Last Wednesday, The Homegrown Revival held its second pop-up dinner. The Homegrown Revival Team held the first pop-up dinner in September of this year. The pop-up dinners, as THGR Team likes to call them, are unique in that the attendees don’t know the location of the event until the day of the event itself. Several hours before the dinner takes place, The Homegrown Revival Team emails out the location.
I won’t presume to know the intentions of The Homegrown Revival Team in creating these pop-up dinners, but the effect of a pop-up dinner is interesting. For one thing, it creates a very real, palpable sense of adventure around dining. Attendees purchase their tickets for the dinner a week or so in advance, and the only knowledge of the event they have is a loose menu for the evening.
The other effect of the pop-up dinners is a bit more abstract but no less interesting. The pop-up dinners draw the purpose of a multi-course, family style dinner in to stark relief. So much of fine dining in the restaurant world is about status. Where the dinner is held. The elegance of the location. The exclusivity of the dining experience. Much of fine dining is about pretension and affectation. In many cases, I feel like some people eat at exclusive restaurants for status and not to savor fine food. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.
The pop-up dinners help to mitigate the pretension created by traditional “fine dining” restaurants in several important ways. First, by doing away with a brick and mortar building and holding the dinners in random places, The Homegrown Revival is removing the exclusivity created by elegant dining rooms. Like it or not, having people know that you dined at Uchi tells a story about you. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bagging on Uchi’s food, but tell an Austinite you ate there and the reaction will inevitably be “Wow. How’d you get reservations?”
However, if people walk by and see a group of people eating at, say, the Open Table exhibit in Austin, they don’t know what’s going on. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a family is having a picnic. So right away the vanity of fine dining is pulled away from the dining experience. The benefit of eliminating the distraction of status allows the attendees to fully focus on the beauty of the food.
This type of dinner requires an awful lot of trust on the part of the attendees. Fortunately, so great is the trust between The Homegrown Revival groupies, or the Revivalists as we like to call ourselves, is that we would follow these dinners down into Dante’s Ninth Circle if that’s where they were held. For first time attendees I’m sure this guerilla-style dining experience is a bit worrying, but I feel confident that the amazing experience quelled any anxiety.
The Homegrown Revival Team held this pop-up dinner at in.gredients, which, according to the website “is a neighborhood microgrocer selling local food with pure ingredients, package-free.” We sat outside at the picnic tables in front of the grocery store, and THGR Team set up an ad hoc kitchen. As I wrote earlier, the location helped to mitigate the feeling of exclusivity created by a brick and mortar store. Store customers mingled with the diners, and the location helped to implicitly emphasize that we are all part of the same community.
I’ve written at length about the artistry of The Homegrown Revival Team, and this dinner certainly matched the artistry of past dinners. And since this was only the second pop-up dinner there was always the danger of the dreaded sophomore slump, but, needless to say, The Homegrown Revival Team outdid itself, and the dishes were every bit as beautiful as they were delicious.
We started with mushroom and herb crepes. I love crepes, but sometimes I feel like the crepe itself is ignored in favor of the fillings. Not this time. The crepes themselves were savory and light, and they could have very easily stood on their own as a dish. The mushroom filling simply added to the deliciousness.
The next dish was a cauliflower gratin that had been baked with sauce Mornay, black sesame, and fennel. Sauce Mornay, for those readers unfamiliar, is a variation, or in the parlance of haute cuisine, a daughter sauce, of Sauce Béchamel. Sauce Béchamel is one of the five “Mother Sauces.” Most people are familiar with this sauce even if they don’t recognize the name. It’s a roux-based milk sauce, and the Mornay variation adds Gruyere into the mix, which creates a lovely, creamy, satiny sauce. The cauliflower had been baked in the Mornay, creating a marvelous second dish.
The proteins of the meal blew me away. We ate Teal and Mallard duck, which had been sourced and smoked by members of The Homegrown Revival Team. The Mallards were larger than the Teal, but I think the Teal was my favorite. The thighs and legs of the diminutive species were mind-blowingly delicious. I picked at the bones like a barbarian because I didn’t want to leave one morsel of the darkly red meat.
We also had several cuts of a roasted deer, which was served with pickled red eggs and beet chutney. The eggs had been pickled with beet juice, and the beets had turned them a stunning dark red color. The bright yellow yolks provided a beautiful contrast to the red albumin, and looking at the dish reminded me just how beautiful food can be when prepared by the right person. And the plate of venison was almost overwhelming. The meat was cooked perfectly to medium rare, and if you could somehow capture the spirit of the Texas hill country in a dish, I have a feeling it would taste like that deer.
For dessert we had Texas grapefruit bars covered with grapefruit marmalade and candied fennel. It was both bitter and sweet, a wonderful juxtaposition between two flavor profiles, and the dessert provided a perfect finale to a magnificent dinner.
I hope The Homegrown Revival continues to hold the pop-up dinners. I love the way they strip away the extraneous elements that typically distract from a wonderful dining experience. And the beauty of the dishes at these events utterly amazes me.