Thursday, April 25, 2013

Finally, biscuits and gravy to believe in...

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 4:44 AM

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Over the last few months, there’s been occasional discussion (and often lamentation) on this blog over the lack of exceptional biscuits and gravy in central Arkansas. This is an issue I’ve found to be rather problematic as well, and have often been disappointed by a number of respectable, otherwise decent diners. The crux of the problem does not lie with the biscuit—it appears that many restaurants have taken great pride in creating an acceptable scratch-made biscuit. The real problem is the gravy—and this has baffled me for years. Why? Making a decent sausage gravy is actually a relatively simple process. It does not require a long list of costly ingredients or professional-level cooking skills. It does take a little more time, perhaps, and therein we see the root of the problem.

Too many breakfast menus have been plagued by the use of prefabricated, ready-mix gravy for use in their biscuits and gravy. The results of this bland, uninspired mixture are often fairly easy to recognize when eaten; a pale white, gummy gravy with little black flecks of pepper, usually lacking any richness, any depth of flavor. One simply finds a pitiful, flavorless amalgamation—often decent enough to not warrant too many complaints from customers, but never really winning praise from any diners, either. I’m sure you’ve eaten the crud before…it’s practically everywhere. It takes only seconds to mix and heat—just add milk and it’s ready to serve! But we should refuse to settle for such poor gravy, we should be committed to a gravy that’s constructed with care, something that would have made your dear, sweet Southern grandmother proud.

Outside of your home kitchen, this concoction, unfortunately, is not easy to find. But rest assured, gravy lovers. I have found a gravy worth seeking out, a biscuit and gravy dish that, in my humble opinion, has managed to outshine all others I’ve sampled in central Arkansas—and this may be found at The Root.

It’s probably no surprise that The Root is doing this dish properly. They invest the time necessary into all their locally sourced products to ensure that what’s being laid on customers’ tables is always fresh, always flavorsome, and always made with care. The biscuits and gravy, a staple on their breakfast menu, are certainly no exception.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Jack Sundell, owner and chef at The Root, where I was able to pick his brain a bit about the process behind this wonderful dish. As soon as I asked him about the biscuits and gravy, I saw his eyes twinkle just a bit, and it was clear this was a subject he was happy to expound upon. Jack calls the dish “a labor of love.” He relates that The Root way is certainly not the fastest or the easiest, which may at times bring about difficulties on busy weekend mornings, but he’s committed to doing things the right way. The process is standard, but it requires attention and time—this gravy is no six-second slop. First, the locally produced, rich, fatty pork sausage is crumbled and browned in a heavy, deep frying pan. Flour is added to the meat and grease, stirred and allowed to create a thick roux. Then a generous amount of cream and whole milk are added to the mixture with a touch of salt and pepper. The liquid is allowed to simmer, slowly reducing with time to a thickened, creamy, rich and flavorful gravy. It cannot be “whipped up” in a hurry, it requires patience—but in this case, the end product is obviously worth waiting for.

I’d be doing The Root a disservice if I had forgotten to mention the wonderful, underlying biscuits as well. They’re just as they should be. Light and flakey, soft on the inside and crusty on the outside. They’re fantastic, and make the perfect support vessel for this splendid gravy.

If it’s been too long since you’ve had really wonderful biscuits and gravy, you really owe it to yourself to get down to The Root and see what they’ve got cooking. This is Arkansas. This is the South. We deserve better than pre-packaged mixtures. We should know better. Thankfully, The Root shines as a beacon in a sea of bad gravy.

(The Root is located at 1500 S. Main St, Little Rock. Breakfast is served Tues-Fri 7 am-11 am, Sat 8 am-11 am, and Sundays for brunch from 9 am-2 pm)

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