New York Press' Gut Instinct: Heart of the Matter

A recent visit to the doctor’s office provided both the best of news and the worst of news. “Your blood pressure and weight are completely normal,” the doctor said, reading a chart filled with numbers and her hieroglyphic scrawl. “But your cholesterol…” She trailed off, shaking her head like a disappointed mom. “Your cholesterol is too high. What do you do for a living?” I explained that I write about food and drink, and not necessarily in that order. “Oh,” she said, perking up, “having a glass or two of wine a day is good for you.” “Uh, I write about cheap eats, beer and spirits, mainly whiskey and bourbon,” I replied. Her brow crinkled like an accordion. “I think it’s time for you to start watching what you eat and exercise.”

Dear reader, I do exercise! At least I did, till New York City was gobsmacked with black ice, thunder snow and subfreezing weather. Over the last month and a half, my 50-mile-a-week bike-riding regimen has slumped to zip. My miles-long walks with my mutt have dwindled to rapid-fire jaunts around the block, with me muttering, “Come on and poop already, little buddy. Daddy’s feet are frozen.” It’s a cold, slothful time to be a New Yorker.

I could head to the gym, but I’m allergic to Spandex and exercise classes. There’s something about a fitness instructor barking orders to touch my toes and streeeetch that stokes my teenage antiauthoritarian streak. It’s the same bile that bubbles when a TSA official makes me explain why there’s a burrito-like Caribbean roti in my carry-on. “Because I’m hungry,” I mumble, wondering when my mouth will land me on a no-fly list. But I digress. Point is, my internal chemistry is out of whack. I need to rectify my cholesterol-filled lifestyle lest I end up like my father, whose lifetime of second helpings and a love of flank steak led to a heart attack in his mid-fifties. “You don’t want your arteries to start hardening now,” the doctor said, striking fear in my, well, heart.

The simple answer is no. But I find it tough to utter that word when such as an appealing invite lights up my inbox. “Join us for a preview of the first Loreley Williamsburg Sausage Festival,” the note read. In total, a dozen sausages would be grilled, paired with plenty of hot, tangy sauerkraut. “With your cholesterol, I don’t think you should go,” my girlfriend tsk-tsked. Ever since I told her about the results of my blood work, she’s been harping on me about my diet, not satisfied unless I’m subsisting on whole-grain oatmeal paired with steamed kale and wheatgrass juice—a fate that seems far crueler than a clogged artery.

“It’s for the column,” I said. “I need to eat to work.” “You can’t make excuses for your health,” she said. “I guess that means you’re not joining me for dinner?” She left the conversation, perhaps to hunt down some fat-free Greek yogurt. In search of an enabler, I called my meat-crazed friend Julie. She’s a fan of pork in all its tube-shape glory. “Eeeeeeeeeeee!” she replied. It was a date.

That night, we met beneath the BQE at Loreley Williamsburg (64 Frost St., at Meeker Ave., Brooklyn, 718-599-0025), the Brooklyn branch of the Lower East Side’s German beer garden. The former gas station is a beaut, all brick walls, sunstrewn windows, wooden ceilings and, come spring, a patio packed with picnic tables. Julie and I slid into a corner table, selected a dark, refreshing Köstritzer Schwarzbier and a malty-bitter Einbecker Winter Bock and gasped as a platter was presented: a dozen sausages hailing from the local Meat Hook and legendary Upper East Side purveyor Schaller & Weber.

“It’s much too much,” I told Julie, gulping my black-toned Köstritzer. “No such thing,” she said, spearing a cylinder of something glistening and black pepper–flecked. I followed her lead. “Make sure you eat that one,” she said, pointing out a shriveled reddish nib. It was intense porcine pleasure. We ate sausage after sausage, revealing more white plate with each passing bite. The end was in sight. The greasy meats slid down as easy as summertime lemonade. Normally, I’d keep munching till every morsel was mine. But that elusive quality, common sense, kicked in. I dropped my fork. Dabbed my lips with a napkin. “What’s wrong?” Julie wondered, snagging another sausage.

“I… I’m full,” I lied, faking it for the very the very first time.

New York Press' Gut Instinct: Mon Petit Saucisson

Sausage race! Photo: Michael Newman/Flickr

When I travel distant lands, I like learning phrases that are as useful as an eight-track player: “Where may I find your daughters,” “My stomach is exploding like a volcano” and other turns of the tongue.

“Please don’t say anything embarrassing,” my girlfriend begged last week, as we flew to France to visit our Parisian pals Bati and Emily.

I patted my pocket, which contained crumpled brown paper bearing a French phrase: I have your wine in my pants. “Mwahahahahaha,” I laughed in my rumbling, manic manner. My girlfriend shook her head. Was she more disgusted by me, or her airplane dinner of gray vegetables and clumpy rice?

Sadly, my knowledge of the French language is limited to words like bonjour, baguette and pampelmousse learned from the Flight of the Conchords’ song “Foux Da Fa Fa.” Somehow, this pleased Emily and Bati, whom I knew in Brooklyn. Despite their departure to Paris several years ago, we’ve remained steadfast friends. Last summer, we road-tripped across Morocco, feasting on lamb udder and utterly horrible wine.

“You should come to Paris next year,” Bati offered. “Stay with us.”

“That means free?” The prospect of forking over wheelbarrows of euros for a hotel room sent a cold, sharp knife down my spine. “But of course, Joshua,” Bati replied. He’s one of the few folks I let call me Joshua, if only because Bati pronounces my name as if he just French-kissed a jar of peanut butter: Josh-eww-aaa.

Upon arriving in Paris, my girlfriend and I were met by our friends and a nice, sunny 75-degree stretch. Like mosquitoes to bare wrists, we were drawn to sites that make guidebooks writers spew florid adjectives. Look at the magisterial Louvre! There’s the towering Notre Dame! Wow, the Luxembourg Gardens sure are lush and verdant!

“You’re certainly insufferable, aren’t you?” my girlfriend bemoaned after I complained of suffering from ABC Syndrome. That is, Another Bloody

Church. This sort of check mark tourism (“There’s the Eiffel Tower! Check mark!”) ain’t my cup of Lonely Planet tea. Instead, I find pleasure in back-alley kebab stands, sailor dive bars and dumpling stalls where $10 buys the entire menu twice over.

“You’re in the wrong country,” Bati said. My cholesterol-ridden heart deflated, like a balloon blasted with a BB gun. “Don’t get so sad, Joshua,” Bati said. “Saucisson is always cheap.”

Saucisson is sausage, and in France that ain’t a greasy slab of Jimmy Dean. Sausage here is serious business, with pork mixed with red wine, gorgonzola, walnuts, mushrooms and dried until it resembles gnarled, moldy tree branches. Mmm! But pesky pasteurization laws mean that, in America, this sausage is as illicit as street drugs. That’s a low-down shame; no matter how stellar the charcuterie at Dean & Deluca or Zabar’s, it lacks a certain je nais sais quoi—the threat of acquiring a food-borne illness.

Merrily, I avoided intestinal duress as Bati stuffed me silly with thinly sliced wheels of Parisian charcuterie. Wild boar. Cayenne-encrusted pig. Something that smelled reassuringly, and terrifyingly, like my dirty underwear. More, more, more! “Mon petit saucisson,” I’d say lovingly, staring at a pile of cured flesh. My little sausage.

“Want some of the best saucisson in France?” Bati asked one night. I nodded slowly, my movements dulled by pig fat. “Then let’s go to my hometown, Clermont-Ferrand.” Located in the rural, southern-central section of France known as Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand is renowned for its Michelin headquarters and mighty fine meat. One morning, we went to a clamorous local market and bought enough sausage logs to, if we were freezing in Siberia and desperate, start a fire.

“Are you going to take all that home?” my girlfriend asked, aghast. She held a couple jars of honey and a grimace.

“Hell, yes,” I said, my judgment clouded by saucisson lust. I bought Ziploc bags. I bought more Ziploc bags to wrap around the Ziploc-encased sausage. Then I shoved the double-bagged meat into another, bigger bag and boarded a flight to New York. We breezed through immigration. Not customs. “Is that your bag?” the customs agent asked. I glanced at my travel backpack—my soiled clothes hopefully cloaking the charcuterie with an even more indecent scent—and at my customs form. An X marked the spot where I denied bringing in meat. I nodded. A sweat glob slid down my brow.

“Welcome home,” the guard said. He gestured to the exit like a sullen, federally employed game-show host.

“Mon petit saucisson,” I whispered, grabbing my girlfriend and hustling to a cab before the guard wondered what smelled like moldy pig.

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