Café di Scala mellows out3/26/2014
With 20 new dieting books published each week, one might think this is the golden age of nutritional wisdom. Actually, dieting obsessions have been recycled for hundreds of years. Lord Byron popularized an all potato diet. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was into low-carb dieting 150 years before Dr. Atkins. Horace Fletcher gained the nickname “The Great Masticator” for prescribing a diet that allowed one to eat whatever they wanted as long as they chewed everything at least 100 times. Henry Ford followed The Hay Diet, which forbid the consumption of protein and starch in the same meal.
Iowa carved a significant niche in dieting history by concentrating on new diets for the foods we eat. In the middle 19th century, the state introduced corn-fed beef to the world. In the middle of the 20th century, glyphosate-drenched (Round-up) soy and corn were popularized here. Lately there’s been a land rush of new ideas about what our meat should eat — free-ranged, grass-fed, genetically-modified grain, fish meal and flax-finished diets, etc. Gone are the days when Grandma just dumped her leftovers in the yard for the chickens, goats and pigs. In fact, that’s illegal now.
The latest new thing in the diets of the meat we eat is marijuana. After Colorado and Washington both legalized pot as agriculture last year, growers began looking for places to sell parts of the plant that were not worthy of being converted into flowers, buds or extracts. Hog farmers began buying it. One such farmer is Iowan Pete Woltz, who also raises the nation’s only certified flax-finished beef. Woltz noticed that the pigs that ate a pot-enhanced diet were reaching market weight 30-percent faster than other pigs.
“Since that also shortens their lives, it gives new meaning to the phrase ‘blind munchies,’ ” he joked.
Café di Scala, Food Dude’s 2013 restaurant of the year, became the first joint in town to use Woltz’s pork, a cross of Iowa Swabian Hall and Black Beauty pigs. Chef Phil Shires, a James Beard Award semifinalist this year, explained.
“We could have done it sooner by buying Colorado pork, but we waited till we could source it from a local ranch because we like to support the local farmers. Supporting the local people is better for Iowa and just better quality. Besides, the diet of the pork I’m cooking with now was cloned from a mother plant of an heirloom strand that Willie Nelson started back in the 1970s. It’s particularly popular at our Beatles’ Brunch. People think it makes the experience more authentic.”
Shires cures and smokes bacon and ham for those monthly brunches, calling the process “twice smoked.” Asked if the new pork has any other effect on diners, Café di Scala owner Tony Lemmo said that most people who order the new pork also order multiple desserts.
“In fact, my mom Lou Ann needed to double her normal production of the Italian wedding cakes that we offer for dessert here,” he said.
So far the marijuana-enhanced pigs have not been hit by the deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which has killed up to 80 percent of piglet litters in hog confinements. Market analysts are predicting an increase of 10 to 20 percent this summer in pork prices due to the virus. There does seem to be one negative effect, though, for restaurants serving the new pork.
“It’s harder to turn tables,” Lemmo said. “People just kind of hang around like John Belushi in his old SNL sketch about the guest who never leaves.”
Side Dishes: Have you ever heard the joke about the restaurant business being for school kids who never grew up? Well, Table 128 closed last week “for Spring Break.” APRIL FOOLS!
Jim Duncan knows a lot about food and says the new pot-fed pork is friggin delicious.Café di Scala 644 18th St., 244-1353 Thursday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., open for brunch each first Sunday