Blue Plate Special

A discussion of good food from all sorts of sources-- home, restaurants, friends' homes, street festivals and anywhere else that good food can be found.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Surreal Barbecue

I had an absolutely surreal experience at dinner tonight. Pull up a seat and let me tell you about it.

So, yesterday my friend G stopped by and made arrangements for us to go for my (very belated) birthday barbecue dinner tonight at 5:00. He said he was going to bring his sixteen-year-old nephew, T, who is visiting from Detroit. I told him that sounded great and that we would be ready.

We were headed for Chico to a barbecue place called Smokin’ Moe’s, which also has a restaurant in San Luis Obispo. G had been meant to take his nephew up to Oroville Dam for a little site seeing today. Just before the last Oroville turnoff I learned that they hadn’t gone and since it was hours before dark yet, I asked G if they’d still like to go up. He said, "Sure!" I veered off the highway and onto the exit.

As we drove we talked about the various landmarks and geological formations. It was really surprising how much we knew of the local history, architecture, civil engineering, scientific research and geology. Not to mention decades of local gossip, such as when an area hotel had to call the police to breakup a fight between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of a movie called, "The Klansman." But I didn’t unload that gossip until we were driving past the hotel in question and after the surreal situation at dinner, but the subject matter of the movie is important.

So, we drove up to the dam and across it, then turned around and came back across. I drove back down into Oroville and gave him the drive-by tour of the Chinese Temple and the residence of a nineteenth century judge.

Since we were in Oroville and not Chico, I warily suggested we go to Big Lem’s soul food barbecue in "South-Side" Oroville. Everyone was ok with that, so off to South-Side I drove. I had never been to their restaurant before, but I had eaten their food at a Blues Festival that I went to several years ago. I had no idea the entire dining room would consist of three crowded tables for four and two tiny tables for one. Elegant dining, it’s not. Think styrofoam plates and plastic flatware with photos of well known local black musicians and those quasi "mystical" posters of native Americans with forests, waterfalls, and/or wolves on the walls. My combination kitchen/living/dining room, which is only 17 feet by 15 feet, is actually larger than their dining room. I suppose the four of us constituted a "rush" for a tiny place like that.

I’m afraid dinner ended up costing a small fortune, but mostly because G ordered a full slab of ribs, $23.75 (and took a second slab home,) and pints of barbecue beans and potato salad, 4.75 each. I had a desire for a two meat combo platter, chicken and hot links, $14.50. At first, I had ordered the ribs rather than the hot links, but then I realized that G had a full slab and asked him if he would be interested in a trade. He was. K had the tri-tip plate, $9.99, and T ordered a hamburger, $2.95 and large fries, $1.99.

I ordered another large order of fries for the rest of us to share, mostly because I love fries dipped in barbecue sauce, and darned good fries they were, too. They were thicker than the shoestring fries served at most fast food places, but not as thick as dinner fries, crispy, golden brown and perfectly salty. We also ordered six cornbread muffins, $3.75, (one for .75) and they were served cold and horribly dry. There was not enough butter in the world to help those cold, hard muffins.

The ribs and chicken were awesome. The ribs were perfectly tender and the chicken well cooked, tender, smoky and a little garlicky. The tri-tip had too much barbecue sauce on it to tell much, except that it was tender and a little garlicky. I didn’t taste T’s burger, but it looked ok. He certainly wolfed it down quickly. The hot links were good and, indeed, hot. I "outsourced" one and a half of the two of them to K and G. The potato salad was better than most restaurant potato salads, and the barbecue beans were truly great.

Big Lem’s also has several sandwiches, $3.50 to $6.99, catfish dinner, shrimp basket dinner or red snapper dinner, all $8.99. Oddly absent from the menu was any sort of dessert. I’d really had my hopes up for sweet potato pie.

G and I both took menus home with our left-overs and I’m sure we’ll go back again.

As for whether Lem’s is as good as the place we were originally headed, probably not. It’s cheaper, I think, and except for the fish, the offerings are pretty similar. Lem’s potato salad is better, but Smokin’ Moe’s meats are smokier and I think a bit higher quality. Lem’s fries are better, but Moe’s has four styles of barbecue sauce, everything from a thin, vinegary "mop" style to a thick, sweet, tomato and molasses based style.

Ok, now for the surreal part. Big Lem’s Bar-B-Q and Soul Food is (probably obviously) a black-owned restaurant. After we ordered and got settled into our
seats and conversation lagged for a moment, I realized that playing on the television in the dining room was a program on one of the educational cable channels (I’m not sure whether it was Discovery, History, TLC or whatever, it makes no difference,) was a documentary on the history and present day situation of, get this, the Ku Klux Klan!!! (That link is for anyone who might not be familiar with the mob mentality [read: mass insanity] that is the KKK.)

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a surreal experience in my life. Sitting>down to a soul-food dinner, served in a black-owned restaurant, while watching a documentary on the KKK. When the waiter came out to bring K’s plate, someone on the program yelled the "n" word just as he was about put Ks plate down his head spun around and I thought K might end up with a lap full of hot food but he quickly regained his composure and set the plate down without incident.

The situation was so bizarre that I couldn’t help but comment on it to my dining companions, the waiter, the cook, and Big Lem, himself. The waiter and Lem asked me if I wanted them to turn it off. I told them that it was up to them, that if they were cool with it being on, than I was always interested in learning more about what makes the mind of a crazy person tick. They laughed, and Lem pulled up a comfy chair and sat down and watched with us. The cook said that one good thing about the old days and the KKK was that at least back then a person could tell by the sheets and pointy hats who the bad guys were, now it can be anyone.

We ended up not bringing much home, at all. Just a bit of tri-tip, some beans and a small piece of hot link. Oh yeah, and the awful muffins. I might do the old southern thing where you crumble last night’s cornbread into a bowl of hot milk and sprinkle a little sugar or drizzle a bit of honey over the top. It’s probably the only way those things are edible.

Ok, it’s late and I’m tired. Goodnight.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Feeding Faces

Come on, kid! Get a grip!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Format Changes

This blog is going to change formats. It's going to join the throng of other "flogs" or food weblogs. That was the original intent, hence the name. I'll have some old entries from another blog to upload here and I eat every day (unless I'm deathly ill!) so there will be plenty to discuss.

I'll be moving all the more personal entries from this blog to another as yet unnamed blog. Should you be interested, just leave me a comment or email me and I'll let you know where that stuff is going. I just know that I need a blog where I can feel free to write the absolute truth about my life and my feelings. I guess I'll have to wait and see how that goes.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Tomatoes and Basil

I made a great dinner last night at S&W Arms. We had prosciuto wrapped crenshaw melon slices, bow tie pasta with a sauce of red and orange cherry tomatoes and yellow pear tomatoes which I oven roasted with a few heads of garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper. I cut some fresh mozzarella cheese into small strips and added some torn fresh basil leaves and topped the whole thing off with paper thin slices of Parmesan. It turned out to be exactly what I wanted. Kind of a "Pasta Margherita," I guess. I served it with some roasted garlic-Parmesan French bread, which was also really good.


Farfalle with Roasted Tomato Sauce, Basil and Two Cheeses

Two-year-old Johnna helped me cook, too! She stood on a chair and pulled basil leaves off the stems with me, and then scooped them up and put them into the food processor so that I could make pesto with the remainder of the basil. I told her what all the ingredients were and let her taste them alone and then when it was all combined. She sucked on a lemon wedge while watching the ingredients whirl around in the processor bowl.

I always make pesto when I buy big bunches of basil at farmer's markets and then freeze it, sometimes in ice cube trays. It's very handy. I rarely eat it just as pesto, but use it to make really easy fresh tomato sauce. Pesto is just two cups of basil leaves (flowers, too, if they are in bloom,)a cup of olive oil, two medium cloves of garlic, a half cup of ground Parmesan, the juice of half a lemon, a dash of Tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Most recipes call for pine nuts, but I rarely use them, I don't find that they add enough to the sauce to make it worth the expense. Blanched almonds will work, too.

To make a fresh tomato sauce, just skin and seed the tomatoes, put a little olive oil in a pot, saute a bit of garlic in the oil, add the tomatoes, some Italian seasoning and a bit of water and cook it down. Puree it with a hand blender (if you want) and cook it down a bit farther. When it is as thick as you'd like it to be, add about half a teaspoon of sugar, a couple of tablespoons of the frozen pesto, a little anchovy paste is a great seasoning that adds a lot of depth of flavor and won't taste fishy, and season to taste with salt and pepper. It's particularly good on cheese ravioli and as pizza sauce.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What Working in a Top Restaurant is REALLY Like News Chefs Rule! (Page 5) 2005-07-07

Oh, so true! Every word. When I cut my hand, requiring seven stitches, I was asked two questions: "Do you really NEED stitches?" and, "Did you get any blood on the chicken you were cutting?" The answers were yes and then no. I was told to get a fresh napkin, wrap the wound with pressure, sit on the stairs and wait until a busboy could take me to the urgent care center. This was the most polite and considerate chef in the restaurant, too.

I was in the ninth hour of my ninth consecutive day of work when I slipped and cut my hand. I was lucky because I had the next three days in a row off, a regular vacation by kitchen standards. When I went back, I had to wear a rubber glove over my gauze covered hand, which got very sweaty and certainly wasn't kept dry as the doctor had instructed. I could barely grasp a potato to peel it, and couldn't lift anything heavy enough to require two hands (which is only EVERYTHING in a professional kitchen) and still had the executive chef standing a couple of inches behind my right shoulder yelling, "Faster, faster, FASTER!!!" in my ear as I worked.

About a month later I found that at three o'clock in the morning, my stomach would turn over because I had to be at work in twelve hours. When I found myself driving to work contemplating the merits of wrapping my car around a telephone pole rather than actually going to work, I gave my two-weeks notice.

I went on to a more responsible position in a smaller restaurant, with another jerk chef, and then becoming head chef at a private club. The private club was the best gig I ever had. I miss it tremendously.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Meet Espresso's Exacting Master

MSNBC - Meet espresso�s exacting master

This is the kind of attention to detail that separates us "foodies" from the average person. I wish this coffee house was in MY neighborhood!

Here's a hijacked photo of the lovely product of such exacting standards:

coffee perfection

Friday, December 24, 2004

How Elderly is Your Ham?

When we went to Mom’s house last weekend she, as usual, sent some kitchen items. While I’m sure it’s not good karma, and I know it certainly isn’t nice to look a gift horse in the mouth, some of the things she sends sometimes should go directly into her trash, rather than making the commute from her house to mine before hitting the dumpster. This last box was no exception to this rule.

Now, there were some very fine and useful items in the box, to be sure. I love the chicken tortilla soup, and I’m sure I’ll figure out something to do with a gallon of chili (no beans,) but there was also a container of Mexican style cream that expired two-weeks ago, a bag of salami that expired at the end of November, and some orange juice that still had three good days.

Tonight while I was slogging through email, and not really paying attention, the Kid was riffling through the contents of the deli drawer in the fridge. After a couple of moments he turned to me and asked, “How elderly is this ham?” It struck me so funny, that even half an hour later I’m still chuckling at the thought.