About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Snoots


Over the last couple of weeks we have had several big meat processing days here on the Ranch with a couple of goats, a number of duck drakes and 4 plump mature rabbits slaughtered, butchered, processed for the freezer.  We try not to waste anything from these animals and enjoy many of the  "nasty bits" (tongues, hearts, livers, kidneys etc) from many species. 
Planning for the  use of these special "bits" reminded me of an unusual BBQ restaurant we encountered during a cross-country road trip 18 years ago where I finally ran into a nose-toe-tail menu that was more than I could handle.
ON THE FOOD ROUTE
Summer, 1993
"SNOOTS"
WARNING: The following account is a true story.  While it did take place in the real world, the participants were highly trained and experienced foodies in exceptional good health with extensive health insurance policies.  Please do not try this on your own without proper training and supervision.
The building we’d been directed to had definitely seen better days.  It looked like the kind of ramshackle waterfront shack one might glimpse through the dank mist on a dimly-lit night in an old mystery movie (in black and white, of course) - the kind of place where dark figures lurked in the shadows and serious trouble is thick in the air.  Except that there was no waterfront here.  It was mid-day in St. Louis; no one was lurking in the shadows and the only thing in the air was the smell of serious bar-be-que.
This particular culinary adventure began for us, as they often do, with the most innocent of circumstances.  We’d been forced by family obligations into making a long road trip from Arizona to Connecticut.  We’d done this trip before and had found that by pushing it, and taking the most “direct route”, we could make the 2500 mile journey in less than 3 days.  We’d also made the trip taking the “scenic route”, eschewing the interstate highway system, making lots of stops at “points of interest”, taking lots of pictures, and doing our leisure best to act like real tourists.  This time we had a new plan for plotting our itinerary.  We would develop “The Food Route”
Armed with the classic book “Road Food” by Michael and Jane Stern, food writers and restaurant reviewers of some repute, we planned a convoluted and circuitous route with the goal of eating at as many of their noteworthy regional food joints as we could manage.  We went as far as to plan out where we should try to spend the nights so that we could, theoretically, have dinner at classic crab shack, sleep a few hours, then be back on the road early enough to make it for breakfast to a diner in the next state which, they professed, served the best grits in the country.  The plan was shear, inspired, gluttonous, madness. 
During this epic journey, Kathryn, me and our two dogs, hit more than 12 rood food establishments featured in the book including a cafĂ© in Hatch NM for their green chile breakfast, 2 back road dives in rural Kentucky for authentic burgoo, several rib shacks in Texas, an historic diner in Oklahoma City for their enormous “Biscuit Debris” breakfast, a BBQ/steak house in Kansas City MO - famous for their “Burnt Ends” and a gourmet ice cream parlor in southern CT for their renowned “Sweet Cream Ice Cream”. We ate and drove, and ate and drove some more, stopping at nearly every interesting looking hash joint, diner and BBQ hovel we came to – not just ones from the book.  We were on a mission.  Some of our meals were just plain bad, many were quite good, but one meal out of all the ones we had on the trip stood out as truly unforgettable.
The meal was at a place in St Louis called “C&K”.  The book described C&K as an authentic soul-food barbecue and suggested trying something called “Snoots” - an interesting-sounding BBQ’d dish featuring the nose of a hog. I’ve always been pretty adventuresome with my eating habits and pork is pretty much pork right? So, as soon as it was clear that our route would bring us close to “The Gateway City” at about lunch time, we knew we’d have to hunt down C&K and give it a try. 
After several wrong turns we found our target looking very much as described in the first paragraph above.  Not much more than a roadside stand left to wither in the foreboding ambiance of a quasi-industrial area and, most definitely, appearing to be on the "wrong side of the tracks".  The physical presence of C&K might have been daunting to some, but it didn’t really do much discourage us.  In previous years of scouring the country for good-eats, we had come to realize that the best and most authentic regional foods you can find are often well off the beaten touristy track, and are usually situated in the otherwise marginal areas of town. 

We arrived solidly at lunch time and were pleased to see the large number of older cars and trucks packed in around the place.  The door in was blocked by a huge black man’s back and as we peered around him as best as we could, we could see another two or three sets of black men’s shoulders ahead of him.  Just past all of them we could just make out the service counter.  Apparently this was a take-out-only establishment.  More bodies packed in behind us and the line out the door lengthened. It was the lunch rush.
The place was really humming.  Everybody else seemed to know each other and cheerful greetings were loudly tossed back and forth above the cacophonous background din.  As the line inched slowly ahead I strained to here what the locals were ordering and, to my relief, heard “Snoots” called out several times.  I guessed we must be at the right place, and indeed it seemed to be a popular item.
Finally it was our turn at the counter.  Glancing at the menu painted on a board over the over-worked looking woman’s head we saw listings for “Snoots”, “Tripe” and “Pig Ear Sandwich” in addition to the more typical "Ribs", Chicken", etc, along with a few of side dishes and beverages.
The counter woman looked at us rather curiously but having just re-read the paragraph in the book about the place and after having listened to the previous customer order I confidently called for “an order of Snoots and a Rib Sandwich” (Kathryn not being quite as adventuresome as I).  The woman’s curiosity seemingly turned to mirth as she crookedly smiled and she hollered our order back to the kitchen where we could see a flurry of black hands in motion building meals on thick paper plates.  We paid and within a few moments we had our two large, foil-wrapped packages, a couple of sodas and were elbowing our way out the door we'd just come in.
We’d already been driving way too much that day to consider eating in the truck so we picked out a bit of an embankment off the parking lot overlooking C&K, brought the dogs out to run a bit and settled down to explore our lunches.
I’ve mentioned that I’m pretty adventuresome about food.  With that comes a real effort to not have any pre-conceived notions about any new foods I’m about to try but I have to tell you I was not prepared for what I saw upon opening that package.  My surprise at the sight before me may have unfairly tainted my impression of the overall experience and biased my judgment against the meal as a whole.  Be that as it may, shock might be close to what I was feeling when I peeled off the foil from my already-sagging paper plate, lifted off the top piece of soft white bread (for apparently Snoots was served as a sandwich) and saw the better part of a pig’s face, still very recognizable beneath the thick red sauce, staring back up at me from the plate.
I kid you not, there were nose nostrils, chubby little cheeks and, I SWEAR I saw hair on his "chinny-chin-chin" . 
OK, I told myself, it can’t really be that bad... look again. 
Well I looked at it and, sure enough, it looked back at me. 
I'm sure that it is moments like these that are responsible for more than a few conversions to vegetarianism but despite now knowing what really happened to that  "little-piggy-who-went-to-market"; despite seeing  his face in comfortably repose in a bed of potato salad, pillowed on a slice of fluffy white bread, I was still determined to try it.  I mean, there were lots of other people ordering this very same menu item so there must be something truly special going for it (and it certainly wasn’t the presentation or esthetics).
So, I closed the top slice of bread back over the sandwich, trying to ignore the image of a doctor covering a deceased patient with a sheet that flashed through my mind, and using both hands, I raised the massive, drippy mound to my mouth and took a big bite. 
It was a doomed effort from the start.  As my teeth sank into the sandwich I felt the thick, crisp meat parts sliding away from my mouth.  The entire package disintegrated in my hands, falling back onto the paper plate with a great “thunk”, leaving me with a small mushy mouthful of Wonder bread, potato salad and a little sauce.
About this time I began to wonder if this wasn’t all some great trick on us out-of-town white folks by the people in the restaurant. Yes, paranoia was truly setting in.  Were all those seemingly nice people, even now, all clustered around the cracked and streaked windows, watching, pointing and laughing at us up on the hill?  Were they taking photographs for their secret back-wall rogues gallery?  Was this culinary monstrosity, now splattered in my lap, actually representative of the “Snoots” that the regulars got when they ordered it? 
Well, I tried my best with the meal.  Having given up on the sandwich idea I picked at the meaty portions that looked the least offensive to me.  In describing it I would call it a cross between chicherones (fried pork rinds) and tripe.  There was an interesting richness to the very dark meat, especially in the cheeks, that had some appeal.  On the other hand, I did not care for the crunch of the cartilage behind the nostrils and the over-all greasiness was a turn-off, as was the hair.  Having had animals around most of my life I know all about getting hair in my food and it doesn't really bother me.  Having hair growing out of my food is something else altogether.
Speaking of animals... after a while, having eaten all I cared to and having given up caring if the whole neighborhood was watching my reaction to the food, I started throwing pieces of snoot meat to our dogs (a big yellow lab and a black lab mutt), who had been patiently sitting and watching us eat.  Normally not allowed access to “people food” I expected them to jump at the opportunity and devour the offerings with the same gusto with which they demolish the roasted pig ear treats we would buy for them at pet stores from time to time.  To our surprise, they wouldn’t even touch the morsels, only licking off some of the potato salad from the pieces I'd tossed them.
Accepting their judgment as the final straw, I wrapped up the rest ,tossed it in the trash, and off we went... back on the road toward our next culinary adventure.
In the years since and with the advent of the internet I have since checked in on C&K from time to time.  They still serve up a full BBQ menu (including snoots) to rave reviews.  To this day I don’t know if those were the best snoots on the planet, but just not to my taste, or something considerably less.
My sister has a theory about food and eating that goes something like "If you've had the herring in Denmark and didn't like it, face the fact that you just don't like herring".  I guess I'm going to have to say that I just don't like snoots. 

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