could food writing save dallas's food scene?

Last month, Leslie Brenner, the Dallas Morning News's formerly incognito and largely controversial food critic, penned an appraisal of the Dallas food scene that tasted a lot to me like validation. It was one of the few pieces of food writing in and about this city made of equal parts honesty and undiluted self-awareness of the trendiness weakening its food culture that also put forth a sort of solution.

Hers is typically not the kind of writing I prefer to read. Brenner's brand of honesty is criticized locally and elsewhere as overly critical. Her article calls cooking in Dallas this summer "remarkably unremarkable," a symptom of how the fickleness of the dining public, the exodus of chefs from top restaurants, and the lack of qualified line cooks continue to macerate any remnant of creative culinary energy. What a picture to paint!

And even as I felt my misgivings about the vibrancy of Dallas food culture confirmed by her words, I could also sense—and track on Twitter and elsewhere—the collective sigh of the city's food writers as over the Trinity and through the tollway, to LesBren's doorstep it went. This post is my way of joining them. But you should know that I use that same breath to agree with Brenner on this one important point: hospitality could fix the Dallas dining scene.

Brenner suggests chefs repair the food culture by focusing on hospitality, "giving us experiences that are thoughtful, delicious and pleasurable." But the type of hospitality that could better succeed, I think, is one food writers are uniquely suited and responsible for. And it's a hospitality that has much more to do with what what we do beyond restaurants' doors, before we cross the threshold, than what we should expect from chefs and other hospitality professionals once we arrive to their care.  

There has been no shortage of articles across the city's publications that decry current Dallas food and instill fear in chefs and diners alike over the future to come. In 2015, there was Nancy Nichols's "My Five Cents: Dallas Has Too Many Boring American Restaurants" followed up by Scott Reitz's headline equivalent of an exasperated shoulder shrug, "[whelp]Another Critic Says Dallas' Dining Scene is in a Rut." And these were written five years after two-editors-ago Hanna Raskin's "Homesick Restaurants: How Dallas Became a Dining Nowhereville," revealing time had not improved eating here. But both Nichols and Reitz have left their posts as critics at D Magazine and The Observer, respectively, and two wonderful writers have followed after them—in position, that is, though much less in style. Eve Hill-Agnus and Beth Rankin edit and write stories that celebrate Dallas food (theirs is the kind of writing I like to read), and manage to do so without the irreverent tone I had come to believe was Dallas food journalism's only operating speed. 

And you can't blame me for believing irreverence overpowered sincerity in Dallas food media. The Observer's food blog adopted a curious moniker, City of Ate, that echoed the city's reputation as the City of Hate. For an outlet that covers the hospitality industry—even if an alternative, edgy weekly—this association with the hostile environment of its past confounded me. Thankfully, this name, though it remains in print and as a Twitter handle, seems to have become de-emphasized in the alt weekly's online publications. But that it was ever part of the city's food culture might offer clues about where and how it has, apparently, been going wrong. 

Critique is hostile in its way, isn't it? The presence of an overly critical press machine has churned out not only a casserole of contested restaurant reviews but also a local food culture remarkably devoid of harmony. Hanna Raskin, in the Washington Post's survey of the critic-chef turmoil and its damage, said, "What's unique about Dallas is the total absence of mutual respect in the food-writing community." And Robb Walsh, co-founder of Foodways Texas and longtime Texas food writer, echoed her sentiments, calling Dallas "a vortex of negativity." 

When I first became a Dallas diner in 2013, I waded quickly and cautiously through story after story describing the city's food and restaurants as "hot," "pretty," and "sexy," rolling my eyes with each unsavory adjective, submerging any doubt that Liz Lemon had taken deep root in my heart. But I maintained hope, and still do, that somewhere beneath its glossy exterior resides a smart, sincere core replete with culinary profundities to explore. Practicing hospitality—as eaters, as readers, as writers—is the start of a voyage to know it and its people better. 

‘Dallas has done such a good job of disguising its edible traditions that few eaters—here or elsewhere—can confidently describe the city’s cuisine.’
— Hanna Raskin

Raskin's article all those moons ago was not simply another complaint, but a genuine concern for Dallas's food identity—the matter that's really at stake in all of this hand-wringing. She believed then that "Dallas has done such a good job of disguising its edible traditions that few eaters—here or elsewhere—can confidently describe the city's cuisine." The recent spate of articles devoted to or gesturing toward a restaurant bubble on the verge of bursting suggests that her concerns linger in the minds of many. 

All of this combines into a marvelous opportunity—and grand responsibility, really—for food writers in this city. We tell the story of Dallas through food with each stroke of the key, each picture snapped, each chef-writer relationship formed, each meal shared. Such stories play a larger role than we often admit, alongside chefs, menus, servers, and atmospheres, in shaping food experiences. These stories, to properly honor their subjects, must be more than Hot 10 Lists and hotly anticipated openings (though these are important too). Like proper dinner guests who never arrive empty-handed at a host's door, we too must relentlessly arrive to the occasion of crafting food stories with generosity in tow. 

Generosity of this kind is required of diners, sure, and Brenner suggests this, too. But it perhaps applies especially to food writers, who must sit down to write each feature and every blurb having asked questions first and arriving at judgment only later, if ever, much more often telling the stories of the people who wish to make their living by enhancing the lives of others from the inside out—by nourishing them in ways biological and intangible. Could we strive to know them even better than what they offer us on their plates or, at the very least, yearn to know both in equal measure? I think so. 

Food journalism can—even if just for a time, like during the present moment of repair—principally seek and spread the good in lieu of the critical, thereby modeling for diners how to engage generously with the food scene—to eat it up without devouring it. This is hospitality.  

the plucky Irishwoman she isn't

My sister is a middle child and she has never let anyone forget it. The only chorus ringing louder than her plea for my mother to make shepherd's pie is her vehement contestation that she never, ever gets her way, particularly if my older brother or I would prefer something different.

In all honesty, it was only once that I remember my mom making shepherd's pie, and I--the baby of the family--didn't like the way perfectly good mashed potatoes were made to be propped atop a strangely-seasoned meat mixture. And so we never had it again.

Sorry, Sara.

What we did have, over and over again, sometimes whipped into a main dish, were my mother's mashed potatoes. You see, as foreign as shepherd's pie was to my childish palate, so too was my mother's born heritage. Her ancestors are Polish and German--the "s-k-i" at the end of her maiden name giving her away. But, dammit, this beer-loving, potato-mashing woman of conviction is Irish. On St. Patrick's Day she crosses out the beginning of our last name on her desk's name plate and adds an 'O' and an apostrophe. For one day at least the world knows her as Julie O'browski. 

She's always been resourceful like this. So, met with exhaustion at the end of a work day or weariness at the pantry having dimmed to further creativity, she, like the plucky Irishwoman she isn't, turned to mashed potatoes. Perhaps it's in my blood, because I, too, often turn to this root vegetable in times of almost certain famine--like when payday is close but still so far away yet no one should ever, as Mrs. O'browski instructed, put anything on a credit card. 

The preparation was simple--chop, boil until soft, mash, and season judiciously with salt and pepper.
Lots of pepper.

On nights with mashed potatoes and no shepherd's pie, together we'd set our butcher-block-topped family table for a meal that ignored once again the preferences of the middle one. Usually it accompanied some kind of meat mom had set the oven timer to cook during the day while she was at work--a strange level of trust in a heating element from a woman who perpetually awaits the day the clothes dryer causes the entire house to explode. 

But with the meat that didn't blow up the house, always those simple, signature mashed potatoes with their glistening flakes of salt that mirrored the sparkle in my mother's smiling, non-Irish eyes at witnessing her family eating all together what she had made for them. 

So, on this St. Patrick's day--a celebration of our heritage or the legacy of a heritage we wish was our own--why not raise a glass to where we come from and the smaller moments that remind us of it, be it mashed potatoes or a Guinness-fueled round

Oh, and I truly own no green clothing or accessories.
Please don't pinch me. 

in love and bolognese

Beneath a canopy of white Christmas lights strewn handsomely and chivalrously around the wooden, mast-like beams of his rented carriage house behind an historic St. Louis home, my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I kneaded dough for pasta. 

It was a week before Christmas, but Chris and I's chosen date to celebrate. Homemade pasta, we thought, what a tradition to begin--something we admitted with a hopeful demureness, owning that we had thought, so early, less than six months in, about there being another year of us for establishing such patterns of celebration.

It was the second of two remarkable culinary moments between us in this kitchen. This one harkened back to the first when he, like a suave golf pro, stood behind me, guiding my hands to slice a cucumber with his set of shiny, sharper-than-my-Target-brand Global knives. Over drinks before my slicing lesson, as it were, I shared my enthusiasm for fine cooking instruments, those particular knives especially, intending this divulgence as a major flirt but masquerading it as a coincidental, common appreciation. 

But on this night, pasta night, it was me guiding our hands as we created a well in flour, stirred the eggs, olive oil and water cradled within it, and--in the muck of it--found ourselves elbow deep in flour, sure, but also the anticipation of a profession of love.

Instead, that night, we timidly professed our adoration of the marriage between butternut squash and a sumptuous sage-browned butter sauce. We, from our spots on the carpet, huddled around a grad-school grade (read: old and borrowed) coffee table to marvel at the thing we had made together. He would tell me later that he had kicked himself for not telling me he loved me that night, and I would confess that I wanted to kick him that night for the same reason--for not telling me he loved me. But those were early days. And still, through the flurry of flour and the kneading of dough and then the marveling at its results, we worked up a taste of love and tradition that now transports me back to this time and place more than three words would ever have been able.

It's the transportive power of this night that prompted me to write about it during a recent, fabulous, 2-day food writing workshop, and it was such a lovely trip back in time that we decided to immerse ourselves deep in flour once again this February 14 and I decided to share it with you, dear readers.

When you're being ambitious, you might as well be overly-ambitious, too, so in addition to making tagliatelle we also made the renowned Marcella Hazan's famed bolognese sauce. This sauce--like the process of making pasta, like the dance of falling in love--is slow and sweet and cooks, deliciously, at "the laziest of simmers." Patience, here, is a virtue.

It's a perfect recipe for a Sunday, or for whichever day of the week you move at your laziest pace. There's whole milk and white wine and a grating of fresh nutmeg to make you feel fancy. And then there's 3 hours or more of simmering that, while politely not chaining you to the stove, do summon you to be at home. The rewards for being there are simple but luxurious in their way: a constantly evolving and ever-deepening scent of tomato and wine and oh, there's that nutmeg, and then, when the aroma has become an almost-ordinary part of your world and you barely notice it anymore, the occasional bloop of the sauce's sluggish simmer reminds you it's still there. 

It's in those moments of forgetting and then remembering that you might, as I did, wish you had somewhere else to be, just for a moment, so that you could return home again to breathe it in anew.

In love and bolognese, this story is the same. 

Mangia.

 

through the magnifying glass

Tucked in an unassuming garden space behind an unassuming building in a modest yet typically luscious (the lushness typical of the Pacific Northwest) neighborhood in Seattle is the entrance to an absolute gem of a place, one that calls itself a community kitchen. I didn't go there to cook, at least not in the traditional sense; I joined a community of writers to cook up stories of food and life under the graceful guidance of the inimitable Molly Wizenberg

Gathered around a single long, rustic wooden table and perched atop tall, robin egg blue aluminum chairs, we poured our experiences with food into pen and page. The name with which that space has been christened, The Pantry, is particularly apt. We had all come to this place, in one way or another, to restock our creative pantries--those tight receptacles we all have, some with neat shelves and some with organized piles, but all nevertheless filled with ingredients with the potential to fill us up. Some of us arrived seeking inspiration for combining anew the ingredients within and others of us (me) came to restock, to feel full again, able to produce in ways that haven't felt quite possible for a bit.

To start, we talked about what food writing should do. Often, Molly explained, writing can be used to examine food. To note its colors, its textures, its tastes, its significance. But our task for the weekend was to re-imagine food as the tool through which we note the textures of our worlds and the things that make them up. And so, through the magnifying glass of food, we peered deeper into the smaller moments of our lives, and little details surrounding them, to see them closer, bigger. For many of us that meant remembering things we'd thought we'd forgotten or stumbling upon revelations we hadn't realized.

In part, one such realization entailed thinking of food writing not so much as writers writing about food, but instead as an occasion of food writing. It's the food, really, that's doing most of the work. It brings us together, it offers us opportunities for putting things together into something that helps us feel accomplished, not to mention things that are delicious, that we keep returning to as reliable meals, and that help us return to moments in time we want to remember or didn't even know we wanted to remember. 

What struck me most in reading some food writing--where food actually appears as less than the star of the show, when a writer admits to not recalling the details of a meal but instead all the life details that surrounded it--is how consequential the seemingly inconsequential can be. Food writing; when it does, it magnifies so much.

Now that I've submitted (finally!) the full draft of my dissertation, it's time to write again. I'm excited now, after this workshop lit the proverbial flame beneath my backside, to dig a little bit deeper into what food magnifies for me, to restock my creative pantry, and to find from food the words to help me write again about the significant consequence of the otherwise inconsequential.

Join me, won't you?
Meet me here and we'll share this donut:


do what you do

I know the differences between a stout and a porter. I know which beers don't belong in a pint glass. I know that I love the way a hop-forward IPA has a nose that burns in a good way. I know what a whale is and I maintain a catalog of their names in my memory, always on alert for when they might surface. And I know the joyful feeling of cracking open a cellared barrel-aged bomber to find it so perfectly mellow in the front and boozy in the back that worth the wait can't even begin to describe the treasure that is time. 

I'm a craft beer lover. 
And, what's more, I'm a girl.

I'm a girl who delights in sidling up to the bar knowing exactly what she wants, shattering many a bartender's expectations when her drink of choice is neither a perky, sweet cider or an oh-so-drinkable zinfandel. 

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not alone; there are ladies drinking and brewing craft beer all over this fine country. But it's true, the industry can look largely like a boys' club. 

That fact doesn't intimidate me. I rarely give it a second thought, really. But it's my hope that the - at least for now - uneven population won't intimidate other women who might like to expand their drinking.

The good news is that this gender issue has not simply been swept under the fermenter. Groups such as Pink Boots Society and St. Louis' own Femme Ferment have formed to represent and encourage women working in the industry.  It's a topic that has been called out in various media outlets and, most recently, one featured at the Henry Herbst Memorial Craft Beer Symposium during St. Louis Craft Beer Week.

quite unfortunately missed this year's week-long festival due to travel, and was forced to follow the events by tracking tweets from afar. Fortunately, the St. Louis beer community is skilled at both tweeting and boozing (and only sometimes both at once). 

The conversation surrounding "Women in Craft Beer," - the session's title - carries many of the same notes as does talk about the place of women in the professional kitchen: why are there no great women chefs?

The debates about women in these two industries are not infrequent and are quite predictable, following a similar narrative that is easy to rehearse. First, cooking and brewing are described as once domestic duties that women performed for little praise and as part of the mundane chores of homemaking. Then, the professionalization of cooking and brewing will be marked as bringing those tasks to the male domain where mundanity somehow magically becomes transformed into award-worthy. And then ultimately we're left with an invocation to do something, anything, to increase the visibility and efficaciousness of women in these industries. 

Now I cannot, in light of historical narratives, disagree with the logic of these arguments. And I certainly don't believe these conversations to be of little value. I do, however, have some concerns about how this predictable narrative of women's exclusion will shape our efforts to celebrate their inclusion. 

I worry that if we give too much energy over to drinking's perceived inequalities that we'll miss out on seeing it instead as the rich diversity women and men offer craft beer. Let us not, I say, risk throwing the proverbial wort out with the grain by critiquing the place of women but instead encourage all beer enthusiasts to love what they love, drink what they drink, and be intimidated only by the vast possibilities for enjoying craft beer. 

My call differs from that of those where-my-ladies-at? narratives I've referenced, and asks those of us who know how good beer can be to invite more people to the tasting table no matter who they are. Let's do away with self-consciousness surrounding beer drinking - which, as most of us know, is largely about lowering inhibitions anyway - and agree that the best policy is to simply do what you do

Cheers to St. Louis and its beer community for embracing and encouraging that mantra throughout dedicated beer weeks and all the weeks in between. 

a uniqueness to the effervescence

I remember vividly the first time I sipped on sparkling water. 

It was during my second, jet-lag-filled day in Milan when the Italian student coordinators of my study abroad program invited we wide- and sleepy- eyed Americans to "take a coffee" with them at a corner bar. With this wonderfully poetic translation of the activity we're wont to crassly call grabbing coffee, I became instantly enchanted by the idea. And only a small part of that was due to the six hour time difference.

As is customary, the bar served up their smooth-as-honey espresso with a side of sparkling water. At the time I was new to both (I haven't seen the numbers but I don't think Nebraska, where I grew up, has a big market for either), and their newness was enough to strike delight in me with each sip. First a sip of water, then a sip of espresso, perhaps another sip of water, and then it's up to you who gets the final sip as you choose which taste you'd like to have linger. I often still have trouble deciding.

I repeated this choreographed sipping at bar after bar after bar over the next several months. Each time my tongue became awash with carbonation I marveled at this simple little water's transformative effects. When I sipped it before the espresso it made my taste buds feel like they had been renewed, rolling out a Tongue 2.0 with an improved capacity for making bitterness palatable. When I sipped the water after the espresso, it erased all traces of the coffee as if it had never danced across my tongue. 

You see, palate cleansing is sparkling water's main role in its partnership with espresso.

There is a uniqueness to the effervescence, and it has everything to do with its effects on the tongue. So how does it work?

If we're being honest with ourselves, to a newcomer this water, sometimes called seltzer, can be quite - what's the word? - funky. Not many of us are used to water being bubbly. The sparkling factor makes water seem like it almost has...taste. And we're somewhat programmed, for our safety, to detect and avoid taste in water. Ever since I first tried it I've been curious about both its palate-cleansing abilities and the funk factor, and I'm not alone.

Researchers have investigated the effects of carbonation on taste, and found that the particularities of this taste - and, yes, it is a taste - have to do with cells in the taste bud that respond to CO2. These particular cells are the same cells that most intensely respond to sourness. The interaction between these "sour cells" and carbonation results in the production of protons which are "basically simple, sour acid." And so we do, in fact, taste carbonation.

So that's that. 

But what about palate cleansing; does it reliably succeed or is it a fickle victory for taste buds who spend their short lifespan - each lives for about 10 days - responding to such a long and varied parade of tastes that at some point they ease back onto the curb and stop collecting the candy?

Some have written master's theses on the topic, books such as Cooking for Geeks have taken up the challenge, and we seem left with a general sense that palate cleansing is more complicated than spittoons at a wine tasting would have us believe. That is, cleansing is not just about ridding the tongue of previous tastes but also priming it to respond to new ones.

Pairing wine with a meal showcases especially well the two processes that palate cleansing seeks to either counteract or enhance: carryover and adaptation.

Wine pairings are touted as having transformative capacities - enhancing the subtle notes of a dish, bringing forward underlying notes of a well-aged red or coyly-dry white. Sips of wine carryover to tastes of cheeses flavoring them anew, and various food fats - from meat, say - leave behind traces on the tongue that adapt it and change the taste buds' reception of wine's boozy signals.

Whereas palate cleansers work to avoid carryover and the interaction of different tastes, I quite like how adaptation treats substances such as sparkling water or crackers or wine more like palate primers. To me this makes them somehow more visible and more effectual in their own right. And I think they deserve that, funky as they may be. 

An espresso bar worth its weight in beans will be intent on highlighting the nuances of its roasts, and will call in the expertise of sparkling or seltzer water not for its ability to wash away the tongue's history but to adapt it, prime it, for writing an even better future. 

Next time you're offered sparkling water, before you thoughtlessly sidestep it for its flat and free cousin Tap, consider seriously the transformative power it could hold for your palate. 

And if nothing else, at least get your funk on with some bubbly.

 

 

 

all their drinks on fire

I've just begun reading Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked. It's a veritable tome, weighing in at 468 pages, taking up the daunting challenge of tracing the long history of cooking as a cultural and chemical process. He divides the book, and therefore cooking, into four parts that correspond with the four classical elements of fire, water, air, and earth. Each part connects these elements to a type of cooking - fire with barbecue, water with boiling, air with baking, and earth with fermentation. 

I'm choosing to credit my current rumination of the book's first part - fire - for my recent fascination with cocktails-set-aflame.

During a recent evening out with friends at a lovely spot in Omaha, The Berry and Rye (yes, Nebraska is cool!), I scoured the menu for drinks that arrived at the table with some element of drama, preferably of the blue-orange, flickering kind. I eventually settled on two drinks, neither of which came with such smoke and mirrors; each did come, however, with tastes so wonderful that the lack of flames became mere embers of disappointment that I happily raked over with things like tarragon syrup, chocolate bitter liqueur, and dill-infused vodka. Still, inspired by the drinks we observed being prepared with flame or smoke - in particular the featured Trinidad Smoke - we decided as a group to open a cocktail bar of our own where patrons would receive all their drinks on fire. I'll keep you updated on our progress. 

In the name of a "research trip," I went in search a week later for more, finding a cocktail that took fiery to heart. Not only was it set on fire, but it was made with chili-infused don's mix (a grapefruit-y and cinnamon-y simple syrup). "the walker," as it's called, marries four roses bourbon, zucca amaro, passion fruit chili-infused dons mix, lemon, and orange. It was served with half of a lime, pulp up, filled with bourbon and set aflame. It came to me ablaze and I had the joy of extinguishing the flame when I was ready, stirring the caramelized, citrusy, sugary goodness, dispersing it throughout the tiki mixture. But, you may wonder: why?

To cook is to transform. At its most basic, cooking is our way of outsourcing digestion for which we don't have the energy or capacity to perform (think: raw meat). But why cook a cocktail? If there's one task we don't seem to wish to delegate, it would be imbibing. 

I haven't been able to come up with a satisfying, curiosity-quenching answer to that question, but I have, à la Pollan, traced this tradition of igniting alcohol back to its inception.

Starting with my limited knowledge, I recalled an evening a few months ago at the southern-cuisine spot, Juniper, where I witnessed the bartender performing some flashy acrobatics. (Remind me to tell you more about this place.) In the dimly-lit, brick-wall-encased dining room, flanked by colorful vintage refrigerators and long wooden tables handmade from reclaimed wood from the surrounding area, this daring bartender began pouring a thin, continuous flame from cup to cup. He extinguished the flame by placing the empty cup over the one filled with fire, and then served with a garnish - as if any more flare were required - to his awestruck guests.

I had heard of this cocktail before, but never encountered it on a menu. The original fiery concoction was developed around 1862, when bartender Jerry Thomas revealed his signature hot toddy with a twist. Clearly, that twist was more than a lemon peel. Named the Blue Blazer (sweet video!), the drink transforms the usual whiskey-mixed-with-sugar-and-water affair into a liquid flame poured from one silver mug to another. I'm coming to learn that the Blue Blazer looks subdued when placed next to recent innovations. Wayne Curtis details the rise in pyrotechnics, and I assure you it is a delightful read.

You see, the tradition of fire is long, complex, and robust. And while there's no particularly logical explanation for why we set fire to our alcohol, it's clear that it's just good fun. It's dramatic, theatrical. I quite like that part of it. If you're looking for a way to transform your drinking routine, might I suggest you add a flicker and a flare. Er, maybe ask a professional do that for you. You won't be disappointed. 

 

 

that time missouri saved the french wine industry

It's a great story, the one about that time Missouri saved the French wine industry. 

And it's not even a folkloric attempt at painting more sophisticated the state known widely and almost exclusively for its native Budweiser. But it's true: in addition to light beers and clydesdales, Missouri also grows some of the best grapes in the nation. 

It was my soon-to-be father-in-law who first informed me of the heroism of Missouri's humble vines. I know, "American Wine Country" is rarely synonymous with Missouri. But a visit to any of the wineries surrounding St. Louis is likely to incite suspicions of something grander having taken root in the state's terroir. The vast and breathtaking views take me by surprise each time I see them. They are the perfect reward for a longish drive from the city that's marked by winding stretches of road, hairpin turns, and the occasional steep climb. My remark is often something like: this doesn't feel anything like Missouri. But then I remember: this place is pretty great. 

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If you squint a bit, you might even transport yourself momentarily to the Bordeaux region of France. But like smelling salts to a fainty Southern belle, the spicy nose and dry but fruity Nortons poured in the company of these gorgeous hills will place you right back in Missouri. 

A Norton wine, which takes its name from Missouri's official state grape, is just one of a few I've imbibed in recent summer afternoons. Chandler Hill VineyardsStone Hill Winery and Montelle Winery all have excellent Nortons. Don't worry, I've spread my sampling of them across several occasions. I'm telling you, those roads are winding. 

Luckily for weary travelers, each of these places offers generous tasting pours. Without that option, I may have never reached for a Chambourcin - a wine that's somewhat fruitier and less dry than a Norton if it wants to be - which seems to consistently appear on lists around here. In fact, it is this variety that is perhaps most suited to represent Missouri wine industry given the grape's French-American hybridity. 

There was a time, in the mid-19th century, when the French wine industry almost...wasn't. Plagued by a pest it couldn't shake, much of France's grape crop faced certain demise. Missouri's state entomologist at the time (a fancy term for a "bug guy"), Charles Valentine Riley, discovered that American rootstocks - that part of the vine shaft that remains underground - were fit to resist what the French roots could not. The French were able to graft their grapes to these rootstocks thereby saving not just a fruit crop but the yields of a vital cultural and economic harvest. 

Missouri is relatively quiet about this victory for its grapes and terroir. Maybe because it happened so long ago. Perhaps it's because France has exceeded Missouri's reputation for enviable vines. Or maybe what Missouri's grapes need is a steed of a spokesperson, to remind the wine-drinking public that this rootstock's for you?

Missouri might be synonymous with Budweiser, but look closer and you'll see a richer and more complex history of booze. After all, how else could this little rectangle in the middle of flyover country be deemed the best state for drinking

Cheers.

a pork scrapple so fine

There's something unfathomably lovely about having your spirits lifted by someone or something when that person or thing didn't even know you needed lifting up to begin with. 

Such was the case during a recent visit to a special place - known for its spirits - that is normally lovely on its own, but was made even more so on this particular evening by its caring people, its always-stellar food and drink, and the kind of weight peculiar to the last evening you spend with your love before one of you moves 700 miles away. 

 

The days leading up to this recent evening had left our cheeks stiffened by tears, our minds stretched by thoughts of distance, and our hearts yearning for the regular rhythm we had come to known as ours. 

And so we endeavored to relive moments that marked the beginning of us.
It was a fitting task, as we stood at the foot of a new version of we.

We began by sipping scotch in the same seats where we shared our first date after spying one another in a summer graduate course, just two short weeks after I moved here. From there we moved to Taste - that oh-so-special place I mention above - where two short years ago, during an evening perched at the bar, my heart fell irretrievably into his hands. 

Spending an evening here together is something we've done many times since this girl decided she loves this boy, but none carried with them the kind of urgency as did this night. We began on the patio. A June evening such as this breezy, cool beauty is unusual for St. Louis. So unusual, in fact, that we asked to move inside after goosebumps gathered on my arms, a front of troops unequally matched for this summer breeze. Thinking of it now, I wonder if this was the wind's way of pleading with us to return to the seats we'd shared in our early days of dating. 

Settling in inside, under the influence of two cocktails each, we ordered a pork scrapple so fine we ordered it twice. Beneath the cover of a sunny, fried egg and emerald leaf of sage, lay the most succulent, tender, and flavorful pork scrapple I think will ever meet my fork. Like children uncovering treasures in a sandbox, we peered together under the egg, investigating this thing called "scrapple" and laughing in unabashed wonderment at this concoction before us - a mixture of pork trimmings and a tour de force of other flavors, all neatly molded together and panfried before serving. Unspoken, but no less present, was the wonderment we were feeling at the concoction we call us. 

For some reason - still unknown to us - the kitchen sent over a sampling of two chicken tacos, another dish that sent our taste buds spinning with its finely sliced radishes perfectly nestled among slow-cooked chicken. These, nor our two pork scrapples, appeared anywhere on the bill. We were assured this wasn't a mistake. 

More than not-a-mistake, this was a gift of generosity that perplexes us still today, one week after the fact. Brandon, our server, was so wonderful throughout the evening that we would have - unprompted - bought his dinner, not to mention our own. Perhaps they noticed the two or three times throughout the evening tears streamed down my face, awash with love and also sadness at its moving away in the morning. I can't be sure. But they can't have known what type of night we were having, or how their hospitality lifted us up.

No matter, this showing of kindness is something we remember with joy. And it is the kind of thing that does - and will continue to - bring us back to this place time and time again. Our experience here is not an unusual one. It is my experience that nights at Taste are always this kind of magical. 

As we walked away, woozy and giddy from a joyful evening - and a couple of cocktails, too! - our laughter turned to tears as we tripped together off the curb just steps from the car. And there, in the street, we embraced each other and the new future we were (are) so timid to encounter.

The night was a perfect one, we remarked to one another.
Of course it was. It wasn't written in the winds to be anything less than that.

Thank you, Taste, for being wonderful.

And to you readers: I humbly advise you find yourselves some pork scrapple immediately. I know just the place.