By Collin Kelley
When fellow poets Megan Volpert and Brock Guthrie invited me along to the Food & Writers Series at The Iberian Pig in Decatur, I jumped at the chance. For full disclosure, Megan, Brock and I are all published by the same award-winning publisher, Sibling Rivalry Press. I knew the poets were going to be stellar, but I was also excited to see how Executive Chef Chad Crete would interpret their verse into food.
The Food & Writers Series takes over the upstairs dining area of The Iberian Pig with cozy tables for two or more, and there were 40 in attendance for Megan and Brock’s event. Brock’s debut collection, Contemplative Man, is about growing up in Louisiana and his boozy and melancholy reflections on his blue collar upbringing. Megan’s latest collection of prose poems, Only Ride, tackles suburban malaise with an emphatically optimistic approach to growing up.
After about 20 minutes of poetry, servers began bringing out the first of four courses with wine and beer pairings. Crete’s menu, like the poetry, was eclectic, but beautifully paired with the writers and their roots. Crete spoke to the guests before the meal began and said he was inspired by specific poems in each collection and “authored” his menu to match.
Courses one and two were based on Brock’s work, with Louisiana and cajun country playing heavily into the food. Course one was a beer-battered piquillo pepper, stuffed with a smoked trout brandade, served with fresh arugula, lemon, and remoulade. The batter provided a light, flaky complement to the soft pepper and the savory trout inside. The remoulade had just the right amount of kick to give this starter an extra bit of spice. The pepper was paired with Dale’s Pale Ale. I’m not a beer fan, but this had a smooth finish.
Course two took the creole and cajun influences a step further with crispy soft shell crab, alligator and crawfish etoufee and a cabbage slaw. This was my least favorite course of the evening, mainly because I’m not a fan of crawfish or alligator. I did sample it, but I found the alligator (which, contrary to popular belief, does not taste like chicken) to be a little tough and “fishy” tasting. The crab and slaw had nice texture and taste, so I ate around the alligator. The course was paired with a crisp white Fillaboa Albarino wine from Spain.
The last two courses were based on Megan’s work and were my favorite of the evening. First up was Crete’s take on pasta – a red meat sauce bolognese with pork, beef, and spanish charcuterie, aged Manchego, freshly made gnocchi, smoked olive oil and scallion. It was a meaty delight and the potato-stuffed gnocchi melted on my tongue. The wine pairing was an excellent red Beronia Reserva from Spain.
Rounding out the meal was a bacon-infused (had to get a little bacon in there or this wouldn’t be The Iberian Pig) apple fritter paired with a Lustau Oloroso dry sherry. The fritter was crunchy and flavorful (it needed a fork instead of the spoon served with the course), but the syrupy -tasting sherry was not a good match – not to my palate, anyway.
Still, this was an inspired evening of poetry and food. I’m the first to admit I’m not an “adventurous” eater, but this meal was a delight. Hats off to the writers and the chef!