On Tuesday, I asked readers to suggest where a friend should eat her first bite of meat -- ideally pulled pork -- in many years. After many mouth-watering suggestions, we made our choice -- and went out to eat meat.
Here's her report:
My name is Sarah. And I am a recovering vegetarian.
There was a time in my life where the only green I consumed was the parsley garnish on my chicken strips or the celery next to the buffalo wings. The shock-and-awe of my family when I stopped eating red meat, then chicken, then turkey and fish was understandable. The contrast in diets from playground Sarah to teenage Sarah was comical, almost a one-to-one trade between slab o' meat to leafy vegetable with an Italian name.
Over the years, I have finely tuned my vegetarian diet. I worked at a vegetarian café in college, lived with vegetarians, dated farmers and crunched away to my heart's content on everything from radishes to radicchio. Despite my happiness with seitan, tofu and tempeh, I was missing something.
Meat, obviously, but not just meat. I was missing pulled pork sandwiches. And by this week, I had pined away long enough.
The Berkshire is a respectable restaurant in the new Stapleton development. Nice enough for a first date, but casual enough for a quick bite if playgroup in Pleasantville ran too long to make dinner that night. Ambience, schambience. I had meat on my mind.
The menu did not disappoint. Pork belly, Philly cheesesteaks, Kobe beef burger, pork- infused vodka. Each beckoned to be the catalyst for my return to carnivore status. But the decision was obvious. The miracle meat to win the first bite award? Bacon.
When our server brought the bacon flight appetizer to the table, I half-expected some sort of an alarm to go off, or the plate to be booby-trapped to prevent me from breaking off a bite. Instead, I was surprised at my lackadaisical response. I simply armed myself: fork in the left, knife in the right.
The first bites of the cinnamon chipotle rub strip welcomed me right back. The full fat, nearly sensual quality of meat impossible to replicate in a Boca Bacon version, a complexity and texture I forgot existed. I expected to be grossed out by said texture and sinewy fat, the elements that drove me away from meat in the first place, but experienced quite the opposite. I stated and restated how "really really good" it was, from the cinnamon chipotle piece to the curried slab. I said the balsamic bacon was one of the top five things I ever ate, and I still think that.
The bacon indulgence was enjoyable, as bacon is responsible for one of the few slip-ups I had when, drunk at a diner at two in the morning, I yelled an order to the waitress for a side of grisly, griddled breakfast meat as she was walking away. A far different and far less memorable experience than the "really really good" bacon here.
Worried that a meat overload would result in Pepto-Bismol guzzling later in the evening, I had to pace myself for my ultimate demise, the undoing of nearly seven years of a lifestyle: pulled pork.
I love pulled pork sandwiches. I can't recall the last one I had, but after too long a hiatus, I will always remember the Berkshire's Porky's Inferno. It was so familiar. The pork that breaks apart delicately, strand by strand. The smoky BBQ sauce that penetrates every bite, the slight peppering and a hint of vinegar. Good lord, I want another already. I expected to like it, but I could not have anticipated the slap-happy smiles on my face between bites.
My only regret? That I couldn't finish it. Turns out, after not eating meat for a while, a little bit was more than enough to fill me up. But that's it. No apologies to PETA.
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I will keep my subscription to Vegetarian Times. I may still opt for vegetarian options at restaurants. But to keep following a system of beliefs that denies something as awesome as pulled pork? I can't abide by that anymore. It just ain't right.
I called my dad as soon as I left the restaurant. Giggly and satisfied. My father welcomed me back from the dark side.
Dad, it's good to be back.