Lynn Hummel: Ordering the Chicken Impressionist
The other night we went for a bite to eat and found a “chicken impressionist” sandwich on the menu. We asked our waitress what a chicken impressionist was, thinking it could be a pigeon doing an impression of a chicken. She said she didn’t know, but she would check in the kitchen. When she came back, she said the kitchen didn’t know either. Would you order a mysterious chicken impressionist sandwich if there was a no-mystery burger on the menu?
I decided to try to de-mystify the menu. I looked up chicken impressionist on the Internet, to which nothing is mysterious. First of all, an impressionist is an artist whose style is impressionistic, meaning the object being painted is not as it is exactly, but, the artist’s impression of what it looks like, which may mean a bit fuzzy, vague or out of focus. So a chicken impressionist is an artist who does impressionistic images of chickens. I saw pictures of a few. They looked like a rooster or hen as viewed through a screen door just after a heavy rain had hit the screen. They were for sale and very attractive, some of them, but I didn’t order any.
There are lots of mysterious selections on menus. Some are simply in a foreign language. Cafes don’t have those, but restaurants do. The language barrier allows them to charge more for the item. So, if you see poussin listed, if you know French, which I don’t, you would know that poussin is a spring chicken ─ too young to lay eggs. A regular order of chicken in English would cost half as much as poussin.
The mysteries abound even in English. For example, there is a Thai restaurant that has a “lady in bath” dish. What it is is a deep fried shrimp roll. The tail of the long shrimp that sticks out from the bottom of the wrap looks like a pair of dainty female feet sticking out from a shower curtain.
There is a Chinese eating place with an item labeled “strange flavor chicken.” That almost speaks for itself, but who would order one?
At another spot you can eat a “lion’s head.” It turns out it is a large pork meatball stewed in a broth with cabbage and other vegetables. The meatball is the lion’s head and the cabbage is the mane.
There is a place named The Broadway Diner that lists Matt’s Dilemma, named after a customer, Matt Arndt, a big breakfast guy, who came in regularly and ordered little bits of several menu offerings ─ lots of substitutions. The ultimate result was this combination: crispy hash browns, scrambled eggs, half gravy, half chili, sprinkled with cheddar cheese and topped with diced onions and green peppers with a choice of bacon or sausage ─ a Matt’s Dilemma. You have a breakfast like that before you chop, split and stack five cords of oak firewood.
“Pigs in the blanket” doesn’t tell you exactly what you’re getting, but in a restaurant, it’s usually a breakfast sausage wrapped in a pancake. But in the home where I grew up, pigs in the blanket were stuffed cabbage rolls with the stuffing made of rice and either hamburger or ground ham ─ a childhood favorite.
“Shepherd’s pie” has a number of meanings depending on where you are. In Ireland, shepherd’s pie is corned beef and cabbage. In our home, a favorite since honeymoon days, our simplified recipe for shepherd’s pie is hamburger, green beans and tomato soup covered by mashed potatoes. The Paula Deen recipe for shepherd’s pie has been changed to Jim Crow and mashed potatoes in separate but equal portions. In Texas, there is a Roadkill Cafe where one item is the German Shepherd Pie. Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t order and don’t eat.
When we were doing potluck meals on the 4th of July, it was always requested that Eartha bring one of her delicious specialties, “North Dakota potatoes,” which consists of shredded hash browns, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, onions and shredded cheese ─ a favorite even in Minnesota ─ especially in Minnesota.
The bottom line is that we should read labels and ask questions. But be assured that if you order a hotdog or hush puppies, you’re not going to get dog meat or a pair of suede shoes.