Review: Playing for Pizza

Originally published at Paper Palate on April 30, 2009.

In 1991 a Mississippi lawyer enthralled America with his groundbreaking novel, The Firm. Since then John Grisham has rattled off an impressive list of best selling legal thrillers like The Chamber and The King of Torts. From time to time the southern lawyer has ventured out of the courtroom and into the real world with hits like Bleachers which centers on high school football and Skipping Christmas which was made into the Tim Allen comedy Christmas with the Kranks.

In 2007 Grisham released Playing for Pizza which chronicles the fictional NFL quarterback Rick Dockery. Rick was a star Iowa high school player and an absolute gun slinger against the molasses-quick defenses of the Big 10. Pro football on the other hand was a different story. In his last NFL game he went from unknown third-stringer to the “unquestioned greatest Goat in the history of professional sports,” and all in just over 11 minutes.

To escape the ridicule of the national pundits and the ire of the fans of the Cleveland Browns, Dockery flees to Europe where he becomes the starting quarterback for the Parma Panthers of NFL Italy. Football Americano is neither popular nor very good. From there it is the typical “Rocky formula” with one exception, the food.

Each player on the team takes turns treating their new comrade to a meal any foodie would kill a drifter for and there are 40 sum odd players on the team. From his very first taste of Emilia-Romagna’s two most famous offerings, prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, Rick embarks on a culinary voyage that is equal to none.

Grisham accurately captures the essence of the Italian passion for food. The descriptions of each meal are accurate to the various regions they originate in and the wine pairings are perfect. Clearly the author did extensive research on the subject. That must have been grueling, especially getting tickets to see Verdi’s Otello at the Teatro Regio from the mayor of the city of Parma.

The prose is what you would expect from Grisham and as usual he manages to drive the action to a crescendo. But this book also serves as a fine example of a new trend of building gastronomy into the narrative, even in non-food literature. Football fans will enjoy the tale of Rick Dockery as will Grisham fans in general but it is the foodie who will get the most joy out of Playing for Pizza.

BBQ Styles – A Primer

Food anthropologists (yes, that is a thing) say there are certain foods where people tend to be very territorial. The style one first tries of a certain dish soon becomes the only acceptable recipe. No food demonstrates this more than barbecue. Once one learns to move beyond local prejudice, a new world of flavors emerges. To reach this heightened awareness one need only stop comparing the foreign recipe to the familiar. Only then can we learn to accept the beauty of that which is unfamiliar; it could be said that barbecue is a metaphor for culture.

Alabama plays host to three styles of BBQ. The style that most of us grew up with here along the Gulf Coast is actually an example of Kansas City barbecue – various smoked meats glazed with a tomato-based, sweet and smokey sauce. About 90% of the commercial barbecue sauces sold in grocers are variations of Kansas City sauce and it is because of this that KC style is the nation’s favorite. KC Masterpiece is the most popular sauce controlling more than half of the US market.

North Alabama is heavily influenced by the approach made famous in Memphis. This Memphis style is made up mainly of smoked pork butt or spare ribs and is distinguishable by the use of a dry rub (recipe below) rather than a wet sauce. At the same time there is a distinctive Memphis sauce that is less sweet and more acidic than KC style but is still tomato-based. The Memphis style sauce is very common at North Alabama BBQ joints like Tuscaloosa’s legendary Dreamland.

East Alabama border communities like Opelika, Auburn, and their Georgia neighbors enjoy a sauce that uses mustard as it’s base and a very specific cut Cackalacky on BBQ Chickenof pork called a CT butt. The style is often called Smokey Pig because of the Columbus, GA shack that originated it. The mustard sauce (recipe below) most likely migrated from South Carolina and tends to be quite acidic and a touch on the spicy side. Moving from South to North Carolina the mustard disappears and the sauce is primarily vinegar and hot spices. In both Carolinas the primary meat is whole hog.

And Texas is a hole other matter. For these BBQ aficionados it is all about the smoke. The wood or combination of woods used in the smoking process is where the Texan expresses his individuality. Pork is rarely seen in the Lone Star State as Texans love their beef. The most popular cut in Texas is beef brisket because it captures the taste of smoke so well. Seldom will you ever find a bottle of sauce at an archetypal Texas smokehouse and those who dare bring their own should prepare for looks of disdain and the whispered murmurs of Yankee or city folk.

In the resorts of the Rocky Mountains classically trained chefs combine their refined European techniques with the wild flavors of the region. The result is a bold barbecue that uses grilled game like duck or venison and exotic sauces made with everything from raspberries to root beer. In Louisiana you might find a KC style sauce kicked-up with spices that add Cajun sizzle and in the Mississippi Delta they are fond of a sauce called Mississippi Blues that has blue berries as its main flavor ingredient.

Chicken seems to be universal in all regions of the country and can be augmented with a dry rub or any of the aforementioned wet sauces. Which brings us back to Alabama where we have a sauce formulated specifically for chicken. Alabama White BBQ Sauce hails from the northern half of the state and has been popularized at celebrated restaurants like Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur. This sauce is mayonnaise-based with acidity coming from apple cider vinegar and sweetness from brown sugar; black pepper adds a little nutty heat to the finish.

Mustard Barbecue Sauce & Memphis Rub
Recipe Type: BBQ
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 20 mins
Serves: Plenty
South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce can be traced to German settlers in the 18th century.
  • 4 cups yellow mustard (two 20-ounce bottles of French’s mustard should do the trick)
  • 8 ounces of beer (less for thicker sauce, more for thinner sauce)
  • cup apple cider vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. SAUCE: Heat all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat and mix well. Cook until sauce just begins to thicken. Serve cool or warm. The sauce will last in the refrigerator for a long time. Quantity: 6 cups.
  2. RUB: Mix together and store in airtight container until ready to use.

ICA: Morimoto vs. Wadi

This week is another new Iron Chef: America as the senior Iron Chef, Morimoto, pits his cutting-edge Japanese style against Chef Sameh Wadi’s Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors.

When one thinks of Minneapolis the thoughts that spring to mind are of Prince, Brett Farve and the Mall of America.  It is a classic mid-western city with a strong football pedigree and a no-nonsense attitude.  Seldom does anyone think, “I am seriously Jonesing for some Moroccan food. I’ve got to get to Minneapolis!”

Chef Sameh Wadi is changing that at his Warehouse District eatery Saffron Restaurant & Lounge.  Owned by Chef Wadi and his brother Saed, Saffron has been rocking the Twin Cities since 2007.  The accolades have been many like being named one of Zagat’s top American restaurants for 2009 and 2010 and James Beard nominations for “Rising Star Chef” in 2008 and 2009.  Chef Wadi has even started his own line of exotic spices, Spice Trail.  All this he has accomplished before age 25.

Some of Chef Wadi’s celebrated dishes include the Lamb BLT (named one of Serious Eats’ Serious Sandwiches), fig-kissed quail and Salmon & Clam Tagine.  The buzz about Saffron and the Wadi Brothers has spread from coast-to-coast as they have taken the essence of the Middle East and fused it with Minnesota specialties like duck and salmon.

Now with a chance to spotlight his talents on a national stage, Wadi is poised to join the elite of American chefs.  Wadi spoke about the opportunity telling the Star Tribune, “I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I’ve been watching Iron Chef since I was 14.”   Below is a video feature on Saffron complete with an interview of the Wadi Brothers.  The episode airs Jan. 24 at 9:00 PM ET/PT.

Follow Stuart via “the Online”

Sip & Chew with Mike and Stu

Add to Google


Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


Subscribe to this blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

ISO 9000 Culinary Arts Certification