Front Porch Revival

By on 20 August, 2012 in Jesseca Cornelson with 0 Comments

Friday, my friend and I attended a The Front Porch Revival event from 5-7 p.m. in the courtyard behind the Pine Bar. I have to admit that I was skeptical about coughing up $25 a person for what sounded like snacks (“locally sourced small bite food”) and a few sips of beer, but I couldn’t resist the chance to taste the wares of so many local chefs at once. And when I thought of it that way, I figured it was probably actually a bargain — to say nothing of proceeds benefiting the Carver High School Culinary Facility.

According to promotional material for a previous Front Porch Revival event, this is how the group describes themselves:

Forged in the fires of progress in the Deep South, we are a collective of cultural voices committed to our crafts and unified in our purpose to spread the word that art and industry are alive and well in the cultural kitchen of Alabama. A group of like-minded food and drink craftsmen and craftswomen who gather together to celebrate (read eat and drink and throw parties) and highlight and demonstrate the best of what Alabama has to offer The Front Porch Revival is a group devoted to the promotion of those who craft unique food, drink, art, and literature with a clear Alabama identity. In our journey we hope to discover and share the best of Alabama, while discovering and defining the contours of Alabama’s current culture and society.

I found the Friday evening’s fare quite satisfying as craft food, and the beers by the Back Forty Beer Company were likewise delicious.

As we entered the courtyard Brad Wilson of Back Forty Beer Company out of Gadsden greeted us with bottles of Truck Stop Honey and Naked Pig. Truck Stop Honey is brown ale brewed with honey, and it made for a great summer evening drink. Sometime in the last couple of months I’ve turned a corner on hops, going from making spitty faces to savoring the flavor. The Naked Pig is an American pale ale that doesn’t turn the hops up to 11 (Spinal Tap scale) or a Brazilian or whatever in international hops units (okay, IBU International Bittering Units). The Naked Pig clocks in at 34 IBU.

I hope the pictures I snapped give some indication of how beautiful the food was, to say nothing of tastiness. To keep things simple, I moved down the line from the left to the right, though folks were encouraged to mingle and taste at leisure.

My first stop was the Mosofo Art tent. I’m no aficionado of art, but it seemed to me to be sort of slickly stylized versions of folk art. But, honestly, I couldn’t tell you anything with any kind of certainty. It didn’t help that it was right next to a table shared by Chef David and Chef Brandon.

Chef David Bancroft of the Auburn University Club prepared Duroc Head Cheese with Beet Horseradish, Apricot Mustard, and Pea Pesto Crostini. I’ve never had head cheese, but I’ve heard my mom talking about how her grandmother, my Granny Cannon (best name ever for a southern great-grandma, right?) used to make head cheese when my mother lived with her as a little girl. Right away, I knew this event was something special—at once traditional and innovative, folksy and highfalutin. And you know what: head cheese is good! At least Chef David’s version. The Beet Horseradish was particularly interesting and reminded me both of Easter (why do pickled beets remind me of Easter?) and fried fish from my childhood served with ketchup and horseradish. It’s like seeing someone you knew as a tomboy as a child all grown up and dressed in couture. Plus, it was just tasty, you know?

On the same table, Chef Brandon Burleson of The Perdido Beach Resort prepared Bayou La Batre Chipotle Marinated Shrimp, Spinach and Shrimp Mousseline, Local Yellow Tomato & Local Goat Cheese Coulis. What a long title for such a thin cracker piled high with layers of fanciness. Maybe my palette isn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate the many complicated things going on here, but I kept going back for more out of a sense of scientific exploration. Okay, I know the peculiar gritty flesh of shrimp. And the sign says goat cheese and I tasted it with an added tanginess — okay, it must be hiding in the sauce. The texture of the spinach and shrimp mousseline was lighter than I expected and surprisingly subtle. I missed the chipotle all together, but I tend to put too much hot peppers in my recipes, so the fact that I couldn’t taste the spice isn’t surprising at all. It was delicious, but I wondered if it was trying to do too many things at once. There were tomatoes? I think they just disappeared among everything else that was happening.

Chef Wesley True of Montgomery’s Roux and True Midtown Kitchen in Mobile offered up perhaps the finest Jambalaya I’ve ever had. It was perfectly seasoned, and the texture was pure comfort. The chicken had that all-day slow-cooked falling apart quality. I was also a fan of the diced green onions added before serving — a perfectly executed classic comfort food.

The last two tables offered the biggest surprises. I must confess I was beyond smitten with the Gulf Marinated Shrimp with Picholine Olives, Tomato & Ciabatta offered by Chef Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse at Lake Martin. The shrimp and vegetable mix and its cool, refreshing marinade were served over a hunk of thick ciabatta “for sopping up” as Chef Rob told us. How to describe that moment when you experience something completely new in a food? Each bite revealed a new flavor subtly related to the one that came before it, and yet each bite was a surprise. Of course the Gulf shrimp were great, but picking each flavor out was like spotting celebrities on the red carpet. Oh, there’s the picholine olive! I didn’t know olives could taste like that! Wait, did you see that tiny nubbin of garlic! Is that lime? Sometimes I’d just look at my companion, knowing my eyes matched the wideness of his in silent but eager wonder. Yes, manners demand one not talk and eat at the same time, but you can still be left speechless with the taste of something new. Plus, the dish didn’t make me feel stupid about food. Sopping hearty ciabatta bread in the savory but refreshing sauce is the kind of thing you do at home with a much loved family recipe. It’s no wonder McDaniel was a part of the winning of Alabama chefs who took down Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America.

I thought for sure my evening had peaked with the Marinated Shrimp, but the night still had two more surprises in store for me. I took a break from eating by tasting the home brew being offered up by Kade Miller, the brew-master for the soon-to-open Railyard Brewing Co. I’m pretty sure Miller mentioned a mid-September opening date, but in full disclosure, I must admit I was starting to feel my beers by that point. On tap were a brown ale and a porter. I love beer but I lack the proper vocabulary for it. Let’s just say I’m a real big fan of the porter, and I’m looking forward to drinking it again and again when RBC opens.

After a drinking breather, it was time to take up the final challenge of the evening — the Railspice Mini. I’m anguishing over the words to describe this tiny burger that packed a big tasty punch. One thing at a time is usually a good idea. Well, the first things I noticed upon approaching the table were the sizzling custom beef blend patties Chef Leo Maurelli was grilling and the mini pretzel rolls. It was easy to think this was going to be just a burger—a great burger sure, but how different can a burger be? Well, I somehow failed to read (or take a clear picture of the Railspice’s description), but this sucker was way different for a burger, but also tasted like a childhood southern summer with its generous topping of jalapeno and local cheddar pimento cheese and its Wickles pickled peppers. This blogger basically nails it when describing Wickles as “The most delicious pickles. Ever.” Good enough to make you slap your mamma. It should be noted that Chef Leo was named Alabama Restaurant Association’s Chef of the Year.

Towards the end of the evening Diane Wilkerson who heads up the Carver High School Culinary Facility was introduced. Proceeds from the evening are designated to help support the school’s state-of-the-art program. Ms. Wilkerson had just returned from studying out-of-state as a part of her continued professional development, and the program also brings in area chefs.

It was an evening of impressive food and libation benefiting a good cause to boot.

Jesseca Cornelson is an Assistant Professor of English at Alabama State University and has been a resident of Cloverdale for about a year now. She grew up in Mobile and did her graduate studies in the Yankee North, earning degrees at The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati. She blogged about her visits to Montgomery to do research at her now-defunt blog, Difficult History, and will be a Platte Clove Artist-in-Residence, sponsored by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development later this summer.

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