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How about some sweetbreads?

January 06, 1997

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - This sure was a long way to come for a loss. Especially driving - thank heaven for those South of the Border billboards.

I suppose you've been waiting for my full game analysis of WVU's 20-13 loss to North Carolina in the Gator Bowl New Year's Day, but truth be told the memory is still a bit raw.

So all you garden club members, never fear, for today I'm writing about cuisine, not about sports. Specifically, "sweetbreads."

If you've never heard of them before, sweetbreads are not what you think. I saw a recipe for them once in a Pierre Franey cookbook and assumed they were like a cinnamon roll of something. Imagine my disgust when the recipe mentioned in passing that sweetbreads were actually the "pancreas of a sheep."


I can see why they call them sweetbreads - for the same reason it's much more palatable to order escargot rather than snails, or fois gras rather than bloated goose liver, or hot dogs rather than pig viscera.

Anyway, I'd never heard of sweetbreads again until I sat down to dinner at Le Pavillion in St. Augustine last week. The waitress announced sweetbreads in a Marsala sauce as one of the specials and I announced thanks, but I'd prefer not.

To table after table she announced the sweetbreads special, but the fish weren't biting.

Finally, a homespun couple came in and when the special was pitched the husband said "We're not from around here, what are sweetbreads?"

The waitress, hopes dashed of making it through the evening without having to face this question, took a deep breath and blew out.

"Well," she said. For a while I thought that was all the explanation the couple would receive - but then she commenced: "Before I tell you, let me say that it's much better than it sounds..." But the couple urged her to disengage from the preamble and get to the point, at which time she admitted the meal consisted of "the glands of a goat," pointing to her neck.

Technically she might have been right, sweetbreads being a sort of nebulous, catch-all term. But at the time I thought this is either one seriously mixed up goat to have its pancreas in its neck, or one very sharp waitress who knows if she points to where sweetbreads really come from this couple is going to be on a plane back to Silver Silo, Iowa within the half-hour.

As it was, they said "Whooaaa," and ordered steak.

But for the waitress it was to get worse, because in came a party of eight little-English-speaking Germans who also wanted to know what sweetbreads were.

For them, "gland of a goat," didn't get it done. Neither did pointing to the throat. (This reminded me of a restaurant in Zurich where the waiter profusely apologized because the lamb "coomz veethout, uh, how you say, coomz veethout..." He had no word for it. Finally, in exasperation, he pointed to a part of my anatomy. Puzzled, I asked, "You mean it comes without wrists?" "Yes, Yes, Yes!" he exploded gratefully. "Veethout wreests." That little snippet of conversation remains as much a mystery to me today as it did then).

So finally, this poor waitress in a tuxedo was reduced to the indignity of poking fingers up out of her head to symbolize horns and dancing up and down saying "baaa, baa, baa" in front of the Germans and, of course, everyone else.

They finally got the goat part, but somehow, I swear, they interpreted the throat "gland" to mean "testicles." High on a hill was a lonely goat is right, and here's why.

How they managed to align testicles up in a goat's throat I have no clue. But needless to say, another round of sweetbreads went unsold. "Bad night for that sweetbreads special," I told the waitress. "From now on," she answered, "I'm just going to tell everyone it's liver."

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