The Backyard Red

IMG 1993 polarr

When Mark Leavy and I went to Italy in 2007, we stopped in at some mountain town in Tuscany for a few days. We got in after 8. It was darkening and there was a light drizzle that was nearly a mist. The old medieval streets twisted and wound up the hill, leading onto piazzas and views of the valley. We would have lingered in the streets drinking in the vibe of what had been, but we were hungry, so we stopped at one of the only places open at that time. The waiter, a middle-aged man, lead us into a dining area that was almost deserted. The chef seemed to be available to put together a meal, not in any hurry, but it was a practiced act, like a dance, not the focused work of an industrial kitchen that it would have been in the States. 

We must have had Bistecca a la Fiorentina. That was all the rage with us at the time. A giant hunk of the smoothest ruminant animal you can imagine, buttery and rare, about a pound of meat each. 

There was also braised rabbit, a dish I will remember for the rest of my life — and never be able to replicate. 

There is a magic in cooking that is specific to place and culture. Nothing ever tastes the same. My abuela’s tamales will never be on earth again. That I know. 

There was a salad of a handful of ingredients. The Italians know how to put oil on grass and it comes off with the lightest touch, not annoying like regular salad, but a miracle of balance. 

And wine.

We asked about the provenance of the wine, certain to have a similar lengthy recitation as the preparation of the meat and the history of the pasta, as in France, where the vineyard, the year, the textural and metaphorical qualities would be enumerated: chocolatey, blackberry, tannic. You know the ropes.

The waiter, who went on to spend the evening discussing politics, history, and economics — including a side jab at the Pope — with a couple of educated Americans, in very good English, said, “Oh, the wine — it grows out back."

We were tickled. There we were, in Italy, us, with the shared culture of Mexico, the street sense of the Anglo laboring class, and in a slush of techie wealth, this waiter's sentiment jibed with our own sneer at the facile pretentions of the nouveau riche

As it turns out, my extended family has a vineyard and puts out a local wine. Lupine Vineyards.

There is an awful lot in the right marketing, and plain folks are not really fancy in quite the way of the French. But they do a good wine. 

The right thing to do is not to belabor the point but relax and enjoy wine. This.

The backyard red.


The BBQ Schacht

January 20, 2022, half-pound of beef brisket with the sauce on the side, potato salad

I had been in need of comfort food, restricting myself to lentils in harissa sauce, miso this miso that, vegan coffee in a romance with a very fine and wonderful individual whom I respect — BUT — the high-minded righteousness was wearing thin, and I could tell I was ranging around hoping to pick up the scent of meat.

This is South Park, so on the way to somewhere else I passed this Peruvian joint that had a fire burning outside and a great big smoker next to it. The sight of that combination turned me right around, like a real Southerner, until I noticed that the comida corrida was only available via GrubHub with a sizeable tip, so no thanks, but I will be back for a sit-down meal when the Omicron wave has passed. I will grant it that — and report on it. 

South Town is going to be talked about in terms of la dolce vita and that means food.

Now I had just spent a year dabbling in vegetarianism to please a dashing young fellow, but it is also not entirely sustainable if a Texas gal is listening to her body.

Which she is.

The real art is to be in balance and not fecklessly allowing mediocrity in the form of the everyday stupid tasteless industrial overmeat or the famishment of hard liquor, candy and roughage that is how vegans actually function most of the time — but in the occasional and delectable balance of everything that is healed.

I am convinced it is no mistake that the favorite food of every President of the United States is barbecue. There is something about carrying the full weight of Old Glory that needs the Cave Man to come in with a pile of charred meat. It is the prize of the mighty hunter, and with the stress of battle that is equal parts relentless and petty, the call comes in for what we can really essentialize, and that is a pile of V-Day in the form of The Apex Predator at The Table.

I called in my order, and did my usual blockheaded thing of asking for my world instead of inquiring of this establishment of what IT had to offer me, and for that I humbly apologize and intend to remedy.

Check the menu:

It is the pulled pork sandwich that is up in lights, not the brisket.

I spent my childhood with a truly great gourmand whose specialty was the affordable eats, principally Mexican, but also anything else within the scope of Texas. My father and I had lunch every Thursday for eight years at one of these affordable establishments. He knew every place in town, and could recount the virtues of every top shelf dish. 

I can almost feel him guilting me about the brisket today.

"Don’t forget what barbeque is. It is a great art, and no one can master all aspects of it."

The smoking of a pig — even the smoking of various parts of a pig — is not the same as the smoking of a beeve.

Growing up we had a beef smoker in the yard. It was two fifty-gallon drums connected by a rusted ole galvanized steel tube. You fed mesquite wood into the bottom drum, and put your meat in the top, and Dad spent all night tending the fire. That is how the brisket is done, and while I am not going to take anyone to task for being from Alabama or thereabouts, and doing the barbeque their way, and their way is pork, yet I am going to recommend that one attend to the reality of the food. 

Get the sandwich next time. It’s not just the meat, but the meat, the bread, the sauce, and a beer, for god’s sake, not coffee.

Look the other way, Rabbi. The Day of Atonement is coming for this Texianic Jew, but there got to be sins or why repent?

© Joann Farias 2024