The Best Thing I Ever Ate

So I was watching Food Network the other night and came across a show called \”The Best Thing I Ever Ate\”. It featured different Food Network \”stars\” (I put that in quotes because for the most part they were all minor characters from Food Network like Mario Battali\’s Sous Chef on Iron Chef, the guy from Rescue Chef, and those were the better known ones… where was I… nevermind…) discussing what the best thing each of them has ever eaten.

They came up with lame things like: a BBQ Sandwich, Eggs Benedict, these pancake balls called Ebelskivers, Bone Marrow and Oxtail Marmalade (yes, that\’s right, bone marrow… not only could it contain stem cells to cure our deadly diseases, it\’s delicious!), Banana Cream Pie, Gnocchi made entirely of cheese (instead of potatoes), a Cannoli, and a Guinea Hen cooked in a Pig Bladder.

Yes, you read that last one correctly. It was the best thing that Ted Allen (of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame) has ever eaten. Along with Ted describing his experience they had footage of the actual dish at the restaurant in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace. If a quivering dinosaur egg with veins sounds appetizing to you, perhaps you should consider stopping by. The dinosaur egg is in fact an inflated pig bladder, with a guinea hen inside. How he could find that appetizing, especially after the waiter popped the bladder with a knife, is beyond me.

On one hand it made me nauseous, but on the other hand it made me realize that when you say \”best\” it doesn\’t necessarily mean tastiest. Best could mean the experience. For example I would guess that the best drink my wife ever had was the Irish coffee she ordered at the Shangri-La hotel in Bangkok Thailand. They wheeled out a whole cart full of liquors and glassware, there were flames being poured from glass to glass, and well you just had to be there because it was amazing to watch. My point is even if that Irish coffee wasn\’t the best tasting in the world, the experience and presentation made it the best in the world.

Anyway, it got me thinking, what is the best thing *I* ever ate? I brainstormed for a couple of days and realized I couldn\’t narrow it down to one thing. So here\’s my top twelve (see, I couldn\’t even narrow it down to ten).

12. Buffalo Wild Wings Spicy Garlic Buffalo Wings – I discovered BW3 (back when it was still BW3) in Dublin Ohio during my stint working for Enron…long story, don\’t ask. Anyway, the first time I went to BW3 and had their Spicy Garlic Buffalo Wings it was a moving experience. There was trivia, beer, and sports on TV. What more could a guy want? Cheap and delicious wings, that\’s what I guy could want! The Spicy Garlic wings rank relatively low on BW3\’s spicy scale, but I maintain that Spicy Garlic tastes hotter than Hot BBQ. Regardless, the buffalo sauce and garlic combination makes for a perfect wing with medium spice. The kind of wing you can eat a dozen (or two) of paired with a cold glass of Leinie\’s Honey Weiss.

11. Tom Thumb Donuts – Growing up in Austin, every August brought the Mower County Fair, and the fair brought Tom Thumb Donuts. Those wonderful cinnamon sugar deep fried little nuggets of golden deliciousness. As a child I was fascinated by the machine that spiraled out donut after donut. Oh who am I kidding, I am *still* fascinated by those little mechanical donut makers. The thing is, I\’ve had other mini donuts, and I\’ve even had Tom Thumb donuts at the Minnesota State Fair, but those donuts can\’t hold a candle to those in Austin. I don\’t know if it\’s something in the water, or the people who own that particular franchise, but they are vastly superior and I have corroborated this with friends who\’ve tried both. These donuts are so good that last summer in Austin I ate two and a half bags myself. And I\’m proud of that.

10. Paella at Cafe Havana – Sadly Cafe Havana closed on May 31st 2008, but the paella will live forever in my memory. You needed to notify Cafe Havana 48 hours in advance so they could have the ingredients flown in. When Chelle and I went we gave them the proper notice but when we arrived and ordered our waiter tried to talk us out of it. He said it was so large, that we couldn\’t possibly finish it. Clearly he didn\’t know who he was talking to; we pressed on and out came a beautiful plate of saffron colored rice, vegetables and seafood. Needless to say there was no need for a doggy bag that evening as we devoured it all. I\’ve had excellent paellas since then, but none have measured up.

9. Chelle\’s Parpardelle and Sausage with Champagne Sauce (a.k.a. heart attack on a plate) – This is a modification of an Emeril recipe for Lobster in a Champagne Sauce that Chelle has made only a handful of times. Its nickname of \”heart attack on a plate\” comes from the fact that it\’s made with a full pound of butter. Replace lobster with Italian sausage, and that\’s a heart attack waiting to happen, and one of the most delicious things you\’ll ever eat.

8. French Silk Pie from Baker\’s Square – Growing up in Austin, where the only decent shopping was Oak Park Mall, there were plenty of trips to Rochester to a \”real\” mall, like Apache Mall. By the way, how sad is it that Oak Park Mall doesn\’t even have a text URL, only the IP address? Was that a decision based on cost, the right name not being available, or just sheer laziness? But I digress… Beyond the trip to Apache Mall there was a trip to the Miracle Mile shopping center, and even to the Target on the north side of Rochester. Just south of Target is a Baker\’s Square that my mom and I would often have lunch at. Baker\’s Square has fantastic pies but their French Silk is a delectable combination of a light buttery crust, rich chocolate, and a creamy whipped top. Even though it reminds me of weekends spent in Rochester trying on JC Penny Plain Pockets (for the husky young man), I still love that pie.

7. My Mom\’s Toll House Bars – Just the simple recipe off the back of the package, in bar form, not cookies. However, my mom must do something different because I\’ve made this countless times, and it never comes out quite like hers. Dense with a smooth top, and filled with chocolate chips. Maybe it\’s because her baking soda was older than I was, maybe she added more chips, or made less dough. Whatever it is, nobody makes \’em like mom.

6. Ham from our Pork Guy – Since Chelle and I have been hosting Thanksgiving (every other year) and Easter (every year) for the past several years, we\’ve tried many many hams. We\’ve tried hams from the regular grocery store, from high-end grocery stores, from Costco, from the Honeybaked Ham Company, and so on. I have been continually disappointed in the taste, texture, and quality of hams I\’ve spend over $50 on. This past Thanksgiving with 24 people to feed, we decided to try making a ham yet again. Chelle suggested trying the pork vendor at the Minneapolis Farmer\’s Market, who we affectionately refer to as \”our pork guy\”. We picked up an 18 pound ham, bone in, no spiral cut. We prepared it on the grill (as our two ovens were taken up by a turkey and all of the side dishes) and this was the best ham I had ever had. To quote Linda Richman, \”It was like buttah\”. How good was this ham? If given the choice between any steak I\’ve ever had in my life and this ham… the ham would win every day of the week and twice on Sunday. That\’s good ham.

5. Chelle\’s Eggplant Parmesan – The first time I ever had eggplant, the only thing I knew about it was that it was purple, and it was what Pit from Kid Icarus would turn into if you weren\’t careful around the Eggplant Wizard. I first fell in love with eggplant parm, in hoagie form, courtesy of a small Italian deli in Thousand Oaks California. Years later Chelle made me her eggplant parm for the first time and it was better than any eggplant I had ever had. The combination of textures, cheese, and homemade sauce is phenomenal. One of her secrets (I won\’t give them all away) is that she bakes her eggplant instead of pan frying. That gives the eggplant a stronger texture and doesn\’t make the final product greasy.

4. My Chili – I make a mean chili… in fact, it\’s award winning. Seriously, I won a chili cook-off in my office. Granted, winning a chili cook-off against a bunch of Minnesotans isn\’t necessarily something to brag about; but I\’ve tried Chili all over the world and I have yet to find one that I like more than my own. The fun thing about my chili is that it\’s never the same twice. The downside to my chili is that it\’s never the same twice. However, out of all the chili I\’ve made, the one that stands out is (oddly enough) the vegetarian one I made for my sister in law. At the time she was a strict vegetarian (no fish, no eggs, etc). Did you know that Worcestershire has anchovies in it? I didn\’t; until I scrutinized every single ingredient. I used soy based \”hamburger\” and faux bacon, skipped the Worcestershire, and produced a chili that was not only vegetarian, but delicious!

3. Cardinali\’s Meat Bread – For nearly 50 years, Cardinali Bakery has been supplying the Carle Place area with quality bakery goods. I don\’t know if it was the first time I visited my in-laws, but many years ago I was introduced to \”Meat Bread\”. Much like my chili, it seems that Cardinali\’s Meat Bread is never the same twice. The basics are that it is braided black pepper bread with meat generously spread throughout. However, I have had some loaves that seem to have ham in them. Other loaves look and taste more like salami. I\’ve even had loaves that I swear had cheese in them. But the common theme is that they have all been delicious. One of my goals for 2009 is to learn to bake my own meat bread. I\’ve got the tools, I\’ve got the talent… it\’s meat bread time!

2. Mom\’s Beans – My mom never met a beef roast that she couldn\’t over cook until it had the consistency of rawhide, but she could bake desserts and she could make baked beans. To me no holiday is complete without my Mom\’s baked beans. They\’ve been a staple at family gatherings my entire life. My mom doesn\’t cook as much as she used to, so after a few holidays without baked beans I convinced her to write the recipe down for me. This past Thanksgiving I made the recipe for the first time. In her classic style, my mom\’s recipe opens up with \”Cook the beans\”. Now I don\’t know if you\’ve ever bothered to look up how to cook beans, but there is a surprising variety in how you can cook great northern beans. Some people soak over night before boiling. Others boil once before boiling a second time. Some boil for a specified length of time, others boil until the skin \”pops\” on the beans. I helped my mom make those beans countless times over the years, but none of those methods sounded familiar. So in the spirit of all great chefs, I winged it. My beans came out a little firmer than mom\’s, but the sauce was a spot on match. No matter how many times I\’ve had these beans over the years, I never grow tired of them. That\’s the sign of a great dish.

1. Thuringer Sandwich with Planter\’s Cheez Balls – Growing up in Austin Minnesota meant eating a lot of Hormel products. It\’s part of the city bylaws I believe. Even the six Jews in town ate Black Label Bacon… it\’s just how things are done there. But out of all the Hormel products, my favorite is Thuringer. It\’s hard to find, and in the Twin Cities I can only find the \”Old Smokehouse\” variety, which is good, but inferior to regular Thuringer. What\’s more, you can\’t even find mention of Thuringer on Hormel\’s website. For those of you who don\’t know, Thuringer is a type of summer sausage. It\’s salty and has a slightly smoother texture compared to salami. I\’d say the texture is halfway between salami and bologna. The taste is almost similar to venison summer sausage (but not gamey), as it isn\’t as \”sweet\” as some sausages are. The perfect compliment to a Thuringer sandwich was a bowl full of Planter\’s Cheez Balls… yet another product that is no longer made. Cheez Balls came in the blue tub with the yellow lid. Completely artificial, but tasty. The best part of the tub of Cheez Balls is at the bottom was a nugget of solid cheez ball coating. Concentrated cheezy goodness. But what really made the Cheez Balls great was the texture. Far crunchier than a cheese poof, but not quite as roof-of-the-mouth-shredding as a Cheeto. The two of them together… well, it\’s like there was a party in your mouth.

It may seem strange to say the best thing I ate was a summer sausage sandwich with an odd puffed cheese snack. But if you know me you shouldn\’t be surprised that a sandwich tops my list. Not only does that combination remind me of my youth, it\’s a very personal comfort food. It\’s something that belongs to me, and can\’t be shared (thanks Planters… you jerks). That makes it even more special.

So what\’s the best thing *you* ever ate?







13 responses to “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”

  1. anderswa Avatar

    yes! when i saw the title, i was so hoping your mom’s beans and the thuringer sandwich would be near the top. i’ll craft my retort tomorrow, but i just wanted to chime in and say that this was really entertaining.

  2. Explosive Bombchelle Avatar

    Two of my specialties made the list. I am humbled and honored.

  3. alex Avatar

    They don’t make cheese balls anymore? Mind you, I’m quite certain I ate my lifetime quota’s worth at your place growing up… I can still visualize the taste, and it’s been 15 years. I guess I just assumed they’d be around forever.
    Good list, despite the absence of the Sumo Burger. 🙂 I’ll work on a more comprehensive response for myself later…

  4. anderswa Avatar

    since you mentioned it, i think your last sumo burger was literally your last sumo burger. my mom told me last night that sportt’s (and its replacement, whatever it was called) was officially closed for bidness.

  5. wadE Avatar

    Last time Brother Mark was in town he went to the “new Sportts”, and said that besides it being horrible they did not have the Sumo burger… so it was already gone… and I’m not all that sad… no more Sumo Burgers will probably add 10 years to my life.

  6. anderswa Avatar

    10. cheeseburger at l. phillips, soo line building, downtown minneapolis. (yeah, they changed their name to “the burger place.” they’re doing it wrong.) easily the best burger i’ve ever had.

    9. bottle of budweiser, bubba’s bar, owatonna, mn. i can’t stand bud. however, there’s something about the way they serve it at bubba’s that makes it spectacular.

    8. tator tots, grumpy’s bar, washington ave in minneapolis. just any other tator tot, only more so. i should ask rainer what they use to make their tots taste so good. strike that, maybe i’m better off not knowing.

    7. squash soup, soggy dollar bar, jost van dyke, bvi. we went there for our honeymoon. all the food was great, but the squash soup sticks out as being the most memorable.

    6. my mom’s chili. great stuff, and i’ve never been able to duplicate it. it’s not christmas without it.

    5. sara’s london broil and twice-baked potatoes. i usually demand this on my birthday, among other special occasions.

    4. mojo rolls, martini blu, downtown minneapolis. (yeah, they changed their name to “zahtar by fhima.” they’re doing it wrong.) heavenly, even if i don’t know how exactly to pronounce “mojo.”

    3. chicken santa fe salad, d’brians, dowtown minneapolis. i have an unhealthy relationship with this salad.

    2. chicken fried rice, wong’s, rochester, mn. i like fried rice, but have never found a place that made it as good as wong’s did. unfortunately, they’re now closed.

    1. paella, leicester square market, london. i’ve had paella before and after, and nothing compares to it.

  7. alex Avatar

    I can’t even pronounce ‘zahtar by fhima’.
    Was Wong’s the place on 52 by the Miracle Mile?

  8. anderswa Avatar

    wong’s used to be on broadway and (something like) 3rd. however, a google search makes it look like they reopened on 52. wonder if it’s still as yummy. a tip: don’t go there on your birthday with my mother. embarrassment is guaranteed.

  9. Explosive Bombchelle Avatar

    wadE and I discussed the Paella in London while he was making his list. It was delicious! There was rumor of Cafe’ Havana reopening but I’m not holding my breath. Instead I think we should buy one of those massive paella pans and recreate our London experience.

    Also Wade, did you happen to notice how many bars you have on your list?

  10. anderswa Avatar

    i’d love to make our own paella. unfortunately, i think those pans are a bit of an investment.

    bars? it’s really just two (grumpy’s and bubba’s)– the place from our honeymoon was called that even though it was a sit-down place. (and, to be fair, bubba’s would be more aptly referred to as a “watering hole.”) 🙂

  11. The American Homemaker Avatar

    Mmm… I make eggplant parmesan and it’s one of my favorites! And my chili is never the same twice either…. LOL

  12. w H Mallory Avatar

    Like you, I could eat Hormel Thuringer daily.
    I can’t find it in the Twin Cities.
    In fact, for wonderful company who’s largest plant and CO are nin Minnesota They are not in mthe Delis.
    I am tired of seeing product from all over the country in the super- market delis.

  13. wadE Avatar

    If you don’t mind the Old Smokehouse style of Hormel Thuringer (I don’t mind it, but I prefer the regular kind) you can find it at the deli counter at your local Byerly’s or Lunds. I think Jerry’s grocery stores may have it as well.

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