By Heather Hoch
By Lauren Saria
By JK Grence
By Eric Schaefer
By Robrt L. Pela
By Eric Schaefer
By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
All right. It's high time someone stood up and said something, and no one else seems to be making a move, so here I go.
For the second time in a week, I've seen nettles on a menu.
808 E. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Region: Central Phoenix
This is what I know about nettles: They invaded my front yard last year to the point that I'm sure I poisoned my portion of the water table trying to eradicate them; they have stinging hairs that make them the Chinese stars of plants; and I don't want to pay $22 a plate for them.
Now, I know it's the trend to incorporate non-traditional ingredients for unexpected elements and ingenuity. I mean, how many ways can you fry a chicken? (It turns out there are only two ways: good and not good.) I know it's important to shake things up in the culinary word (or people start to fall asleep) or try to drum up excitement for one another by saying reprehensible things like, "Those two flavors playing on my tongue, basking in their season," or, "The wine tasted like jam and sunshine" — thus making asses out of themselves on Urban Spoon.
I get that. I'm not so old-fashioned that I want all my meals served in aspic. But every now and then, the trends start going a little haywire (The Wedge, anyone?), and I have to ask myself if I'm so out of the loop that I'm in orbit, or if someone's trying to play a joke on the citizens of Foodieland.
I will be the first to admit that I'm not a foodie. No ingredient has ever "basked in its season" or played on my tongue. I just know good food when I chew on it and enjoy eating it. Bad food makes me angry; silly food sends me into a rage. Urban Spoon makes me want to put out hits on people. Yet I'm starting to see an awful lot of silly food creeping onto the menus of some of my formerly favorite restaurants in the Northwest, where I now live.
It's spread gradually, as all poxes do, to the point that I've been confronted with a menu of unappetizing offerings at a restaurant I used to love. For example, creamed rabbit makes my mouth water in a way that's a signal I need to locate a private area. And if I wanted to eat a pigeon, I would have learned how to use a slingshot when I lived in Phoenix and solved a droppings problem at the same time.
Seriously. I'm not picking pigeon. Or veal cheeks or pig's stomach or parts of a little lamb's brain. Though I agree that all are great conversation starters, I'd rather stand by the punch bowl and talk about the felonies I've committed than admit that I just ate things the Donner party wouldn't have considered.
I suspect this trend of exploratory cuisine is rolling to a fever pitch because everybody who ever boiled water wearing a paper hat wants to be on Iron Chef or Top Chef Masters, and one way to stand out is to serve what no one else is serving — whether it's lion from a supplier that was once convicted of selling federally protected animals or the mouth of a pig (with or without lipstick). Throw stuff that should be ground into sausage straight on to the grill and make a sauce for it. Froth up a nice, spit-like foam and people will think you're a genius.
But it's not genius, inventive, or even showboaty. It's just silly.
The thing is this: My grandfather got on a boat in 1914 and sailed from Italy to New York City specifically so that my father or any of his children didn't have to ever eat pigeon. Ever. I'm nearly positive that when he reached Ellis Island, the reason he gave for coming to America was because he didn't really like pig lips. And, in any case, the dish should never be served with anything foamy floating on top of it unless you were just very rude to your waiter.
And I almost know for a fact that he cried as he slapped the immigration agent's lectern, "Nettles are bullshit! For 22 bucks a plate, serve me something that doesn't leave splinters in my mouth! This is America. Give me a tenderloin!"
Because nettles are things you eat when the potatoes get blight before you can pull them out of the ground. Pigeon is something you attack when every other animal has already been eaten. These are foods of last resort. It's the menu for the apocalypse. And while I can appreciate the objective of butchering an animal and using all of it, isn't that the precise reason we shove things in casings, tuck it into a bun, and squeeze ketchup all over it? Everything gets used. Really. I promise. I've eaten pig lips before and so have you, I'm certain of it.
We just didn't know it because it plumped when we cooked it.
Frankly, I'm sorry to say that there's nothing smart, nouveau, or exciting about eating the things our ancestors ate when they were hungry, poor, and couldn't afford decent cuts of meat. It's the same food they sailed across an ocean to escape.
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Stanley's on McDowell near 22nd st is a pretty good old Phoenix place. I ate at the Nogales cafe in the deuce before it was torn down for AWA, now usair. Totally agree about Mrs. Whites and Ritos. If you read this Laurie, I want you to know I laughed pot loud while reading your other piece about the pot pies. You are a terrific writer and I miss your contributions to PNT. I've read your book of short stories, the one with "Red Mice", and think your writing has improved since then.
This 'nettles as food' phenomenon concerns me. OK, so I'm easily concerned about things.
When I was little and lived in rural Pennsylvania, we called the stuff "Burn Hazel." Years later I learned that it was a bastardization of the word brenhassel (sp? I don't know) a german word for stinging nettles.
I would run through the stuff down by the creek and the sting would last a half hour or more.
Has anyone ever checked to see if these things can sting your esophagus and stomach? I see anaphylactic shock in someone's future unless cooking the darn things renders them harmless.
I'd love to know the scientific stuff behind thsi.