Food for Thought: Would You Eat Lamb’s Neck? How About Beef Tongue?
BY JOY MANNING
It wasn’t too long ago that Philadelphia diners thought sweetbreads were a type of baked good. Now, not only do most of us know what they are (the thymus gland), but they’re among the best-loved dishes at the most celebrated restaurants in town. But these days, sweetbreads are child’s play. The offal ante has been upped: Thanks to creative snout-to-tail cookery, chefs are serving cuts like pig’s feet, lamb’s neck, and beef tongue. But are diners really placing their order?
Michael Solomonov, chef at Zahav, serves lamb’s tongue because it is a common ingredient in Israel, the country that inspires his cuisine. “A greater awareness of other cultures drives the popularity of these dishes, since more and more people are traveling to distant parts of the world and experimenting with the flavors and traditions of foreign cultures,” says Solomonov. And tongue is hardly the most adventurous offal dish you might find on Zahav’s menu. The chef says he would serve any part of the animal as long as it’s delicious.
Joe McAtee, chef at Honey restaurant in Doylestown, wouldn’t go quite that far. McAtee, whose menu currently features lamb’s neck, says he would never serve testicles: “Even the Bordaines and Zimmerns of the world seem to have a problem with those!” His theory on the rise of offal’s popularity is that these cuts are tricky to cook at home. “Offal isn’t something you pick up at the supermarket and throw on the grill,” says the chef. Pro kitchens have the time and staff to do the tedious work involved with making this stuff taste good. And McAtee is proud of his results. “I want our customers to go home and brag to their friends about how they ate oxtail, lamb neck, or headcheese, and how it was their favorite dish of the night.”
David Katz, chef at Mémé restaurant, is known for his bold approach to ingredients. He thinks this trend is driven by chefs who have the daring to put these items on the menu. “It isn’t often you hear a customer say ‘When you gonna cook some tongues, or ears?’ while eating their beef tenderloin,” says Katz, though he does notice that older diners are more familiar with and receptive to things like tongue and liver than the younger diners. He also knows that not everything will fly with the general public. “There are things that just won’t sell that I’d love to do, lamb brains especially,” says Katz.
At Cochon, chef Gene Giuffi bridges that gap between more and less adventuresome diners by offering tasting menus for small groups upon request. “In the past, we’ve served tripe stew, sweetbreads, veal heart, gizzard soup and salad, and head cheese, and I am happy to reprise these,” says the chef. No time to plan ahead? You can order the pig’s feet off the regular menu.