I wrote here of a walk down Moody Street in Waltham, Massachusetts. It was just before Christmas in 2013 and early in the evening, when it was already quite dark, and the life of the place was to be found less in the predominantly low end ethnic restaurants the Moody Street was known for–the restaurant traffic would come a little later in the evening– and more in the hair and nail salons, boutiques and groceries, all brightly lit and colorful.
It is less than two years later but things change. At the time of Fenster’s visit, there were a few upscale eateries arriving to supplant the old-time ethnic stable of Central American, Indian, barbecue and Thai places. But they had not yet taken over. Less than two years later Moody Street is at or past a tipping point, on the way toward an upscale incarnation where food is concerned.
Old cement sidewalks are being ripped up to make way for brick.
Fenster is of two minds of this, as he on most things.
On the one hand, F bemoans the loss of low end ethnic places since such places are his honest preference, and not only because they are inexpensive. A stint as an investment banker in the 1980s soured F to a great extent on the price-value proposition of many chi-chi places, and that bias continues.
On the other hand there is something to be said for upscaling cuisine when done right. And in one case, the upscaling seems to have been done very nicely indeed on Moody Street.
Fenster and wife had dinner recently at the Moody Street Delicatessen and Provisions. The deli itself is only about three years old and, while upscaling a deli breeds suspicions, this deli distinguished itself by being one of the few places in New England that prepares its own charcuterie from scratch. The results hang over the deli counter.
Recently a back room with a bar and tables was added.
The food is great. And here’s the thing: I think I am detecting a real paleo emphasis in some ways. And I am talking specifically about the treatment of fat, animal fat. It is not avoided. It is embraced.
It brings me back to my father’s admonition when polishing off the pig’s knuckle recipe he got from his German mother. “Of course you eat all the fat,” he told us. “That’s the best part.”
The tilt towards fat is apparent in the selection of items. Here is a small platter of pork belly. It’s been salted but not heavily cured or smoked, and it comes simply steamed, allowing its fatty quality to come through.
And here is the pastrami sandwich.
It’s called The Katz, presumably in honor of Katz’s Deli in New York, famed for its seriously large, old fashioned and uncompromisingly fatty pastrami, also steamed to the point at which the meat is coated with unctuous stuff when it hits the bread and almost melts it.
The Katz from Moody’s is not quite as voluminous as the sandwich from Katz’s itself but what is? And whereas the Katz’s deli version is unchanging in its simplicity (a pile of meat, a schmear of mustard, wilting rye bread suffering under the weight of the meat and choking on the fat and moisture), Moody’s pushes its version even further into fat terrain. The rye bread is grilled with butter. The sandwich comes with melted cheese and ample dressing. You know what it is talking about.
As newcomers the manager treated us to a house speciality: the “never the same meatballs”. These are made with only about a third raw ground beef, with the balance of the meat coming from the odds and ends of charcuterie on hand. Some days hotter; some days smokier, and so forth. The ones we got were delicious and, once again, happy to be on the fatty side, bathed in the juice and fat from the cooking process and topped with various soft and hard cheeses.
We thought the roasted cauliflower might come on the crispy side but even there the chunks of vegetables were nestled in a sauce that was separating from the butter used in its cooking.
Too much? Perhaps. Excellent? Definitely. And seemingly very much in keeping with the embrace of fat seen in the paleo approach.
I am willing to look the other way at some gentrification if this is the result.
Another walk down Moody Street is called for at some point, the better to assess the various costs and benefits.
I’d chalk up the emphasis on fat to generational turnover — the oldest Gen X-ers turn 50 this year, so most of the foodie scene is catering to post-Boomer generations. Early X-ers were still schoolchildren when that whole panic about fat and cholesterol hit circa 1980, so they weren’t at the right age to take responsible health messages to heart. It was the adult-aged Boomers who drove the success of pasta salad, boneless skinless chicken breasts, and granola with non-fat yoghurt.
Gen X went into their 30s during the 2000s and later, contributing to the low-carb craze and the ongoing paleo diet. Most of them aren’t that extreme (the “I only eat bacon” crowd), just rolling back the hysteria about dietary fat and cholesterol, salt, and all that other stuff that isn’t bad if you aren’t also pouring 300 grams of carbs down your gullet every day.
Childhood experiences seem to matter, too. Boomers could make themselves eat skinless chicken because they had no disgust reflex to it as children. Sure, it didn’t taste as good as with the skin on, but perhaps less indulgent food is what we’re supposed to grow into as we age.
X-ers couldn’t rationalize it that way, since we have cranky childhood memories of how dry and bland and disappointing the skinless kind tastes. Or the dryness of an egg-white-only omelette. Or the wateriness of skim milk. Eating full-fat food feels more like enjoying adult privileges, after having to eat what tasted like punishment-food as children.
To Boomers, whole milk merely tastes normal; it tastes rich and indulgent to X-ers and Millennials who were conditioned on skim.
I think the generational way of thinking of it is right. I am a somewhat early boomer and did not grow up in an era where fat was totally shunned–and then of course there was my first generation German American dad and his culinary ways. Schmeckt gut and all.
Pork being the other white meat did not come till later. Even now people tend to gravitate to pork that tastes like chicken rather than pork that tastes like pork. That’s changing, though. I notice it because what used to be the very cheapest cuts of pork–shoulder in particular, excellent for pernil–seem to be going up in price after inflation and seem to be in greater demand.
Blowhard Esq. on pernil, https://uncouthreflections.com/2015/05/07/recipe-du-jour-puerto-rican-pernil/
Ah, the inevitable bricks. Laid down at the first sign of gentrification in hopes of speeding things along. Unfortunately, the new brick sidewalk is usually penned in a frame of poured concrete, with concrete curbs, spoiling the whole effect.
New (probably old looking) street lights too, completing the Dickens effect while saying bye-bye to the Dickensian street quality. Also
It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re building brick sidewalks
And singing songs of joy and peace
Hard to tell for sure from the picture, but those look like the same old Quincy granite curbs that are used all around Boston.
Now that would be good.