The Fetishist’s Guide to Kansas City Charcuterie

And zero fucks were given.  The number was zero.  That is zero….the number of fucks that were given when I first heard about Fifty Shades of Grey.  I knew it was going to be like the movie Titanic. The best movie of all time.  Best because boring people were lining up four, even five times to watch that thing on the big screen.  It put a death grip on idiots, it was indeed the best at THAT.  The people who were talking about Fifty Shades of Grey, in semi-hushed or rakishly proud tones were the same motherfuckers who would come into Priscilla’s and walk out with one of those idiotic Naughty Honeymoon/Bondage Starter kits with the plastic paddle and fur lined handcuffs.  They’d rush home to ineffectively work each other over in some kind of goddamn Jack and Rose heading towards an iceberg spankfest.  My already keen ability to size people up was sharpened to a painful degree in that business, so I’m not just being a judgmental asshole.  I can tell you for a fact that’s what the starter kit couples would do.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the low standards that get to me.  It was so rare to meet an actual specialist who wasn’t just another Fetish Ball poser.  Now there’s a book for these dummies.   Millions of Titanic fans can’t be wrong.

I’m the type of person who will take anything I find truly beautiful or profane out to the very end of its logical limits and drown it there, come back to base camp, and repeat the process.  When I like something, I really like it.  To a fault.  And not in a figurative way; I have a plethora of witnesses to my personal history who can vouch for my fiddling with extremes.  The fringes have always been like a magnet for me .  I’ve never personally made the full commitment to any flavor of lifestyle, because I know what it would take to live there.  So I left it to the people I came to know and admire over the years.  And looking back now after writing this, I realize…lots of gay men and leather.  I’m neglecting a few dozen major themes, but I will stand behind the opinion that, in the world of the BDSM or fetish lifestyles, leathermen are at the very top of the food chain, and therefore the most interesting.  If you have ever had a friend who is a member of the private Hellfire Club in Chicago and has taken you there to witness the strengths and limits of the human spirit, you will most definitely agree with me. I’ll beat you all to the Fifty Shades of Gay jokes.

Fast forward to today and here I am, slightly wiser and content, and grateful… and never without a hobby that comes with its own health risk.  Having a stapled stomach can only keep you so safe from your own logical conclusions.  There is a very large list of things I love, and if you know me at all, you know that charcuterie is very near, if not at, the very top.  There are not many foods that involve all of the senses in quite the same way as a great meat board.  The meat board is my thing. If I see it on a menu, I will order it.  The more of it that is made in-house, the more likely I am to return.  And I want the thinking to be done for me, I’m not a huge fan of picking items from a list and creating it myself…to me that is a sign that someone does not love their product enough.  As far as the fetish angle here, I have definitely taken my love of charcuterie to that level.  I like all types, but I have a special respect for the fermented, cured varieties and anyone who would risk the time and the pristine raw product to create something, if done incorrectly, could poison you.  Not much room for error.   I don’t remember what inspired the idea to bring these two things together, but I do remember an image that popped into my mind very early in the process of writing this thing…..  I would have my own large, metal curing chamber built into the space under our stairs, and during my quiet moments I would go to the basement with all of the lights off and sit in silence in a huge leather chair that I kept packed away in a wooden crate filled with pipe tobacco when it was not in use.  A large flexible tube would run from inside the curing chamber, across the room to the chair, and would be attached to my vintage WWI gas mask.  I would sit quietly, in near-complete darkness, breathing in the harmonious aroma of decay from my wide assortment of curing meats.  But true happiness would never be found, because in my rush to be alone with my thoughts I would put on the first pair of pajamas I could find instead of the smoking jacket and tuxedo shirt I had purchased specifically for those moments.  And obsessing over that would be my hell.

I don’t report the news here.  This is not a current events page. Don’t go into any of these restaurants expecting to find these specific items, most if not all of them may have changed by now.

BLUESTEM

“I paid a packet for a new straight jacket. There’s a whip in my valise, oh yeah.”  Adam and the Ants

“I paid a packet for a new straight jacket. There’s a whip in my valise, oh yeah.” Adam and the Ants

While I was running a Priscilla’s, I met a lot of people in the BDSM community who would come to me to help them out by ordering custom gear.  This was way before you could get your suspension harnesses off of Amazon with 1-Click Ordering.  They were always super cool folks to deal with, as well as genuinely appreciative of someone who never gave them the side-eye no matter the topic or product in question.  I was very familiar with all of the local competition, and with the exception of a couple of places like Expressions of Deborah, Kansas City was seriously ill-equipped to equip serious specialists.

It was during one visit to New York, after looking at shops around Times Square and the Port Authority, that I told a couple of my friends how disappointed I was that New York didn’t seem to have anything more involved or diverse than what I sold back home.  That simple comment sparked a response that forever changed my view of that great city, and the amazing subcultures I would learn about from that day forward.  “Have you visited any of the gay leather stores on Christopher Street?”  I had not.  So we remedied that immediately, and I have to say my ignorance prior to that moment dumbfounded me.  How had I never thought to maybe check with the gay community back home? What a rube.  Leatherman NYC boosted my respect for the gay leather man exponentially, and on following trips to the city I managed to meet a lot of enthusiastic people and discover iconic gear havens like DeMask and Purple Passion/DV8.  Specialists know what they like and they are dedicated to perfecting their own fearsome Barbie’s Dreamhouse…their own little ecosystem of style, function and enjoyment.  And no two snowflakes are the same.

To a great degree, that is where my thoughts go when the shiny black slab of assorted meats and accoutrements are placed before me at Bluestem. Everything in its place.  Perfect lines, clean cuts, textures, colors, luxurious variety but not overly appointed…there is a particular style involved in their craft. It is well maintained and of the highest quality and flavor.  A bento box for an abattoir.  Thin slices of funk from Iowa, fatty offals, fried vegetables as well as sharply pickled crunch and spice.  Like the aisles between the rubber body bags and the latex face masks; even the negative space on the plate is accounted for and respected with the placement of each bite.  For me, the experience isn’t about conviviality.  Friendships aren’t as highly prized in those moments at the bar.  I’d like to be left alone with my food.

JUSTUS DRUGSTORE

“And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26

“And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26

If you’ve ever given the writings of the Marquis de Sade an honest effort, you discovered quickly that it is the most unreadable crap in the history of “classic” literature.  I don’t know if he had a fourth grader as a ghost writer or what, but it is awful.  French novelist Octave Mirbeau, on the other hand, wrote a little story called “The Torture Garden” a hundred or so years ago.  Probably tame by today’s standards with Hollywood dishing out torture porn franchises like Saw, but the intricacy of the writing coupled with the political themes set against horrific subject matter makes it something the Marquis would have wished he could have written.   The story revolves around a failed politician who leaves France and winds up in a lengthy tryst with an English expat who happens to own an estate in China.  One of her many dreadful hobbies is visiting the local detention center with a basket of rotten meat, and feeding it to the prisoners.  She is thrilled by the fact that one of the inmates is a poet and ex-lover who is forced to listen to her recite his own poetry as he fights for scraps of meat.  The local aristocrats can pass through the prison and enter what appears at first to be a beautiful, lush and vast garden.  The epitome of botanical luxury and excess.  In the midst of the beauty, every manner of suffering is displayed like artwork.  The writing is very involved; no syllable is wasted…hot pokers, blocks and tackle, guillotines, “death by caress”….the bodies return to the earth and feed the garden; an inhumane ecosystem highlighting the worst of human nature and the most beautiful specimens of flora and fauna.

There is no connection between that story and the food at Justus, there was just something about the expanse of the platter that jogged my memory when I started thinking of a beautiful garden of meat items.  And I’ll cut to the chase here…I don’t think there is even a close second to the Farmer’s Platter in the entire metro area.  It may be the best of its kind in all of my travels, I’d really have to give that some thought.  It is the best. Full stop.  I can’t think of anyplace where more respect is shown to the animals that are on the menu, or where more time and thought is spent on the ingredients.  I don’t want to launch into the whole Bourdain “meat doesn’t come from those cartons at the megamart” speech, but death does precede what eventually becomes a palette of rabbit, fowl, beef and pork.  Constantly changing, everything made in-house, always a sight to behold before the potential inmate brawl over the meat.  Definitely a luxury item worthy of a crowd.  On one of my first visits I had a dish that included some of the chicken mousseline.  The cross-section showed some of the finest and most perfect brunoise vegetables…like a mosaic I wanted to slice thin and hold up to see if light shone through.  One of those meal moments you always remember.

ANTON’S TAPROOM

“Last weekend I met a cub and his daddy and they wanted to PLAY!”  A guy I used to work with

“Last weekend I met a cub and his daddy and they wanted to PLAY!” A guy I used to work with

I grew up in Christian fundamentalism and spent my teen years going to metal shows at Kemper arena, so it wasn’t until I spent my early twenties living in downtown Minneapolis that I had an honest to goodness introduction to the gay community.  It was in that town that I discovered: gay bars = strong drinks, therefore these are my brethren.  Since my idea of the perfect form has always been in lockstep with Mr. Russ Meyer, my experience with the culture was still pretty limited and I moved back to Kansas City assuming that the ideal partner for every gay man was the clean cut jock in daisy dukes, tight v-neck t-shirt and hiking boots hauling ass across Hennepin in 30 degrees below zero, and that’s just how it was.  FLASH FORWARD several years to one of my first IT jobs where I worked with a burlier version of the post-lyme disease lumberjack era Daryl Hall.  This guy had goddamn bear paraphernalia everywhere…his screensaver, the back of his truck, you name it.  He was in no way shape or form in the closet.  He REALLY liked telling stories about his weekends. But something didn’t add up because he looked that way.  And man was he fond of ME.  I sported a goatee at the time.  It wasn’t until one day when we were out to lunch (he was all about taking me to lunch) and we stopped by his house that I finally put two and two together.  I met his longtime partner; the final puzzle piece.  He had about a hundred pounds and half a foot on me, a giant beard, the same lumberjack look, and was just super bitchy. I just stood there thinking……bears.

Now, the last time I was in the building before it was Anton’s, I was selling some human growth hormone to an aging bodybuilder.  It was a Cajun place at that time.  Of course, the period when it was Daddy’s is what got me going on the bear thing.  I could make up some shit about the bodybuilder being a musclebear or something, but the truth is far less interesting.  But honestly, the theme kind of dovetails perfectly into the feel and food at Anton’s.  For carnivore’s only.  To be honest, I had no plans to visit until I started seeking out places where I could get housemade charcuterie.  Gay, straight, whatever, it’s a fat man’s dream.  And I am NOT going to take the easy way out and do the “growling Bears eating it UP!” angle…because that would be annoying and it might misrepresent the universal appeal of this plate of meat and pickles.  Full fat, full flavor, thick, clunky, chunky, rich, sour, crunchy, and if Anton himself is nearby he’ll be happy to walk you through everything on this 100% housemade selection.  When you give me herbed rendered lard to spread on my toast, you are speaking to the most base and visceral part of me that loves food and excess.

NOVEL

"It will make you feel as though the rest of the world is in a bubble of glass and that you're rubbing up against it like a bad windshield wiper."  Killing Zoe

“It will make you feel as though the rest of the world is in a bubble of glass and that you’re rubbing up against it like a bad windshield wiper.” Killing Zoe

In every hobby or niche lifestyle, there are the folks who provide the hardware and the folks who flood a never ending specialty marketplace.  Japanese knives, horsehair whips, solid copper cookware, reproduction 18th century shackles…there is no limit to the money that can be spent.  But whether it’s cooking or kink, having money for the deluxe toys doesn’t mean you have any taste.  And cool baubles don’t mean you are someone who can be trusted with the health and well being of others…that ain’t no shit.  There are a million intangibles that set the true specialist apart.  Responsibility to a craft along with inspired creativity…..the vulnerability and planning it takes to be the one in control of the voyage.  The majority of people can’t handle that level of intensity, which is perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Secondhand revelations and shiny toys are great, as long as the proper acknowledgment and respect is given to the people who take the risks.

This is a dish I wish had stayed around for a few more iterations of the menu.  Not a full meat board, just pork terrine and chicken liver mousse. But within the context of a charcuterie fetish it stood tall.  And within the context of what’s going on around it on the menu, it was a great example of the type of flavor development that sets one staff’s food apart.  Perfect? No. But not perfect is the point. That’s what made me compare it to itself on several different occasions. I’ll try the same thing at Novel multiple times and never get the exact same dish twice. You don’t try and perfect a moving target. It has nothing to do with lack of consistency, and everything to do with a phrase I’ve uttered multiple times after taking a bite…..”oh man, this tastes like someone has just made themselves crazy to get it dialed in”. Texture in the terrine just a little bit firmer, dark spice in the mousse a little more pronounced…indications that creation by committee can be a great thing.  Like a song looping into a slightly different refrain each time…finding an incredible monster ballad hook but never quite settling on the editing.  Full bodied like the layers of jarring feedback that make it hard to adjust your ears when Neil Young is onstage fucking with you.  That’s a true specialist. I can’t pull off something like that.  And I’m at peace with that fact.

THE RIEGER HOTEL GRILL & EXCHANGE

"Tell the whores they can come."  Al Swearengen

“Tell the whores they can come.” Al Swearengen

I’ve always liked New York for the anonymity.  Not that I’m well known anywhere, including my own hometown, but NYC has the greatest vibe that lets you know nobody gives a single shit who you are or what you are up to among the ocean of faces rolling down the street. It’s very liberating. There are zero expectations other than minding your own business, and whatever you’re into it’s easy to find a whole bunch of people who are into the same thing.  For several years I was a long-distance member of The Eulenspiegel Society (TES), which is the oldest non-profit dedicated to all things fetish in the United States. I don’t have a sordid history with a double life or mysterious scarring, I just liked fringe culture and I mixed well with people who were genuinely enthusiastic about WHATEVER….we’ve got a weird repressive and reactionary feel in the Midwest that doesn’t exist out there. When in NYC, you weren’t meeting a group of misfits or  weirdos down at the Skylight Diner before heading to Paddles, you were just meeting a group of people who were the same as any other group of people.  This group just happened to have members who had spent time in Japan learning about ropes, got paid to dominate, loved writing period erotica…anything and everything.  For me personally it was like Hunter S. Thompson with the Hell’s Angels…all of this stuff was beyond me but goddamn it was cool. I don’t know if it’s the same for all groups of people who spend so much of their time outside the societal norms, but one thing you pick up on quickly after you start talking to folks is the level of genuine acceptance, inclusion and support.  There’s political bullshit and drama just like ANY group, but you are quickly faced with your judgmental nature when you confront a type of normal that is completely new to you.  To put it in perspective with a KC connection….you ever been on the 2nd floor of Missie B’s and see a shirtless dude working it like a Flygirl and you’re happy for him because he’s not in the kind of shape to pull off that move in most other clubs?  Well there you go. There is something very awesome about that.

I say all of that to say this….what I love about The Rieger is you can always be that big, shirtless gay man in your heart.  It’s like the movie “To Sir With Love”, when the cool kids are all at the dance and Sidney Poitier gets buffaloed into busting a move.  You are left going “for someone who broke so many racial boundaries so early in Hollywood, he is one incredibly shitty dancer”.  Those kids are going to dog him out. But they don’t! Your first clue should have been found in the title of the movie!  I am someone who loves genuine conviviality and sense of community.  I think what draws me to friends in the service industry…besides the eating…is the very high percentage of folks who possess a certain kind of crazy to which I can relate. A whole lot of “undiagnosed” going on, and that’s the way I like it.

For the purposes of this story, the smoked testa at The Rieger will always be an important touchstone.  It won’t always be available, but it will always be back. It will always be sliced perfectly thin to highlight the texture and the flavor will be spot-on. Over time you will watch friends take their first bite of it and their trust in what you tell them “is good” will grow. Always different; maybe a terrine or rilletes with it instead of a pate, but always the same.  No pretense, no judgment, no dancing skills required, you just show up like it’s a holiday dinner with relatives you actually enjoy.  My idea of perfect joy always goes back to the huge, incredibly loud and detached dance fests at the end of a great John Waters film.  The later era Waters classic Pecker comes to mind.  All drama has been squashed, interpersonal issues resolved, differences have given way to camaraderie in a unified show of drinking, dancing, eating and laughing.  I’m not someone who puts a premium on being surrounded with a lot of people; just a few people who matter to me.  And sooner or later, that image of Martha Plimpton from Pecker pops into my mind and I hear her screaming “Teabag him, Larry!”.  That’s when I know Kansas City is working okay for me.

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Categories: Charcuterie, Eating, New

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