So many foodstuffs frighten people – and for lots of good reasons, among all the silly ones. But especially for Halloween, I offer five that diners often tell me they fear, and a few places that might just get you over it.
1 Livermush. Come on, it’s a regional specialty. You’ve got to man up and try it. (And for context, I am not a fan of every single bit of offal I come across: I recently had lampredotto for the first time, which is made with a particular form of tripe, plus a delicious salsa verde and peppery oil – and I’m still going to skip it next time.)
A slice of livermush, on the other hand, if it arrives with a little crustiness to its surface, paired with the proper tastes to set off its lushness, is a marvel.
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littleSpoon offers a sandwich of rich egg salad, lemony arugula and ’mush from Frank Corriher in China Grove, on toasted ciabatta, and it is outstanding. Chef Miles Payne says beginning Nov. 10, they’ll be making livermush in-house. A bit of citrusy accent, the bite of the arugula, the toothsomeness of the bread: It’s a winner, for just $8. 2820 Selwyn Ave.; 704-496-9908.
2 Octopus. Calamari is everywhere, so omnipresent I heard a server say just this week she considers calamari the quickest test of a chef’s skill. (I’d debate that, but it makes my point.) And hardly anyone omits the tentacles from the plate these days. So why aren’t we embracing the delicious octopus yet? Grill it and there’s a tender smokiness that’s particularly well set off by red onion.
ilios noche (at Rea Village and Quail Corners) does it right, with marinated red onions and red wine vinaigrette, for $13.
3 Pink pork. No less an authority and scaredy-cat (mostly in a smart way) than the U.S. government tells us on its foodsafety.gov website that color is not the indicator for pork that’s safe to eat: “Any cooked, uncured red meats – including pork – can be pink, even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature.” You may also be surprised to know that said safe internal temperature is 145 degrees, with a rest-time minimum of three minutes – the exact same federal safety guidelines given for beef, veal and lamb. (Of the rest time, says the gov: “During the rest time, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful germs.”) I, like lots of boomers, was raised to equate pink pork with impending trichinosis. But t’ain’t necessarily so, and juicy pork is one of the best meats out there. So when the server asks how you’d like that big old chop cooked, ask how the chef recommends it. And if you’re concerned, ask whether that recommended temperature and rest time hits the legal standard.
•Where to find one:
The best one I’ve had lately was a Heritage Farms pork chop at Stagioni; currently, it’s $27 and served with polenta, turnips and salsa verde. 715 Providence Road; 704-372-8110.
4 Shishito peppers – and other peppers beyond the chipotle-habanero-jalapeno triumvirate that everyone’s pretty comfortable with now. Take some comfort in the fact that owners around town, for the most part (and finally!), have made servers dramatically more adept at describing peppers. As for shishitos, specifically, they’re typically sweet, not hot. (Another thing they’re not: shiitake mushrooms). Yes, occasionally there’s a hot shishito – about 10 percent, says BAKU chef Michael Shortino, are hot. So people who are super-heat-phobic should still make a dining companion taste-test.
•Where to find some:
BAKU offers a skewer of shishito and chicken liver worth trying, for $5. It’s also got an avocado maki roll with shishito mayo ($7), less heat-risk for those who remain skeptical. 4515 Sharon Road; 704-817-7173.
5 And finally, a harder-core item for you harder-core seekers: Assommer. (Squeamish or vegetarian readers, please feel free to depart at this time. Halloween haunted-house aficionados, please read on.) That’s how Heirloom chef/owner Clark Barlowe is dressing up beef brains: Naming them with a French verb. He’s serving the dish about once a week – and “we have sold out of it every time it has been on the menu.” Sure, brains and eggs have been a staple for decades in Charlotte at John’s Country Kitchen, but this is the upscale version: usually Salem Hills product (Barlowe harvests the organ from the whole head, with a saw), soaked in milk and usually fried in beef or duck fat, then served with egg, sometimes a cured yolk, sometimes a sunny-side-up quail egg. $8 to $14 or so. 8470 Bellhaven Blvd.; 704-595-7710.