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Chewing the fat is the new trend in restaurants

June 21, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

If you are a true Hagerstonian, the word "glistening" - when used to describe a hunk of meat - is music to the ears. You know, "glistening," as in "fatty."

It's kind of like dressing up a junker of a car by calling it "vintage."

And it gets better, as New York Times food critic Frank Bruni describes a restaurant where his party was served "seven glistening pounds of pork butt," adding that the waiters "... didn't bother to carve this mountain of meat. They just plopped it in the center of the table, handed out sets of tongs (and) let the pig scatter where it may."

I know that by now, everyone in the 21740 ZIP code area is begging to know WHERE IS THIS RESTAURANT?

The bad news is that it is in New York City. The good news is that the annoying trend of California cuisine is ending, and it's being replaced by a stampede to the fattiest parts of the fattiest critters.

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I hated the old fad as much as anyone. The one where they served you half of an avocado topped with a cube of grilled chicken and a horrid compost heap of cilantro and sprouts set off by a green sauce that tasted like mayonnaise that had been sitting for too long in the sun. And they would call that dinner.

Finally, chefs are awakening to this universal truth: Fat tastes good. Nice of them to notice.

That means that Hagerstown, long the caboose of trendiness, suddenly finds itself elevated to the front of the bus.

And, frankly, we need a bus. Preferably one with heavy duty springs.

But it's OK now. No longer do we need to be ashamed that we led the nation in per-capita sales of queen-sized pantyhose. No more is it a sin that our paramedics all have bad backs from carting people of ample carriage out of a third-floor apartment. So what that we ate an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant out of business?

And what is true for Hagerstown is true for much of the nation. We just take it to the extreme, is all.

For the past decade, frowning health experts have been telling us that we are obese, even if we are five pounds to the north of our "ideal weight." They even cooked up a "body mass index" that basically concludes that everyone should weigh 27 pounds. They even convinced many of us that sprouts didn't taste like mulch and that tofu didn't taste like regurgitated copy-machine toner.

But finally, we snapped.

We noticed that no matter what we did, it was never good enough. We noticed that hard-earned weight loss was only temporary. And, most important, we noticed that thin people die, too.

Excellent. Bruni writes, "These are times of bold temptation, as well as prompt surrender, for a carnivorous glutton in New York."

Sorry PETA. The fatted calf has been slaughtered, wrapped in fat, stuffed with fat and served with a side of fat. Fatcentric restaurants are opening at a record pace and people are eating them up.

Bruni says the new logo for New York should be a Big Apple - stuffed in the mouth of a spit-roasted pig. He describes one dish where the simple deviled egg has been elevated to the status of food legend. I won't give away the secret, but basically it includes being wrapped in pork jowls and some good old deep frying thrown in for good measure.

"It's as if decades of proliferating sushi and shrinking plates, of clean California cuisine and exhortations to graze, have fostered a robust (or is that rotund?) counterculture of chefs and diners eager to cut against the nutritional grain and straight into the bellies of beasts," Bruni writes.

So severe has been the pendulum swing that one restaurant does have "salad" on the menu - but it consists of pickled watermelon and fried pork belly.

Count me in. I'm tired of being made to feel odd when I order the largest cut of meat on the menu stuffed with the second-largest cut of meat. (And here, I am setting the table, so to speak, for an upcoming column based on real events.)

On this point, I agree with God. Man has dominion over the animals. And He used the word "dominion" only because he had yet to create "Worcestershire sauce."

Hagerstown may not owe New York City much. But if it brings us a high-fat menu, I'm thinking we would at least be willing to leave the tip. We might even deep-fry it.

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