Respectful Insolence

I’m glad I didn’t order the pulled pork

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgWhile I am on vacation, I’m reprinting a number of “Classic Insolence” posts to keep the blog active while I’m gone. (It also has the salutory effect of allowing me to move some of my favorite posts from the old blog over to the new blog, and I’m guessing that quite a few of my readers have probably never seen many of these old posts.) These will appear at least twice a day while I’m gone (and that will probably leave some leftover for Christmas vacation, even). Enjoy, and please feel free to comment. I will be checking in from time to time when I have Internet access to see if the reaction to these old posts here on ScienceBlogs is any different from what it was when they originally appeared, and, blogging addict that I am, I’ll probably even put up fresh material once or twice.

As an aside: This one’s for you, Shelley and John!

And now for something completely different…Why? Because I feel like it:

True story. (Apologies to Derf.)

Date: Four weeks ago today.
Location: Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: Approximately 7:30 PM

I can’t believe I’ve already been back at work for two weeks. It’s always amazing to me how fast vacations go by and how fast they recede into the past. Four weeks ago, I was on vacation and hanging out with old friends. One of my oldest, dearest friends and his wife still live near where we went to college together, the University of Michigan. We were fortunate enough to be able to pay them a visit, and they suggested Zingerman’s Roadhouse as the restaurant they wanted to go to. Now, Zingerman’s Deli is an Ann Arbor institution whose fine food I had partaken of on multiple occasions during my college years. Apparently, Zingerman’s had expanded by building a second location, a full-sized restaurant on the outer edge of the city. Although Zingerman’s Roadhouse was not my first choice, I nonetheless anticipated nothing less than good old-fashioned deli goodness for a meal plus the fine companionship that my friend and his wife would provide me and my wife.

We dined outdoors on the patio. The weather was perfect, and we were having a fine time catching up on news with our friends. As we waited to order, I noticed two large outdoor brick grills with steel covers. They looked large enough to grill a whole cow in them. At first, I thought nothing of them. Then I read this on the menu:

Eastern North Carolina Pulled Pork: Traditional whole-hog Eastern North Carolina barbecue. Fourteen hours on the pit, hand-pulled, chopped and blended with spicy vinegar sauce. Served with Southern-style braised greens and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes.

Hmmm. I thought. Sounds good. I hadn’t tasted pulled pork since a trip to North Carolina several years ago. I rather liked it then. I briefly contemplated ordering it, but then decided that I’d rather have a burger instead. While we were eating, my attention came back to the grill I had previously noticed. It did not appear to be in operation at the time, and I was relieved at this because, from the menu description, I was pretty sure I knew what they used this particular grill for.

I was wrong. No, I wasn’t wrong about what the grill was used for, but I was wrong about my asssessment that it wasn’t in operation.

We were just reaching the end of our meal when a tall young cook wearing a and a Zingerman’s T-shirt came out, pushing a steel cart with two large trays loaded on it, and stopped in front of the grill. He opened the steel cover to reveal a whole roasted pig, split down the middle, eyes open and staring, its flesh grilled golden brown. It thoroughly grossed me out. Pulled pork is rather like sausage. It tastes good and looks OK on your plate, but you really don’t want to think about where it comes from too much. And you really, really, don’t want to see it being made. Unfortunately, it looked as though that’s exactly what I was going to get to see. As my friends and I continued to reminisce and discuss things that had happened to us in the last few months since we had last seen each other, I was treated to a spectacle. Well, I’m not sure “treated” is the right word.

The guy with the cart stopped the cart next to the grill and its contents. He then wedged two large plastic restaurant trays, like the kind they use in salad bars, between the cart and the grill, using the lips of the trays to for support. He then started to drag the roasted pig towards them. Hmmm. I thought. That looks like a two person job. It looks as though he could use some help.

I watched incredulously, with a feeling of impending doom, much like the feeling would get seeing a car racing towards a pedestrian and realizing that something very bad was about to happen but that there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. That pig, even gutted and split, looked as if it could weigh 100 lbs. Did the cook honestly think that the way he had those trays supported would be stable enough to hold all that weight? I sure didn’t, even from 30 feet away. I sincerely hoped that this guy would get a sudden attack of judgment and find a different way to transport the pig to the kitchen for the pulling of the meat off of the bones or that someone would come out to help him.

He didn’t and no one did.

It appeared for the moment that he might get away with what he was doing. He managed to drag the pig over and get the front half of it to hang into one of the trays. I assumed he was going to cut it in half and put the rear end of the pig into the other tray. (I sure couldn’t think of how he would manage to lift both trays, plus a pig carcas straddling them, onto the steel cart.) He was struggling to get the other end of the pig dragged the rest of the way to the second tray when disaster struck.

Yes, dear reader, you can guess what happened next. The cart rolled a little bit, with not unexpected results. The tray holding the front end of the pig slipped off its precarious perch and fell to the concrete with a startling crash. Time froze momentarily, just like in the movie where the hero yells and runs in slow motion to try to prevent his buddy from being shot but fails. The pig’s front end hung from the grill, hovering for just long enough for me (and the kid) to sense that the irresistable nature of gravity’s pull would inevitably have its way before he could do anything to prevent it. The weight of the pig’s front end caused it to slide off the grill, down the side of the grill, and to the ground. Because the pig had been roasted so long, it was quite tender, and it came apart on impact, chunks of meat separating from body in a horror of pig carnage, spreading grease and little flecks of pork about the edge of the grill and the concrete.

Of all four of us dining that night, I, unfortunately, had the best view of the incident, and I, of all of us, got to watch as the cook tried to pick up the pig carcass from the ground. Even without a couple of limbs, the pig carcass still looked heavy, and indeed it must have been, because the cook struggled to lift it off the ground and get it into the trays. Finally, he succeeded, and meekly wheeled his prize out of my view, presumably to the kitchen. Fate was somewhat kind to him in that at least the wheels of his cart didn’t squeak as he did so.

My friends saw little of what had just happened, because they were facing away from the grill and had been so engrossed in conversation that they had failed to notice the explosion of pig parts behind them. When I told them, they almost didn’t believe it, until I pointed out the stains and little flecks of pork on the concrete where the pig had met its ignominious fate.

As we left, I congratulated myself for my good judgment in not having ordered the pulled pork.

This post originally appeared on the old blog on September 12, 2005.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph j7uy5
    August 26, 2006

    I actually remember this from the first time you posted it. But it is still highly amusing.

  2. #2 anjou
    August 26, 2006

    Enoough to make one lose their appetite.

    Where in A2?, dont remember it from my school daze there.

  3. #3 Julia
    August 26, 2006

    A lot more appetizing than the Mythbusters episode where they sealed a dead pig in a car for 2 months, which is what I watched last night before eating hot dogs! (Beef hot dogs. There are days when a pork allergy can be a GOOD thing.)

  4. #4 Scott Simmons
    August 26, 2006

    “A lot more appetizing than the Mythbusters episode where they sealed a dead pig in a car for 2 months …”

    Ah, yes–a classic! My favorite part is where, after unsealing the car, Adam yanks the fir tree deodorizer off the rear-view mirror and growls, “This thing is *useless*!”

  5. #5 Reid Carson
    August 28, 2006

    I’d probably have ordered the pulled pork anyway, only because I’m addicted to Eastern North Carolina style barbecue. Not that Western North Carolina style is bad, or South Carolina style, or even Memphis style….

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    August 28, 2006

    I just went to Zingerman’s Roadhouse this past weekend, your post inspired me (I live less than a mile from it.) However, I didn’t have the pulled pork. :) I like this place cause its the only place in town that has rogue Dead Guy on tap (even Ashley’s doesn’t!). Mmmmmmmm……….

  7. #7 Amadeus
    February 3, 2007

    The pulled pork is okay. We’ve sold a giant amount of it and it is one of the most affordable items on the menu. I never cared for it, the fish is the real appeal of this place, we have better fish than any other restaraunt around for many miles.

    Next time, perhaps instead of gawking

    1. Don’t watch. Except then you wouldn’t have this snotty commentary to furnish us with, so not happening, I guess?

    2. Maybe help carry it if you weren’t too grossed out (I would be). You would’ve gotten a free meal, this I guarantee.

    Just so you know, when food is dropped, anywhere but a clean prep table, it is thrown out. Period. Thanks for assuming the worst & posting as such here on the web. Very classy.

  8. #8 Orac
    February 3, 2007

    I’ll put my post against your reply any day and let the readers judge which is more “classy.”

    In any case, give me a break.The incident in question occurred in late August 2005, nearly a year and a half ago, and this post is nearly as old. Besides, if a restaurant insists on roasting pigs outside in plain view of many of the diners on the patio, particularly when a customer is seated so that he is facing the grill, it’s silly to call it “gawking” if that customer can’t help but watch what’s going on there when a misadventure occurs. In fact, I tried to ignore the spectacle, but had a hard time, given that my chair was facing it directly. In any case, I rather felt sorry for the cook dealing with the pig; there should have been another person there to help him move it off the grill, because the pig looked pretty damned heavy.

    And, by the way, since when is it the customer’s responsibility to help with the pig, even for a free meal?

    My suggestion to you, quite frankly, is either to grill your pigs somewhere else where customers don’t have to see it (it grossed me out and detracted from my enjoyment of the meal, making me wish that our group had been seated inside) or just deal with it when you’re occasionally unlucky enough to have a blogger in the wrong place (for you) at the wrong time. (The fact that it took a year and a half for you to notice this piece should tell you just how much influence I have–not a lot.) Just be grateful that I’m not a restaurant critic or reporter. I make no apologies for what I wrote.

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