Like most people of a certain age, I have made tentative steps down many different paths in search of spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical fulfillment. Take religion. Though I was raised in the Presbyterian faith, when I was 13, I decided I was agnostic. That was followed by a short spell of atheism accompanied by voracious reading of Ayn Rand’s books. From there, I did a 180-degree turn into a Catholic church for a year or so. Then, while briefly engaged to Ronnie Fine, I contemplated converting to Judaism. While living in New York, I was primarily unchurched, though I did investigate Buddhism and Scientology. When I moved to Nashville, I settled in at a downtown Episcopal church where I have remained, for better and worse, ever since.
When it comes to food, I have done nearly every diet that has ever been inventedthe banana diet, the cabbage diet, the salt-free, fat-free, sugar-free diet, SlimFast, Atkins, Scarsdale, and WeightWatchers. But one thing I have never, ever, ever even contemplated, not for one split nanosecond, was becoming a vegetarian.
It’s not that I am a devoted carnivore or that I dislike vegetables and brown rice. It’s just that personally and morally, I have no problem eating a chicken or a pig or a cow, or even on occasion a deer or an elk or a quail or even a sweet little calfjust as I have no problem wearing leather shoes or a leather coat or a leather skirt.
I have nothing against vegetarians; some of my best friends are practitioners, bless their hearts. I respect their principals and their eating habits. I just ask that they respect mine and refrain from sending me photos of the deplorable living conditions on chicken farms. It won’t change my views one bit.
So when I received a phone call the other day from a woman wanting me to sample Bocca Burgerssoy-based, meatless, 2.5-ounce pattiesI warned her. I told her about my predilection for the real thing and my distaste for soy-like things. I even confessed that sometimes, when I write on this topic and get vicious, mean-spirited responses from radical vegans, I get a little tingle of satisfaction. She said she was so confident in her product that she wanted me to sample the burgers anyway.
And so it was that on a sweltering Friday afternoon, Kristin Nihil and Sarah Roman, rising seniors at Miami University in Ohio, were struggling with me to light a Weber grill in the Scene parking lot. (Even after two years of living without a man in the house, I have yet to master the art of charcoal combustion, leading me to believe that grilling is another gender-specific job.)
Kristin and Sarah began their Bocca Burger tour Memorial Day weekend in Seattle; by mid-August, when they wrap up in beefy Topeka, Kan., they will have visited 38 cities in 10 weeks. They wear black golf shirts and aprons with the company logo and are referred to as “Bocca Buddies.” (We at the Scene preferred the politically incorrect term Bocca Babes.) Interestingly, though Kristin and Sarah claim to like Bocca Burgers, neither is vegetarian; in fact, they had steak and duck for dinner at Buffalo Billiards the night before our cookout.
In each of their assigned cities, the two women carry a Bocca Burger kit with an electric skillet and cooking utensils. Once at their destination, they purchase the Bocca Burgers, buns, chips, and condiments at a local grocery store. Ashley Caldwell will be happy to hear that the Bocca Babes shopped at H.G. Hill’s and affirmed that it really was easier. Bocca Burgers come precooked and frozen, four to a box in three flavors: Vegan Oriental, Hint of Fresh Garlic, and Chef Max’s Favorite with real cheddar cheese (vegans beware!).
BBs can be microwaved, broiled, pan-cooked, or grilled. We prefer our soy-based products charcoal-grilled, which is why the Weber was stationed in the parking lot at high noon. Kristin and Sarah said the response they receive most often from their sampling groups is, “These are much better than I though they’d be!” And that is pretty much the response they got from nine out of 10 journalists, who have been known to eat nearly anything, so long as it was on a buffet table and free.
We tried Chef Max’s Favorite and found them quite tasty, particularly dressed up with ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and the new-on-your-grocery-shelves Vlasic Hamburger Stackerspuck-sized pickles that won rave reviews from the crowd. The consistency of Bocca Burgers is similar to turkey burgers, which I occasionally try to slip past my children, who have yet to be fooled. Maybe next time I’ll substitute Bocca Burgers and see what happens. What an ironic twist of fate it would be if my children were to grow up to be vegetarians.
The Sylvan Park neighborhood will soon be treated to a taste of Italy when Caffe Nonna opens in August for lunch and dinner. Located at 4427 Murphy Rd., across from McCabe Pub, the restaurant will have about 45 seats, plus a small bar. Running the front of the house will be Seattle emigrants Fred Grgich and Jeff Bloom. In the kitchen will be Daniel Maggipinto, most recently chef/owner of Dancing Bear, the Church Street restaurant that closed earlier this year.
Nonna means “grandmother” in Italian, and some of the recipes will indeed come from Maggipinto’s Nonna. Look for simple pastas, pizzas, and pressed baguette sandwiches at lunch. Dinner Monday through Saturday will feature more elaborate pastas, main dishes, and specials in the $9-$16 range. Wine and beer will be available. For updates, call 463-0133.
If I’m going to endure weather this stinkin’ hot and humid, I say let me do it ensconced in the sybaritic delights of that sinfully sticky city of New Orleans. With the recent opening of Mister V’s Old Orleans Cafe and Courtyard at 615 Seventh Ave. S., one can at least sample the culinary offerings common to the Crescent City. On the menu for lunch and dinner are gumbos, shrimp and corn bisque, dirty rice, po boys, and bread pudding. At dinner, the menu also includes jambalaya, étoufée, seafood platters, and red beans and rice with sausage.
Lunch is served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; dinner 5 to 11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Next door to the restaurant is Mister V’s Juke Joint, a club with live blues 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Mon.-Sat. Mister V’s is located at the corner of Seventh and Drexel, across from the old Sears building. The phone number is 244-3456.