I had a friend from New England visit me in Richmond, and like any good host, I wanted to give her a taste of the city. Much like one goes to Wisconsin for the fried cheese curds or New Orleans for jambalaya, I wanted her to have a taste of that Southern hospitality.
I took her to brunch to enjoy flaky biscuits with sausage gravy, crabcakes and grits mixed with fresh Grayson cheese, made in Virginia. When I ordered scrapple, which this restaurant was famous for, she crinkled her nose. "What even is in scrapple? I'm afraid to know." Since it's a less-common breakfast protein of an unusual texture, people tend to assume the worst. "The same stuff that's in your breakfast sausage or a hot dog," I explained. Pork and spices. "But what parts of the pork?" she countered. "The same parts that are in your breakfast sausage or a hot dog," I replied.
"In fact," I continued, "It's more heart-healthy because the pork is mixed with cornmeal and onions, making it lighter." I was determined to have her try the scrapple. Alas, she would not. Clearly I haven't forgiven her. Here's the thing: When in Rome. To get the feel of a new place, you have to get the flavor of a place. Food is an important part of absorbing culture, and variety is the spice of life.
Case in point: I'm not a huge pizza person. But when I eat it, I prefer a crispy thin crust. Readers, I am currently in a hotel in Chicago - the land of deep dish pizza. I could cross my arms and insist that real pizza is New York style, but I'd be missing out. Before you complain about something you've never had, give it a chance and see what the hype is about. Plus, it gives you license to complain until you're blue in the face, if that's your thing.
Giordano's is famous for their deep dish pizzas, and is the place to go when in the Windy City. We ordered the "Chicago Classic" with pepperoni, peppers, high-quality mozzarella cheese, and topped with tomato sauce. It creates a killer cheese pull and is best eaten with a fork and knife. It's not the same as traditional pizza, so I didn't feel the need to compare it. The crust was built like the Great Wall of China to hold the melty, oozing deliciousness together.
Another Chicago staple is the "Italian Beef" - which is much like a Philly Cheesesteak in that it's a beef and cheese sandwich. But the comparison stops there. It's served on a French roll, so it's a little shorter. The beef is seriously packed in, and it's topped with melted mozzarella (it was an altogether mozzarella-heavy meal). It's served with softened green peppers, and a chunky hot pepper relish that even has cubed carrots in it. Lastly, it's dipped in the Italian meat marinade au jus.
The server asked me if I'd like him to baptize the sandwich. I asked what it meant, and he said that before they grill the bread, they dip the entire roll au jus for more flavor. How could I say no to more flavor by baptism? And this my friends, is the kind of experience you'd miss out on if you didn't try eating like a local.