"I don't know, dude... veal... not sure how I feel about eating it."
My friend Andy, an avid meat eater, wasn't saying anything I hadn't heard before. Hell, I'd considered it myself.
"Look, Andy, a lot of the anti-veal stuff you've heard isn't true. The industry has changed in the last 20 years." I knew I'd have to come up with something better than that, but what did I know about the veal industry? Exactly nothing.
"You know, they even have free-range veal now." I was way out on a limb here; no way he'd believe that absurd lie. Still, I was unwilling to concede any part of this
discussion on a stupid technicality like having to use actual facts.
"Free-range veal? How the hell does that work?"
Shit. "I dunno -- I think maybe they tow the pens around a pasture behind a golf cart."
Andy called me an idiot, the conversation was pretty much over. But, as
it turns out, my fiction had some truth to it: The veal industry has
changed (and c'mon, they pretty much had to), and there actually is
such a thing as free-range veal. Raised in pastures, the calves roam
freely and are given no hormones or antibiotics. And this is a good
thing, for reasons I'll get to in a moment.
For a chunk of my
life growing up, I lived near Yorkville, a heavily German neighborhood
in Manhattan. Despite being a German/Irish mutt myself, I wasn't
actually aware that the area was German; my family paid little
attention to lineage, I never heard the language spoken, and they'd
thankfully stopped having German American Bund parades back in the late
Still, though, there was some German influence in the
neighborhood, particularly on food. My first life-changing
German-influenced food experience was delivered courtesy of Papaya King,
a small standup hot dog joint at 86th Street and Third
Avenue. Originally opened in 1932, Papaya King was a simple tropical
juice stand until owner Gus Poulos married a young German-American
immigrant named Birdie. Apparently in love not only with the woman but
with her meats, Poulos started serving hot dogs at Papaya King in 1939.
they weren't just any hot dogs. Poulos claimed that "Papaya King
frankfurters are tastier than filet mignon," and to a young man hopping
off the subway after an evening spent celebrating the Irish part of his
heritage, they were. Two dogs perfectly grilled -- trimmed with mustard
and served on toasted buns alongside a 16-ounce papaya juice or, my
personal favorite, the coconut champagne -- made a far better nightcap
than a rusty nail ever could. So it was standing at a counter in the
middle of the night with the other Papaya King junkies, weaving
slightly and hoovering hot dogs and tropical drinks, that I first
learned the value of a great food pairing.
You might not think
so, what with hot dogs and beer or hot dogs and cola getting all the
press, but a hot dog paired with a good tropical drink may have no
equal. The crunch of the toasted bun, the snap of the grilled casing,
the bite of the mustard; there's nothing on the planet that sets up the
sweetness and texture of a fresh papaya or coconut drink better. And
perhaps the only place as great as a noisy, crowded street corner in
Manhattan to enjoy that combo is a sunny Florida backyard or beach, so
get your asses out and pick up some dogs and tropical fruit drinks and
see if I lie. When you're done with lunch, you can show your thanks in
the form of Papaya King merchandise, which you can send to me in care
of New Times.
The other major culinary event in my life
for which I have the German neighborhood to thank is the introduction
of Wiener schnitzel to my palate. Of course, Wiener schnitzel isn't a
German dish; also known as Viennese cutlet, it actually originated in
Austria (the Germans in my neighborhood apparently annexed the recipe
sometime prior to 1945). But there was a restaurant
in the area that served a great version, and from the moment I bit into
my first lightly breaded veal cutlet, I was hooked. Even people
struggling with the morality of eating veal, my friend Andy among them,
will admit that there's nothing quite as un-fucking-believably
delicious as a properly cooked veal cutlet.
So this week, the
time has come to stand up and say it loud and proud: Come home to veal.
If the goateed, roller-blading, and recumbent bike-riding set can make its peace with sausage, the rest of us can certainly enjoy veal
again. It tastes great, it's lower in fat than many meats (a nice
switch from the bacon explosion I made last week), the industry is
changing in response to consumer demands, and it's pretty easy to whip
up a delicious platterful.
Here's how: Pound your cutlets to about
quarter-inch thick, flour, egg, bread, fry in hot oil (or lard, if
you're going traditional). Boom. Squeeze some lemon on the son of a
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bitch and you'll get over any lingering guilt pretty damned quickly. Even
if that whole golf cart thing was bullshit.
Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County, and if you've got the cow, he'll get the golf cart and pasture.