But it's the not drinks, the view, or the architecture that's got me thinking of Ralph's; it's what Flanagan has been doing with smoke that's got me mulling options for our new place in San Diego.
|Smoked pork belly at Ralph's|
The options, as I see them, are two; (1) keep it or (2) get rid of it. The area gets a lot of sun. If we rip it up, I can plant avocado or citrus trees in the 180 square feet. If we keep it...what to do?
And then I remembered Chip Flanagan: I could turn the pad into the foundation for an outdoor kitchen, starting with a smoker. From little more than an old proofing box and a couple of hot plates, the chef has rigged a respectable smoker that he showed me when I was visiting. At the time, a few pork bellies hung within, each slowly acquiring a mahogany mantel. Not long afterwards, I greedily tucked into some of that unctuous, soft, sticky swine.
|A flare up in the smoker|
Smoked meat is the birthright of every Kansas City native and ever since I was a kid growing up in that town, I've wanted a smoker of my own. When we lived in places a smoker was either impractical or illegal, visions of home-smoked hams, sausages, bacon, chickens, and more have kept me up at night — but the obsession over smoked meats didn't abate. Now that I own the ground under my feet, it's time to decide not whether to build one, but what kind to build. Flanagan's steel box is a compelling design — it's simply a bakery proofing cabinet with the electrics removed and it's on wheels already, so it's mobile(ish). Flanagan uses old skillets with wood chips heated on portable hot plates and for the smoke. The thing would have to have vents to control the flow of air. Add a few cross bars for hanging meats, maybe a wire shelf for smoking cheeses or salt, and we're on to something.
With such a simple box, the chef makes great stuff for the restaurant. There's the smoked belly, of course, but also cauliflower, which he uses in soups, salads, and custards. Right now, he's got an oak-smoked pork chop on the menu and he also sometimes cold-smokes tuna with hickory.
Tonight, I'm picking up a little bullet-shaped smoker from a guy who's never used it. That will hold me until I figure out whether I take the Flanagan route or take the plunge and build something more substantial.
But mark this: come Monday, we'll have smoked chicken gumbo for the first time in many years.
Ralph's on the Park
900 City Park Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119