I sat down with a bowl of chili to enjoy the debut episode of Meat & Potatoes -- which featured the burgers at the Westport Flea Market -- on the Food Network Friday night. The show is a love letter to carnivores; host Rahm Fama promises to scour the country to satisfy his "craving for meat."
I'm certainly a carnivore, but I'm not sure I'm feeling the love from Fama. The show has a great graphics package and is shot beautifully -- the brisket is lit like a supermodel -- but it's oddly bland.
The initial episode, "Between the Buns," finds Fama sampling a smoked-meat sandwich in Brooklyn, a hot dog in Chicago, and a burger in Kansas City. Each sandwich is paired with a signature potato dish from the restaurant, hence the show's title.
Mile End Deli (smoked-meat Sandwich, poutine). Hipster Alert! Owner Noah Bernamoff dropped out of law school to start a Montreal-style deli (with wife Rae Cohen) in the heart of Brooklyn because he craved the smoked meat of the Canadian city from which he hails. The deli is straight out of a West Elm store, but a legit walk-in fridge has 2,500 pounds of meat curing.
The show's coolest graphic then appears, which is essentially television's version of the classic arcade game, Burger Time. The ingredients for the Smoked Meat Sandwich (which Fama describes as infamous at one point) -- cured brisket, brown and yellow mustard mix and unseeded rye bread -- descend from the top of the screen and stack together.
It's nice to see a cameo from David Sax, author of Save the Deli, who explains that a Montreal-style deli outside Montreal is a rarity. Is that because there are only a few great delis in Montreal or because there's just not the demand for poutine (sorry, Fran's)? But it's the end of the segment where the show's fatal flaw appears.
The moment when Fama is set to take a bite of the smoked-meat sandwich, the camera cuts away to a shot of the meat. We don't see his initial reaction -- this is the time in food shows that you wait for, when you're unable to taste what you've just seen prepared. It turns out to be a lot of build-up for some understated enthusiasm about what looks like an outstanding sandwich.
Franks 'N' Dawgs (Foss Hogg, truffle fries). Owner Alexander Brunacci wants to "bring fine dining to the masses." And that means housemade sausage. It also means waffle fries with truffle oil, butter, salt and sliced truffles. I'm assuming those cost about $9,000. The condiments behind the counter could be the most impressive aspect of the shop; Fama estimates there are "40 to 50 ingredients."
Perhaps there's too much pressure on the chef-hosts to consistently deliver one-liners in the travelogue-food shows. Fama seems to be feeling out when to inject himself into the discussion, as when he informs the audience that cob-smoked bacon (bacon smoked over corn cobs) will have "more smoky flavor than regular bacon."
Westport Flea Market (classic Burger, party potatoes). Fama lets us know that the Flea Market is the "best and most affordable burger in the city." I'm drawn right back in, but the show then spells owner Joe Zwillenberg's name wrong.
After a brief tour of the actual flea market, the 10-ounce patty hits the grill. "Boy, that's a burger," Fama says. The show returns to interesting when he tells us that the meat is "KC strip and filet" mixed together (Zwillenberg gives a shout out to McGonigle's) and spiced with salt, sugar, dehydrated onion, paprika and tumeric.
Zwillenberg then shows Fama how to make the party potatoes -- a casserole-like concoction of green and red peppers, American cheese, sour cream, cream of chicken soup, salt, pepper, butter and corn flakes. It will put a "sizzle in your chizzle," promises Zwillenberg. I'm still not sure what that means, but it was easily the line of the episode.
Ultimately, the show comes off like theTtofurkey of meat odysseys. The Food Network formula is by now well established: Take us on a culinary tour of the country, give a bit of history of a city and one or more restaurants, then invite the audience into the back of the kitchen to show how the sausage is made. Finally, the host digs in while exclaiming the meat-tasticness of each bite.
Fama is descriptive but not emotionally attached to what he's eating. I need some groans or a pause because the meat is simply too much to take. Until I see Fama showing his love for meat, the show will be like a basic plate of meat and potatoes -- filling, but never the first thing I'll look to order.
[Image via Recipetap]