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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best Bites of 2015: Jay's Picks

by Jay D. Ducote

This list did not come about easily.

Over the last two weeks, Blair and Sydney have each posted about the five best things they ate in 2015. As my turn came, I wrestled with all the memories of great tasting food throughout the year. I analyzed, reminisced, and salivated over pictures of scrumptious treats from many months ago. This year has been an excellent one, and there's no doubt that I've eaten way too much good food for it be easy to narrow my list down to just five. But I've done it.

These are the five dishes I ate this year which will live the longest in my mind. I'll remember them a decade from now and will want to taste them again. I'll remember the mark that they left on me. Each one represents the absolute best version of that particular dish I've ever tasted, and that's saying a lot considering this list contains barbecue, chicken wings, steak, and apple fritters!


Apple Fritter at Nola Doughnuts Portland, OR


Nola Doughnut's Maple Doughnut and Apple Fritter
Maple Glazed Doughnut on the left,  Apple Fritter on the right

Nola Doughnuts owner Robert Herkes invited my buddy Eusebio Gongora to help him sell his doughnuts at a farmers market outside of Portland one Saturday when we were there for a guy's trip in late June. I'm truly glad I awoke from my slumber and tagged along. The doughnuts, made from croissant dough, were out of this world, but it was the apple fritter that really won me over. This, unquestionably, was the best apple fritter I've ever eaten. It calls out to me like the island from Lost. I have to go back.


Bacon Rouge's Pork Butt at Hogs for the Cause New Orleans, LA


The Bacon Rouge team celebrates the Pork Butt victory at Hogs for the Cause 2015
The Bacon Rouge team celebrates the Pork Butt victory at Hogs for the Cause 2015

Somehow I don't have a good picture of the Bacon Rouge pork shoulder itself. It is the only box that we turned in (whole hog, ribs, and "porkpouri" were the others) from the annual Hogs for the Cause competition in New Orleans I didn't snap a picture of. Perhaps it was just too beautiful, and I couldn't wait one extra second before going to turn it in to the judges. However, I can say this... championships aren't a fluke. We won, and it was because we turned in the best pork butt I've ever tasted.

The texture of the Iverstine Family Farms smoked pig seemed perfect as it nearly melted as we pulled some and chopped other parts. It didn't need any sauce. It didn't need any extra seasoning. It just needed to be turned in. That's the only box of barbecue I've ever submitted to a competition where I truly felt like we had a chance of winning.



My Grilled Rib Eye with Pomegranate Molasses Chimichurri & Stewed Okra Los Angeles, CA




I'll always remember my time on Food Network Star. However, the food part of it can be a blur. We didn't get to feast on our own food and truly enjoy the spoils of our cooking very often. However, for the Fourth of July episode when they made us switch groceries and I got to cook the prime rib eyes Dom purchased, I was able to share that dish with the entire cast.

Of everything I cooked, this challenge may have put me in my element the most. I had a grill, a cast iron pot, and enough time to make it all happen. I redeemed myself on the okra, and I cooked what was probably the best steak I've ever seared. I had extreme confidence after that round of the competition, especially once Bobby Flay told me how fantastic the rib eye tasted. But, I, along with fellow contestants, already knew that.



Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wings at Pok Pok Portland, OR


Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wings at Pok Pok in Portland, OR
Vietnamese Chicken Wings at Portland's Pok Pok


Chicken wings could be their own food group. I love them. There's just the right amount of barbarian style eating meat off the bone combined with a modern gastronomic flavor push that makes wings magical for me. And I've never had better wings, ever, than at Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon.

I didn't really want to put Portland on this list twice. I've traveled a lot this year, and including Portland twice kept me from including anything from Los Angeles, New York (including Blue Hill at Stone Barns as well as the Sac-A-Lait meal at the James Beard House), Las Vegas, New Orleans (aside from my team's previously mentioned winning pork shoulder) or Baton Rouge. Still, when looking back on the year, including all the great chicken wings I've had like the ones from Sway in Austin that would be the runner-up to Pok Pok, I just couldn't keep these babies off the list!


Franklin Barbecue Brisket Austin, TX


Lean and Fatty Brisket from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX
Lean and Fatty Brisket from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX

Sydney put the brisket that I cooked at the #GnarBQ on her top 5 list. While I'm honored, I also know she didn't eat the brisket at Franklin Barbecue like I did. Mine has nothing on this. No brisket I've ever tasted had anything on this. Yes, it was worth the four hour wait in line with my friends Zac and Andrew. No, you shouldn't waste space on anything other than the brisket. The glorious brisket.