Go Away, Gastropub

I ran into a chef friend of mine at my son’s baseball game the other Sunday. I asked him what he was up to, and after a harrowing tale about his time as private cook for an online poker billionaire, he confessed he was putting wheels in motion to open a restaurant.

I asked him when, where and what. He wasn’t sure, but said he was scanning food trends for inspiration.

“Don’t do a pork belly bahn mi,” I said.

Gastropub burger with truffle fries

As serendipity would have it, I had also been discussing the possibility of opening a restaurant with a friend. A unique opportunity had arisen, and we were exploring it. Which got me to thinking about what kind of food I would serve. I would not serve a pork belly bahn mi.

I actually found myself thinking more about what I wouldn’t serve than what I would. And my main epiphany was that I would strictly avoid anything you might’ve seen on a gastropub menu — or EVERY gastropub menu — over the past half decade. What might that include? The most clichéd, overdone food trends ever:

• The aforementioned pork belly bahn mi, or anything in fact featuring pork belly (other than authentic Japanese ramen)
• Anything with sriracha — especially clever applications like srirachi aoili or sriracha ketchup leather
• Eggs where you weren’t expecting them (i.e. on a hamburger)
• Gourmet hamburgers (on brioche or pretzel rolls, with aioli, sriracha, bacon “candy”, bacon “jam”, pork belly, etc., or wagyu or sliders or classic with American cheese and iceberg)
• Fried brussel sprouts
• “House-cured” pickles. Fried “house-cured” pickles.
• Any kind of mac n’ cheese — especially lobster, bacon or truffle
• Sweet potato fries or truffle fries (your choice) served in cute little mesh metal baskets
• Tacos you would never see in Mexico (those served on Chinese steamed buns, those with Korean ingredients, those featuring black cod or pulled pork, ahi-mango combinations, etc.)
• Poké
• Roasted or fried cauliflower
• Wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese
• “House-cured” charcuterie boards (served on a wood plank with “handcrafted” mustard and “house-cured” pickles)
• Pot pies — chicken, turkey, pork belly or otherwise
• Grilled cheese sandwiches with weird cheeses

Not long after my vacation to Quebec a couple years ago, in which I catalogued fondly all the poutine I had tried, I was disheartened to see poutine suddenly proliferating on gastropub menus.

Typical gastropub in Any City, USA

When gastropubs first began appearing with the likes of Santa Monica’s vanguard Father’s Office, I was enthusiastic about the trend. It represented a vast improvement of the collective idea of a bar menu. And I’m not going to claim that I don’t enjoy a pork belly bahn mi or plate of fried brussel sprouts with my limited release double IPA. But people, really! Are there still chefs and restaurateurs out there who think they’ve struck an inspired new culinary vein in their re-interpretation of a deviled egg? Do we need another rustic tavern with gaslights and “Peasant” or “Table” in the name? Have we had enough of housemade tater tots?

No?

Okay… I’m gonna get myself a double IPA.

The bearded hipster who serves you at the gastropub

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Coming Home — Cheese, Chips and WCs

I felt a bit guilty when I lied to the very kind customs man who welcomed us back into the United States.

“You’re not bringing in any food?” he said.

“No,” I replied.

My local fromagerie in Paris

My local fromagerie in Paris

In fact, my bag was 50% clothes, 50% food. I had several very alive raw milk cheeses, a few packages of salted Italian bottarga mullet roe, a large box of vialone nano risotto rice, five or six cans and jars of foie gras, four boxes of dried pasta and miscellaneous containers of salts. It is probably only the first two that would’ve raised border control eyebrows.

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A Vermont Roadtrip Dinner

Though it would get bumped off the itinerary of our recent Northeast vacation due to logistic issues, we would have our chance to see Vermont after all, on the drive between the Adirondacks and Boston.

Vermont

Vermont

Our pal Jon’s brother, Charlie — who went to college in Vermont and has a cabin there — gave us his recommendations for two different routes. The first was slightly more direct and passed through Middlebury, which was supposedly quaint and scenic; the second wound around a bit more and featured some nice waterfalls and a swimming hole. Both passed through the beautiful Green Mountains. Having gotten a late start from the Buck Summerhill Camp and it being well after lunch time when we crossed Lake Champlain into Vermont, we opted for the first. More

I Left My Heart in Poutineville

It began with our first meal in Quebec City at a joint across the street from the loft where we were staying called Poutineville — our love affair with the uniquely French Canadian comfort food called poutine.

Poutine with smoked meat and jalapeños

Poutine with smoked meat and jalapeños at Poutineville in Quebec City

I had heard about poutine and read more about it while researching for our trip — it is, in its simplest form, french fries, gravy and cheese curds. As you travel through eastern Canada, you will see all manners of creative and — in some cases — obscene variations.

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Au Pied de Cochon — Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Montreal

A few years back, my pal Donnie brought a “duck in a can” over to our house. It was a dish he had experienced at a restaurant in Montreal that had changed his life, and convinced them to let him take one home. He and his wife Monica had texted me photos from the restaurant of whole pig heads passing by their table on large platters.

IMG_7865

The restaurant was called Au Pied de Cochon — “The Foot of the Pig” — and the “duck in a can” was duck meat, gravy and foie gras cooked in a can and then opened and poured over mashed potatoes and bread at table. A perfect example of Quebecois cuisine. More

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