September 16, 2004
Most Americans have no qualms about gnawing on a rib or frying up an unborn chicken (except for that wacky vegan chick on "Amish in the City" who calls omelets "chicken abortions").
But try to make us eat a small bug by dangling a million bucks under our noses, a la "Survivor," and we start gagging and flailing our arms.
In honor of Jeff Probst’s dimples, here are three double-dog-dare-you dishes from East Valley restaurants, in order of increased gastronomical gutsiness.
OK, so this one is a total tourist thing (diners get a certificate of bravery for eating it), akin to ordering gator on a trip to Florida, but it’s still slightly rattling.
"I would say No. 1, they’re ordering it for the novelty. They probably hadn’t tried it before," says Dante Alexander, Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse food and beverage director, of the 13,000 tables a year that order the rattlesnake at the Scottsdale restaurant.
The popular appetizer, whose taste is often compared to chicken’s, is cut into bite-size portions, dipped in an egg wash, dropped in seasoned flour, then deep-fried to a light, golden crisp.
"I think it’s something that’s surprisingly appetizing, but because of the fact that it’s not farm-raised — it is caught wild — it’s costly, so . . . it’s not something one could afford to eat regularly," Alexander says.
Where to find it: Rawhide Western Town and Steakhouse, 23023 N. Scottsdale Road, (480) 502-5600
Pass the butter and a knife, I’m ready to try my first slice of sweetbreads. What’s that, you say? Sweetbreads translate to "sweet flesh," as in the thymus gland or pancreas of a young animal?
So what does this deceptively named gourmet dish taste like, anyway?
"They’re pretty mild — gosh, I don’t want to say chicken because everybody compares everything to chicken," says chef/owner Kevin Binkley of Binkley’s Restaurant in Cave Creek. "I don’t know if there’s anything I can compare sweetbreads to."
He may not be able to describe the flavor of sweetbreads, but he can’t stop talking about how it feels to bite into one.
"What I really like about sweetbreads is the texture difference," Binkley says. "They’re awesome, they’re so good. It’s really super creamy inside, and moist. Then when you fry them, it’s real crispy on the outside. So you cut into these wonderful texture differences with the real crunchy outside and a real creamy inside."
Binkley transforms the gland into something edible by poaching it in a court bouillon, pressing it lightly, peeling off some "weird outer membrane stuff," then flouring or breading it and either pan-frying or deep-frying it. He serves the delicacy with everything from pickled cherries and arugula to roasted potatoes.
"They’re not one of our more popular items but we’ll sell sometimes six in a night if we’re busy," Binkley says. Price: $9 to $12 for appetizers, $20 to $24 for entrees Try it: Binkley’s Restaurant, 6920 E. Cave Creek Road, (480) 437-1072
"Tastes like sausage," says Yolanda Ortega, owner of El Tlacoyo in Tempe.
Maybe, but it sure looks like worms, and that’s tough to digest.
Ortega harvests her own chinicuiles (larvae of a moth) in her homeland of Hidalgo, a state in east-central Mexico where the cactus-root-eating, inch-long red worms are considered a delicacy.
The worms emit a strong smell both before and during cooking, so she fries the grubs with some salt before hauling them back to Arizona.
While I’m sure she’d get a laugh out of it, Ortega doesn’t go through all that hassle just to watch gringos cringe at the thought of biting into a worm taco.
"People like it because it reminds them of home," Ortega says. "It’s ordered regularly because there’s a lot of people from Hidalgo that live around here."
The seasonal tacos (a smoky, hot chinicuiles salsa is also available) are served only in August and September, when the worms can be seen mowing down century plants.
Chinicuiles aren’t the only specialty items Ortega cooks at her authentic Mexican restaurant. Pork stomach tacos, cheese crisp with brain and barbecued goat can also be found on her "cuisine of Hidalgo" menu.
Price: $5 for a taco
Where to find it: El Tlacoyo, 2535 E. University Drive, (480) 894-9543