Or is it?
It’s well known that the US is a nation of overstatement. This was confirmed to me yesterday during my first day here as a human being (fed and slept, that is, after a thirty-two hour journey: Cape Town to Dubai, surely one of the richest places on the globe, but full of the world’s poorest travellers; Dubai to New York; New York to DC; finally a one hour drive to Maryland).
First, the usual amazement at how BIG everything is: the (super)stores, the SUVs, the houses in this particular neck of the woods (Howard county is apparently one of the wealthiest in the country, and so, little sign of a country in recession here). We travelled behind one big car speeding patriotically along with the stars and stripes attached to its roof. At a red light we got the full spectacle of their rear window: a large sticker proclaiming “Our son serves so that we can be free”, complete wth a picture of said son in uniform. It had that sinister Missing Person feel to it, despite (I suppose) the best intentions of the parents. But as the philosophe pointed out, they (clearly Republicans) have to shout out to make some sense of it all. I wonder, though, if “making sense” of it includes hoping to convert people idly picking their noses at the red lights, or whether it occurs to them that they simply look like fools squealing angst under the dubious cover of “pride”.
At Bertucci’s, the philosophe, his father and I shared a large pizza with pepperoni, artichokes and tomay-do. It was a pretty good pizza, but the best, I think, were the pre-food hot little rolls made out of pizza dough which came with a plate of a very good olive oil-and-herb dipping number. I had a glass of white zinfandel which turned out to be pink, and rather riesling-gewurtztraminer in taste, which was just right for lunch. When I pointed out that they had overcharged us for the wine on the bill, our good waitress saw to it that it was removed entirely. That’s what I call that good service. Also a good idea is their plan of setting up and serving the pizza from a collapsable camping-style table next to the actual table. This means a two-person table can have a large pizza and elbow room. Ingenious.
For dinner I was treated to home-smoked and barbecued ribs. These were very really good (I polished off an entire small rack, which I was assured before we started eating was “not that much meat”, but the same portion sated even the three men at the table, so I think that’s pretty good going). But more interesting is the story of the beans from Famous Dave’s which we had driven many a mile earlier in the day to collect especially for the occasion.
Curious as I always am to discover what makes something worth the drive, or vaut le detour, as the Michelin guide calls it, I had to have a little taste of the beans before they joined the ribs in the barbie for a final heating. According to my father-in-law and his wife, what makes Dave’s beans is the addition of smoked bacon, but the morsel I tried contained what I was sure was sausage, not bacon. This naturally led to a round-the-table tasting and debate as to what exactly is in the beans, with some standing by their conviction that sausage was definitely NOT supposed to be in there, and it therefore simply couldn’t be, despite the obvious appearance, taste and texture of some of the non-bean bits.
The obvious next move was Google, and there I discovered two identical recipes for Dave’s Wilbur Beans which confirmed that the famous flavour in fact comes from a combination of bacon and twice-smoked link sausage and strip steak. This was a surprise to all, and there was a suggestion that since they’re not posted on Famous Dave’s site itself, these recipes may simply be variations, trying to approximate what is surely Dave’s well-kept secret.
If only it were so. In this age of anti-liability, where even the most obvious of things need warning signs (car interiors are full of stickers warning you that if you drive like a fool, you may crash and die), there is no space for secrets. True, Dave doesn’t post the actual recipe on his site, but you will find the obligatory list of ingredients there, which confirms that, indeed, the Wilbur Beans contain beef. Even the Sassy BBQ sauce, which could be the magic ingredient, has its guts laid bare for all to see.
What a sad day for Colonel Sanders that must have been. What have you fantasised about the 11 secret herbs and spices all these years? Coriander, cayenne, cumin, etcetera? Think again. Or don’t. Sometimes ignorance is much more fun. I can’t remember the last time I ate KFC, but I’m sure as hell gonna try some of the new Smoky Chipotle while I’m here. Besides, I’m willing to bet that whatever chemicals create the famous “herbs and spices”, they are no more malign than some of the things in your own kitchen. (People who put Aromat on your popcorn: I’m talking to you).
Before I get to the Chipotle chicken, I have the famed Chesapeake crabcakes on the menu for today, to be taken on the deck of a boat with a beer in hand. Some time in the near future, an evening of lobsters, to eaten wearing a bib. Maybe some pulled pork along the way, or a little crawdaddy. I can’t wait, and only hope not to find nutritional information served with all of this. Might there still be a little intrigue in this big country? We shall see…