Great eats, good cigar make week wonderful

October 21, 1998|By Rob Kasper

EVERY SO OFTEN I get the urge to try a few things, to file a few dispatches from the eating front. So here are a few short accounts of good things I have recently put in my mouth.

I'll start with the moist and flavorful pit-beef sandwich I ate at Andy Nelson's in Hunt Valley. One weeknight I had pit beef on the brain. I had finished a long telephone conversation with a writer in Minnesota who had seen John Waters' latest film, "Pecker." Pecker is the film's main character, who lives with a family that runs a pit-beef stand in the yard. The Minnesota writer wanted to know all about this unique Baltimore sandwich. As I described the pit-beef cooking process - a slab of beef called a "bottom flat" cooking slowly over a wood or charcoal fire - my mouth began to water.

Later that evening, as my kids - hungry and aching from their just-completed school football practices - clambered into the car, I decided to take a detour on the route home.

We headed over to York Road to Nelson's recently opened pit-beef joint, which happened to be a few doors south of his longtime location in the center of Valley View Farms.

During an earlier visit I had made to the new pit, Andy Nelson Sr., a former Baltimore Colt, had shown me his new cooking rig. It was a gas-fired oven that featured a "smoke box," a compartment in the back of the unit where hickory logs smoldered, giving the meat a smoky perfume.

On this visit I didn't have any time for pit viewing. Instead, I had to get some sandwiches into the hands of my teen-age football players quickly. As the guys chomped away, they scanned the framed photo on the restaurant wall, trying to find Nelson among the ranks of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Jim Mutscheller and others on the 1958 NFL champion Baltimore Colts.

Halfway through their sandwiches, the kids spotted the photo of the proprietor of the pit-beef stand, then a fierce defensive back. The thick pit-beef sandwiches were merely appetizers for the kids. By the time we got home for supper, the guys were ready to eat again and wanted to go back to the "old football guy" who made pit beef.

I smiled at the notion that a slab of smoked beef could appeal to an avant garde filmmaker like Waters and an old Colt like Nelson and two Baltimore-born teen-agers. This proves, I guess, that pit beef is the city's native sandwich.

A few nights later I was decked out in a tuxedo and reveling in the experience of being in a smoke-filled room. The occasion was a celebration of the cigar, a black-tie dinner and benefit for the Police Athletic League sponsored by Fader's tobacconists, and held at the Engineering Society in downtown Baltimore.

The gathering of men in tuxedos and women in evening dress sampled different cigars at different points of the meal. Early in the evening, medium-body Davidoff 2000 cigars were smoked as hors d'oeuvres were passed and glasses of single malt scotch were sipped.

When dinner - broiled yellowfin tuna and New York strip steak - was served, so were the Davidoff No. 2 cigars, panatelas described as mild and delicate.

Finally, after dessert, a dark chocolate cake and a Davidoff Special R, a "robusto" cigar was passed around with the cognac.

As a rookie cigar smoker, I couldn't keep pace with the veteran xTC puffers. I smoked one cigar, the mild Davidoff No. 2. I waited until I had finished the meal, then I sat back and puffed away. It was my semi-annual cigar, and it was wonderful.

A few days later I ate something called "catfish fingers." I liked their flavor, but had doubts about their origin. As a kid I had caught and skinned quite a few catfish and had become quite familiar with fish anatomy. In all my skinning days, I had never seen any fingers on a catfish.

When I asked John Shields, proprietor of Gertrude's, the new restaurant in the Baltimore Museum of Art, which served the dish, he told me the "fingers" referred to shape of the morsel, not the appendages of the fish.

Shields, who is the author of "Chesapeake Bay Cooking With John Shields" (Broadway Books, 1998) said the "fingers" were catfish fillets. The fillets had been dipped in milk, rolled in seasoned cornmeal. "Then we fried the jeepers out of them in hot oil," said Shields.

The fingers were served with remoulade, a cold sauce of mustard, capers, pickles and mayonnaise. They were great finger food.

A pit-beef sandwich, a handmade cigar, a catfish finger. It had been quite a week for the palate.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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