OK, maybe not kill…
First of all–show of hands–who’s actually familiar with Welsh rarebit?
Welsh rarebit is one of those things I heard vague mention of as a child and, well, thought they were actually talking about rabbits. As in there’s this special sort of rabbit dish that’s made in Wales and it’s gotta be some sort of super fancy thing because it’s only served on rare occasion and is one of those things that seemed to be to be associated with “fine dining,” which, as we all know, in the 70s meant steak, baked potatoes, creamed spinach and white tablecloth restos. Another show of hands–who thought “rarebit” was “rabbit?” C’mon, admit it!
Turns out Welsh rarebit is basically (wait, wait, wait…for…it…) cheese sauce on toast. Yup. Cheese sauce. On toast. Maybe with some mustard in it. Or beer. Or Worcestershire sauce.
Not so fancy after all…
And “rarebit” is indeed a bastardization of the word “rabbit,” which was supposed it indicate that it was not meat and not rabbit.
Of course that didn’t stop 70s restauranteurs, who obviously were guilty of thinking “It’s British, so it’s got to be fancy,” from putting it on menus and associating it with “fine” dining. Either that or it was mostly served in places that still celebrate a certain kind of–what an old boyfriend of mine, M., would have called–“Ye Olde-ism,” which does faintly smack of some Britishism but also envokes lengthy traditions that may be a bit on the musty side. For instance, in New Haven, Conn. there is this old bar called Mory’s, which is basically a private club for Yalies. You have to be a member to belong. It’s famous for being a place where Cole Porter hung out, the Whiffenpoofs (a famous men’s a cappella group–the kind made fun of in the recent movie Pitch Perfect) and for its “cups,” which are basically similar to the kind of “grain punch” most of us drank at college parties, but this is served to people in a trophy-shaped cup and new members are supposed to down an entire “cup” of alcohol while being serenaded with a “ye olde” drinking song and finish the contents of said cup before the song is done. Anyway, Mory’s is also a dining establishment and once when my sister in law was in grad school she was invited to lunch there by a member. She ordered the rarebit. To this day, the “Mory’s Incident” is associated with her extreme disappointment that her entire lunch consisted of cheese sauce on toast and that she left Mory’s hungry for the rest of the afternoon.
Why all the talk of rarebit? Because I think it may be making a resurgence!
Food trends are funny things. Like most other trends, they tend to be a matter of what goes around comes around again. And again. And again. Like the roller discos that I’ve seen advertised as popping up in San Francisco. Or those godawful neon clothes from the 80s that are showing up on shelves again even though they were horrible the first time around.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against trends or resurgences per se. I am completely guilty of a certain kind of campy nostalgia for things from my distant past. I happen to own a pin (yes, a pin!) or maybe I should say brooch that has that famous picture of Farrah Fawcett riding a skateboard decoupaged (yes, decoupaged!–another blast from the past!) onto a mahjong tile. What can I say? I love that sort of campy shit. I seriously do. And I’m pleased to say that I truly believe that my college friends and I were single-handedly responsible for the disco revival of the 90s. Our senior year–1989, well before anyone else was listening to disco again–we regularly hauled out our vinyl copies of the Saturday Night Fever album and were known to begin line dancing in the dormitory halls, much to the HORROR of most passersby. Not too long afterward, the rest of the populace started listening to that stuff again in the 90s. So there! 😉
But back to food trends. Foods fads come and go–just like disco and back-to-basics education. Remember quiche in the 80s? Quiche Lorraine was such a huge trend that it inspired a backlash in the form of a bad guide to “real” manhood entitled Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. Of course when I was in high school and decided I wanted to make a quiche for the family for dinner, my mom bragged about it to some of her friends who were jealous that their kids didn’t make them dinner or make them something fancy like Quiche Lorraine, despite the face that their husbands might have been embarrassed to eat it after that book came out. What about bone marrow? That was out for a while due to mad cow but made a resurgence in the 00s, death by meat be damned. The resurgence of things like offal and marrow is still going on–a new meat heavy lunch spot called Marrow recently opened in Oakland. Creamed spinach with steak has also made a comeback. So have old-time cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, which always make me think of either old-time movie stars from the 40s or grandmothers. A former roommate of mine had a grandmother who was known for having her own personal Happy Hour every evening at 5 o’clock when she made herself a Manhattan, no fail. Whiskey has made a resurgence. While brewing artisanal micro-brew beer was the thing of the 90s, artisanal, small-batch hooch is all the rage.
I’ve been paying attention to the food world–and watching far too much food TV and cooking shows–for long enough to feel like I could have some trendspotting abilities at this point. For instance, what’s up with the Parisian macaron cookies that are suddenly everywhere? Those little creamed-filled, multi-colored treats are definitely a trending topic right now. I may actually be the only person on the planet who doesn’t really like them–I think they’re a little too sicky sweet – and I’m no more excited about neon cookies than 80s neon jellie shoes–I’m just sayin’… Just as things like pickling and making your own jerky are also faddish now, I daresay people across the country may soon be seeing Welsh rarebit popping up more and more. And why not? Grilled cheese places are all the rage. And what is rarebit, but cheese and toast?
So, here’s why I think this. It’s because I’ve seen rarebit featured on not one, but two, menus at trendy eateries of late and in not one, but two, trendy eating cities–Oakland and LA. The first menu I saw it pop up on was at Oakland’s Tribune Tavern, which opened in the former Oakland Tribune building earlier this spring. I clearly remember perusing their website and menu when they opened, noting that the Welsh delicacy was featured and thinking, “Welsh rarebit? Really? Huh… Interesting.” Then a few weeks ago in LA I went to Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica for my sister-in-law’s birthday dinner. Lo and behold, what was on the day’s menu? Roasted potatoes with a beer and cheese rarebit. Yup. Rarebit once again. I had the rarebit potatoes there–and it was yummy (sorry forgot to take pics!). The beer totally made the sauce–it brought a tangy depth to the cheese and was clearly made with an ale because it was slightly hoppy but not in that “overkill on the hops” that characterizes so many American micro-brews. It was so tasty I kept trying to dig more cheese sauce out of the serving dish with my spoon. I nearly picked up the ramekin the potatoes were served in and licked it clean!
If rarebit had shown up on just one good eatery menu, my initial reaction of “hmmm, that’s novel–rarebit. I wonder why they chose to bring that back from the annals of culinary history,” would have stayed in the recesses of my food memory after encountering the Tribune Tavern menu. Now that I’ve encountered it twice, I daresay, the cheese sauce is making a bit of a comeback! If I see it on one more menu or see it show up in a cooking magazine or cooking show anytime soon, I’d say that will definitely constitute a trend! (If you ask me, we can’t count Mory’s as a third–they’ve been serving Welsh rarebit since time immemorial, so they’re “Ye Olde” and don’t count…)
So, the Welsh rarebit resurgence–you heard it here first!
In the immortal words of the best rabbit ever…That’s all folks!