July 17, 2015 – Memphis Pig Out – Atlantic Highlands NJ
The great Garden State. So much to love…expensive housing, exorbitant taxes, high cost of living, corrupt politicians, anti-business environment, generally lousy weather…. Now that I’m done venting, there are a lot of great things…proximity to NYC and Philly, countless cultural options, some of the world’s greatest produce and the Jersey Shore-to name just a few. With 130 miles of coastline and countless miles of river and Bayfront there is something for everyone. One interesting spot is the historic town of Atlantic Highlands. Perched at Sandy Hook where the Atlantic Ocean and Raritan Bay meet, this borough of about 4,500 is the highest spot on the Eastern seaboard south of Maine. Sorry, this is where the information train stops. If your curiosity is piqued I suggest you visit www.ahhistory.org
One thing you’d never expect to find in this small artistic haven is an “authentic” down n’ dirty Memphis BBQ joint or should I say how many would envision it. Dimly lit, long bar, plaid plastic table cloths and in a perfect touch of kitsch an old school salad bar replete with small bowls, cottage cheeses, baby corn and many other vestiges of the 1970s. No, I don’t really think there’s anything Memphis or barbecue about this but I love it. It makes me think of after school cartoons that were always punctuated by such gems as Conjunction Junction, what’s your Function and I’m just a Bill on Capitol Hill – and you wonder why my generation is so screwed up??? About two minutes after being seated we were joined by a family gathering of parents and children at the adjacent table. Suspecting that after too much smoked meat and alcohol we might not be on our best behavior we asked to be moved away the Brady Bunch. Firmly situated at our new table we ordered our “imbibations” and then soon after our food. Despite having read several reviews about the servers being “less than friendly” I found it to be anything but the case. The copious portions arrived. Two of my dining companions ordered ribs, one a burger and I, the human garbage disposal, opted for the unnecessarily caloric pulled pork and rib combo. I‘ve eaten a lot of BBQ in my life but what stood out here was the intense smokiness of the meat. Being a big fan of anything smoked, this meat coupled with their well-balanced barbecue sauce made me a happy man. I‘d be remiss if I failed to mention that the French fries were unexpectedly good too. Feeling that a food coma was imminent we brought the evening to a close.
Well, the evening may have come to a close but not this writing. Why do “We Never Go to the Beach”? I’m not sure but in Jersey when visiting that sandy area by the ocean or bay we only go “down the shore”. Not “down to the shore” or any other such variation… just “down the shore” in one flowing statement-everyone practice aloud now. Hey, it’s a Jersey thing. You gotta’ problem with that!?!?!?!?!
July 8, 2015 – Adega Algueira – Lugo, Spain
It was a chilly morning in the stunningly verdant Galcian region of Spain. Our two hour drive from the sophisticated coastal city Vigo would bring us to a small boat for a trip on the River Sil where we could gaze up at some of the world’s steepest vineyards, get a brief history of region and sip a little wine. Understand my dear readers that the steepness of the vineyards is no exaggeration. Some of slopes reach an 85% grade and all of the grapes must be picked by hand. Not much has changed since the terraced slopes were first brought by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago. Building and maintaining them is as much a job for a stone mason as an enologist and finding people willing to engage in the backbreaking labor isnt easy. The average pickers are retired men and women in their sixties and seventies -truly “noble” work in my not so humble opinion. The wines of this region are special with none more so than the Mencia variety. It produces enormously fragrant, juicy and mineral laden medium body wines with Adega Algueira being a great representation.
Our hour long boat ride over, we headed to visit Algueria and its lovely propieter and winemaker, Fernando Gonzalez. As unique as he is passionate we were treated to an unusual visit. Unlike most wineries Fernando chooses not to offer a typical tour of the cellars and the wine making areas. We sat in a dining room where he spoke about his development of the property, his philosophy of doing as little as needed to make great wines. He truly respects the grapes and likes to “work with nature” to get as much out of the fruit as possible. Yes, he focuses on the prominent grapes of the area like Mencia for red and Godello and Treixadura for white but currently produces 14 wines numerous which come from scarce varietals like Merenzao, and caíño. We tasted six different offerings. A real treat since I had previuosly only had one.
From the wine experience it was time to have lunch or more acurately say a mid-afternoon feast. Whether it is seafood or meat Glacia is known not only to be as engaged with their food as with their wine but also almost legendary for copius quantities. After a large plate of local Jamon, lomo , smoked beef and cheese-almost enough on its own for a small meal-the fun really begun. The “forklift” arrived at the table with a neraly 2 pound porthouse that would have made Fred Flinstone tremble in fear. To add a note of humour, apparently I somehow received the “child’s portion”. This enormous piece of bovine is locally referred to as the Chuleton de Buey or “Ox chop”. Normally it consists of a 2-3 inch thick rib steak cooked over a wood burning fire to a very rare doneness. No need to make sure it’s not overcooked. Apparently that’s not in the genetic makeup of Galician cooks. I guess you could say this is Galician Barbecue. Maybe it’s not the same as our definintion but then again the word means different things to differnt people around the world-no matter, great food is great food by any name. I don’t like to speak in absolutes but here I will. The Chuleton was as good as any piece of beef I’ve had, anywhere-without debate! Juicy, tender local pasture raised cattle.
Sadly, the afternoon was coming to a close but the memory will remain. A great example of an area that despite very difficult terrain turns out unadulterated food and wine that shows the greatest respect for it’s place.