AUSTIN, Texas – Just eat it.
I’ll say these words often in the next few years. My son recently turned two. My daughter still has a few more months of sucking down formula. At the moment, they have very little say in what they eat. But the day will come when they will demand input into their dining options. What am I going to say?
Just eat it.
I may not always win, but “Just eat it” will be my default mode, because I don’t want my kids to be That Kid. I was That Kid. When my mom sent me over to a friend’s house, I came armed with a banned-food list in my head. No onions. No tomatoes. No mayo. No eggs. No mushrooms. I wasn’t allergic to any of these things. I was a spoiled brat. I’m sure my friends’ parents secretly despised me for disrupting their menus, but I blissfully ate mayo-free burgers or tomato chunk-free spaghetti sauce – tomato sauce was OK, just not actual tomatoes; I was a weird kid – while they silently stewed.
Hopefully, my kids will heed my words. Because sometimes when you turn off your brain, open your mouth and chew, something amazing happens. Something amazing like The Notorious P.I.G at Frank in downtown Austin.
Young Andy liked all of the following things: Pork sausage, bacon, barbecue sauce and macaroni and cheese. But young Andy’s plate looked like a map of Korea. Entrée and side dishes were separated by a clearly delineated demilitarized zone typically marked by some condiment river. Even though it is the king of side dishes, young Andy never would have allowed his mac and cheese to cross the 38th Parallel to his sausage.
But last week, after a long day that began in Michigan and ended in Texas, I didn’t want to fight my food. I wanted to eat. I had been meaning to try Frank for a year or so. It’s two blocks from the hotel where I usually stay when I visit Austin. So when I arrived – I had learned while on the runway in Detroit that the event I was to cover in Austin the next day had been canceled – I resolved that a purveyor of artisan sausage and waffle fries would provide the perfect end to an imperfect day. I dumped my rental car in the hotel parking garage, left my luggage in the trunk and sprinted to Frank praying that I would make it before the place switched to what the internet had told me was the more pedestrian late-night menu at 10 p.m.
I arrived at 9:55, but the late-night menus had already emerged. Luckily, the Frank web site sells short the treats available to the night owls. Not on the web version – but on the actual version – were the exact two dishes I wanted to try: The Notorious P.I.G and the Jackalope. I ordered without even looking at the menu. The name intrigued me, and anyone who reads my college football coverage knows I’m obsessed with intriguing monikers.
A few minutes later, my kindly hipster bartender placed before me a dish that would have horrified young Andy. Sausage made with ground pork, ground bacon – yes, I know that’s a kind of pork – rode in a bun and snuggled under a blanket of mac and cheese and barbecue sauce. I’m older and wiser now, though. Plus, I was too tired to protest. I bit down, and every Fourth of July party I ever attended exploded on my tastebuds. The tang of the sausage and barbecue sauce remained tethered to the earth by the heft of the mac and cheese. Less than a minute later, I stared at an empty basket and wished there was some sort of Tupac-themed counterpart for the Piggie Smalls. Alas, there was not. But there was the Jackalope.
The Jackalope combines antelope rabbit and pork sausage, huckleberry compote, sriracha aioli and cheddar. I could envision a marriage of animal-product sausage and sriracha aioli, but the idea of adding huckleberry compote created a threesome that might cause even the most adventurous food swinger to bolt Frank’s culinary key party.
Just eat it.
That’s the only advice I can offer. The sausage is sublime, and the sweetness of the compote soothes the anger of the sriracha just so. Soak it up with waffle fries, and wash it down with a pint of stout. Then loosen your belt, sit back and celebrate your part in helping Frank negotiate an edible peace treaty.
Pre-meal workout: None, unless you count sprinting the length of a terminal at DTW to make a plane that is about to have its boarding door closed. (Which I do.)