Visit it today for tales of veal tongue, lamb’s testicles and smut:
“We’ll call you about 48 hours before your dinner to confirm the number of guests to ensure that we have the right size of pig for your party.”
To be honest, my heart was somewhere between aflutter, smitten and several other adjectives that are typically reserved for emo kids during prom season. My juvenile excitement was simple: I had ordered a whole suckling pig that was going to be cooked at one of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants and devoured by a hand-picked squad of the some of region’s most ardent swine enthusiasts, The Society of Gluttony.
Special moments like this call for the creation special things. And by special things, I mean bad-ass logos with bacon banners:
This coat of arms was created by my colleague Mike Burton, a super talented graphic designer who understands the power of pork. His still-in-progress work was unveiled the night of our pig feast and was met with rave reviews by the Society members, who at that point had begun to get slightly rowdy.
Amada is typically thought of as the place that taught Philadelphians what tapas meant. Or it’s seen as a restaurant where an eager fellow will take his lady in an attempt to gain premature admittance into her britches. It’s a place where Philadelphians prove to out-of-towners that Philly is a seriously boss food city. To be honest, I thought it might be a bit too high-brow for nine guys likely to argue over who deserved the jowl meat.
Then I entered the restaurant and nearly tripped over a massive pig statue. Immediately, my fears shrank; my hunger grew.
We were seated front and center in Amada’s dining room, perched atop the restaurant’s largest table. We ordered a healthy round of drinks and waited for the most important guest in our party to arrive. And just like that, he was triumphantly wheeled to our table:
That’s a half of a baby pig, split length-wise, ready for carving (the other half was carved in the kitchen). The little guy’s only food source was his mother’s milk — hence the “suckling” moniker. That commitment to the healthy world of breast-feeding results in a more tender, flavorful swine. You see, I may be a savage, but I’m a savage with access to Wikipedia.
The pig was carved table side, and deposited on our plates. With absolutely zero hesitation, we all dove into our plates.
Holy. Mother. Of. Swine.
To be honest, going into this dinner, I thought the pork would be good. I figured it would be more of an event — a curiosity where we got in touch with our inner Cro-Magnon and enjoyed an animal slow cooked over a fire. But it was far, far more than that. It was, quite simply, the best pork I had ever eaten. It reminded me of the first time I went to a great steak house, where I entered with a “I’ve-had-steak-before-so-how-good-could-it-be” attitude and was utterly blown away by the quality and preparation of a simple meat. This pork had a similarly transcendent quality. It was salty, tender and had a lasting flavor that lingered on your palate far more than a supposed white meat ever should be able to.
A quick look on the internet shows how Amada’s Jose Garces gets this pork to be so damn good:
“Chef Garces brines each suckling pig for 24 hours in a salt water and sugar solution, to ensure the meat is tender and flavorful. Then he confits the pig in pork fat for up to three hours. After roasting it at 250 degrees for another hour, to crisp the skin and lock in its natural juices, it is finished with sea salt and arbequina olive oil.”
All that labor was well worth it. In particular, we appreciated the attention paid to the skin, which quickly became the most sought-after scrap at the table. Salty and hearty, this pork rind had bacon-like qualities, which can only be considered a good thing. By the end of the meal, I had an increased interest in porcine dermatology.
The meal, which is an absolute steal for $32 a person, also included four sides: Charred Green Onions, Herb-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Chickpeas with Spinach, and Rosemary White Beans with Ham. The sides rested, fittingly, in dog bowl-like dishes, and were consumed with wild abandon. The white beans were particularly great (they had pork in them, natch) and the green onions were surprisingly addictive.
Our pig provided each of us with a portion of food for our plates, as well as three extra heaping plates of pork that were placed strategically around the table for communal consumption. Being the gluttons that we are, we actually finished the entire feast, a feat that would likely cause post traumatic stress disorder to cardiologists and vegans alike.
And like that, the Society of Gluttony had enjoyed a feast for the ages. Now, it becomes a matter of topping it.
I could pontificate like a thesaurus-sporting dillweed about what the Society of Gluttony is, but instead, I believe this anecdote sums it up:
I ordered a lamb osso bucco sandwich. For dessert.
As a bit of context, I will offer this: The Society of Gluttony is an elite squad of eaters who will meet once a month to dine at a restaurant where, quite frankly, our wives/fiancees/girlfriends/dietitians would generally frown upon, scrunch their brow, or possibly order some lame salad and/or chicken dish. The SoG had its first convocation at Ansill, a Queen Village restaurant which sports various parts of animals that lesser chefs might discard or run from altogether. This is not to say that Ansill is simply weird for the sake of being weird; rather, it’s a place where creativity reigns and deliciousness is found at every turn. Or hoof, if you will.
Our party was ten hearty eaters, so we were able to sample a comically large portion of the menu. In fact, there was a debate if we should simply ask our server for “one of everything” which was vetoed (rather unfortunately if you ask me) at the last minute. Since my last visit there, Ansill has upped their portions from smaller tapas sized plates to slightly more substantial dishes. This is probably easier on the wallet than before, but it might make sampling more offerings slightly more difficult if you are part of a smaller party. This did not apply to us.
We began with an onslaught of appetizers, which had two main highlights. One was a steak tartar, where a quail egg provided a rich drape for an indulgent pile of uncooked beef. The second was pig trotters, which was astutely described as a “pork crabcake” by one of my fellow Gluttoneers. If not for the name “trotters” we would not have had any idea we were downing a pig’s hooves.
Our main courses were really dominated by the aforementioned osso bucco sandwich, which might be one of the best dishes in Philadelphia. It’s got a meaty richness that gets better with every bite, including the final ones, where the slice of brioche bread has soaked up all of the juices and creates an intense taste that, well, might cause a man to order a second helping for dessert. We also had a special of a sliced cold beef that was pretty awesome, as well some pretty banging sweetbreads. There was also a pretty damn good cheese plate that balanced the ends the spectrum so that there were really smooth, great cheeses and those funky stank-bombs that more adventurous cheese lovers enjoy.
While we were attacking various animal parts at our table, we were treated to a wild-eyed, gravelly-voiced ball of energy who dramatically entered the restaurant holding a gigantic, over-sized banker’s check. It turned out to be David Ansill himself, who had just won $500 and a title at some regional cooking competition where his bold take on flavors was rewarded. It was a surreal cap on a fairly wild dinner. I would imagine surreality is fairly commonplace at Ansill. Fortunately, deliciousness is as well.
The Phillies are once again on pace to win 86 games. The more things change, the more my anger remains the same.
Few things are certain in this world. Mentioning death and taxes as certainties are two of those certainties. The third certainty is that in the month of April, the Phillies will play baseball with the skill and passion of a puddle of deer piss. The fourth certainty is that we Phillies fans will seek out our shovels and begin digging their grave sometime before Tax Day. This is how these things work, and unfortunately, these things suck.
Jamie Moyer, who was born right after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, faces some turd bag named Jason Bermann, who will surely baffle the boys in red tomorrow.
I am Veruca Salt with a Golden Ticket in my hand. I am Jack Whittaker, clutching my Powerball ticket. I have won the Delaware Valley’s culinary jackpot.
Yes, I secured a last-second seat at the most famous table in Pennsylvania’s mushroom country, Talula’s Table, and have lived to blog about it. For those who don’t know, Talula’s Table has become part culinary experience and part burgeoning myth. First, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Craig Leban nearly gave himself lateral epicondylitis from the stroking he gave Talula’s in this review. The subsequent hype has spiraled to the point where there is now a year waiting list to dine at one of the table’s 12 nightly seats.
But this is not about the hype. This is about the food. And thankfully, the food is damn good. Is it life-changing, wait-for-a-year good? Who knows. Living up that expectation for the restaurant is probably as difficult as securing the reservation is for the diners in the first place. But rest assured, Talula’s Table serves tremendous food in a completely unique, personal setting.
First, we arrived to an empty store, rather than a restaurant, which immediately foreshadowed the unorthodox dining experience that followed. Before Talula’s Table was a phenomenon, it was a market, and each day, it still is a market. But each evening, the shelves of freshly prepared treats and cases of cheeses take a back seat, and the lone, hand-carved table moves to the forefront. We took our seats at that famed table and settled in for a long night of gullet stuffing. We immediately met Aimee Olexy, one-half of the husband/wife duo behind Talula’s, who couldn’t have been friendlier or more enthusiastic about the experience. My friend Kyle, who got the reservation, had been emailing with her for the days prior, finalizing the menu that you see below, prepared by her husband Bryan Sikora.
Yeah, we were pretty excited. Through eight courses, we would be consuming animals large and small, we had a small arsenal of wine, and an entire restaurant to ourselves.
Our dinner was in January (I apologize for not writing about this earlier, but the birth of my daughter took precedent), so it interestingly began with a light, summery dish like the salmon terrine, with a vibrant, lemony sauce. I’m not a huge salmon guy, and I found the roasted part of the terrine a bit overpowering, but the Meyer lemon winebroth was a nice start to the gigantic feast that followed.
In a menu filled with a plethora of culinary fireworks, the second course was the simplest and possibly the most delicious. Making use of the nearby fungal bounty of Kennett Square, the mushroom risotto was earthy, creamy and utterly addictive. At this risk of sounding like a pompous bag of douche, the only risotto I’ve had that was better was at Le Petit Zinc in Paris. Several people in our group (dudes, even) wanted to run back and kiss chef Bryan Sikora for this amazing bowl of rice.
One of the great facets of Talula’s Table is the interaction with the staff (though kissing them is out of the question, I would suppose). Our servers were all enthusiastic and knowledgeable, enhancing the experience with a passion for the dishes that kept emerging from Sikora’s kitchen. On top of that, they were fun. Because we were the only people in the entire market (and the aforementioned stockpile of wine), our group got comfortable. And loud. And slightly rowdy. Yet the staff rolled with the punches, not missing a beat even when one member of our group told a joke whose punchline involved sodomy. That’s a sign of a good dining experience: servers who can wax poetically about artisan cheeses and also roll with a well-crafted butt-banging joke.
The meal kept churning along, with a solid salt-cod fritter that I don’t really remember that well, and an interesting take on Beef Wellington that substituted rabbit for steak. The meal may have hit its peak, though, on the fourth course, a chorizo stuffed quail. With an aromatic broth that tempted us all when they first put down the plates, the dish featured a (thankfully) de-boned quail with a spicy sausage unearthed after a few bites. It was creative and delicious, and actually overshadowed the next course, which would have been a tremendous hit any other time. It was a smoked short rib and beef tenderloin dish where the smoke was pronounced and delicious. But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t still thinking of that quail.
It’s worth noting that at this point, we were all getting full. You don’t get shortchanged on courses here, as each dish would be similar to a nicely-sized appetizer at most restaurants. So the cheese course, which is hand selected by Aimee, and thoughtfully presented from lightest to most flavorful, might have been more appreciated had I not been re-adjusting my belt at the time. But I sucked it up and had the dessert, a steamed lemon cake, which was a tasty and interesting bookend to a meal that also began with a light, lemony dish.
After the meal, we were able to buy things from the market, speak with the chef and soak in a wonderfully unique experience. It was unlike being at a restaurant, and more like attending a friend’s dinner party. If, you know, you had a friend who was a world class chef. The meal takes over three hours, which has apparently aggravated some diners, the staff told us. Those people, frankly, must be assholes. Because the Talula’s experience is about taking time to savor things, whether that means the hand-selected ingredients and Sikora’s thoughtful cooking, or simply savoring three hours of fun with friends, escaping a world where most things are too rushed, too processed and too un-delicious. So is that worth waiting a year for? You’re damned right it is.
*Unfortunately, because I only found out I would be going to Talula’s the day of my visit, I had no camera to document it.