Originally published in Real Detroit Weekly on 10/13/2010
We want to take your tongue on a thrill ride. Our tongues have receptors for five primary tastes: sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and umami. Finding exemplary dishes for each is not an easy task, but The Hungry Dudes are here to offer help. We sampled a number of foods and drinks in an effort to provide you, dear reader, with some shining representations of the five tastes. Join us on a journey into taste …
Sure, we could talk about lemon chicken or hot and sour soup when referring to the sour aspect of taste, but that would be too easy. Instead let’s talk about the perfect food — beer. More specifically: Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Ale. If you’re not familiar, Jolly Pumpkin’s beers are wild fermented and aged in oak barrels. This technique imparts a funky, sour flavor to the beer. La Parcela drinks like a glass of sour pumpkin pie. Sure, that may sound odd, but it is really delicious. Lip puckering sourness is balanced by spice with a hint of dark chocolate in the finish. La Parcela is a new seasonal beer and a perfect addition to the pantheon of great Michigan Fall beers.
La Parcela can be found at your local beer shop or at Jolly Pumpkin Cafe in Ann Arbor. More at jollypumpkin.com.
Salt can enhance most flavors, so it is a fairly ubiquitous taste. Many people crave salt, which is why we find it in many snack foods. Salt is commonplace, but sometimes a dish uses salt so well, with such an addictive touch, that nothing will stop you from eating your way to dehydration. Those salty treats are the duck fat fries at Bourbon Steak in the MGM Casino.
Crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, these are tremendous fries. Deep-fried in a duck fat/neutral oil blend, the texture of these fries is unlike any other you’ve ever sampled. They come to the table piping hot, but even after you burn your tongue and the roof of your mouth, you’ll still find yourself devouring every last one of these wondrous spuds. There must be an addictive compound in the duck fat that makes it physically impossible to leave any fries behind. Pair these with a pint of the superb Piraat Belgian Ale on tap and the classic all beef burger and you might have the perfect meal.
Overused and misunderstood, umami is the elusive fifth taste. Best described as savoriness or earthiness, umami is present in mushrooms, meats and many Asian dishes. Food science teaches us that umami is a function of glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid in foods. Meats are particularly high in glutamate, so we’ll get our umami fix from a Middle Eastern dish, kibbeh. Kibbeh is ground lamb mixed (usually by hand) with bulgur wheat, onion and spices. On menus in the Detroit area, kibbeh is usually served one of three ways — fried, baked or raw.
Kibbeh nayyeh is the raw version, and ours came from Emily’s Delicatessen in Saint Clair Shores. Made fresh every morning (for obvious reasons), kibbeh nayyeh is sometimes topped with raw onion, mint, jalapeno and/or olive oil and is served with pita bread. Nayyeh is an experience — eaten with your hands, using onion as a scoop. The sweet fruitiness of the oil and the bitterness of the onion are accentuated by the kibbeh. Kibbeh’s flavor, especially when eaten raw, could best be described as meaty. Texturally, kibbeh is smooth with a silky mouthfeel. Supremely savory and decadent, kibbeh nayyeh satisfies our most primal carnivorous desires.
Emily’s Delicatessen is located at 22205 Greater Mack, Saint Clair Shores • 586.777.2256
Bitter is one of those flavors that people tend to avoid. We add cream and sugar to our coffee. Chocolate is sweetened and turned into candy. Sometimes, though, there is a dish so savory and luscious that the bitter aspect accentuates the experience more than it hinders it. Lockhart’s BBQ in Royal Oak serves burnt ends, pieces of beef brisket that have been double rubbed and double smoked. When you bite into a burnt end, you are immediately hit with the bitter, charred, intense smokiness that gives way to succulent beefiness. Sometimes, a piece of gelatin-like fat is strewn about the mess of ends. These pieces, though bitter at first, finish tremendously sweet and are mind-blowing.
For an additional layer of bitterness, Lockhart’s collard greens are a perfect choice. These are not Southern, cooked all day, melt in your mouth greens. Rather, these greens are bright, delightfully toothsome and full of bacony goodness. Their bitterness is offset by a sweet, tart and porky sauce.
Lockhart’s BBQ is located at 202 E. Third St., Royal Oak • lockhartsbbq.com
It might be a cop-out to use dessert for the sweet component of taste, but the Amaretto ladyfingers and orange cream cake from 24 Grille in the Westin Book Cadillac were so special and complex that we had no choice. Reminiscent of Good Humor Toasted Almond ice cream bars, but more luscious and flavorful, I couldn’t help being whisked away to memories of summers past, sharing a Toasted Almond with my mother. Almond and orange work splendidly together. Nutty earthiness segues into gentle citrus, all intertwined in a sumptuous yet fluffy cream cake. A masterful dessert that touches on fond memories is a delightful thing.
24 Grille is located at 204 Michigan Ave., Detroit • spa1924grille.com
The continuum of taste has been traveled. We’ve gone from sour beer to salty fries to raw lamb to burnt beef and finally to sweet almond dessert. Comfort plays a roll in the foods we try, but sometimes going outside of your comfort zone can be exciting. Go ahead and bite into a bitter burnt end — you might enjoy the savory sweetness of the meat inside the burnt edges. Dive into a plate of kibbeh nayyeh, raw meat can be an accessible, mind opening experience, especially when shared with friends. And please, at least once in your life, order duck fat fries — you will not be disappointed.