The Monterey Cookhouse makes this Reviewer Giddy with Joy

Barbara Mossbery, Table Talk - May 22, 2013

There are two beginnings to this story.

Have you ever had something at a restaurant that made you giddy? I go around, as you know, dear reader, with a risible Swedish squeeze normally contained, but on this occasion so beside himself with the effects of one swallow of an appetizer that he chortles-chokes and calls our daughter "long-distance" (as our generation still thinks of it) to tell her about it, so fired up he is laughing — so hard he can't talk. So we are talking about that.

There once was a pizza in Siracusa, on the Sicilian island where the original Greek tragedians lived and where half the Odyssey takes place. On a late somnolent summer afternoon by the wine-dark sea was a trattoria whose one outside table stood in shadows, and where we were served a pizza of epic simplicity, sizzling with oil and garlic so elementally crisp and crunchy and singing that all pizzas ever since are measured by that.

This pizza reminded us of that time. So we are talking about that too.
Go hungry to The Monterey Cookhouse. That is my advice because you are going to want both the appetizers and the pizza, and half the other things on the menu.

But you're really there for the barbecue, in which simmering and sizzling and smoking and marinating is going on for 14 or 24 or 40 hours. Or so you thought. But you get waylaid.

While you are waiting for your barbecue, the draft beer selection is worthy of Rabelais, and our waiter Kris discusses the elements of hop and bitterness and darkness and malt with the finesse of a brewmaster. More about Kris' life-saving skills in a moment.

Well, let me tell you what happened. There was calamari with capers and lemons and chipotle aioli ($10), and lollipop chicken with orange chili soy glaze ($7), roasted garlic with tomato bruschetta and toasted ciabatta ($7), but we had the Cookhouse Poppers for reasons immediately apparent: "grilled bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with cheddar cream cheese" ($8).

From my notes: The S.Sq. faints. Wow, he says, wow. It takes a lot to get a Swede riled and he is carrying on. You're trying to kill me, he says. He is so startled he is laughing.

Kris brings heavy cream as Rx, and the Swede drinks it gratefully even as he says, "The bacon sauce is awesome." The Swede is laughing and calling our daughter to share the moment. Meanwhile, Kris brings palliative rice pudding for the excited palate. I am weeping from contagious laughing.

Then the Margherita pizza ($14) Kris recommends (he is batting .1000) comes, and it speaks of faraway places and ancient soil, winds that sang to Odysseus, the purity of earth's fragrant fruits and greens and bulbs.

The homemade dough provides a sincere crust that is slippery and crunchy and light. I am wistful that I only have a few stomachs, because the Cowboy Pizza ($16) spoke to me, with barbecue sauce, cowboy sausage, tomatoes, red onion, and mozzarella, as does the BBQ Pulled Pork ($15) combined with scallions, mozzarella and Alfredo sauce — a kind of carbonara vibe going on there.

There's also Mac n Cheese in combinations that include spinach and bacon ($12) and truffle and tomato ($14). I want it all.

My squeeze has the Smoked Sampler ($21), with baby-back ribs, beef brisket and pulled pork slider ("I have to do this for your readers"). The ribs (I had to taste them for you, dear reader) were terrific, as you might expect with being in the Traeger Smoker: moist and tangy, a mouthful of salt and sweet.

The broccoli and carrots they came with were steamed to perfection, so you felt you were eating something nutritious, along with the delicious sweet barbecue sauce.

The pulled pork slider was "stop the boat!" The sweet potato fries were tender. The bread was yeasty and dense, meaningful. When things got too fiery for the Swede, he quenched himself with Brother Thelonius Monk.

We finished with wine-poached pears crepe ($7) with caramel sauce, and chocolate chip bread pudding with Anglaise sauce ($6): "Now I am really full!" Oh really? Really? Dear Reader, you are saying, are you sure you ate all that? Yes, and I went home, mellow-weak from laughing, exhilaration, delighted gulps and gasps.

Next time I will order the Beef Brisket ($19), "finished with our coffee beer mop sauce with BBQ sauce," which you have to admit you want to eat right now, whatever "mop sauce" is and whatever beer has to do with it. GO!

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