Monday, September 12, 2005

Dispatches from the road, part V: I'm glad I didn't order the pulled pork

And now for something completely different...Why? Because I feel like it:

True story. (Apologies to Derf.)

Date: Four weeks ago today.
Location: Zingerman's Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: Approximately 7:30 PM

I can't believe I've already been back at work for two weeks. It's always amazing to me how fast vacations go by and how fast they recede into the past. Four weeks ago, I was on vacation and hanging out with old friends. One of my oldest, dearest friends and his wife still live near where we went to college together, the University of Michigan. We were fortunate enough to be able to pay them a visit, and they suggested Zingerman's Roadhouse as the restaurant they wanted to go to. Now, Zingerman's Deli is an Ann Arbor institution whose fine food I had partaken of on multiple occasions during my college years. Apparently, Zingerman's had expanded by building a second location, a full-sized restaurant on the outer edge of the city. Although Zingerman's Roadhouse was not my first choice, I nonetheless anticipated nothing less than good old-fashioned deli goodness for a meal plus the fine companionship that my friend and his wife would provide me and my wife.

We dined outdoors on the patio. The weather was perfect, and we were having a fine time catching up on news with our friends. As we waited to order, I noticed two large outdoor brick grills with steel covers. They looked large enough to grill a whole cow in them. At first, I thought nothing of them. Then I read this on the menu:
Eastern North Carolina Pulled Pork: Traditional whole-hog Eastern North Carolina barbecue. Fourteen hours on the pit, hand-pulled, chopped and blended with spicy vinegar sauce. Served with Southern-style braised greens and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes.
Hmmm. I thought. Sounds good. I hadn't tasted pulled pork since a trip to North Carolina several years ago. I rather liked it then. I briefly contemplated ordering it, but then decided that I'd rather have a burger instead. While we were eating, my attention came back to the grill I had previously noticed. It did not appear to be in operation at the time, and I was relieved at this because, from the menu description, I was pretty sure I knew what they used this particular grill for.

I was wrong. No, I wasn't wrong about what the grill was used for, but I was wrong about my asssessment that it wasn't in operation.

We were just reaching the end of our meal when a tall young cook wearing a and a Zingerman's T-shirt came out, pushing a steel cart with two large trays loaded on it, and stopped in front of the grill. He opened the steel cover to reveal a whole roasted pig, split down the middle, eyes open and staring, its flesh grilled golden brown. It thoroughly grossed me out. Pulled pork is rather like sausage. It tastes good and looks OK on your plate, but you really don't want to think about where it comes from too much. And you really, really, don't want to see it being made. Unfortunately, it looked as though that's exactly what I was going to get to see. As my friends and I continued to reminisce and discuss things that had happened to us in the last few months since we had last seen each other, I was treated to a spectacle. Well, I'm not sure "treated" is the right word.

The guy with the cart stopped the cart next to the grill and its contents. He then wedged two large plastic restaurant trays, like the kind they use in salad bars, between the cart and the grill, using the lips of the trays to for support. He then started to drag the roasted pig towards them. Hmmm. I thought. That looks like a two person job. It looks as though he could use some help.

I watched incredulously, with a feeling of impending doom, much like the feeling would get seeing a car racing towards a pedestrian and realizing that something very bad was about to happen but that there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. That pig, even gutted and split, looked as if it could weigh 100 lbs. Did the cook honestly think that the way he had those trays supported would be stable enough to hold all that weight? I sure didn't, even from 30 feet away. I sincerely hoped that this guy would get a sudden attack of judgment and find a different way to transport the pig to the kitchen for the pulling of the meat off of the bones or that someone would come out to help him.

He didn't and no one did.

It appeared for the moment that he might get away with what he was doing. He managed to drag the pig over and get the front half of it to hang into one of the trays. I assumed he was going to cut it in half and put the rear end of the pig into the other tray. (I sure couldn't think of how he would manage to lift both trays, plus a pig carcas straddling them, onto the steel cart.) He was struggling to get the other end of the pig dragged the rest of the way to the second tray when disaster struck.

Yes, dear reader, you can guess what happened next. The cart rolled a little bit, with not unexpected results. The tray holding the front end of the pig slipped off its precarious perch and fell to the concrete with a startling crash. Time froze momentarily, just like in the movie where the hero yells and runs in slow motion to try to prevent his buddy from being shot but fails. The pig's front end hung from the grill, hovering for just long enough for me (and the kid) to sense that the irresistable nature of gravity's pull would inevitably have its way before he could do anything to prevent it. The weight of the pig's front end caused it to slide off the grill, down the side of the grill, and to the ground. Because the pig had been roasted so long, it was quite tender, and it came apart on impact, chunks of meat separating from body in a horror of pig carnage, spreading grease and little flecks of pork about the edge of the grill and the concrete.

Of all four of us dining that night, I, unfortunately, had the best view of the incident, and I, of all of us, got to watch as the cook tried to pick up the pig carcass from the ground. Even without a couple of limbs, the pig carcass still looked heavy, and indeed it must have been, because the cook struggled to lift it off the ground and get it into the trays. Finally, he succeeded, and meekly wheeled his prize out of my view, presumably to the kitchen. Fate was somewhat kind to him in that at least the wheels of his cart didn't squeak as he did so.

My friends saw little of what had just happened, because they were facing away from the grill and had been so engrossed in conversation that they had failed to notice the explosion of pig parts behind them. When I told them, they almost didn't believe it, until I pointed out the stains and little flecks of pork on the concrete where the pig had met its ignominious fate.

As we left, I congratulated myself for my good judgment in not having ordered the pulled pork.

7 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 9/12/2005 7:50 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

Excuse my ignorance, but... what is pulled pork?

 

At 9/12/2005 9:58 AM, Blogger Lord Runolfr said...

It is pork that has been pulled off the bone by hand into bite sized portions rather than cut. The results are "strands" of meat which sauce easily and sit on a bun reasonably easily.

 

At 9/12/2005 1:52 PM, Blogger Joan said...

I'm cracking up because you noticed that the wheels on the cart didn't squeak.

Nicely done, doc. (Although having made pulled pork myself a number of times, albeit not from the entire animal, the process doesn't bother me a bit.)

 

At 9/12/2005 3:04 PM, Blogger : Joseph j7uy5 said...

I ate there on Sept. 9th. Didn't know you were in town. Never had the courage to get the pulled pork; now I'm sure I never will.

 

At 9/12/2005 7:21 PM, Blogger IAMB said...

Ahh, the perils of being too stubborn (or proud) to ask for help when you need it most. One would hope that said cook received a sound tongue-lashing from the boss for his lack of judgement... and one would pray that none of the unlucky swine made it onto any customer's plate.

 

At 9/12/2005 7:36 PM, Blogger Orac said...

Alternatively, perhaps the cook didn't think he needed help. Perhaps he had gotten away with his rather precarious method of moving the roast pig many times before, and only that night was I "lucky" enough to see what was bound to happen eventually.

 

At 9/12/2005 8:21 PM, Blogger Ereshkigal said...

The menu editor was vacationing in Crawford. The corrected copy reads:

Eastern North Carolina Pulled-up-off-the-Sidewalk Pork:

Traditional whole-hog Eastern North Carolina barbecue. Fourteen hours on the pit, tenderized by dropping onto a seasoned concrete floor, hand-pulled from the floor and returned to the block, chopped and blended with spicy vinegar sauce. Served with Southern-style braised greens and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes.

Mmm,mmm,good.

 

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