Held this past Saturday at the Latvian Society's Daugavas Vanagi house in University Heights was the Bronx Pipe Smoking Society's 2nd Annual Small Game Dinner—James Bond villain summit meets secret society gone gastro.
On the menu? Beaver, porcupine, katydids, possum, and more.
The spacious digs provided the proper air of refinement. Host Baron Ambrosia responded with a call for open-to-interpretation black tie dress code, with swords, capes, bazookas, and elaborate masks all encouraged. It was an evening of mystique and culinary delight, broken taboos and new discoveries done local. The secrecy was less about exclusivity and more about flair.
"This is not a dinner where you pay to get in," Ambrosia said, "because it is an experience. Everyone here has invested something."
Early in the night, guests mingled in the entry hall. Aperitifs, "Waters of Welcome", provided lubrication and courage if it was wanting: hard apple cider from Schultz Beverage, Kelso Rauchbier courtesy of Greenpoint Brewery's John Chapman, sumac sweetened with aqave, and pungent porcupine tea. For some, they were never more necessary. But as a small game rookie, I was eager to dive right in.
Sliding doors revealed the first course, "Huntings & Gatherings": appetizers of diverse inspirations, from porcupine kalbi to skunk and raccoon charcuterie. A floating tray of spicy bear salami made the rounds as the beady eyes of fried katydids stared longingly at hungry diners. Some of the meat was surprisingly tender, other fantastically gamey. Many of the cooks participated in the previous year's dinner, coming back with the first-hand knowledge that they then lacked.
When the time came for the main course, "Fireside Convocation," we were asked to file downstairs. There, long communal tables in a hall warmed by a crackling fire awaited us. A rifle wielding, stoic Latvian, with shades of Dwight Shcrute, played folk music on a record player. He looked to be guarding it with his life; perhaps he was just freaked out by the food.
His guests gathered, the Baron requested that we have a moment of silence for the animals. Reminding us that the chefs were tasked with the butchering themselves, he explained that the dinner was about bringing us closer to our food--not shock cuisine. Few in New York so epitomize the curious love of flavor as much as Ambrosia. Dishes, ranging from Liberian Turbugee to Mexican coyote enchilado, were announced. Stepping in, BronxNet producer Michael Knobbe requested that guests of honor Grandmaster Melle Mel and trapper Bill to cut into the raccoon Barbacoa de Hunt's Point. Pleased, Melle took up his knife.
"You're more deserving of this then I am," he laughed, "because the only thing I've ever caught is my wife."
Dishes not pictured here:
Porcupine Tea (Julia & James Sexton), Possom Pastilla (Michael Sherman), Morgan Hill Strudel (Mike Pinchetto), Fisher Tacos (Michael Sherman), Beaver Butt Roast (Jason Engdahl), Turbugee (Eliza Smith), Dried corn pudding (Linda Guiles), Brown Buttered Noodles (Zack Goldberg), Salad (Sam Polcer), Bear Sausage (Damon Abraham), Cardamom Ginger Cake and Eggnog Pound Cake (Donna Fornal), Black Cherry Brandy Chocolate Truffles (Jeanne Rice).