By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
By Sam Levin
By Dennis Brown
By Chris Parker
By Sam Levin
What a way to go.
One minute you're idly slithering about the clear-sided house you share with 200 friends, the next you're scooped up in a net.
It's then that you ask yourself, if you're the querying kind: Why me?
But you'd better be quick. His brutal hand, partially gauntleted with steel wool that outmatches your slippery skin, plucks you from your nest of undulating kin. He gives you a once-over, checking, you must imagine, that any wounds have healed and all infections vanquished.
The inspection complete, he tosses you in an unceremonious arc onto the stainless-steel counter that until now, if you'd noticed it at all, had only been a glinting presence to the north. But here you are: gasping for breath, writhing on your back in a futile S-curve.
Soon another pair of hands this one rougher, more businesslike sheathes you in a white plastic bag. There's one chap, who just this morning slid past you without a care in the world, slowly asphyxiating in the corner. Soon you're joined by two others, but by now that set of hands has double-bagged the sack, and the world is going dark.
You feel yourself pressed against the bag, then....
You've been broadsided by a coral reef.
You're dizzy. One of your mates is unconscious.
Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham!
When finally you emerge into the fluorescent light, you're back on the shiny counter. Those businesslike hands now wield a tapered knife, glinting and cruel. Sure you're dazed, but how could you ignore the blade of pain that enters just below your fins?
Another, this one not so deep, pierces your belly and zips toward your tail. Then you feel those hands unhinge your heart, liver, stomach and intestines.
He's not adjusting; he's removing. And then there they are, right in front of you. Still, you wriggle, hoping upon hope that if only you could get back to that clear-sided house, all would be well.
You're already dead. You just don't know it.
Yes, your death was brutal, but it was not in vain. You see, that net, that steel wool, the bag, the scale, the glinting countertop, those knives they all were mere instruments of your transubstantiation.
Once a lowly eel, you're now on your way to becoming the third and pivotal course of five in...
Keep It Down: The Dinner Party!
I wasn't shaken, but I was stirred. After all, my aim with this meal was simple: I wanted to take a selection of unspeakable bits the vile, forgotten cuts and turn them toothsome. Offal was my intended medium: a healthy dose of tongue, brain and intestine, supplemented with putrid fruits and slithering creatures from the deep.
But after seeing those eels bruised and abused, I thought it sage to invite a priest to Keep it Down: The Dinner Party!
My confessor of choice: Father Vincent Heier, who directs the Archdiocese of St. Louis Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Although Father Heier conceded that he was a "pretty plain" eater who "didn't always agree with the Riverfront Times," he agreed to partake in my five-course foray into some of the seldom-visited nooks of the gustatory kingdom.
To make the proceedings more...well, catholic, I also invited Rabbi Michael Alper, director of education at the Central Reform Congregation. A good sport and an affable spirit, Rabbi Alper assured me that he had no dietary restrictions and readily agreed to strap on the ecumenical feedbag.
Next on my invite list was Mike Gaillard, a Zen Buddhist who, although strictly speaking a vegetarian, described his dietary mandate in Clintonian terms: Don't ask, don't tell. In other words, if Gaillard is a guest and his hosts serve him meat, he accepts. But if asked to someone's house knowing full well that he'd be served meat, he'd have to turn down the invitation.
Seeing as how "pig brains" led off our conversation, Gaillard felt he had to decline. A shame, really; he seemed like a nice man.
But there we had it: Keep It Down: The Dinner Party! Prepared by me, and attended by Father Heier and Rabbi Alper. To keep myself honest, I also invited this newspaper's food critic, Ian Froeb, as well as my own leavening agent, Jasmin Aber.
So it was that the day before the feast I found myself hunched over a steaming cauldron of honeycomb tripe I'd purchased from the Shop 'n Save in Maplewood. Though thick and rubbery, by night's end it would be transformed into Tesselated Tripe and Liver Terrine.
There are those who will tell you that honeycomb tripe is a delicate substance a carrier of flavor that, when cooked properly, will disappear as a foodstuff itself, and, Zelig-like, assume the flavors that surround it.
I can now attest that this is true to a point. After boiling a two-pound piece of balloon-like stomach lining for the better part of an hour, I soaked it in milk for twenty minutes, hoping mother's milk would erase the organ's memory of all the acids, grains and liquids it once housed.
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