Another time, I ventured into a Chinese restaurant operated by Mexicans and watched a beer-slinging fist fight while I ate something like sweet-and-sour carnitas over fried rice.
So, should we be surprised by a kosher non-carcinogenic barbecue restaurant here in Marthasville? Nah.
Twelve Oaks Barbecue (1451 Scott Blvd., 404-377-0120) had been open only a few days when Wayne and I visited last week. Located in a building formerly occupied by a ghastly Mexican restaurant, this newcomer is an oddity even in a town that has come to value culinary strangeness.
It isn't that pigless barbecue itself is so odd. In Texas, where I lived several years, nobody eats pork much. But Dr. Gabriel Feldman, the owner of Twelve Oaks, has gone beyond subscribing to the kosher ban on pork to emphasize health. Formerly a national director of the American Cancer Society, he is a board-certified public health physician.
"I came here a few years ago from New York," he told me on the phone. "I got interested in opening a restaurant but I wanted to be sure it was kosher. I started eating a lot of Southern dishes -- everything from fried okra to pecan pie and barbecue, of course. I got the idea that about the only thing unusual I could open was a kosher barbecue restaurant. But I was just as interested in trying to make the food healthy."
Healthy barbecue? "Yes," he said. "We don't use pork, of course, and there are no dairy products. I also use unbleached flour and raw sugar when I use it. I use no hydrogenated oils and try to keep all oil to a minimum. But really, the main thing is that I don't use a smoker or a big pit. Food cooked in a smoker can be carcinogenic. Instead, all of the meat here is marinated quite a while, then simmered or grilled safely."
OK, so how's it taste? Brunswick stew ($1.95 small) is as good as any you'll find around town. Short ribs ($14.95 for a full rack) are quite deliciously tender and meaty. They deserve their designation as the restaurant's signature dish. But the sauce, despite the reduced sugar, is a bit sweet for my taste. When I asked for some hot sauce to add some heat, the waiter could only find a bottle of Tabasco. Dr. Feldman needs to add some hot table sauces.
Wayne's barbecue sandwich of shredded beef ($7.75, large) was less agreeable than the ribs. In fact, it was served tepid and he had to ask that it be reheated. I cannot eat a barbecue sandwich without slaw, and the restaurant definitely needs to work on its version. I would much rather have a vinegar slaw than the mayo-heavy concoction that tasted store-bought to me. Rich barbecue needs the bite of a piquant slaw, especially if it's as mild as this 'cue.
The menu is a hoot. Everything is named after a Gone With the Wind character, befitting the name of the restaurant, which is also casually decorated in sundry schlock featuring our city's literary albatross. Dr. Feldman has let his imagination play a bit, so that there's even an Elvis O'Hara sandwich of grilled peanut butter and bananas "made with tender loving care."
A number of items weren't available when we visited, including the Abe Lincoln oven-baked corned beef and the General Sherman Reuben sandwich. The menu also features blackened chicken, fried chicken, rib steak, chicken-fried steak, a hamburger and several salads. Desserts include pecan pie, cobbler and fresh fruit. Let me hear your comments.
Here and there
I'm sorry to report that Calavino Donati has closed her very well-reviewed Urban Cannibals in Decatur. Calavino, who also owns Roman Lily Cafe, says parking was the problem. She is scouting some new locations, including one downtown.
Cosecha, formerly Cosi, has also closed in Decatur. I call that a major bummer. The beautiful restaurant was serving some very good food. I wonder if the difficult parking in Decatur affected it, too. Indigo, the longtime Morningside favorite, is closing and will re-open with a new concept. This restaurant, originally owned by Alix Kenagy, is now operated by Tom Catherall, owner of Prime, Goldfish, Tom Tom and Noche.
I received half a dozen e-mails after my recent column on Babette's in which I mentioned cassoulet. The issue was whether cassoulet originated in Gascony or Languedoc. I concede that the latter is probably most often cited, but the whole southwestern region of France is famous for the dish. I think the only thing you can say to describe an authentic cassoulet is that the crust must be broken and allowed to reform at least once during cooking.
Eating Disorders Awareness Week is planned for February. One of the most interesting events planned is Julie Shaffer's "Pleasure of Taste 101" at Andaluz, the city's new tapas restaurant, on Monday, Feb. 26. Shaffer is head of a local chapter of Slow Food International. Call 404-875-7013 for information on the $15 event.
Speaking of eating slowly, Raymond Hook, the cheese god at Star Provisions, and I are planning a series of seminar tastings on food, passion and soul. Raymond and I share a belief that people in part turn to unhealthy convenience food because they simply haven't been educated in taste.
If you're interested, e-mail me and I'll send you details when we have firmed things up.