Right before my hungry eyes was a duplicate of the plate of pork chops that President Barack Obama knocked off for dinner Tuesday night at the Hotel Blackhawk.
It was a plate of two pork chops, each about 2 inches thick. The slender rib bones were sticking straight up, like a pair of pencils.
The cinnamon essence from the Iowa chops' brine was driving me crazy when I sat down at noon Wednesday at the hotel's Bix Bistro. I wanted the same thing the president had dined on after turning down a New York strip steak.
He had taken a couple of bites of the steak - medium-well - when he spotted an aide licking his chops over pork chops. The president sneaked a bite of the chops and is said to have spoken out:
"I want an order of those."
THERE HAS BEEN so much talk about those pork chops that, in the spirit of investigative reporting, I felt it my duty to check them out. I placed an order, $25 for the works - iced tea not included, from the hotel menu.
If you're looking for the entree, it's called "Cinnamon brined grilled Iowa pork chops."
Just like the order for the president, my chops came on a square white plate. It was more than an order. It was a mountain of food, with those rib bones protruding alongside a 4-inch slab of Iowa cornbread casserole.
There was enough food on that plate to feed a family of four. The chops were nuzzled in a bacon braised warm cabbage slaw with caramelized onions. This was a breakthrough from the way I usually get my pork chops, from a kitchen stove frying pan.
I WAS RAVING hungry and ready to eat. I couldn't wait to dig into those chops.
Trust me: They were smackin' good!
They were the best chops I ever ate. I didn't need a sharp knife. That big plate of food looked almost too good to eat, but I wasn't bashful. I was slicing around those bones when white-coated Dean McCullum, executive sous chef, knelt beside my table.
"No fooling, honest, this is exactly what I prepared for the president. Exactly, right down to the few green beans on top of the chops," he said.
Those chops were big, heavy. No one was around, after my first slices, so I picked one up and chewed some meat right off the bone. It was uncouth, but I licked my fingers.
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DEAN KEPT SAYING that the secret of the chops is in the brine, but it helps to have Iowa Berkshire pork. The chops are marinated 24 hours in a brine of cinnamon, salt and sugar before being grilled and finished off in the oven.
"We add a little apple cider vinegar, an acid to offset the sweetness. All the components come together. Simple is less," Dean said, watching me devour the chops. He said that seeing someone eat his work makes him happy.
I didn't need any culinary explanation, but Dean insisted on telling me that the demi-glace sauce is infused with Boetje's mustard to give it a local flavor. He laughed at the mention of Rock Island-made Boetje's.
I LEFT THE TABLE, stuffed to the gills. By midafternoon, my lips felt salty, an aftertaste of the best pork chops in town.
Besides, those Blackhawk cinnamon brined grilled pork chops is going to be on the official West Wing menu. That's because it was praised so highly for culinary excellence by the president's staff. The chops will be a choice of big shots.
And by the president, if he wants a good Iowa-style supper.
Contact Bill Wundram at (563) 383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.