I’m Your Man, Leonard: Finding One’s Self and The Black Star Menu

When I agreed to write a piece about our Fall menu, I originally intended it be an overview about new items, but things have changed. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for the newsletter, so I wanted to do something a more than just a little listicle or something about menu items. I wanted to tell you a story about a trip I took to research pub-food; to find myself. 

I’m pretty sure 2016 has been a suck year for most of us—economic instability, political upset, and countless deaths of creative heroes have left me feeling that the there is a serious deficit of good magic. And most of what is left the Cubs used to win the series. That being said, Thursday of the election week I was working the grill when Ben Davis came in and told me that Leonard Cohen had died. I immediately started crying, then my phone started blowing up with texts from friends who knew how much his work had meant to me.

Early in 2008, Leonard had announced that he would be going on tour for the first time in about fifteen years, and I knew I had to see him in case he died or something, but all of the tour dates were in Europe and Canada, so I knew travel was going to be necessary to see a show (something I wasn’t a stranger to considering I was a Phish fan and had traveled thousands of miles to see those guys already). Originally, I had decided it would be nice to see him on my birthday in July, but, unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out since it was in the middle of the summer, and that August… Well you know what happened. 

I ended up deciding on going to London in November, and was going to double dip and use the opportunity to eat my way through the city and do some research for the Black Star draft menu. At the time, I was managing the Produce department at Wheatsville and serving on the board of directors at Black Star, and hadn’t decided to change careers, but I was moving in that direction. I had a pretty random, but entertaining food blog going on the side documenting my food adventures. 

In London, I stayed with my bff’s girlfriend, who was a local, and made an efficient plan to eat every fish and chip I could, go to a few pubs, and eat a fancy meal or three. I put in work. I ate fish and chips in pubs, regular restaurants, and several chippys. I had two meals at the Duke of Cambridge, the only certified organic gastropub in the UK. I went to the Borough Market and ate too many oysters, ate an amazing Sunday roast at a hole-in-the-wall pub in Nottingham, and had one of the best meals of my life at St. John. Oh, and beer! I also “researched” beer. Lots and lots of beer. Mostly in the form of properly pulled cask pints. 

The Leonard Cohen concert was later in the week at the O2 Arena. My London homies took me to see Kayne West (not great) beforehand at the same venue. It was the 808 and Heartbreak tour right after his mom died from the bad cosmetic surgery, and even though it was dark and weird, it was nothing like the Cohen show. I was not prepared for the emotional heights of that show garnered. I was just some daft twenty-seven-year-old punk with a huge afro and a Hawaiian shirt in a sea of British folk. I was unprepared for the three-hour tear fest that ensued. 

Beyond the emotional depths of the concert, I learned a few things in that ten day stretch of gastronomical delights: that the best fish and chips don’t use cod, that stilton is the king of cheese, that cheese is the best dessert, and that simple British peasant pub food is some of the best food in the world. 

Which leads me to our next menu. A return to our pub fare roots; a homecoming of sorts. We are happy to be bringing back some of our Winter classics: chicken fried chicken, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and our bowl of red. We are really stoked to bring these dishes back to the Co-op. Personally, these are some of my favorite dishes that we make all year, and if it wasn’t so effing hot here, we’d run them year round. Hopefully, you’re like me and this news excites you, and you’ll be in here to grub tough on some mashed potatoes and tasty treats. 

As we move into 2017, I hope these meals will give a little comfort to all of us. Wrapping up with some irony, when I got home from that trip Leonard Cohen announced his US tour. It opened in with two nights in Austin.