By JAY REED
Dateline: January. It’s the time of year for making resolutions. Or not.
For me, it’s that time when I look back at the year before and reminisce about those singular edible experiences that didn’t make it into a previous column. It’s not your average year-end top ten list. Rather, these are ten notable bites (served in two courses of five) that crossed my palate during 2012 and for one reason or another never quite fit the topic of the week. In random, non-chronological, non-alphabetical order, here we go.
No. 1 — When I wrote this same series of columns last year, Younger Brother in Charlotte, N.C. reminded me that I had left out something significant. It was an innocent mistake, but he was right. We visited that branch of the Reed tree near the end of the year, and I got it in my head that we had shared this meal around the first of the year. Apparently, I was having a mid-life moment (not quite ready for the senior discount yet) and got my days mixed up. But whether this is a last-minute mention for 2011 or the very earliest of entries for 2012, I still need to tell you about the Penguin Drive-In.
Fans of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" or "Man vs. Food" may know about this place. It opened in Charlotte, N.C. in 1954, and is famous for its pimento cheese burger and fried pickles. We got both of those, and they were great. But the most memorable part of that meal was the Tempura-Fried Footlong Hot Dog. The menu says you can get it on a stick or on two buns — we opted for the stick, because really, that’s how fun fried food should be served, right? It has been at least a year (I do know that), but the contrast between crispy tempura batter on the outside and juicy hot dog on the inside is a very positive memory.
No. 2 — Last February, The Wife and I took a trip to Greenwood for our anniversary. As a part of our weekend we took a cooking class at the Viking School, which I wrote about in detail at the time. We made or sampled essentially six different dishes as a part of that "Decadent Dinner," and all but the soufflé and the cheesecake involved shallots. Before that dinner, I hardly knew what a shallot was, and now it was the behind-the-scenes star of our evening. Later in the year, I went to a cooking demonstration here in town at Thyme, and lo and behold if the guest chef that day didn’t break out some shallots.
As I recall, he described them as something between onion and garlic in flavor, making for a very versatile veggie. Somewhere along the way I thoroughly enjoyed some of them fried like little baby onion rings. Keep your eyes open — shallots are everywhere, and it’s a good thing.
No. 3 — Back in the spring, Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods took a trip along the Blues Trail including a stop in Oxford. While there he visited with Chef John Currence and was treated to a BLT sandwich unique to the extreme — this BLT featured lamb fries. Not long after the show aired in August, through a bit of chance I found myself at City Grocery, Chef Currence’s flagship restaurant. That BLT was still on my mind. It wasn’t on the menu, but one of the appetizers was Sautéed Border Springs Lamb Fries with sunchoke puree, sweet mustard glaze, and crispy shallot (told you so).
My cousin and I split an order just to say we’d done it and were pleasantly surprised at how tasty they were. We invited his wife to eat one without telling her what they were, but I think she was onto our little scheme. Oh, you don’t know what they are, either? I’m going to let you Google that one.
No. 4 — Same meal, different course. To close out the dinner that began with the unusual, an ordinary dessert would never do. I guess ordinary is in the mouth of the beholder, but I don’t think I had ever had a macaron before. I had always been afraid to try one, because macaroons (with a double "o") have coconut. Macarons (a single "o"), I have learned, are an egg-white-based cookie that have nothing whatsoever to do with coconut, therefore making them fit for human consumption. These were basil macarons filled with a balsamic ice cream, with vanilla poached strawberries and fried basil leaves on the side. They could have called it "Basil Two Ways," but no matter the name these were some pretty fantastic little ice cream sandwiches.
No. 5 — On one of my visits to Little Dooey this year, Mr. Wood the Younger pulled me aside to introduce a new sandwich he was about to launch. Ironically, it was another BLT with an outside-the-box ingredient. (No lambs involved this time — don’t worry). I was already halfway through a plate of something yummy that day, but not too many weeks afterwards I took the leap and tried the Bacon, Lettuce, Fried Green Tomato and Fried Oyster sandwich. Thirty-five years ago I was a big fan of the fried oysters at Shoney’s, until I got a bad one — since then I’ve been wary of the little buggers. For those who already embrace the oyster, you will enjoy this new combo. It’s a big sandwich with multiple layers of deliciousness. For the shellfish-challenged like me, it was a nice baby step back into an old friendship.
Stay tuned, the year has just begun. Or ended. You know what I mean.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .