Today was a red letter Durham day.
Petey and I ate brunch at Watts Grocery. I am a huge fan of Chef Amy Tornquist’s restaurant and her brunch is just about the best one in town.
But it was our lunch companions who were the big story.
About three years ago, I wrote about one of the more painful experiences of my life. It was the night Petey took a friend and me for one of his favorite dishes. It’s an extremely regional dish called yok.
Yok is basically spaghetti topped with a volcanic, almost caustic sauce in which Texas Pete plays an essentially solo part. It’s gleefully tortuous entering your body and enthusiastically anguish-inducing when exiting.
After the column appeared, I was contacted by a reader.
Donald Long is the director of solid waste management for Durham. He is from Elizabeth City and graduated from the same high school that I did. Confusingly and dishearteningly, he’s also a fan of yok. I guess like Petey, he enjoys playing practical jokes on his mouth.
We’ve emailed back and forth since then, and last Christmas he reached out to me. While racking his brains for a present for his wife, Autrice, he had an idea—and it involved me.
Since his wife also reads the column, he wanted to introduce his home girl (me), to his bride (Autrice). Could I share a meal with them? I was to be her holiday gift.
That poor woman. I’d rather find socks under the tree or even a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine.
But Donald assured me that I wouldn’t be the coal in her stocking—he actually thought Autrice would like it.
Frankly, I was taken aback. Donald knew and acknowledged the request sounded a little out there. But he assured me that he wasn’t a resident of a mental health facility, he was gainfully employed, and his wife was an actual living person—neither invisible nor a volleyball sporting a wig and lipstick.
I decided to do it, and boy am I glad I did.
They are a delightful couple. They are warm, interesting, and like me, lovers of food. We laughed throughout brunch, and practically shut the joint down. Autrice is a member of the AKA sorority (in college, all my best girlfriends were AKA). They’re friends with Durham’s cutest couple; Jose and Becky Lopez with whom, a couple months ago, I had a food chat.
Donald belongs to a kind of steak-of-the-month club. April’s cut is a tomahawk or cowboy steak. It’s a ribeye steak, usually very, very thick. The bone is about 6-8 inches long, left exposed, and Frenched (stripped and cleaned), which gives it its eponymous shape.
I gave him my technique for making a cheap steak taste expensive, and taking an expensive cut of meat to a whole new level.
Freeze the steak completely. Three or four days before cooking, heavily salt frozen meat on all sides. Very loosely wrap in three or four paper towels, place on a plate and put it on lowest shelf of the fridge. Take it out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking so it can come to room temp. The meat will look dried out, but that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Season with freshly cracked black pepper and cook it in some butter in a smoking hot cast iron pan using a weight on the steak so the entire surface will have contact with the skillet and develop a beautiful crust. Check interior temperature with a probe and flip when it gets close to 100 degrees. Cook to 135-140 for medium rare. Let it rest 5-10 minutes out of the skillet before serving to let the meat relax and the juices to redistribute.
Sitting on the couch in my sweats this column is written in a kind of a vacuum. But I love it when readers contact me. Especially when they are as kind and funny as the Longs.
But maybe he really isn’t the picture of total mental health he said he was, because at one point during lunch, Donald, with a completely straight face, referred to me as a celebrity.
I think the man needs to get out more, and maybe watch a little TV.
Thanks for your time.