This week Anthony Bourdain headed to Baltimore, Buffalo and Detroit, or, as he called them, "fucked up cities I kinda love." The episode was light on snark and heavy on pathos and snowscapes of abandoned structures. For some much-needed comic relief, Bourdain invited along his friend Zamir, the hard-drinking Russian Sancho Panza to Bourdain's grizzled New York Don Quijote.
Baltimore Bourdain said he was drawn to Baltimore by John Waters films and The Wire. Since his guides were both real-life characters on the gritty HBO drama, one assumed that if Divine were alive, she'd be showing him around as well. Anthony began with Jay Landsman, who is both a character and an actor on The Wire. They headed into Chaps Pit Beef for Baltimore's version of barbecue. Grilled instead of smoked, pit beef is crusty on the outside and rare and juicy in the middle, served on rye with a condiment called tiger sauce, or horseradish and mayonnaise.
Next we met Felicia "Snoop" Pearson--crack baby, murderer at 14 and ruthless hitwoman of the same name on The Wire. After going over her life story in front of neglected row houses, she took Bourdain to Mo's Seafood, where they shared oysters, "a football-sized crab cake," garlic crab in the shell and an aquamarine libation called the "Obama," which must taste better than it looks.
Zamir reappeared, and they headed to The Roost for lake trout (more commonly known as whiting fish), filleted, fried and served with fried chicken, mac and cheese and collard greens, which Bourdain called "the perfect meal for increasingly hard times. "
Detroit Bourdain waxed philosophic on Motown and muscle cars alongside a laid-off steelworker. With Zamir, they headed to Polonia for pork fat and crispy pork bits, followed by cabbage, dill, Easter and blood soups and a litany of Polish classics from latke to city chicken, which is actually veal on a stick. "Is this something Gwyneth Paltrow would eat?" joked Tony. The dish was tasty, but macrobiotic? Not even close.
Detroit also has the largest population of Arab émigrés in the country, so Bourdain hit Al-Ameer for the Lebanese food he missed out on in Beirut: hummus, tabbouleh, meat pie, and raw lamb kibbeh.
Cadieux Café, said Bourdain, is the only place in the world where feather bowling is played every day. It resembles a Belgian version of bocce ball, with a feather for a marker and wooden balls shaped like wheels of cheese. Bourdain crushed Zamir, enacting payback, he said, for the Cuban missile crisis, Francis Gary Powers and a bone-crushing "massage" in Uzbekistan.
Buffalo Bourdain arrived in Buffalo ("It's so much more than chicken wings and Rick James...isn't it?") and met with Nelson Starr, the musician from the "FAN-atic" contest with "borderline insane enthusiasm for his hometown." They ducked in to Ulrich's, Buffalo's oldest tavern, where they warmed up with some liver dumpling soup and the inevitable buffalo chicken wings.
For once, the landscapes weren't hardscabble, thanks to some pure, white snow and beautiful turn-of-the-century homes. After zipping around on snowmobiles, they hit a neighborhood barbecue, which featured a whole roasted pig, as well as toasted marshmallows for Zamir. They headed to Schwabl's for beef on weck: thin-sliced roast beef and horseradish on a kimmelweck roll, downing them with Tom and Jerrys (like eggnog but with more alcohol).
Finally, Nelson and his band played to a packed house, and it was discovered that Zamir has fans in Buffalo. Looking back on the trip, Bourdain mused that whatever it was America created in these former industrial powerhouses, fame is now our national commodity. "The killer, the cop, the musician, the cook, the foreign interloper: all tied together by being on television."
Next Week: Street Food