Globeater - Grubbing around the Globe

Babes in Woodland, Brooklyn

We’d landed at Kennedy a mere 2 hours earlier, but that was already an hour & 59 minutes longer than I’d been prepared to wait for an East Coast oyster after so many months away. So as the Director & I wandered the streets near our borrowed apartment in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, I vowed to stop at the very 1st place we came across that advertised them.

Thus it was that we stumbled into Woodland, bustling, breezy & streamlined in light earthtones—like 50 other eateries within a 2-block radius. But no matter—so long as it served my babies on the half-shell, I didn’t care what sort of generic gastropubby grub it was hawking.

It was only after we grabbed stools & ordered drinks at the bar that I gave the rest of the menu more than a passing glance—& suddenly the oysters were the least of my cravings. There were pulled pig’s-head croquettes & steak fries with anchovy dip; there was a dandelion green–grilled apricot salad with rye bark & pickled-sunchoke vinaigrette & a stew of clams, crawfish & sausage with maple sap, cayenne & carrot frites. From lowbrow to high, it was all so admirably savvy. I had a good feeling about the place, sure to be confirmed by a quick Google on the old smartphone.

What I found, however, reminded me I was but a babe in these parts: the locals surrounding us, undoubtedly, knew the place had opened just weeks ago in the eye of a neighborhood battlestorm with all sorts of nasty racial overtones.

Had I known that much in advance, I might have kept walking (not that said ugliness was the restaurant’s doing, but still). However, now it was too late; I was hooked on my high hopes for the kitchen. And about that, at least, I was spot-on.

Forget the oysters. Oysters are oysters. So long as they’re properly shucked & on ice with lemon wedges, I’m happy. It was the smoked quail eggs we threw in on a whim that made my head swivel on its stalk: carefully cooked so the white was structured but the yolk still gooey, their delicacy only highlighted by the earthy tinge of wood fire. A slight hint of tartness too—maybe a drop of vinegar?

The clincher was the  board of green-olive semolina bread with what may be the best compound butter I’ve ever had. The server, we thought, said it was almond butter, but that didn’t seem quite right; the bartender insisted it was green-onion, which seemed flat-out wrong. It wasn’t exactly nutty, nor merely honeyed; its sweetness was subtle & complex, not least for the contrastive sprinkling of black sea salt on top…well, whatever it contained, it was addictive.

No less so on our return visit a few nights later, when the flavoring had changed—I want to say to saffron—along with the breads, this time golden-raisin semolina & dark-raisin rye, arriving alongside our “trapper’s snack”: a bit of excellent prosciutto & stinky cheese alongside housemade beef jerky that was perfectly tender-chewy, perfectly seasoned, perfectly jerky.

Fried whitebait: it’s the new, head-on, gobble-it-whole french fry, here served with radish remoulade that looked startlingly like strawberry yogurt but tasted like its zingy mayo-based self.

And late-spring sprightliness suffused an entrée of pulled rabbit braised in Riesling, tossed with fresh pasta, mirepoix & herbs, & finally flavored with a hint of licorice root.

Given Woodland’s farm-to-urban-table bent, it’s no surprise that the bar program hews to a certain earthy, carefully sourced sensibility: cocktails with loads of fresh fruit & herbs, funky boilermakers, draft cider, Long Island wine, etc. Just the stuff, in short, to take the edge off any remaining resident resentment.

Woodland on Urbanspoon

Marcello’s Chophouse: I’m Sold (& Bought, & Paid For)

I go to Albuquerque for the sour-cream enchiladas, the sopaipillas dripping with honey, the Christmas (i.e., any dish with both red & green chile). I do not go for steak. Hell, I rarely go anywhere for steak. But I also hit the ‘Burque to visit my dad, and when a dad is turning 86, a dad gets what a dad wants—especially if he’s footing the bill.

And dear Dad wanted to celebrate with me, the Director, & his lovely platonic ladyfriend, on his dime, at Marcello’s Chophouse. So what kind of chow-whore would I be to say no?

Frankly, I expected a cut-rate high-desert version of your average, glittering, cosmopolitan cow palace. Instead I found an admirably indie, expectation-surpassing take on same. Sure, except for home-grown sparkling Gruet (& Montes from Chile’s Colchagua Valley, mainly because I fell in love with it on a visit last year upon discovering that they play Gregorian chants to lull the barrels in the cellar 18 hrs. a day), the wine list was mostly a California-centric snooze. But the food absolutely held its own.

Take the pan-seared foie gras over broiled polenta, pear compote & a port reduction—not that the accompaniments registered much below the perfect lobes, crisp on top, the interior so meltingly delicate that one could be forgiven for interpreting the fattiness of duck liver as purity. It’s just got, in some way, to be good for you, for your soul, even if the duck might beg to differ.

Although the pan-fried lump crabcake wasn’t as bursting with chunks of sweetness as the best versions are—particularly if eaten dockside somewhere along the eastern seaboard—a surprising amount of cayenne lent it a pleasant kick, balanced by lime-cilantro remoulade.

The chophouse salad was a lowlight, blander than it sounded. My guess is that the finer the chop, the more each bit gets lost in the water released by the fresh vegetables, especially if they’re present in far larger amounts than—let’s face it—the good stuff: salami, artichoke hearts, Kalamatas, garbanzos, toasted piñons & aged provolone.

But the grilled meats impressed in every way: rare, tender, simple, from the double-cut pork chop

to the Colorado lamb

to the petite filet mignon.

True to the standard steakhouse model of conspicuous consumption, the chops are all served à la carte, so ordering sides that cost as much as their weight in the burrito platters you could get down the street with all the fixings is a must. But that’s all part of the profligate fun, right?

And they were solid—traditional, comfortingly rich. From left: bright, crisp-tender buttered asparagus; creamed corn with bacon, green chile, & cornbread crumbs; truffled mac & cheese; 3-cheese potatoes au gratin (below)—although the lone freebie, a warm, soft loaf of butter-sweet, sundried-tomato-studded white bread, took the cake.

We did not take the cake for dessert; instead, the birthday boy opted for a deconstructed split with caramelized bananas; scoops of chocolate, vanilla & dulce de leche ice cream,; raspberry compote; cajeta (Mexican caramel sauce); chocolate syrup & cinammon-sugar-spiced pecans. Oh, & whipped cream. Again, not groundbreaking, but perfectly respectable from all angles.

Unlike our potguts afterward.

Marcello's Chophouse on Urbanspoon

The Soul of a Chef: Poe’s Kitchen at The Rattlesnake

The soul of a chef, to use Ruhlman’s phrase, is in many ways like that of a writer—shaped by the drive to create & to destroy in the process; swollen by success & punctured by failure; pulled this way by the desire to please, that way by the lust to kill, in still another direction by the exhausted wish to be left the hell alone with one’s tools & toys. Most chefs I know, like most writers, are cauldrons of ambivalence, bubbling with passion as the black smoke of bitterness curls ever upward.

But there are exceptions. Brian Poe of Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake is one of them. I’m sure he has his dark moments, but only a dogged optimist could walk into a collegiate, nacho-clogged watering hole with 20 years of notoriety behind it & class it up the way he has, maintaining his sunny sanity amid the skepticism that’s slow to dissolve. Straight up, over the past 2 years, Brian’s become a friend of mine. So you might be all the more doubtful about the dissolution of my own skepticism & its replacement by admiration, which I dare say peaked with my most recent visit. What to do? Keeping in mind that I’d have spared my pal any embarrassment by writing nothing at all if I’d been unimpressed, you’ll have to judge for yourself whether the Latin-inspired kitchen just keeps getting better & better. Do report back on your findings.

Actually, the prosciutto-wrapped, blackened tuna stuffed with queso fresco over creamed corn isn’t a new dish—it’s a signature of Poe’s extra-bold style. All 4 elements—salty cured ham; strong, oily, yet still clean-tasting fish; fresh white cheese; & sweet, rich puréed corn—hold their own, each complementing the other. The use of creamed corn as a sauce rather than a side strikes me as an idea whose time has come.

So does the pairing of pork with finfish rather than shellfish; by contrast, given jumbo sea scallops, Poe eschews the usual bacon or ham in favor of seared chunks of foie gras, & the flesh of both—one firm & clean, the other meltingly fatty; each sweet & delicate in its own way—marries surprisingly well. Combined with acorn squash puree & sundried strawberry–arbol chile salsa, along with sauteed greens & a dab of avocado cream, it begins to sound like a puzzle with one too many pieces—but it doesn’t taste that way; the fruity & funky notes are in harmony, the crispy & smooth textures likewise. When you think about it, this is the kind of balance among a multitude of ingredients achieved by a great salad, say a Cobb, after all. No reason it can’t happen on a hot plate.

The same could be said of this off-menu dish, in which Poe paired a hefty piece of cilantro-&-asiago-grilled swordfish with the truffle risotto, pumpkin cream sauce, chunky pumpkin salsa & fried chard that usually distinguish his Vermont quail tacos. The substitution made sense—the flavor of swordfish has more in common with poultry than with most other fish, really—though I can see how roast game bird works even better amid all those warm, earthy flavors. I tend to prefer risotto that’s a bit creamier than this was, but since it was layered directly over the sauce, its grainier quality worked, preventing too much of a mishmash.

Braised in tequila with chipotle & cascabel chiles, this giant pork shank—Poe’s portions are generous almost to a fault—may be my current fave, however.

Smoky & perfectly tender alongside an almost spoonable slice of polenta topped with smoked-tomato grits, it’s comfort food brought into focus by the touch of bitterness provided by more fried chard, the way a draft of cold air emphasizes how good it feels to be curled up under blankets (I think I stole that realization from Moby Dick’s Ishmael).

Unless my fave was the mixed grill of silk-skinned wild mushrooms in soy-ginger sauce with tomato-ginger chutney. Sheer umami shot through with brightness.

The biggest surprise, however, was the pecan tart with black lava sea salt caramel sauce & cinnamon-sugared vanilla ice cream. More like a sandie than a slice of pie, it was rich, buttery, nutty & creamy-sweet without being cloyingly gooey. I suspected dessert would be an afterthought here; I was wrong.

I know what you’re thinking: Sure, when the chef’s taking care of you, he’s personally guaranteeing everything’s just peachy. That may be so; I don’t know how the kitchen operates when Poe’s not around, because I don’t go unless he is, with the express purpose of seeing him. But he’s so kind-hearted & easy to get to know that you could give hands-on treatment a shot—literally: invite him out to the bar for a jigger of killer ghost-pepper tequila.

Soon enough, I bet, you’ll be back to shoot the shit—& he, in turn, will be keeping a characteristically enthusiastic eye on your table.

Coppa’s Cornucopia

Hell, I already blew my wad regarding Coppa in a single Tweet. It went something like this: “I was among the 1st to write about @Jamiebiss’s way with offal, & when lesser fat-storers keel over, I’ll be the last.”

In 2005, I met Jamie Bissonnette for the 1st time in the lobby of a local cable TV station; due to an article I’d written for Stuff, we were there to discuss on air the nose-to-tail charcuterie with which he was just beginning to make a name for himself at Eastern Standard. I liked him immediately—a young, big, beefy, strawberry-blonde, tattooed up to here, with an equal taste for punk & pork.

Since then, I’ve proudly watched him kick oxtail & take names at KO Prime, Toro, & now Coppa, his joint venture with Ken Oringer. That I didn’t go for dinner is one of my deepest regrets following this particular trip to Beantown, because I tend to behave better at brunch.

Still, pal H & I did okay for relatively sober people.

Warm salt-cod crostini. Well, would ya look at that. I’m guessing, what a full cup of the stuff atop a whole piece of grilled toast?

The world’s most famous salt-cod spreads—Provençal brandade de morue, Venetian baccalà mantecato—can vary widely, from rough to creamy, via any combination of milk/cream, garlic/onion, potatoes, herbs, olive oil & lemon juice. This one let the fish do most of the talking—flaky, funky, but still very much itself given all it had been through: salting, drying, rinsing, toasting, broiling, I don’t know what all—enhanced by the crunchy chew of the bread.

Cauliflower marinated with thyme, shallots & sea salt. H & I didn’t know how brilliant we were, really, ordering this at the same time as the salt cod. ‘Twas the perfect foil: served cold & crisp, lightly tangy, simple & fresh.

Rabbit porchetta. Usually, coniglio in porchetta is a dish of rabbit stuffed & roasted in the manner of a whole pig; here, it’s served terrine-style with whole-grain mustard. Again, the emphasis is on the flavor of the meat itself, midly salty-sweet & cutting like butter.

Wood oven–roasted pig’s tail with mostarda glaze. Classic Bissonnette. The meat just slid off the bone in rich, tender, pungent chunks; the mostarda di frutta, which we were told was made from jars of “ghetto fruit salad,” was its ideal match, sharply bright & sticky-sweet.

We ended with a toasted Nutella-banana sandwich—perfectly fine, but hardly representative of Coppa’s repertoire. Next time, I’ll go for the gold—spaghetti alla carbonara with sea urchin; wood-fired pizza with burrata & chili oil; smoked beef tongue with anchovies & almonds (sigh). Until then, though, I’m glad I got to experience the place at its least chaotic; after all the reports of hour-plus waits, we walked right in on at noon on a sunny Sunday. Something to consider if you’ve been avoiding the crowds thus far.

Coppa on Urbanspoon

Myers + Chang: Dim Sum to Dispel Gloom

It was a gray, bitter Saturday afternoon, & I’d been cold & hungry a long time, when I walked into Myers + Chang with a twofold agenda: 1) to interview the ever-scintillating Christopher Myers for an upcoming piece in Stuff & 2) to thaw my bones & down dim sum with my pal T until my face fell off. I achieved it all with aplomb, if I do say so myself.

Of course, as Myers’s guest I can’t in good conscience call this a fair review. If you want a review uncomplicated by questions of special treatment, countless other bloggers have weighed in on Urbanspoon, Chowhounds have done their dissecting bit on the Boston board, & so on. Without trawling through them all, I’ve been in this business long enough to bet big bucks that the most glowing of them confirm the graciousness, talent & passion for excellence of the almost disgustingly golden couple that Myers & Chang are, separately & as such—that much has been well documented for going on a millennium—& that the most skeptical of them say things like “Go to Chinatown for the real thing” (granting that many of those same people will also add “in San Francisco”). I’ve also been in this business long enough to believe that graciousness, talent & passion for excellence are the real thing. Having dim sum at Myers + Chang is not like having dim sum at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe or Hei La Moon, nor should it be. It should be like having dim sum at Myers + Chang. And it is! In fact, it’s textbook Chang (with a nod to her exec chef Matthew Barros): vibrant, cheeky, highly personal.

Meanwhile, I don’t bite the hand that feeds me; in cases in which I’m a guest, if I haven’t enjoyed my experience, I keep my trap shut about it. In this case, I liked most everything; I adored many things. The latter I can present to you below in good conscience. So take this in the spirit in which it’s intended: not as an actual review but rather a likewise highly personal recap of one fine meal from the perspective of a food writer who wants you to know, if she were returning, say, this weekend, in disguise, what she’d order again.

Hakka eggplant. Not at all spicy, but rich, sticky & soulful.

Asian pickles. Part on fire, part on ice—a mixture as fresh & bright as fresh & bright can be, with the vegetables shining through the chilies & brine.

Pan-fried dumplings with shiitakes & Chinese greens. We also tried the lemony shrimp version, but these were my faves, from the glistening, thin dough to the filling, akin to that ofclassic leek or chive dumplings—slightly bitter, earthy-sour, oh-so-juicy.

Sweet potato fritters with Chinese sausage. The photo speaks to the crunchy exterior; inside is basically a warm, thick sweet potato puree, at the center of which is a daub of sausage that’s practically melting. Totally unexpected.

Fried oysters with fermented black beans, pickled bean sprouts & fresh herbs. Eat these the moment they arrive, because they won’t hold up long. But hot & fresh, they’re pungent little suckers, dripping with funk.

Tofu, celery & sesame salad. Crisp, cold & mild, this is quite the palate cleanser before dessert.

Lemon-ginger mousse with homemade fortune cookie. Because you do have to have dessert—it’s Chang’s world, after all. And this one, bursting with the zing of its namesake flavors to balance the almost puddinglike, dense creaminess, was easily one of the best 4 or 5 things I ate over the course of my 6-day reunion tour—

no small triumph given that I sampled more than 70 dishes. Burp & thank you.

Myers & Chang on Urbanspoon

A Doozy of Meze at Istanbul’lu

After wine o’clock, a place that doesn’t serve booze has to be pretty special for me to spend precious time eating there that could be spent drinking & eating somewhere else. Promising me Somerville Turkish café Istanbul’lu was just such a place, a couple of pals took me for dinner—& they were right; it’s lovely, with smiling service as open-hearted as the cooking is soul-warmingly homey & honest. Is it better than Brookline Family Restaurant or Sultan’s Kitchen? I haven’t been to either in some time, but assuming they’re as good as ever, & I might be mistaken in assuming they are, I’d be hard-pressed to rate one over the other; each has its own strengths. At BFR, for instance, there’s the lahmacun; at SK, the doner kebab. At Istanbul’lu, if we’d stopped at the warm, focaccia-like bread with what I believe is called acili ezme, or maybe biber salcazi (both are vibrant red-pepper spreads of the sort that abound in the Balkans, from avjar to lutenica)

& the remarkably expressive, funky & sour, yogurt-enriched, lamb-chunked soup called paca,

I wouldn’t have been happier.

What these & all the other appetizers we sampled revealed was the extraordinary way in which Levantine cookery milks so much flavor from plants as such—vegetables, legumes, nuts, herbs; fruits like pomegranates, lemons & olives (including the oil); spices like sumac—along with yogurt & fresh cheeses, while meat tends to play a lesser role. The overall profile of the cuisine is utterly luscious yet still fresh, sun-drenched with bright-tart accents.

For instance, under all those tomato slices (which really could have been worse given that it’s winter; at least they had a little juice) there was a meaty, zesty, simple salad of white beans & red onions.

There was haydari, a thick, mildly tangy strained-yogurt dip much like Middle Eastern labne.

And the famous imam biyaldi, eggplant stuffed with a mixture of onions, peppers & tomatoes, then baked; this wasn’t one of my favorites, however, as the eggplant was still a bit woody & stringy, a little bitter.

Borek stuffed with feta were also slightly disappointing, especially in light of my fond memories of the same dish at Sabur just across the street—the phyllo was flaccid, not crisp.

For that matter, the mucver—zucchini fritters with carrots & herbs—weren’t as crisp as they look either, but for me their softness was a plus, making for a sort of melted zucchini pudding in the mouth. (Not sure my pals agreed with me on that point, though.)

And if they’d been slightly hotter, mercimek kofte—red lentil cakes—would’ve been terrific: earthy & nutty, sprinkled with bits of tomato, green onion & parsley.

Groaning as we already were, we skipped entrees & went straight to dessert. Kadayif—essentially baklava made with shredded phyllo—was a little tough, but the flavor was textbook.

Of the 2 puddings we tried, the soothing sutlac—rice pudding (pictured)—was the bigger hit, the keskul (almond pudding) being rather bland.

In short, nearly everything had its flaws, its imprecisions—& yet, somehow, the whole was all the sweeter & more charming for them, the sum greater than its parts. Now if only they’d spike that sour-cherry juice with a little somethin somethin.

Istanbul'lu on Urbanspoon

Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar: Like Franklin Café, Only Different

Ha, these titles are funny ’cause they’re true. The original Franklin Café was a gastropub way before there was a word for such a thing. Now, its Fenway sibling Citizen is the latest word in such a thing. Piggy logo? Check. Piggy dishes? Check. Raw bar? Check. Raw bartender, too adorably young to know his ‘stache makes him look like Meathead from All in the Family? Check. Fernet on tap? Check. Wait…Fernet on tap?! Industry alert, check.

It’s all so of-the-moment it’d already be over, if David Dubois weren’t the sort of seasoned vet who knows how to make a good thing last. Since he is, he does, so it’s not. Over. It’s only just begun.

Granted, my own meal began with a misstep on my part. You know how sometimes a menu is so appealing, & everything sounds so good—like roast pork loin with cranberry beans, applesauce & melted cabbage; pig’s trotter schnitzel with smoked chickpeas & tartar sauce; or a fish & chips special wherein the fish appeared to be near-whole filets—that your brain starts to short-circuit & you wind up spastically ordering something accidental? So it was with peel & eat Old Bay shrimp—a classic, to be sure, done handsomely with a garlicky, spinach-&-tomatillo-based green sauce, but I wished I’d had the forethought to set the tone with something a bit more signature.

I got my act together after that via pungently salty-sweet, rosemary-whipped lardo with “breadsticks”—aka grilled crostini—which was so light & airy I could almost pretend I wasn’t eating entire spoonfuls of pure pork fat, especially since the bitterness of the accompanying dry-cured olives cut through it pleasingly.

There was, however, no pretending the giant carpetbagger steak wasn’t over the top—rare & juicy, topped with a fried oyster & served over spinach in a red-wine sauce.

It was a natural alongside a bottle of Robert Foley Franklin Cuvee, a soft, round, house-label Petit Sirah. What wasn’t so natural was the fact that pal T & I managed to follow it up a plate of sticky toffee pudding (unpictured), textbook except for the fact that it stood at least 6 inches high.

All of which goes to show why the draft Fernet is making such a splash; after a meal at Citizen, you & your digestive system are gonna need it.

Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Island Creek Oyster Bar: Like Great Bay, Only Different (UPDATED 6/12)

***Two reviews for the price of one!***

The first time I went to Island Creek Oyster Bar (report after the jump), it was relatively empty; though the buzz was loud among the city’s food geeks, it had yet to spread. On my return visit a year-plus later, the giant house was packed to the gills. Little else has changed, however: both Jeremy Sewall’s kitchen & the bar—where long-&-still-rising stars Tom Schlesinger-Giudelli & Jackson Cannon ply their trade—remain at the center of a tightly run, smooth-sailing ship.

And you bet said ship trawls for daily-caught seafood. As he served us an absolute stunner of an off-menu dish composed of fish charcuterie, Schlesinger-Giudelli waxed ever so poetic about the 300-lb. bluefin that had come in straight off the boat to produce, among many other things, the pastrami-cured slices pictured center. My stars, they were beautiful, almost literally melting in the mouth, rich but clear-flavored—only subtly pungent (if that sounds like a contradiction in terms, trust me, it isn’t). The fluke crudo on the right might have been outstanding on its own but couldn’t quite hold up to its neighbors—the leftmost item being a luscious tidbit of smoked steelhead trout over a walnut pesto–daubed rye cracker topped with an orange segment: funky, salty, sour-sweet.

I followed it with the signature dish of fresh pasta tossed with pieces of braised short rib, copious chunks of lobster, & maitake mushrooms, which served as the icing on the umami cake;

it’s a solid hit, elegant yet robust, though it too was overshadowed by the unexpected: a buttermilk biscuit half-hidden among the side dishes.

Golden-topped & flaky-layered throughout (no small order at its 3-inch height), then lightly drizzled in a gently spiced honey butter, it was just obscenely spot-on. No meal here should go without at least one.

Not should it go without at least a few moments in the company of Schlesinger-Giudelli, as gracious as he is extremely well versed in all things boozy.

Island Creek Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon


Dish of the Week: Mark Special, Charlie’s Front & Back Door, ABQ

Two joints in one—the cozy, family-oriented Front Door & the dark, boozy Back Door—Charlie’s opened 45 years ago (in 1966) & has remained my sentimental Albuquerque fave for about half that time. Is it the city’s 5-star best? I can’t honestly say it is, since the red & green chile are inconsistent—& red & green chile are, of course, the be-all-end-all of Southwestern & especially New Mexican cookery. But when they’re good, they’re great, & everything else rocks all the way out, from the chicken & jocoque (a type of sour cream) enchiladas

to the como se llama with Polish sausage & beans to the torta de huevo—a sort of frittata in red chile—to the Navajo taco & all the oddities in between, containing such incongruous stuff as pastrami, sauerkraut, & 1000 Island dressing.

Still, I met my match this week while in town for Thanksgiving: the Mark Special.

It starts with carnitas whose crisped chunks, like good barbecue, almost slide unctously apart rather than break up in strands. These are scattered across generous mounds of chopped fideos—think soupy, ultra-comfy Mexican spaghetti; cheese-smothered calabacitas—think succotash, here with squash & corn; quelites—think sauteed spinach; potatoes fried with onions; & of course frijoles. But don’t, as you eat it, think at all; just take giant forkfuls of everything, separately & mixed together, letting a rich bit of this enhance the flavor of a tangy bit of that, combining & contrasting until suddenly you find you’ve eaten nearly the whole thing. Then scoop up that last bite with a piece of 1 of the fried dough squares known as sopaipillas.

Then squeeze some honey from the bottle on the table into the rest of the pocket & munch until your eyeballs pop out.

If you’ve got another millimeter or two of space, snitch a little of your mom’s smoky, indeed practically blackened, chiles rellenos

or grab 1 more chip to dunk into the guacamole or the kill-you-softly salsa on the appetizer sampler. (I’m not such a fan of the queso, done Texas-style with Velveeta, though I realize it’s not illegit.)

Then take a nap & have kaleidoscopic nightmares about how on earth you’re going to stuff down turkey with all the trimmings the next day. Yes, do it all exactly like that. Such are holidays in the Land of Enchantment.

Charlie's Front & Back Door on Urbanspoon

Dispatch from Bacchus Knows Where, OK: McGeHee Catfish Restaurant

The Toy & Action Figure Museum (whose logo tee the Director’s rocking as we speak) isn’t the only detour Wampus took me on during my trip back home for the Okie Noodling Tournament. On the eve thereof, he & Suzy—his expectant wife, co-gourmet cheesemonger & rare comic equal—drove me all the way to the OK-TX border to do mouth-based research at a legendary catfish palace called McGeHee.


Housed way, way off any main road in an Americana-bedecked cabin overlooking the Red River, the place evokes a clubhouse for ballcapped, grizzled good old boys to sit around in guzzling beer, cheating at cards & spinning fish tales. But when we met a couple of Wampus & Suzy’s friends there around 8 on a Friday night, it was virtually empty—8 being nearly closing time in the middle of nowhere.

I’m not sure there’s anything on the menu besides catfish fried or grilled (but who doesn’t get fried? no one, that’s who), served AYCE family-style with all manner of sides; certainly the ordering process amounted to a smiling confirmation that that’s what we’d be having.

In no time, the waitress returned with a trayful of this & that & this—not only a dish of raw onion slices, peperoncini & lemon wedges but also

Mcgeeheestomatoes Mcgeeheescoleslaw

sweet pickled green tomatoes, hypercreamy coleslaw


& crunchy-tender free-form hush puppies,

which we had just the right amount of time to plow through before the presentation of the beaucoup pièces de résistance.


The cornmeal-fried catfish was expertly done—greaseless, moist & flaky—but I gotta say it was the snappy, salt-dusted, mahogany-hued, skin-on fries that enthralled me most, not least for being the 2nd absolutely spectacular batch of spud sticks I’d had in as many days.

Had we been anywhere Bacchus actually knew—McGeHee is dry—no telling how many I’d have polished off in inebriated bliss, hid in my pockets & otherwise hoarded. So many I’d still be eating ’em now, that I can t ell you.