My Bologna Has a First Name: It's F-O-R-G-O-T-T-E-N

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Image seems to be the most significant factor holding bologna back.

Right now, it's as if biggest thing the maligned lunch meat has going for it is a certain kitsch appeal, and that only goes so far.

It's as if bologna has become the Spam of the sliced deli meats world. The only acceptable application of Spam in modern cooking? Spam musubi. The only acceptable application of bologna? Fried bologna sandwiches. Both are throwback preparations, as popular for their vintage appeal as for their taste.

Even as recently as 1996, it seems that the only selling point of bologna was its nostalgia factor. The plaintive I Still Like Bologna from Alan Jackson certainly didn't help, especially with these rather mournful lines:

But I still like bologna on white bread / Now and then / And the sound of a whippoorwill / Down a country road

Bologna does seem to be trying to clean up its image, offering a variety of different meats (turkey bologna, all-beef bologna, etc.) and engaging in ad campaigns pointing out that a bologna sandwich has far less sugar than a PB&J. And, clearly, someone out there is still buying bologna: Oscar Mayer claims to sell enough of it to make 2.9 billion bologna sandwiches each year.

One of those someones is Chris Shepherd, the former chef at Catalan who's currently opening his new project, Underbelly, on Westheimer. Shepherd asks for it to be cut an inch-and-a-half thick at the deli, then takes it home and fries it up.

To bologna detractors, he says: "They're nuts. Bologna is delicious." With a laugh, he adds: "The world is dumb." Shepherd even makes old-school, American-style bologna at his restaurants.

And with the art of charcuterie on the rise in America, maybe it's time to take back our bologna. After all, the American classic is based on German and Italian sausages -- fleischwurst and mortadella -- that are still well-respected members of the cured-meat family. Why not make bologna respected again?

Shepherd is on board: "I make Lebanon bologna, which is kinda sweet. I make regular bologna. I used to make Catalan Monte Cristos with fried bologna." Customers were often surprised to find the meat on his charcuterie boards, and even more surprised by how good it was.

And he has plans to make bologna at Underbelly, too. "Damn right," he laughs. "It'll be a whipped bologna!"

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Katharine Shilcutt