Pork-bellied, we lurch toward decadence

Now that it’s been a few days and I can use my brain again, I can say I have recovered from Sunday’s Pork-Off at the Weary Traveler. (I imagine search-engines’ evidence of the previous statement will misdirect some new readers to me. One can only hope.) A dozen or so of the best local chefs were competing for our hearts through our pieholes.

Pigholes.

I arrived on time, which is to say I was late: It was already the longest line I have ever seen in Madison. The event was surprisingly cheap — $10 for unlimited chow — but the all-porkness of it kept me, and I suspect many others, from vastly overindulging. You can’t do it without a lot more pickles, is my theory.

In fact, I’m surprised at how well it went. Two friends who were living next to a shiny new churrascaria with all-you-can-eat meat in Manhattan long ago related to me how they learned why the restaurant owners were constantly hosing down the sidewalk. They finally went in to try the meat-fest, and L. learned firsthand the meaning of too much meat when her belly revolted. There was also an eater who ran out to the street … this turned out to be a common problem for the untrained bellies, my friends said.

Maybe the Weary’s small plates are to thank, or maybe I have somehow acquired a measure of self-preservation and tamped down the gluttony over the years, but I left the Pork-Off feeling full but not overwhelmed, certainly not with that “I’ll never eat again” feeling that unites us on holiday dinners.

The food was delicious but often difficult to distinguish. The many servers had to mush their two-bite bits together to get them on my plate, especially since the idea of standing in line a second time was horrifying. The many fine dishes sadly merged together in my mind even as I ate and enjoyed them … was this one the juniper and fennel … or the Doctor Pepper? … I swear that my mind was blurred this time by the pork fat, not the beer.

In contrast to many a chili cook-off, not a single dish was foul. The pork rillette with duck fat, pistachios and cherry preserves was a tad disappointingly, but to be fair it was unfairly sandwiched between two spicy beasts, Mermaid Cafe’s Indonesian babi guling and some Szechuan-peppercorned pig. The Underground Food Collective had dry salumi, something soppressata-ey, with nice big chunks of fat, sliced extra thinly, and the only proper ratio of pickles to pork in the house. Interesting pickles, too.

And interesting people. One could mingle and talk food without worrying about offending a vegetarian, a rare freedom. I met one like-minded cooking woman who may go in on a local pig with me.

If we do, surely my first act will be to replicate the curried bacon on a stick.

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