09 November 2009

Un Chant d'Amour

Since I don't have time to write on here these days, I thought I'd just post this Jean Genet video (his only one!) that a friend recently brought to my attention. It's hosted at UBUWEB, which, if you haven't visited, is a fine and overwhelming archive of avant-garde art work. There's a lot to look through. The Genet video seems appropriate to share at this juncture because it turns out that half the people I know have marriage on their minds. What better way to celebrate than with a song of love?

Congratulations to all you love birds out there!

30 October 2009

Halloween Pt. 2

And here's the new Halloween mix. I don't have anything more to say about the subject, though, so here are also some (faux?) old Halloween cards I found on the Internet. It seems that women are the primary ambassadors of Halloween greetings here. Or, to be more precise, women, pumpkins and black cats. There's probably something interesting to say about that, but I don't know what right now. In the meantime, enjoy the music and Happy Halloween!

Halloween '09

1. The Specials -- Ghost Town
2. Otis Redding -- Trick Or Treat
3. The Cadillacs -- Frankenstein
4. Knife in the Water -- Sunset Motel
5. Ken Nordine -- Fliberty Jib
6. Ken Nordine -- Strollin' Spooks
7. Vampires' Sound Incorporation -- The Lions and the Cucumber
8. Flamin' Groovies -- Teenage Head
9. R. Dean Taylor -- There's A Ghost In My House
10. Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra -- Shivery Stomp
11. New Orleans Owls -- White Ghost Shivers
12. Gene Krupa and His Orchestra -- Dracula
13. Vic Mizzy -- Main Title (from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken)
14. Zeke Manners & His Swing Billies -- Mr. Ghost Goes to Town
15. Wayne Raney -- Jole Blon's Ghost
16. Happy Wilson -- Haunted House Blues
17. Bob McFadden -- The Mummy
18. John Zacherle -- Ring-a-ding Orangoutang
19. Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages -- 'Til the Following Night
20. Meic Stevens -- Ghost Town

29 October 2009

Halloween Pt. 1

What? You thought Luck Mon-gol was a dead blog? In fact, it is a living dead blog. I'm taking a moment away from more pressing duties to resurrect it for Halloween. I'd hate to pass up the opportunity to post a few things related to our most gruesome holiday. The most gruesome, that is, unless you consider Easter's single resurrection grislier than Halloween's many.

To be honest, I've always preferred spring to fall. However, living in a place that turns into a paint-by-number canvas during the autumn months, with nothing but six months of gray winter to come, fall begins to look special. Plus, my dear friend CMS celebrates her birthday on Halloween, which has encouraged me to see it as somehow more spectacular than Jesus's ascension into heaven. Certainly it is more social. In fact, I've come to think of Halloween as the cruising holiday--the year's only occasion to go knocking indiscriminately on neighbors' doors with no other goal than receiving a tasty treat to plug a hungry hole. Spring may be about breeding and regeneration, but fall is all about terrifying libidinal activity, gluttony and death.

So, I've begun to see the pleasures of autumn and especially of Halloween. Last year I documented my new-found appreciation with a Halloween mix that I took to a Halloween party, where I ate Halloween candy and enjoyed Halloween excesses (i.e. beers, farts, lollipops). I'll share the first of those various pleasures here. A Halloween '09 Mix will follow shortly. And, if I get time away from those more pressing duties, perhaps I'll share some other Halloween treats. Until then, enjoy this first installment of the online celebration--my very first holiday themed musical mix.

Halloween '08

1. Soupy Sales -- My Baby's Got a Crush On Frankenstein
2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- Music to Be Murdered By
3. Captain Zorro -- Phantasm
4. Ralph Dorper -- Eraserhead
5. Live Skull -- Corpse
6. Zane Bros -- Dracula
7. Homer & Jethro -- Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off of Me
8. Patsy Montana -- Yodelling Ghost
9. Hasil Adkins -- Haunted House
10. Monica Kirby -- Scary Movies
11. John Zacherle -- Coolest Little Monster
12. Harry Belafonte -- Zombie Jamboree
13. Duke Ellington -- Haunted Nights
14. Jelly Roll Morton -- Boogaboo
15. Louis Armstrong -- The Skeleton In the Closet
16. Ultra Chicks (feat. Nicole Paquin) -- Mon Mari, C'este Frankenstein
17. Bela LaGoldstein -- Old Boris
18. Bo Diddley -- Bo Meets the Monster
19. King Horror -- Loch Ness Monster
20. Sonic Youth -- Scream (live, '83)

21 September 2009

Swiss Chard

After our unhealthy snack at Crystal Beach, Al decided I should eat something leafy and green. So, she paid a visit to a local farm and brought back enough Swiss Chard to feed a family of eighteen. Along with collards and kale, it's one of my favorite greens and makes a great end of the summer treat. Apparently Aristotle praised it as a source of stamina and physical dynamism. I can't find a direct quote, but you can bet your boot that it packs a pretty percentage of Vitamin A, C, and K. Not to mention the healthful fibers, which will help you form large, soft stools! According to The World's Healthiest Foods, it "truly is one of the vegetable valedictorians with its exceptionally impressive list of health promoting nutrients."

So, the World's Healthiest Foods website doesn't recommend cooking Swiss Chard with bacon, but that's how I do it. Below is a photo of George, the website's founder, who, as you can see, could use a little pig fat to bring him back to life.

In any case, I started with half a pound of bacon chopped into the bite-size squares you see above. After it began sizzling, I tossed in some garlic, black pepper, a dash of vinegar and let that cook for another five to ten minutes. Then I put the chard in the pot, sprinkled it with water, added just a pinch of salt and covered the whole thing. I let it cook that way for about ten more minutes, stirring occasionally. Taking a tip from my mother, I'd planned to add a little brown sugar. Unfortunately, I realized too late that I was out. Instead I used a bit of honey and that seemed to deepen the flavors well enough.

That's all it takes! And in addition to the health benefits and excellent taste, the pot liquor from Swiss Chard is a lovely pink due to the colorful stems.

19 September 2009

Crystal Beach, Fort Erie, Ontario

Here it is getting late in September, school is in full swing, there's a chill in the air, and I haven't even mentioned the Labor Day Parade. Partly that's because school is in full swing. I really haven't had time. But it's also because I missed the Labor Day parade that I came so close to seeing. Since Labor Day is, after all, a Canadian holiday, I went to Crystal Beach in Fort Erie, Ontario just across the border from Buffalo with some friends, Al and J. Ray. According to Google Maps it's only a 24-minute drive from my apartment, but it took us about three times that long because the border was so backed-up. Luckily, not everyone at the border was going to Crystal Beach and, although there were quite a few people hanging out on the waterfront, we managed to park nearby along the parade route. The procession wasn't scheduled until 2pm, but we planned to stay at the beach long enough to see what the staple of their "End of the Summer" festival looked like. Then, as it came rolling down the street, Al screamed, "We'll be stuck forever!" She shoved J. Ray and me into her car and drove off. Oh well. The real highlight of the trip was a Chip Truck we passed in the little town just north of the beach.

On the whole the town looks quaint, but the cutest establishment, and probably the hardest on the heart, is a little red truck selling the best fried potatos in all the... well, at least in the Buffalo/Niagara region. I made Al pull over so we could have a snack before doing homework on the beach. Fortunately she had a few Canadian dollars, because J. Ray and I were unprepared for the sort of quaintness that does not accept Visa or Mastercard. While trying to guess how to best spend her small reserve between the three of us we guessed at what sizes people in front of us were buying. Two gentlemen bought what we guessed was the "family" size, which was a typical styrofoam take-out container overflowing with fries. After them, a group of women each bought what I guessed was a "medium." It looked as tall as a 12oz styrofoam coffee cup, but considerably wider. So we figured we'd get one small cup of regular chips and one small cup of poutine. As we were discussing our options, one of the women turned around to inform us that they had in fact ordered smalls. So, I guess there's no way to get just a taste. That was fine by me. It was my first time trying poutine, a Canadian favorite, and I was happy to have plenty.

I'd heard a lot about poutine, of course, but had never come face to face with it. I must say, I was a bit nervous. It consists of brown beef gravy and cheese curds poured over a bed of fries. I don't think greasy is too strong a word to use in describing the dish. It wasn't nearly as gross as I'd guessed, though, and every once in a while eating trash is actually good for the heart. My heart, anyway. Here's Al looking at the menu and wondering why this Chip Truck advertises "mazzio" fries, instead of poutine. Or, why they advertise fries at all. Maybe consistency isn't as important for Anglo-Canadians so close to the border.

In any case, they were happy to to see young Americans getting a Canadian cultural education. In 2000 comedian Ric Mercer noted and then exploited America's ignorance on that front when he asked Bush during his first presidential campaign if he was excited about Prime Minister Poutine's endorsement. Indeed, he was excited. US-Canada relations are very important, after all. You can see the short interview here, just skip to 3:30 if you don't feel like watching the rest of that embarrassing footage. Next door to the truck was a building with this very attractive and seemingly out of place sign.

After reading on the beach, and subsequently escaping the parade, we drove around the countryside a bit. It's a really beautiful area during the summer with lots of green pastures, old houses and lush vegetable gardens. We saw lots of corn and some really beautiful tomatoes in one yard; a variety of peas in another. We tried to return to the commercial area north of the beach and wander around there for a bit, but most everything closed by 4 or 5pm. We did see this Laughing Sally, which must have been part of the amusement park that was located in Crystal Beach for 101 years (1888-1989). The Mechanical Museum in San Francisco has one that was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Germantown, PA during the early 1930’s, which is where I'd guess the Laughing Sally we saw was also built. We went into an antique furniture store across the street and the lady said Sally was original, but that her owners had updated her wardrobe for the new season.

Before leaving town we bought sandwiches at a weird little place that grouped each menu item into one of four boxes, then offered confusing combo meals based on where the items were placed. The sandwiches weren't good, but we did have a laugh when a group of Canadian adolescents came in and started exclaiming about the Buffalo chicken sandwich. "Hot sauce and chicken fingers on a hoagie roll? That sounds delicious actually," said one young man.

11 September 2009

Knowing Where to Draw the Line

While driving home from school today a well-dressed mannequin standing in someone's front yard caught my eye. Behind her were piles of old clothes, accessories, luggage and a friendly woman welcoming people to peruse the collection. Nothing had price tags, but she (the woman, not the mannequin) said that she could part with most anything for under ten dollars. That seemed fair enough, so I dove in and soon discovered that Buffalo's best vintage store had sprouted up overnight in my residential neighborhood.

I found a few fashionable ties, two of which have tags from Buffalo retailers that outfitted the city's finest dressers in more prosperous times. One tie, for instance, came from the Kleinhans Company, which opened in 1893. My first Kleinhans find came from this AmVets about a year ago and it still makes me smile every time I see it in my closet. Needless to say, I was pretty happy to find another one today. I was also quite pleased to find a few fifties-looking sharkskin blazers and a couple of decent shirts. But by far, the most exciting find was a denim jacket with an embroidered caricature of Aerosmith on the back.

Can't believe your eyes? Here's a closer look.

A little Internet research revealed to me that the image comes from their fifth studio album, Draw the Line (1977). According to an uncited bit of trivia on the album's Wikipedia page, the band was so famous at that point that they didn't even need to put their name on the cover!

Indeed, the caricature came so close to the reality that Columbia execs felt confident in its instant recognizability.

In the end I admitted my failed confidence in the efficacy of ironic dress and left the jacket behind. C'est la vie, say the old folks. So obviously I'm not going to post Draw the Line here at Lucky Mon-gol, but if you get a hankering to hear the strange sounds of a Yankee blues rock and 70s glam train wreck, you can find it at the blog of a dedicated fan. I will, however, leave you with one last intriguing photo to ponder.

06 September 2009

Cincinnati Showdown

Taking the most direct driving route between Chattanooga, TN and Buffalo, NY put me in Cincinnati, OH at just about lunch time. It was a happy situation to find myself in because Cincinnati is home to a unique style of chili that, even while maintaining allegiance to the Texas variety, I enjoy. Unlike proper chili, Cincinnati chili does not involve chilies. Or, if it does, it involves them in an oblique way, in the form of powdered cayenne or something. But what it lacks in the originary ingredient, it makes up for in what was for me an ass-to-head-composure-inverting surprise: allspice, cinnamon, cocoa.

It sounds sort of funny for the uninitiated, I know, but it really does work in sort of the same way mole works even when it doesn't have all the proper ingredients. And to add to the fun, they provide several options for eating the stuff. To begin with, you have up to five "ways" to choose from. Order it 1-way and you get just a bowl of chili. 2-ways and your bowl of chili comes poured over a plate of spaghetti. 3-ways and they'll add kidney beans to that mix. 4-ways means you can expect fresh chopped onions on top. And ordering it 5-ways will get you a pile of cheese to go with it that nearly out-weighs the chili itself. Now, if you happen to be in the mood for finger food, Cincinnati chili makers accommodate that craving, too, by offering a chili coney-dog. No spaghetti, no beans, but you still get the onions and cheese.

The whole experience turns out to be pretty exciting. As is the case with most regional culinary treasures, however, finding the right purveyor demands careful consideration and sensitive tastes. Tradition, method, freshness, ambiance (and more!) all factor into finding the best place. On this front, Cincinnati makes life difficult.

To begin with, the most soulless and expansive chili chain in Cincinnati, Skyline, is actually pretty decent. That is, if you don't mind the sterile atmosphere of a fast food restaurant. In a pinch and without other options, though, Skyline's chili really is tasty. Take it to go and you avoid the risk of regurgitating your lunch on one of their sports promos.

If Skyline is somewhat paradoxical, however, things get really complicated when venturing out to Colerain Ave. Just northwest of downtown, Colerain Ave. runs more or less parallel to I-75 for about a mile. Situated across from each other on that stretch are two of Cincinnati's best chili parlors: Camp Washington, named after the neighborhood, and U.S. Chili, named after the entire country. Anyone can see which is the more ambitious restaurant, but that doesn't necessarily make deciding between the two any easier.

Camp Washington is older. It started serving up Cincinnati style chili in 1940 and runs around the clock, 24-hours a day, six days a week. I think it serves the better tasting chili, but in 2000, after 60 years in the original building, it moved into pre-fab-looking shit shack, not so different than any "retro" dinner you'd find in a suburban mall. Across the street, U.S. Chili operates in an old bank. The building has been slightly renovated to fit a kitchen, but retains its charm and still proudly displays the old vault, now protecting the men's bathroom. The chili isn't quite as flavorful as Camp Washington's, but the ambiance easily trumps its modernized neighbor. Furthermore, U.S. Chili opened its doors only 23 years ago, well after Camp Washington had established itself as Cincinnati's premier chili parlor. Now, normally age bequeaths a certain feeling of authenticity, but in this case, by stridently exercising the underdog audacity it takes to open shop across the street from a firmly entrenched institution, U.S. Chili takes first place for "keepin' it real."

I first visited Camp Washington in the summer of 2005, while on a road trip with CMS between Asheville, NC and my father's hometown, Michigan City, IN. We spent a couple days in Cincinnati visiting the amazing Contemporary Arts Center, walking around the historical neighborhood Over the Rhine, and eating across the river in Covington, KY. Before leaving town we paid a visit to Colerain Ave. to eat dinner at Camp Washington Chili. We noticed at the time that sitting across the street was a rundown sort of place called U.S. Chili. My best instincts told me that was the place to be eating, but unfortunately, they close early. So Camp Washington it was and Camp Washington was good. So good, in fact, that I insisted on stopping back through on our way home to Asheville.

I hadn't been back to Cincinnati since that trip, but plotting out my route back to Buffalo I realized my good fortune and made plans to visit U.S. Chili. It was a lot quieter than their neighbor/competitor across the street. Two guys sat drinking tea over empty plates of chili, talking about work or gossip or both. They seemed to know the owners by name. For a while it was just the three of us in the big dinning hall. Then it started pouring rain and in came an itinerant looking man with a bicycle. The gentleman owner came out from the kitchen, looked at the guy but didn't say anything. After shaking off a bit, the man with the bicycle looked up and said, "Schenz's lets us sit under his awning when it rains. He's a humanitarian. What are you?" "A business owner." "You think you own this street?" "Yeah, my name is Colerain. You want something or what?" "You know what I want..." And then, setting his bicycle off to the side, he walked straight toward the owner and past him, moved behind the counter and poured himself a cup of tea. "So, how's it been around here? Pretty slow?"

You won't see that sort of thing across the street, which is why I come down on the U.S. Chili side of Cincinnati's chili parlor showdown. I am still confused, however, about what to do with the tray after finishing lunch. At Camp Washington they make it clear that you are to bus your own table, just like at a fast food place with Thank You trash cans that have a space for trays on top. At U.S. Chili there was no place to put dirty dishes or trays, but the dinning room looked pristine. Probably that was because there weren't very many people there, but I hated to sully the image by leaving stuff on the table. So, feeling pretty homey, I gathered up my lunch detritus and sauntered over to the counter where I planned to put my tray off to the side. The owner and the man with the bike each gave me a crooked look, which sent me teetering and spilling some stacked cups full of ice. I apologized quickly and ran out the door, calling over my shoulder that I'd see them soon.

Not soon enough, I suppose, but I'll definitely make an effort to get through Cincinnati between 6:00am and 4:45pm on my next trip South. If I arrive early enough, perhaps I'll try the goetta for breakfast.

Chattanooga, TN

On my way back to Buffalo I stopped in Chattanooga, TN to visit a dear friend who recently relocated there to work at Lupton Library. Preparing for the visit, I worried that it might not be such a cool place and that my time there would be occupied by an extended commiseration with CMS over her unfortunate circumstances. Where did I get such an idea of Chattanooga? It is, after all, the home of my favorite mass-produced dessert snack, The Moonpie. And it shares a state allegiance with my favorite city in the whole world, Memphis. Not to mention that it was once home to one of my favorite musicians, Bessie Smith. Well, despite all that, I managed to maintain some unsubstantiated misgiving about the very idea of life in Chattanooga.

It seems that even after several years of celebrating and adoring the South, my boundless theoretical love has some practical limitations. In theory, mid-sized Southern cities excite me to no end. Yet, the thought of a friend having to live in one made my palms sweat. I don't know why I harbor such a nasty prejudice, even after what I considered a thorough self-reeducation, but there it was, rearing its ugly head as I hit the road to spend a weekend in the "City of Lights." As tends to happen, experience of the thing itself seriously complicated my ignorant preconceptions. It's no utopia by any means, but during my visit there Chattanooga carved out a home at the bottom of my heart, where, incidentally, it has a clear view of my stomach.

My first night in town, CMS took me to one of the coolest places I've ever been, Larmar's. They serve a variety of fried fare, but we were interested in the chicken. As anyone can see, the sign looks promising, but it didn't prepare me at all for what we walked into. Chic mid-century lounge decor, leather booths and clothed tables, the lowest lighting legal in a Tennessee restaurant, a jukebox full of favorites from Aretha Franklin to Talking Heads, and not a soul in sight. Scraps of music and conversation echoed out of a dark hallway off the main dinning room. We waited for a few minutes before a tall gentleman materialized out of the ambient noise and asked how we were doing. Alright, we said. Are you still serving dinner? Sure. Here or in the back, he asked? We decided on the livelier sounding backroom. We had to produce our photo IDs and then he led us down the hall to the Chrystal Lounge, where he was tending the bar for a total of four people.

Apparently Lamar's is an after hours spot known for serving the stiffest cocktails in town. We were a bit early for the late crowd, but wanted to get there in time to eat. We both ordered the fried chicken dinner, which came with half a chicken, french fries and a salad. I'm no aficionado, but I do know that chicken was damn delicious. To enter it into my fried chicken cosmos, I'll have to constellate it with a couple of other notable places. First, Lamar's seems to be in the style of my Auntie's favorite fried chicken joint, Gus's downtown Memphis location. The breading is light and crispy, flavorful but not spicy. On the other hand, one of my favorite places, now defunct, was located in Austin and was part of a far-reaching New Orleans Diaspora. Gene's served a denser batter, seasoned with plenty of black pepper and a number of other spices. I hear the denser, spicier batter is representative of the New Orleans style, epitomized by Willie Mae's Scotch House. Lamar's stands up to all those places and should be considered seriously the next time Bon Appétit decides to start making declarations about the best fried chicken in the country.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get pictures of the food because it was too dark. But here you can sort of get a sense of what the Chrystal Lounge looks like.

That blue haloed thing in the distance is the jukebox coming to life automatically and asking to be played.

The next evening we sought out some barbecue. CMS had been asking her colleagues for a few weeks where she could get good barbecue, what the regional attributes were like, whether or not there were any hot debates. Nothing of the kind. Apparently, Chattanooga isn't a barbecue town. That does not mean, however, that good barbecue can't be found. In fact, venturing out to the Red Bank / Signal Mountain area just north of downtown Chattanooga, we found a wonderful chopped pork sandwich at Petunia's Silver Jalapeno. Petunia's is an Airstream that serves a wide array of cook-out style foods, including their famous fish tacos and an impressive burger. The menu looked lovely, but as a rule, burger and taco places fail on the barbecue front. It's a matter of dedication, I suppose. No rule without an exception, though, because Petunia's does it right, smoking their pork butt over a hickory fire for a full 24-hours. To compliment our sandwiches, the very friendly lady taking our order recommended a fresh peach milkshake that tasted like the edible embodiment of summer. Here you can see our twin orders.

And here you can see the sandwich in a more intimate setting.

In case you don't have time to follow the link to check out the menu, let me note that the exciting pork sandwich pictured here costs only $4.50.

Sunday in Chattanooga is market day, so we went down to see what the farmers had on offer. The Chattanooga Market bills itself as the largest outdoor market in the region. I don't know what the "region" is, but it certainly is big and bustling. My first stop was at the boiled peanut stand, where I got a small cup of cajun peanuts. While I was taking a picture, the vendor offered to let me take a picture of his boilers. I work hard for this, he said pointing to his stand, so I don't mind that, he added pointing to my camera. I took him up on the offer. The peanuts were first class.

Walking around happily with my peanuts, I encountered the most extreme examples of the Chattanooga Niceness that CMS had been telling me about all weekend. One vendor gave us a basil bunch and a head of lettuce when we asked if she sold basil plants that CMS could plant. She did not, but rewarded us handsomely for our inquiry. Another vendor sent us away with a couple of hot peppers to try when we asked, "What in the world are those?" Cousins of the Habanero, apparently, although mine was considerably gentler than any of the Habaneros I've ever worked with. We also bought some interesting little eggplants that I'd never seen before and some really, really, really tasty heirloom cherry tomatoes.

And here are some other lovely looking fruits from the market.

The whole visit was pretty great, although all our gluttonous adventures left little time to see some of Chattanooga's other important attractions, including the African American Museum, The Hunter Museum of American Art, the Coolidge Park Carousel, and the Tennessee Aquarium. We did take plenty of time to walk around the City, which is an excellent activity in such a pretty place with so many opportunities for caloric intake. I can't wait to go back.

25 August 2009

Lockhart, TX

Just before I returned to Buffalo for the school year, G-D and I took an old friend and an Austin Newbie (a pig-roasting friend from North Carolina!) out to Lockhart for dinner at Kreuz's Market. Kreuz's makes up one pole of the debate that has solidified Lockhart as the Barbecue Capital of Texas. That is, by the way, a bona fide title, bestowed upon Lockhart by the Texas State Legislator, House Resolution No. 1024, 76th Legislature, Regular Session (1999). Anyway, Smitty's Market rests at the other pole of the debate and, to be honest, has persuaded me of its superiority. We ended up at Kreuz's because it stays open later. Not to say that Kreuz's ain't good. It is. Probably it's better than all but one other barbecue place in Texas, and that place happens to be the ghost of its own father.

Let me explain.

Kreuz's, sort of pronounced "Krites's," started out on South Commerce Street circa 1900. Charles Kreuz opened it as a meat market and, like many other market owners did at week's end, he cooked the leftover meat over low heat with lots of smoke. The slow cooking process and abundant wood smoke helped cover up any week-old funk the meat might have acquired. Tougher and fattier cuts, brisket especially, worked well because they stayed juicy and tender for the eight to twenty-four hours it might take to finish cooking. Thus, the central Texas style of barbecue developed, and Mr. Kreuz was one of the first to serve the stuff to weekend shoppers at the back door of his shop.

In 1948 Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt bought the place from the Kreuz family, having worked there for over a decade. He kept the name, for business purposes or out of respect I do not know, but Kreuz's carried on in the same location for an entire century. In 1999, after something of a family disagreement, Kreuz's moved down the street and Smitty's opened in the original location. Apparently Edgar left the business to his sons Don, who retired in 1996, and Rick, who still runs Kreuz's in its new location. So the story goes, Rick owned the business but Don owned the building and, after the disagreement, Don apparently drove rent up so high that Rick had to move out--to a much larger and undoubtedly more expensive place. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but that's how I heard it. In any case, Nina Schmidt-Sells opened Smitty's, a tribute to her by-then-dead father, in the original location and her son John Fullilove still cooks barbecue on the same pits his grandfather, and Charles Kreuz before him, used all those years ago.

That's why I like Smitty's, really, because you can still see those barbecue pits, you can see the chains that used to secure butcher knives to the tables, you can see the soot that's built up over a hundred years of use. It is the living ghost of the displaced Kreuz's Market. And Smitty's isn't so big that you feel like the cattle their serving while you wait in line. Still, as I say, Kreuz's ain't bad. Here's what we ate during this last visit:

That red butcher's paper is the only plate you get. Those plastic knives the only utensils. The meat comes with either white bread or saltine crackers, but they won't serve you a sandwich. You pay for the meat by the pound. Here we have four pork ribs, two links of sausage and four thick slices of brisket. The bags of dill pickle slices and fresh white onion come free upon request and if you want to pay for additional sides you can get cheddar cheese, jalapeno, German potatoes. We got the potatoes and a six pack of Lonestar.

I paid my first visit to Kreuz's in 2004, after it had moved to its new location. I don't think it was the first time I'd had central Texas barbecue. It may not even have been my first visit to Lockhart. It was, however, the first time I realized that, oh yeah, this ain't the same stuff they got in Tennessee. Well, almost six years later, I can say the same thing with a little more confidence. Under the name "barbecue" exists an entire complex of cultures and tastes. For our purposes here, however, I'll simplify it with this quote from Rick Schmidt, the current owner of Kreuz's: “Some people seem disappointed. They say, ‘How can it be barbecue without beans and potato salad and sauce?’ We just tell ’em this place was here before all that came along.”

Obviously there's more than a bit of Texas pride in that explanation, but I do believe it gets to the crass generalization that I want to put forward. There's barbecue with sauce (and slaw) and then there's barbecue that's just meat. Texas, in fact, has both. East Texas has a tradition of sauces and sandwiches, much like most of the Deep South, although I don't think anyone in Texas puts slaw on their meat. In any case, there exist separate traditions that often seem distantly related at best and no one knows exactly how to map the family tree. While I hesitate to make any assertions beyond the sauce/no sauce divide, some of the speculation on why that divide exists is fairly interesting.

In a Texas Monthly article from 1973, Griffin Smith Jr. offers a theory that begins with etymology and ends with race. Apparently even the origin of the word barbecue is under dispute. Does it come from the Mexican barbacoa, which, even while it shares some characteristics with barbecue, is an entirely different meat cooking tradition? Or does it come from the French "barbe" (beard) and "queue" (tail), suggesting an orthodoxy of whole-body cooking by which we no longer abide? Perhaps it comes from some forgotten native American language? No one knew in 1973 when Smith was writing and no one knows now.

One of the more generally accepted theories, however, hinges on socio-economic status, which in America demographically means racial status, too. Smith explains the idea in more detail but it's pretty easily summarized this way: The dominant class of white folks had access to better meat and didn't need any sauce while the subordinated class of black folks had poorer quality meats and used sauces to compensate. Thus, Czech and German immigrants developed the central Texas style while slaves and their ancestors developed the east Texas and Deep South tradition.

While I'm impressed by the class and race awareness the 1973 article expresses, a sophistication most modern magazines lack, that theory doesn't quite square with the explanation of Czech and German store owners barbecuing their older, tougher meats. Nor does it acknowledge the fact that white people owned slaves, whose labor they controlled and whose "ingenious" labors they no doubt adapted for their own purposes. I don't have the resources to lay out a competing theory here, but it does seem that the historical circumstances suggest a more complicated explanation of divergent barbecuing cultures. In Lockhart, however, the general theory holds; both Kreuz's and Smitty's are owned and operated by whites, as are the other two reputable barbecue places, the Chisholm Trail and, ironically, Black's.

Those last two certainly add to Lockhart's status as Barbecue Capital, but they represent a second tier legacy. Black's employs too many qualifiers, advertising itself as "Texas' oldest and best major barbecue restaurant continuously owned by the same family." Who'd dispute it? Similarly, they have too many menu options. And Chisholm Trail, well, it's still better than anything within Austin City Limits. At least the name recognizes Lockhart's economic roots as a the oldest and best major northward post on the continuously infamous Chisholm Trail whose runners included members of LBJ's family. Did I mention that LBJ loved Black's? Ha!

We didn't stick around long enough to sightsee during this past visit, but Lockhart also has a really neat jail. The first floor has been converted into a history museum, primarily about the city's history with the cattle trade, while everything above it remains more or less untouched and open for viewing. Then, if after the barbecue there's stomach-room for a drink, I like to visit Lilly's elephant themed bar. Here's what Aasim Syed has to say about it:

As you can see, it's cooler than Fredericksburg.

22 August 2009



San Soo Gab San

There's a lot out there on the Internet about San Soo Gab San, a 24-hour Korean BBQ restaurant in North Chicago. If you're curious, check out this dorky-ass debate style video from Check Please. Or this homophobic dude-review from those ingratiating, fine fare loving douche bags at Chicago Gluttons. Or, for a little contrast, take a look at this explanatory note from Examiner. I don't have much to add to the various accounts of the place. I agree with them all. But I'll post some pictures I took while there recently just so that nobody has to go searching for better ones.

Despite the excellent food and exciting table-grill, it's sort of a depressing scene.

They will really serve you raw meat if you ask for it. Here's the beef.

And here's the beef next to nearly finished pork ribs.

G-D had a delicious Kirin Ichiban Shibori. I ordered an OB because I thought it was the Korean thing to drink. If you look closely, though, it's much less specific than that. OB stands for Oriental Brewery.

And finally, the best part of the meal... All the side dishes.

18 August 2009

Hatch Chili

It's Hatch Chili season. Every year in September the city of Hatch, New Mexico celebrates with a festival. Suddenly, the small town in southern New Mexico swells from a population of 2,000 to about 30,000. Foodies and chili fans congregate to taste the fruit in various forms (sauces, jams, powdered, candied, roasted and stuffed with anything delicious) and to enjoy the carnival events.

I've never attended the festival, but one of Austin's fancy schmancy grocery stores imports plenty of chilies to go around and even hosts a miniature version of Hatch's festival in the parking lot. Come to think of it, though, I don't think I've ever attended that festival either. I learned about Hatch from my Auntie, who makes the meanest pork and chili pepper stew I've ever tasted. Actually, "meanest" probably isn't the right word. Hatch chilies are fairly mild as far as chilies go. Once roasted, they have a complex flavor that blends sweet, tangy and picante. That perfect combination has encouraged the well-deserved adulation, not only because the wonderful flavor, but also because eating Hatch chilies doesn't wreck the taste buds. I admit, though, that Auntie's stew has given me the hiccups on a couple of occasions. I think maybe she added some spice, but it could be that she got a lively batch. Individual chilies can vary a bit on the Scoville scale and green Hatch chilies tend to vary more than most.

I picked up some mild Hatch Chilies a couple weeks ago because I got excited for the season. But when I got home I realized I hadn't a clue what to do with them. I certainly wasn't going to attempt a stew, since that dish had already been spoken for. G-D had some pork chops, though, and since I'd already learned that pork and Hatch Chilies pair nicely, I decided to make a sauce for smothered chops.

First, the chilies need roasting. I've roasted other chilies before, so I sort of had an idea how to go about it. Unfortunately, however, I've never had complete success. There are a lot of tips out there on the internet for roasting in the oven, with the broiler, on the grill, over a gas range. I've tried all except that last, which is, incidentally, the method Auntie recommended to me later. Rather than suggest time limits (which vary widely depending on who you ask), I'll suggest heating the chilies until they blister and begin to blacken. If you don't roast them long enough it gets difficult to remove the skin at the end. That's the problem I tend to have. After you remove them from heat, put the chilies in a plastic bag (or tupperware, or a bowl covered with plastic wrap) to steam for fifteen or twenty minutes. That will help loosen the skin some more. Once they're good and soggy, you can remove the charred skin. If you can't get it all off, don't fret. A little roasted skin adds a lot of flavor to the sauce.

I began the sauce by sautéing half a chopped white onion in olive oil. After they were soft, I added three or four cloves of crushed garlic and kept that over medium heat for another two minutes. Then I added several pinches of flour until I got the thickened consistency that I wanted. Immediately after thickening, I added the chilies, which I chopped up after peeling. The chilies were a bit wet and sticky, so I let them simmer over medium-low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Once everything seemed to gel together, I added about a cup and a half of water. I would have preferred stock, but I didn't have any. Water worked fine. Finally, I stirred in chopped cilantro, powdered coriander, salt, a squeeze of lime, maybe small amounts of black pepper and cumin, I can't remember now. I let that simmer on low for about twenty minutes, until it began to thicken again. After it cooled down, I poured half in a zip-lock bag with the pork chops to marinade over night. The other half I reserved for topping the chops post-grilling.

This sauce will keep in the fridge for a week or so, which makes it easy to prepare lots at one time and save some for later dishes.

The next evening I used the skillet grilling method that G-D and I learned about earlier in the summer. Normally she plays Grill Master, but we were leaving for Chicago the next morning and she had other things keeping her busy. So, I took the task and, approaching it with nearly complete ignorance, I forgot to grease the skillet. As anyone might guess, the chops sizzled, stuck to the cast iron and broke apart into smaller chunks of meaty debris. Luckily, the cuts were pretty big, so even with large chunks falling off we had passable chops. I left them on for about seven or eight minutes, flipped them, and let them cook for another seven or eight minutes. In that time a miracle occurred. The meaty debris transformed into an unencased sausage that absorbed all the Hatch marinade. Unencased sausage? Yeah, well, that's what I decided to call it. The unencased sausage is the stuff in the middle of the plate, and it tasted great.

To serve, I reheated the leftover Hatch Chili sauce and poured it over the four largest chunks of meat, creating a plate of kinda-smothered pork chops. I think smothered pork chops are traditionally covered in their own gravy, but this created a similarly juicy and flavorful dish. We ate them with grilled corn and green beans. Later in the week we made cheddar-jalapeno mashed potatoes that I think might have been really good with these chops. Another time, perhaps. I don't when I'll make these again, but I definitely want to do more with Hatch Chilies. Auntie came over for a taste and said the sauce wasn't bad. "Maybe a bit more lime next time. I don't know, that might not be it, but it needs something." A ringing endorsement! Well, anyway, an invitation to keep cooking.

For more information about chilies, check out The Chile Pepper Institute's excellent website.


It's really easy (and cheap) to make your own pesto, especially if you don't worry about doing it right. I usually crush a pile of garlic, then chop up an equal-sized pile of basil. Combine them with a healthy dose of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and there you have it: homemade pesto. A bit of balsamic tastes good, too, although that's not traditional.

I never use a mortar and pestle, rarely add pine nuts and only sometimes include grated parmigiano. Nonetheless, it's always wonderful. If you don't love garlic, and its peculiar burn, it might be best to use two parts basil for every one part garlic. After you've worked out your preferred flavor, you can use it to dress up any pasta dish, as a spread or even as a salad dressing. I like to put it on one of my favorite summer sandwiches, Il Caprese. This is how Closet Cooking does it. And this is what mine looks like from above:

And from the side:

Sorry for the poor quality photos. I used my phone and it was dark.