What In The Hell Is Chocolate Gravy?

I don’t know, but they sure lap it up in northeast Arkansas!

It’s the end of another semester for students at Arkansas State University and exams begin tomorrow. To fuel the late night study sessions we put on a “late night” breakfast that couldn’t be beat. I don’t know how one would go forth and retain vital academia tonight, but they are certainly well fed.

From 9 o’clock to about 10:15 tonight we fed about 800 students sausage, eggs, bacon, ham, grits, hashbrowns, oatmeal, rice (Arkansas thing), pancakes, french toast, biscuits and gravy–and chocolate gravy. Imagine my mom’s amazing chocolate cream pie filling (basically a chocolate pastry cream made with flour instead of cornstarch) thinned down a little and served warm. They gobbled up three gallons of the stuff and I made 3 more gallons on the fly. Wow!

We also put out a chocolate fountain. Anyone who went to a wedding in the 90’s should be familiar with this foul appliance that features molten chocolate cascading down a series of tiers to drench spectator wielded skewers adorned with strawberries, pretzels, marshmallows, and the likes.

And, we did a “waffles and ice cream” bar that blew me away with lack of attendence. Who wouldn’t drool over crispy hot waffles piled high with ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and any number of your standard sundae toppings? The same people that pour warm pudding over a biscuit and call it heaven, that’s who.

When I spent my externship summer on the Jersey shore I became addicted to waffles and ice cream at Seaside Heights on the boardwalk. Must be a northern thing.

Now chicken-n-waffles I totally don’t get, but that’s another story. I think that’s a southern thing from a different South than I grew up in.

Anyway, I was going to tell you more about my journey to Arkansas, but I never got around to writing it, and the more I thought about it the less exciting it became.

There was a stopover in Memphis at the infamous Rendezvous rib joint. These ribs have been written about by every food writer that has ever visited Memphis, and I was inspired by them back in ’99 myself. But in 2009 “the thrill is gone”. Dry, not-so-meaty, tough, and over-priced.

Then there was a week in Pittsburgh where I failed to dine at one of America’s most famous sandwich shops, Primanti Brothers, though I walked by it half a dozen times. Stupid.

I did stop into Essie’s Original Hot Dog Shop and had what Gourmet Magazine once named America’s 4th Best Hot Dog. It was #1 on my list so far! All the locals made fun of me for paying $6.00 for a hot dog, but what do they know? I’d do it again every time!

I asked my Pitt connection for good Italian within walking distance. He directed me about 6 blocks away (in the snow) to Joe Mama’s, home of the 1/2 pound meatball. I had one…on a bed of the worst spaghetti I’ve ever had, tossed in the worst sauce imaginable. The spaghetti had been under-salted and over-cooked the day before, and then to add insult to injury they reheated it in a strainer held under running hot water out of the tap–and they didn’t shake off the excess water. The big-ass meatball was pretty good though. Hell, who could hate a meatball the size of a baby’s head?

The walls are covered with ubiquitous autographed head shots of celebrities that have graced the place since the 60’s. I was seated next to a late 70’s era (Jerry’s hair was still black) promo shot of the Grateful Dead with the inscription, “Thanks Joe. Your pasta is to DIE FOR! – The Grateful Dead”

To warm up the cold pasta in my belly they brought me out about a pound-and-a-half of steaming hot white chocolate bread pudding swimming in melted white chocolate and bourbon. I told the server I would need to change my shorts. I didn’t feel it necessary to tell her that I wasn’t wearing any, but I thought about it. Coulda been the whiskey.

Other than the bread pudding and the Dead pic–and the cute college girls–Joe Mama’s sucks!

So now I’m back in Arkansas and I absolutely love my new job! After a life of fine-dining and food snobbery I find it a far more exhilarating challenge to make school food look and taste good! If you’d have told me 20 years ago where I’d be today I’d have laughed–just before I pulled the trigger. But knowing what I know now I wouldn’t be anywhere else!

Check back soon…there’ll be some good ones come from this!

Oh, did I tell you I saw Elvis sitting at a bus stop in front of Graceland on my way through Memphis? Next time maybe.