The Food Almanac: Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It's National Lamb Chops Day!
Ewan Munro

The proliferation of Middle Eastern restaurants brought lamb chops back down to affordable prices, and people have resumed eating them at home.

Restaurant Birthdays
Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House opened today in 2002. It was planned to be the seafood equivalent of Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, just a half-block away. But it evolved into a general Creole restaurant, a touch on the casual side, with more than a few dishes originally made popular at Commander's Palace years before. The restaurant has an unusually large oyster bar, which is one of its finer points. There was a little controversy about its opening: Dickie's cousin Ralph Brennan, who already had a seafood restaurant at that intersection, was a little miffed at first. But both restaurants seem to be doing very well, so that's been forgotten.

Today in 1997, Artesia opened in Abita Springs. The owner was Vicky Bayley, who also operated Mike's On The Avenue, on Lafayette Square. She wound up selling Mike's to Mike Ditka's, moving to Artesia and then--after a few more openings--returning to Mike's On The Avenue. Artesia is gone now, but it's worth remembering because it was where John Besh rose to national prominence. He went from there to open Restaurant August, the beginning of his now eight-restaurant empire. Vicky kept Artesia going for a few more years, then closed some months before the Katrina. The new owners were Slade Rushing and Allison Vines-Rushing, who reopened it as Longbranch. It lasted two years. The Rushings are now the proprietors of MiLa downtown. And the delightful premises of Artesia--an old resort hotel--are still waiting for a new owner.

Food Calendar
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations celebrates World Food Day on this date every year. The observance calls attention to the need for greater research and investment in growing more and better food, for the millions who remain hungry around the world. Here's a web site with more about this.

Today's Flavor
It is also National Lamb Chops Day. Lamb chops were, at one time, on the menus of every kind of restaurant. Around the 1970s, they started moving upscale. Perhaps that's because lamb prices increased a lot. Or it may have been because the still-young Baby Boomers found lamb's flavor too assertive. When they grew up and their palates became more sophisticated, they found racks of lamb waiting for them on the white tablecloths, and rediscovered their goodness. The proliferation of Middle Eastern restaurants brought lamb chops back down to affordable prices, and people have resumed eating them at home.

There are two principal varieties of lamb chops, with very different flavors and textures. The more common kind cut from the rib rack. This gives us the classic lamb chop, with a curved bone ending in a round eye of meat, surrounded by a good amount of fat. But the lamb T-bone is gaining in popularity. With a sirloin on one side of the bone and tenderloin on the other, it sounds wonderful and is far from bad. But it contains less fat and tends to be less tender. It's also harder to grill uniformly and a little troublesome to eat, because you have to dig the meat away from the disproportionately large bone. They're a bit less expensive, fortunately. It would allay some confusion if restaurants serving lamb T-bones called them that instead of lamb chops. 

There's another divide among lamb chops: their origins. The smaller ones typically come from Australia and New Zealand, the world leaders in lamb husbandry. They're small because the animals they use are younger than the ones preferred in America. American lamb chops are about double the size of the Down Under variety, and have a better flavor, in my opinion.

The best thing that happened to lamb chops in recent history is the obsolescence of mint jelly. That garnish may have been necessary when muttony, strong lamb was common, but it obliterates the flavor of good lamb. Many restaurants still serve it because some people expect it. But bearnaise sauce or a good lamb jus or demi-glace--perhaps with a touch of fresh mint in those sauces--are vastly better. They're also wonderful encrusted with black pepper. And the Lebanese practice of serving lamb with hummus as a sort of sauce is also complimentary to these delicious, special chops.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Lamb, Tennessee is twenty-four miles southeast of Nashville, at the intersection of Chicken Pike and the Old Nashville Highway. It's a former farming area recently become a suburb of booming Nashville. In particular, what was once Lamb is now a subdivision called Pioneer Estates. A lot of this is fired by a large Nissan plant less than a mile away. A farmyard is still in Lamb, at the top of a 200-foot hill. But how long can it last as the property values escalate? Already, a cluster of restaurants--most of them chains--is two miles away. While we can, we'll eat at Mama's Home Cooking.

Edible Dictionary
lamb lollipop, n.--Small, individual lamb chops served with the cleaned bone and a sauce thick enough to stick to the meat, so that the entire chop can be picked up by the bone and eaten. The sauce is usually (but not always) on the sweet side. Lamb lollipops are typically served as an appetizer, two or three to the order. They're almost without exception from New Zealand or Australian, wherelambs are harvested much smaller than they are in this country. Lollipops are the first encounter many Americans have with lamb.

Deft Dining Rule #721
The minimum acceptable number of rib bones for an entree of lamb chops in a serious restaurant is three. If they're Australian or New Zealand chops, the number rises to six.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: 
A lamb rack cooked whole and sliced after cooking will be tenderer and juicier than double--cut chops, and incomparably better than single chops.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Gallo (also known as Gall and Gallinus), who was a missionary to the Alpine countries in the 600s. Perhaps because of his name (it means "rooster" in Latin), he is the patron saint of chickens and geese.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, was born today in 1937. He started his ubiquitous take-out pizza business on a $500 loan and did pretty well--making decent if not fantastic pizzas. The conveyor-belt oven is the center of his operation, baking a pizza much faster but without the magical crispness of the crust. This is certainly true: Domino's is better than the convenience pizza of twenty or thirty years ago. But not nearly as good as a New York-style pizza made in a traditional stone oven.

Food In Show Biz
Today in 1941, the Will Bradley Band--whose best-known number was Beat Me, Daddy, Eight To The Bar--recorded a song calledFry Me, Cookie, With A Can Of Lard. Neither the song nor the dish caught on. . . Today in 1939, the comedy The Man Who Came To Dinner opened to huge success on Broadway, based on an incredibly obnoxious and pompous writer. Sounds familiar, somehow.

Food Through History
Today in 1793, Marie Antoinette--wife of King Louis XVI, already a victim of the French Revolution--was beheaded. The rabble quoted her alleged "let them eat cake" comment as evidence that she should be killed. (Actually, she suggested that, if they had no bread, the peasants should eat brioche--itself a kind of bread.) Thinking about that makes me think twice about telling people that they shouldn't eat frozen food.

Food In Science
Today is the birthday, in 1875, of Henry Sherman, an early researcher on nutrition. He made the first estimates of the ideal amounts of each of the vitamins we should consume daily. He also announced that spinach is not as enormously nutritious a food as Popeye says.

Food Namesakes
Missouri Congressman Alan Wheat was born today in 1951. . . R&B singer Sugar Pie DeSanto warbled her first notes today in 1935. . . Baseball Hall of Famer Goose Goslinstepped up to the plate of life today in 1900.

Words To Read Restaurant Reviews By
"Critics? I love every bone in their heads."--American playwright Eugene O’Neill, born today in 1888.

Words To Eat By
"But beef is rare within these oxless isles;
Goat's flesh there is, no doubt, and kid, and mutton;
And, when a holiday upon them smiles, 
A joint upon their barbarous spits they put on."--Lord Byron.