|Yeah, that's my plate of brains and eggs.|
By DONALD PORTER
SALT LAKE CITY -- If you know anything at all about Bill and Nada's, the landmark eatery north of Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, it's probably that the establishment serves brains and eggs.
That's right -- brains and eggs.
A local radio station, KLZX-FM, has fun with the dish in one of its promotions: "Jon and Dan in the morning," an authoritative voice intones. "A Utah institution -- like brains and eggs at Bill and Nada's."
Bill McHenry has been running the eatery since 1946, and brains have been on the menu since he opened the doors. Which means, of course, people have always eaten enough of his brains -- well, not his, exactly, but you know what we mean -- to make them a profitable dish.
"During initiation time at the university," McHenry says with a grin, "we go through a lot of 'em."
And that brings us to the obvious question: Why would anyone, of their own volition, eat the brains of any animal?
With a gun to the head? Yes, perfectly understandable. Starving on a remote island? Yes, who wouldn't? But to actually purchase brains from a meat case, or order them from a menu, when all manner of hot dogs, pork chops, T -bones and chicken are available?
Taqueria Piedras Negras, a Mexican restaurant on Ogden's Washington Boulevard, serves brain tacos. "We sell quite a few of them," said owner Jesus Hores.
Naturally, being the nosy types we are, we asked him for his recipe. Hores paused a moment, then politely declined, explaining that he'd prefer to keep the secrets of his business secret.
So we called Kay Evans, a home economist for the Weber County branch of the Utah State University extension service, and asked her if she had any recipes for preparing brains. Our thinking was: Those home economists have recipes for everything.
At first, Evans sounded appalled. "Didn't you do the story on tongue a while back?" she asked.
"I thought so," she said, sounding like a stern mother who just caught her child drinking milk straight from the carton. "You know, brain isn't a very popular item."
Then she admitted it: The USU home economists can tell you it's a good idea to boil brains and then plunge them into cold water before you prepare them by frying, baking or other means -- it firms the tissue for easier handling -- but they have no brain recipes!
Shocking. Still, we thanked Evans and her associates for their help, because when we get around to doing that planned expose on eyeball parfaits, we'll be contacting them again.
Back at Bill and Nada's, McHenry's recipe is so simple, you can't really call it a recipe. He buys his brains frozen -- sometimes they're beef, sometimes pork -- thaws them, boils them for about 20 minutes, plunges them into cold water and places them in the refrigerator.
When a customer orders brains and eggs, he slaps some brains on the grill, salting them lightly -- "That's all the seasoning you need," he says cheerfully -- and browns them. Then he mixes in a couple of stirred eggs, with a touch more salt, and scrambles them up together.
It's that simple.
Not so easy, at least for the uninitiated, is actually getting those brains past your lips. It makes it easier, though, when the cafe is full of Bill and Nada's regulars -- they all seem to be on a first-name basis -- who thoroughly enjoy staring you down until you scoop up a forkful, chew and swallow. (We suspect few of the regulars have actually sampled the brains, but in the interest of avoiding a brawl we didn't challenge them.)
Surprisingly, the brains have a light and fluffy texture, not unlike the eggs. And the flavor is on the bland side, but pleasant -- at least we thought so. And we confess to being slightly worried about possible side effects of cow-brain eating, but as yet we've demonstrated no desire to stand motionless in rural pastures and watch cars go by, or to make doo-doo where we stand. Although there was that moment last week when, fleetingly, a pile of freshly mowed lawn looked appetizing.
Mooooooving right along, we called Warren Gamble, a partner in Oscar's Wholesale Meats, an Ogden meat distributor serving some area restaurants, cafeterias and the like. We wanted to know if there were any other restaurants who ordered up brains.
"We have no brains down here," Gamble said, playing along. "And you can quote me on that."
Brains are a specialty item, he explained, and the process of ordering them is somewhat more complicated than more traditional cuts of meat.
"What are the names of the restaurants that do order them?" Gamble wanted to know, "so I'll know not to go there."
Another ringing endorsement.
Seriously, though, buying brains is not as easy as walking up to the meat counter in your favorite grocery store. All of the stores we contacted said you have to special-order brains, and some said that while they could get beef brains, they couldn't obtain pork brains through their particular wholesalers. So you can find them, it just takes a little extra work.