No Leftovers

Nose-to-tail cuisine catches on in Columbus

One of the best ways to unite a table that has drifted off into various side conversation is to play the “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” game.

I’ve played this game a lot. In living rooms, on road trips, and in restaurants. I have a friend who used to wait until everyone had divulged their edible exploits, take a deep breath, and exhale the two words that ended the game every time: monkey brains.
Now, those nights usually don’t actually end with the monkey brain toppers, but I did notice that every dish mentioned was consumed anywhere but here – lobster tomalley (the green stuff), alligator, illegal cheese…crickets. One diner swooned over the fantastic sweetbreads she ate in Argentina. Now, this is not to say that some of these truth-or-dare dishes cannot be had here in Columbus, but the market is not catching pig ears up in a loving embrace. At least not yet.

Putting on my Columbus food ambassador cap, I interjected. “Well, you know there are places in town where you can get awesome sweetbreads?”
Sweetbreads are not the quick loaves of cran-orange found on holiday tables; no, sweetbreads are the thymus and pancreas glands of (usually) a milk-fed calf. Seen as a delicacy to some – or a nightmare by others – sweetbreads and their buddies on the offal family tree are finally getting some props as the notion of eating nose to tail gathers momentum.

Nose to tail is common throughout the world, in some cases as a gastronomical choice, in others, an economical one. And sometimes those two collide, such as in the curious case of the short rib. Cut from the underside of the cow, these ribs du jour are a juicy mix of meat and fat, and threaded through with a chewy bit of connective tissue. They take a long time to get tender and used to be cheap as dirt. Now, with pro chefs around the country playing around with the long, moisture guaranteed, cook times allowed by the sous vide machine and home cooks hacking their own sous vides out of beer coolers and Ziplock bags, the short rib has become a fancy guest on everyone’s menu, and prices have risen to boot.

The U.S. is tardy to the offal party, but we’re catching up. As Americans have grown more interested in food as a whole, as immigrants bring new flavors and dishes to our streets, and as the idea of waste becomes abhorrent, nose to tail eating is starting to pop up on menus from food trucks to fine dining.

Here in Columbus, there are a number of places to track down the red-headed stepchildren of the butcher’s block. The newest place to dabble in the diverse is Angry Bear Kitchen, a new restaurant started by three chefs with a shared vision dedicated to cooking with the least amount of left-overs as possible.

Tyler Minnis, Jarod Norris, and Daniel Scalzo all believe in the tenets of sustainability and are conscious to consider any and every part of an animal, plant, or mineral. “We want to enlighten the food scene here with different dishes – like beef tongue and sweetbreads,” said Norris. For Minnis, different cuts offer an opportunity for creativity, plus, “they’re fun to cook and they taste good.”

“Some of our friends were skeptical the first time (of offal offerings), but now they like them,” he added. The Angry Bear menu ping-pongs between the familiar burger to the out-of-comfort-zone side dish, a crispy chicken skin salad.

We already eat what’s considered offal – chicken livers in patés, pig skin as pork rind, beef tongue at the deli – so it shouldn’t be a huge leap to add more to our collective palate. The following places all have great dishes to dip your toes in the nose to tail pond and maybe next time you’ll win the dinner game.

• Gallerie Bistro at the Hilton take the title with its twofer appetizer of marrow and escargot. The marrow is take-no-prisoners intense, but given levity by the bacon-tomato butter and garlicky escargot.

• The leader in the sweetbread charge, L’Antibes has been serving up these little discs of creamy, fatty flavor for years. Turned out au poivre style, with a sherry buerre blanc, the spice tart flavors are a brilliant stand-up to the richness of the protein.

• Manifesto takes beef cheeks and turns them into divine threads of slow-cooked goodness. Served atop a mushroom risotto, the earthy flavors compliment each other.

In must be said that ethnic restaurants are gold mines of nose to tail offerings – for example, a stop in a Vietnamese restaurant can result in the opportunity to engage with beef tendon and blood pudding while eating at a Mexican restaurant can be a gateway into the wonders of tripe, and visiting a Caribbean joint is an invitation for ox tail wonders. •