The sides rested, fittingly, in dog bowl-like dishes, and were consumed with wild abandon. The white beans were particularly great (they had pork in them, natch) and the green onions were surprisingly addictive.

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Our pig provided each of us with a portion of food for our plates, as well as three extra heaping plates of pork that were placed strategically around the table for communal consumption. Being the gluttons that we are, we actually finished the entire feast, a feat that would likely cause post traumatic stress disorder to cardiologists and vegans alike.

And like that, the Society of Gluttony had enjoyed a feast for the ages. Now, it becomes a matter of topping it.

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Ansill: The Inaugural Feast

Originally posted September 14, 2008

I could pontificate like a thesaurus-sporting dillweed about what the Society of Gluttony is, but instead, I believe this anecdote sums it up:

I ordered a lamb osso bucco sandwich. For dessert.

As a bit of context, I will offer this: The Society of Gluttony is an elite squad of eaters who will meet once a month to dine at a restaurant where, quite frankly, our wives/fiancees/girlfriends/dietitians would generally frown upon, scrunch their brow, or possibly order some lame salad and/or chicken dish. The SoG had its first convocation at Ansill, a Queen Village restaurant which sports various parts of animals that lesser chefs might discard or run from altogether. This is not to say that Ansill is simply weird for the sake of being weird; rather, it’s a place where creativity reigns and deliciousness is found at every turn. Or hoof, if you will.

Our party was ten hearty eaters, so we were able to sample a comically large portion of the menu. In fact, there was a debate if we should simply ask our server for “one of everything” which was vetoed (rather unfortunately if you ask me) at the last minute. Since my last visit there, Ansill has upped their portions from smaller tapas sized plates to slightly more substantial dishes. This is probably easier on the wallet than before, but it might make sampling more offerings slightly more difficult if you are part of a smaller party. This did not apply to us.

We began with an onslaught of appetizers, which had two main highlights. One was a steak tartar, where a quail egg provided a rich drape for an indulgent pile of uncooked beef. The second was pig trotters, which was astutely described as a “pork crabcake” by one of my fellow Gluttoneers. If not for the name “trotters” we would not have had any idea we were downing a pig’s hooves.

Our main courses were really dominated by the aforementioned osso bucco sandwich, which might be one of the best dishes in Philadelphia. It’s got a meaty richness that gets better with every bite, including the final ones, where the slice of brioche bread has soaked up all of the juices and creates an intense taste that, well, might cause a man to order a second helping for dessert. We also had a special of a sliced cold beef that was pretty awesome, as well some pretty banging sweetbreads. There was also a pretty damn good cheese plate that balanced the ends the spectrum so that there were really smooth, great cheeses and those funky stank-bombs that more adventurous cheese lovers enjoy.

While we were attacking various animal parts at our table, we were treated to a wild-eyed, gravelly-voiced ball of energy who dramatically entered the restaurant holding a gigantic, over-sized banker’s check. It turned out to be David Ansill himself, who had just won $500 and a title at some regional cooking competition where his bold take on flavors was rewarded. It was a surreal cap on a fairly wild dinner. I would imagine surreality is fairly commonplace at Ansill. Fortunately, deliciousness is as well.

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