Kummerspeck brings fresh meat to the table

All too often, I lament the industrialization of the food supply and reserve my harshest criticism for places that purchase truckloads of extruded, quick-frozen “nuggets.” Freezer-to-fryer cuisine ‑ sure, it’s a practice that can speed up preparation time, reduce prices and maximize both profits and sodium intake. But what have we lost? Flavor? Creativity? Our souls?

The farm-to-table movement is a counterweight to all that. It’s an ethos that seeks to drive out the processing layers of the food industry and connect us closer to those who produce the food: farmers, ranchers, brewers and vintners. Unless you prefer your chicken sprayed out of nozzle into the approximate shape of something amusing, the emerging generation of chefs stand ready to reacquaint us to something wonderful ‑ big flavor.

Kummerspeck is the latest in this emerging field. And whist I approach these endeavors with a healthy dash of cynicism, one step through the front door convinced me that Kummerspeck is the real thing. This is a place that earns its chops by, literally, cutting and trimming chops and steaks and sausages right in front of you.

With meticulous sanitary safeguards in place, Kummerspeck’s affable butcher hoisted the dressed carcass of a goat as effortlessly as a turkey breast. “Oh, that’s just 50 pounds,” she cheerfully estimated and went on to explain what farm it came from, the cuts she’d prepare and how there’d be minimal waste. Kummerspeck’s menu contains a nod or two toward vegetarians, but it’s very clear that meat is king. I adjusted my food orientation appropriately.

The menu’s other notable feature is its lack of sprawl; there’s a page of appetizers and entrees, another of craft beers and lavish mixed drinks, and a couple pages of sophisticated wine offerings.

We wanted to try everything! But that’s a trap I don’t recommend; Kummerspeck’s offerings are generous in size and extraordinary in richness and flavor. This became immediately evident when the two appetizers we ordered were presented. One would have been enough, but this was a journey of discovery and considerable ground needed to be covered.

Zampone, an Italian peasant invention, stuffs a deboned pig trotter (forefoot) with tasty bits of lamb merguez sausage and spices. The chef presented two thick slices over a bed of crispy cracklings and arugula. Historically, zampone was devised as a way of using every last bit of the pig; Kummerspeck stays true to that tradition but in a way that employs a beguiling mix of spices and yields the richest trotter I’ve ever sampled. Well, actually, it was my first.

The next appetizer, Hush Puppies, a bowl of six medium-sized deep-fried balls of cornmeal batter mixed with small chunks of sausage, came served over chowchow dressed in buttermilk ranch dressing. More than enough for two, this was cuisine inspired by Southern cuisine. The puppies were lightly fried with ragged edges for extra crispiness and perfectly cooked through. In contrast, chowchow was a welcome relief of raw vegetables: hashed red and green sweet peppers, fresh corn kernels, chopped cauliflower – all soaked in that zesty ranch dressing.

Our waiter, Jaime, was enthusiastically knowledgeable of all the cuisine and had assisted me with my entrée selection of a Kassler Chop, a smoked bone-in pork chop (sourced from Kettlebrook Farm). The firm meat was abundantly tasty and treated with a Southern Comfort demi-glace.

My chop came with sides that were really exciting. A heap of tender collard greens speckled with bits of bacon merged with smoky-sweet Boston baked beans, whose rich sauce pooled over the entire dish. Plopped over all of this were pillow-soft roasted cipollini onions. Each ingredient represented a tradition: German, Southern, New England and Italian.

All this richness was perfectly complemented by a glass of Greater Good Brewery’s Pulp, whose hoppy bitter citrus notes had a clean, spicy finish.

It seemed fitting that at a meat emporium my friend would take the plunge and order Kummerspeck’s Ribeye Steak, served with garlicky mashed potatoes and tomato gruyere gratin. They served it sliced to expose its rich marbling. Lost in my own dish, I hadn’t noticed how quiet the table had gotten. Conversation had given way to the exploration of flavor and texture.

The reason for this became immediately obvious when I sampled a slice of the ribeye. Yeah, it might be trite to say that it cut like butter, but it also seemed to melt in your mouth like butter and yielded smooth and mild, perhaps even grassy, flavors. He gushed, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a richer piece of beef!”

The kitchen also produces imaginative desserts each day, and Jaime listed them for us. However, we’d both been quite gobsmacked by the onslaught of huge flavors. In the future, we’ll share one appetizer. But for now ‑ enough!

Web sources define Kummerspeck (German): Excess weight gained from emotional overeating; literally, “grief bacon.” As delightful as that sounds, Kummerspeck the restaurant is quite the opposite. Such intense flavors and imaginative cuisine are a happy celebration of quality and the dining experience. Revel in them!

Kummerspeck Restaurant and Delicatessen is on 118 Water St., Worcester. (774) 243-7071 www.kummerspeckfoods.com

Bernie WHITMORE

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