Eat Your Science (at Ovenbird)

Last night I had the pleasure of attending (for the second time) Alton Brown’s road tour, Eat Your Science. I had already seen the show in Huntsville, but I didn’t mind getting to see the same show again in Birmingham this time. Different city, different audience, different experience. That’s the beauty of a live show!

Before the show, though, we experienced something almost as exciting as the show itself. We had the great honor of dining at the same Birmingham restaurant that Alton Brown himself deemed the best food in the city. He had visited the place for lunch the very same day, in fact. It came to me as a rather last-minute decision. The plan was to have dinner in Birmingham before the show, but there are a few cardinal rules I follow when dining in other cities. 1) I prefer not to eat at a chain. If I can get it at home, why bother eating it away from home? 2) I choose a restaurant that most of the locals (or somebody of culinary prestige) have chosen either as the flagship restaurant of their city or the one with the most consistently high-rated food. Those two don’t always coincide, I find. I was closing in on the last hour or so before we would be leaving for Birmingham when Alton Brown’s Facebook page lit up with pictures of delicious food. Tiny plates of food, but they appeared delicious nonetheless. Ovenbird. What an interesting–if slightly morbid–name for a restaurant, I thought to myself. Let’s eat there! So we ate there.

The food was excellent! As the restaurant promised, everything was served as if it was an appetizer at a gourmet restaurant. That is, it was all on “small plates for sharing” which is just a salesman’s term for “order lots of food.” I chose the “Mussels and Clams” and the “Leg of Lamb.” Don’t be deceived, it’s not as big as it sounds. Terryn ordered the “Beef Shoulder Complex” and the “Suckling Pig” (featured photo). Again, not as big as it sounds. With these names, you would think we were having dinner at Medieval Times. I assure you, it was nothing like Medieval Times the jousting restaurant nor the period of time between the 5th and 15th centuries. For dessert, we split the Seven Layer Chocolate Cake. I think that may have been my favorite dish. It was a perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter, but it was still light and fluffy. Not too rich, not too chocolatey. I would definitely order that again, and I don’t even really like chocolate cakes. The dishes were small, but incredibly flavorful. I think the most shameless thing I did was ask for more bread so I could sop up the delicious mussel and clam broth, totally Greek style. Despite my reservations, I was pleasantly surprised. I left the restaurant pretty satisfied! Then again, I’m used to eating snack quantities as meals, so I have a pretty tiny appetite as a result. I’m a cheap date. Scale your appetite accordingly. In fact, scale it closer to my alcohol tolerance.

So, what about the show? That was the whole point of driving an hour and a half to Birmingham, after all. The show was great, but more than that it reminded me of how much I miss Good Eats (rumor has it that it’s coming back, but I’ll believe it when I see the next Tool album finally drop). What I love about Alton Brown the most is that he, among others, is partially responsible for paving the road between science and the arts. The culinary arts are so remarkable because in essence, they’re a science. They’re as science as science can be, actually. The best chefs aren’t just the chefs that have a nose for good aromatic complements or an eye for proper sauce viscosity. The best chefs are the chefs that fully understand why something is prepared the way the recipe book (or your instructor, your grandma, Emeril, what have you) says it should be prepared. What’s really going on in the pressure cooker while it makes that relentless hissing noise? What happens beneath the moist towel that makes your bread dough go from a lumpy mass to a perfectly smooth doughy balloon? (If you’re as fanatic about Good Eats as I am, then you know it’s obviously the work of several flatulent sock puppets.) Alton Brown is, dare I say, the only Food Network persona who aimed to answer–rather than obscure–these seemingly irrelevant questions of science. Naysayers often insist that precise measurements (by weight, damn it) and by-the-timer cooking is offensive to the warm, whimsical imprecision that went into grandma’s home cooking. Grandma didn’t need a digital scale and neither do I! Right? Well. My grandma also stuck her finger in 120°F milk to “measure” the temperature before adding the yeast cultures because there were no digital probe thermometers in rural Greece during World War II. (In case you’re curious: If she could count to eight, the milk was cool enough.) That doesn’t mean I’m going to stick my finger in every pot of yogurt starter and hope my pain tolerance is the same every time. It’s imprecise, impractical, unsanitary…and it kind of hurts, ya know? Sometimes, technological advancement, and precision, is a good thing. Embrace it! It’s science! That’s what Good Eats aims to teach us. (Namely that yeast cultures will die if the milk is just a few degrees too hot and you absolutely should measure the temperature with a digital thermometer if you want the same result every time, but I digress.) Good Eats is entertaining, educational, and nostalgic. It’s no surprise that AB has been granted the official title of “The Bill Nye of Food.”

By the way, Bill Nye has a new show on Netflix and Alton Brown was on it for all of one minute. What the actual fuck? They could have co-hosted the damn thing.

More information on the Eat Your Science Tour and Ovenbird.



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