There are places around the US and around the world that are known for or defined by a certain something culinary.
Some that I have had the chance to enjoy: Colcannon potatoes in Ireland; Haggis in Scotland; Fish and Chips in England; Prosciutto di Parma, Pesto, Fresh Porcini Mushrooms, and Buffala Mozarella in Italy; Lamb in Colorado; the ultimate Tex Mex, including Queso, in Texas; Conch chowder in Florida; Rainbow trout in Idaho; and then there are too many things to include from California that define the state from North to South.
Oh, and, of course, many Irish Coffees in Ireland and stateside, wines from around the world, some of the best margaritas from scratch, and the perfect Bellini made at the home of where Bellini's were created - Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy.
Yes, I am a very lucky culinarian and oenophile (to include "cocktail junky" when appropriate), but I am always overwhelmed when going out to eat with someone when I get to suggest where to go, what to eat, and what to drink when this "someone" has the upper hand on the actual culinary genre we are about to embark on.
So, I present you with this case study of a foodie, from lunch today.
Brett had mentioned plenty of times in the last few days that soul food was on his mind, specifially fried chicken. He would also include the craving for proper collard greens, sweet tea, and some mac and cheese. Being that he is born and bred from Atlanta, GA, I felt nervous mentioning, "well, there is this place, Hard Knox Cafe, here in SF, that is known for its amazing fried chicken and sides, and personally, I think it is the best in the city."
I mean, really, I live in California. I have never been to the South (well, other than Texas) to sample what I have seen on TV as authentic Southern fried chicken. The Colonel from the origins of KFC made it a staple back in the day (and I don't even want to comment on where the chain is now...), and as Brett picked up my iPhone, looked up the reviews on Yelp and decided that he really wanted to try this place, I was immediately happy that I knew I had made the right decision but absolutely terrified at the same time.
Terrified? Yes -I mean, are you KIDDING? I am a Cali girl - he is a Southern boy - he knows his stuff when it comes to fried chicken and appropriate sides. It was a bonus that I had eaten at Hard Knox before, but still, I tried to hide my fear of failure when it came to a California take on a Southern specialty. There was a lot to live up to, and I loved knowing that Brett was going to be the Simon Cowell of the meal. Traditional Southern fare in California - bring it on!
We got to the location (there are two) on Clement St. between 25th and 26th Avenues, walked in, and I held my breath. We sat down, looked at the menu, and both knew what we were going to order - I the fried catfish with collard greens and mac and cheese, Brett the fried chicken with the same sides. But, the first second that I took a breath was when Brett realized that they had Crystal hot sauce available at the table. This made him really happy. I took a drip of the sauce on my finger, and I have to say it was delish. Less hot than vinegary, it was a treat to try something new to me, yet so familiar to someone that was about 3,000 miles from his hometown.
Brett ordered the sweet tea, said it was pretty good, whew. Then the cornbread came, to which he said it was pretty good cornbread. It was cooked to order - slightly sweet but not floury at all; rather a bit crumbly, as we both agreed cornbread should be. Off to a good start.
I must add that he wasn't being a harsh critic at all - rather he was being a true critic, and I asked him to be so.
Our lunch entrees arrived, and Brett dove right in. Drumstick, then thigh, then breast, sharing some of the amazing crispy skin with me, as well as the meat. The chicken was the best part - moist and tasty, accented by the perfect frying temperature of the flour coating on the skin. My fried catfish was also a winner, battered in a light cornmeal crust and cooked to absolute perfection.
The collard greens? Both of us exclaimed that they were the freshest and tastiest, though they needed some salt. I was just so happy to see Brett scarfing down his plate. He asked the server for spicy vinegar, for the greens, and the server knew exactly what he was talking about - the vinegar tasted like a hot, pickled pepper vinegar and dressed the greens lightly yet pungently when dipped in. YUM.
Mac and Cheese? Just OK. But, the best was Brett's excitement that it wasn't a disappointment to what he knew as traditional Southern food here in California. When I asked him how does this compare to Southern fried food, keeping in mind that we were in CA, he said he would give it a 6 out of 10. I asked what the difference would be, and he said I would just have to experience it. Well, I will be there in November and will have more to report then!
Wherever you are in the US or outside, it's always interesting to see food and culture though another person's perspective. Can't wait to experience more!