A Fancy Fundraiser

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris February 01, 2024 21:10 in Dining Diary

The popular spring event Hogs For The Cause, was held recently, and it has become sort of a behemoth of a fundraiser for pediatric brain cancer. It’s a fun competition among amateur pitmasters, but it is also a good-natured contest of A-list restaurateurs and chefs, and everything in-between.

We had Justin Kennedy and Tory McPhail on the show a few days before their event at Parkway Bakery & Tavern to add to the coffers for their team.

He explained how it all worked, and I was enthralled. The fundraising competition between these hundred or so teams goes on throughout the year, and each mini-competition or event they host brings in more toward the team total. So there are mini-competitions within the big competition throughout the year.

Justin's team consists of five chefs besides him: Tory McPhail, Chris Montero from the Napoleon House, Jared Roos, Will Alvarez, and Mike Brewer. Only three of these guys still live here, but the other two come in every year for the fun. Mike Brewer now lives in Alaska, and he shipped in some halibut and snow crab legs. Tory came in from Montana with Jared driving in their ingredients.

On the Thursday evening before the actual cooking competition, there was a “fancy” event at Parkway featuring all this food, an open bar, and a fun band. It was $100 pp and ran from 6-9pm on a beautiful spring evening. Sandy Nix decorated the tables with flowers and sequined runners, and the fun began.

The most interesting food of the evening was the passed apps. These were plentiful and served by gracious Parkway staff. Mini-muffulettas from the Napoleon House were, to me, the best food there that evening. I’m not even a fan of the large muffuletta at the Napoleon House, but these minis were the best of this version of our iconic sandwich I have ever savored.

The bread, which is baked at the Ralph Brennan Group commissary, was outstanding. There was a small but adequate amount of olive salad and a patty of meats and cheeses that were layered before and cut to fit the bread. I’ve never seen this but I prefer it to all other interpretations of the mini-sandwich.

Will Avelar from Mawi Tortelleria prepared some terrific ceviche as the second passed app. Perfectly fried tortillas were thick enough to scoop up what was an unusually thick sauce for the ceviche, with plenty of shrimp per serving. 

There was also a chunk of pork belly on a toothpick coated with a delicious rub. There was no sauce, but this glaze made it like meat candy. Pork belly can be fatty but this was mostly meat. Superb.

Arancini came next. These were golden brown with a fine breadcrumb crust. Inside was a generous bit of cheese wrapped in rice that was more like the consistency of grits. These were good but not spectacular.

A single, very large shrimp was also among these offerings, and it was right up there with the muffuletta in excellence. It was a large enough shrimp to annoy me but it was grilled so well (which means over-grilled) with a bit of andouille inserted into the cavity and a thin slice of pickled okra. This was a great bite of food, with contrasting tastes and textures. The shrimp had sort of a sweet glaze alongside the meaty spicy meat, and the pickled okra perked it all up into something special. I liked this very well.

There were also large plump fried oysters with a drizzle of remoulade. These came two to a plate. They were perfectly fried with a Crystal Hot Sauce remoulade drizzled on these.and a meal could have been made of them.

The buffet line included a few of the ingredients shipped or driven into town. The first item on the buffet was a Mediterranean salad full of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichokes, and all the usual things found in such a salad. The pasta base was penne, as it usually is. This was fine but just ordinary.

Next on the line was sliced snow crab legs, part of the food stuffs shipment orchestrated by Mike Brewer in Alaska. The preparation was a Barbecue Shrimp-style Worcestire-based sauce. I didn’t care for this at all. It just didn’t work. Snow crabs are not local seafood so it seemed odd to see it in a local seafood preparation.

The next chafing dish contained the star of the evening, halibut simmered in a light cream sauce studded with boiled crawfish. This delicate fish with large white flakes was tender with subtle flavorings. Delicious!

Next to the halibut was a dual chafing dish, one side of red beans and the other of white rice that had been steamed so long it was a large clump. The red beans were very good, containing bits of ham and sausage. And even though they had been simmering long enough to be soupy, they were still defined as beans.

Justin told me on the radio show that he was making jambalaya for this event, but somehow that turned into arroz con pollo, a yellow dish with rice, chicken, and bits of vegetables. This was overcooked in parts and undercooked in parts. Not good.

At the next table was only one thing. A giant steamship round was studded with garlic and cooked more than I’ve ever seen. A carver was standing by to offer slices on the accompanying rolls. This level of doneness worked for me because Steamship Round is always too rare.

The last table by itself was manned by two people scooping New Orleans Ice Cream. I have always been a fan of this product, and what they were scooping this evening was a favorite. Praline Crunch was their version of Butter Pecan, and it was sensational. I meant to eat only a few bites but it all went quickly.

Also on this table was a chocolate coconut bar with berries on top. This too was gone in a blink.

Justin introduced the guys who cooked for the evening. It was clear what fun they have with each other and this event.

A great local band named Soul entertained us for the evening. It was such lovely weather for something like this, it all made for a wonderful time. And I hope it's the start of many such events. They're certainly up for it. Everything was efficiently done and friendly. Parkway...not just for Poor Boys.