We introduce a new occasional contributor to All In: Phil LaMarche, whose columns will appear (about) every other Friday, maybe more, maybe less. Phil loves food, so expect many of his columns to explore North Country fare.
When my wife and I first moved to Canton we found ourselves in one of those lonely streaks common to the recently relocated. We were living out of boxes, imagining the friends we might one day have as we watched local television that came to us free of charge from the sky. It was during this time that I found myself walking across town to the Blackbird Café. This is a clean, well-lighted place with good coffee and a high-minded sensibility that either leads you to feel like you are smart, charming, and sharply dressed , or like a dolt surrounded by suave charmers who will figure out who you are at any moment. Unfortunately, I lean a little towards the dolt option, but this seems to have less to do with the Blackbird than it does with my particular disposition. I enjoy the idea of a café much more than the reality. When I look in the window, I imagine myself comfortably slumped among the other patrons, sipping an espresso and paging last month’s New Yorker. Then I step inside, and something goes wrong. I feel watched, judged. I could make something up about the snobbery of all the St. Lawrence types, but the truth is that I am probably just too insecure at heart for café life.
And yet, I still return to the Blackbird, time and again, and this speaks to the power of their pork chop. I don’t order pork chops anywhere else, and at the Blackbird, that’s all I order. Their sandwiches and soups are plenty sufficient, but their Pork Chop Marsala is the swine d’or of the menu and the kitchen has a knack for nailing the proper cooking of the cut.
Let’s face it, the pork chop is often abused in our world. While the chop is ensconced in a rind of fat, the muscle lacks interior marbling, making it an easy victim for being overcooked. We’ve all suffered through the dry, mealy chop that someone has seared to the consistency of your car’s spare tire and then hopelessly applied applesauce or gravy like defibrillator paddles attempting to breathe life back into the victim.
Such is not the case at the Blackbird. Their pork chop remains supple and succulent while having a sufficient sear to caramelize the fat and provide a rich depth of flavor. The silky marsala butter that pools in the plate is the perfect lubricant to both the chop and mashed potatoes. The stuff is so good they should sell it by the shot glass. Go ahead and lick the plate clean—it feels like a classy joint but don’t fear, you’re still in St. Lawrence County .
The entrée is served with a side salad for fifteen bucks, and while I usually find myself wishing there was a second chop on the plate, the management is probably just saving me from future coronary disaster. Since the Blackbird purchases its produce locally and their pork from the Cook Family Farm in Heuvelton, you can be happy that your money isn’t getting hauled out of town in the backs of those big, shiny Sysco trucks.
I hereby nominate the Blackbird’s Pork Chop Marsala as the best chop in the North Country, but I’m a relative newcomer to these parts and there may be chops out there lurking in the shadows that I have yet to experience. So my challenge to you, NCPR listeners and readers, is to prove me wrong. Tell me I’m an ignorant fool. Tell me I wouldn’t know a good chop if it bit me in the ham. Tell me about your favorite chop, what’s so great about it, and where to find it. We’ll eat, we’ll talk, and then we’ll eat some more.
— Phil LaMarche
Phil is an Assistant Professor at SUNY Canton. He describes himself as an author and chowhound. While generally known for out-eating men twice his size, he sometimes gets mentioned for his novel, American Youth. You can hear Chris Robinson’s conversation with Phil about his novel here.