Saturday, I tried my first Morro Bay oyster (http://www.sunset.com/travel/california/morro-bay-oysters-00418000073443/comments-index.html) which is my new gold standard – or more accurately Pacific Gold, as these tasty bivalves are called.
The occasion was the Chicago Beer Society’s umpteenth annual picnic in the LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve off Cicero on the northwest side (http://fpdcc.com/location/labagh-woods/).
Normally, forest preserves scare me, thanks to Larry Schreiner (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/trouble-is-his-business/Content?oid=878149) and Hollywood. I find it tough to use a bathroom in one, and metallic toilets without flip-down seats just add to my fear.
The CBS picnic, though, is an exception to my phobia, an early September oasis for the senses as summer subsides.
The way the gathering works is society members are each allowed to bring a guest and are supposed to bring a dish or make a donation to offset costs. My buddy Tom and I joined the group together a few years ago, because, as everyone must know by now or at least suspect, we are beer friends – and it saves us a few bucks, bringing our grand total to $35 to join and thus attend with two other people, and to get invited to other group outings.
Every year, the picnic food is entered into competitions in six categories – ribs, chil, other meats, salsa, vegetables, and desserts. This time, you got an orange plastic cup to sample beers provided by craft brewers.
While all the winners get for their efforts are ribbons, pretty much everybody made a solid effort – and then some.
Which is to say, this grub wasn’t the usual taco dip or potato salads you find at your typical picnic. It never has been.
In fact, the guy who brought the oysters spent $150 for 100 of them, then another $200 to ship them fresh from Northern California to Chicago. He and his friends also had lox and grilled salmon they caught in Alaska, and rockfish tacos, to boot.
The Morro Bay oyster was the first thing I tried Saturday, and I fell in love at first silky slurp. There was no grit. No iodine tide. And no need to wash it down with a Guinness. It was that good.
Thus, my blissful grazing began.
In no particular order, I tried a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on top; jambalaya; jerk chicken; pork shoulder tacos; Cuban puerco with pickled onion; a tiny chocolate raspberry stout cupcake; a pumpkin beer glazed mini donut; a dry rubbed hickory smoked rib; shrimp salad; pickled garlic and green beans chili made from beef brisket; potato pierogies; a bacon explosion (http://mantestedrecipes.com/recipe/5746/bacon-explosion.aspx); and a small dog I mistakenly thought was one of the other meat entries.
For good measure I even sampled pureed cauliflower, which I am sure I would have loved if I was of the age when you have no teeth. The tofu kabob, though, wasn’t half-bad. The guy who grilled it said his wife is a vegetarian so it was the best he could do.
He hauled his stuff to a spot with a Radio Flyer wagon. Typical guy, he tried to bring it all along in one or two trips, so we tried to help him keep from spilling his loads. I’m guessing this is what happens when your main source of protein in soybeans.
As for my beer friend’s contribution, Tom made a New Glarus Two (Hot) Women salsa, as this was a beer event and this year a good many people were putting brews in their recipes, much like a few years ago the fad was ghost chilis. This being the age of obliviousness, a woman tried the clearly labeled salsa, then was surprised it was actually hot.
Tom also brought along some fruitcake his Dad made, because it’s never too early for Christmas. Also, it was pretty good, so much so that the two Tom cut up and put out to eat were eaten – or maybe taken by Santa Claus.
There was an older guy milling about wearing a fishing hat who looked a bit like Henry Blake on MASH (http://s288.photobucket.com/user/zug556/media/Lt-Col-Henry-Blake-m-a-s-h-14710430-320-240.jpg.html) and whom Tom said he’s seen at most of the beer festivals this summer. So maybe he’s more like an IPA-loving version of Rick Moranis’ character from Ghostbusters (http://www.themarysue.com/moranis-talks-ghostbusters3/).
Either way, the gentleman kept misplacing his portable chair – a habit, I am sure, as he had a luggage tag on it, along with his bottle opener.
We were set up under Tom’s portable canopy, one of the legs of which we had to mend with duct tape and a stick. The spot under a couple trees offered plenty of shade most of the day and a panoramic view of the bustling chefs, kids and families playing, and what seemed to be a larger number of women than to be found at the other beer fests we hit this summer.
My beverage of choice was a radler, a mix of grapefruit and ale, and a perfect pour for the first full weekend in September.
Of course, nothing ever is perfect, which is what heaven is supposed to be, I guess. But I would settle for a Saturday as fine as this one anytime, a Doctor Who traveling back through time back to this one, if just to have savor another oyster, to see another yellow dress, and to sit through a light sunshower.